Monday, 29 January 2007

Home on the Range

Howdy, folks.

After our mighty excitin' travels, we bin done settled back into the old routine here at Whittaker Ranch. Both of us are fair run off our feet with mighty big amounts of work right now, so we ain't got much time for gallivantin'. Consequently, I ain't got nothin' to write about. Be that as it may, that's never stopped me before, and I sure ain't gonna let it stop me now.

Now that I think on it, there was somethin' pretty durn exciting that happened today. Iain moseyed on into town and found out the local stationer's store is selling its merchandise at a discount, what with the schoolhouse opening its doors again real soon - most everythin' is goin' for a song. When he got back home he was staggerin' under the weight of three dozen lever arch files and several hundredweight of poly pockets - that's them thar A4 poly-something-lene filin' pockets, not them pocket-size dressin' up dollies little girls are so fond of. Obviously.

There goes another big ball of tumbleweed, blowin' down Mainstreet.
I like to sit here on the porch, rockin' back and forth in the rockin' chair, twiddlin' my thumbs and watchin' it tumble.

Cousin Helen

Saturday, 20 January 2007

South Island Trip - The final chapter

Here, at last, is the final instalment of our trip account. I'm relieved about that, because writing in a time warp like this does my head in.

some of the Moeraki boulders

Day 11 – Dunedin to Christchurch
On day eleven we drove from Dunedin to Christchurch. En route we went to see the ‘world-famous-in-New Zealand’ Moeraki boulders on the Pacific coast, because everyone we know who’s been to South Island said they were worth a look. However, when I first caught sight of the boulders from the other end of the beach, looking like … well, any old ordinary boulders, and besieged by dozens of clambering tourists, my initial impulse was to turn around and get back in the car. I’m glad I didn’t, because when you get up close, the boulders are fascinating. Click here for information about the boulders and the story of their formation.

coastal erosion is revealing still more boulders

a close-up of a couple of the boulders - the one at the back resembles a turtle shell

the action of the sea is slowly breaking the boulders open... reveal their inner structure

We arrived in Christchurch late in the afternoon and spent the evening chilling out. Really decent curry houses aren’t that easy to find in New Zealand, so we were delighted to find one with an excellent menu at a very reasonable price just two minutes’ walk from the motel.

Day 12 Christchurch to Nelson via the Lewis Pass and Murchison
Another day spent driving. Neither of us took a single shot with the camera. Photographic lethargy was beginning to set in.

Days 13, 14 & 15 – in Nelson and home again
Almost as soon as we arrived in Nelson I was struck down with a mystery bug, and spent most of the time sleeping. Because I felt so ill, we ended up doing very little in Nelson, although we did manage to get in a visit to the WOW museum. WOW stands for World Of Wearable Art, which is an annual event which now takes place in Wellington, but which originated in Nelson in the late 80s. To keep the blokes happy, the WOW complex also comprises a vintage car museum.

The WOW collections are well worth a look. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted in the wearable art gallery, so I couldn't take any piccies. Here’s a link to their website.

We had hoped to get some better shots of the Marlborough Sounds on the return ferry journey, but the weather was even greyer and murkier than the first time round, so we didn’t take any photos at all. We were more than ready to get home; in fact, the holiday could have done with being three or four days shorter. Our stamina level where travel is concerned is pretty pathetic. It does make me wonder how we're going to manage on the epic, several-months-long adventure trip Iain wants us to take in the next couple of years.


A new concept in male grooming

personal hygiene services from 'La Maison du Chat'

Saturday, 13 January 2007

South Island Trip - Days 9 & 10 - around Dunedin

spotted in Dunedin - a jolly student wheeze, or the world's most expensive can of Pepsi?

Day 9 - Te Anau to Dunedin

We spent a very long day driving, and I'm ashamed to say we took no photos at all. I think our trip to Fiordland spoilt us, as far as appreciating attractive scenery's concerned. Our favourite part was the Clutha district of southern Otago between the towns of Gore and Clinton. The road is called 'The Presidential Highway', presumably a tongue-in-cheek reference to Bill Clinton and Al Gore. It was pleasant, rolling farmland - mainly given over to sheep of course, but there was also some cattle and arable farming. It reminded us of the Derbyshire Dales, although without the dry stone walls. One reason the landscape looked so familiar was because the first European settlers replaced the native trees with oaks, willows, ashes, poplars and even some hawthorn hedges – the first hedges we’ve seen in New Zealand.

Day 10 - Dunedin

Dunedin was planned by Scottish settlers, with the express intention of becoming 'the Edinburgh of the South'. The name of the city is an anglicisation of Dùn Èideann, the Gaelic name for Edinburgh. Not surprisingly, given its origins, the city's laid out on a rather grand street plan, and there are a lot of ornate late Victorian and Edwardian public buildings – although most of them are built in brick rather than in the granite of its namesake. Being a major student town, it manages to be both bustling and laid back, which is a pretty neat trick if you can pull it off.

In the morning we visited the Otago Settlers Museum, and saw some fascinating displays about the impact the European settlement had on the local Maori tribes, the sea voyages taken by the European migrants in the nineteenth century, and the history of Chinese migration to the area.

a mock-up of a typical cabin on a vessel that transported immigrants

A box this size was all a migrating British family was allowed to take with them to New Zealand in the 19th century. It makes our 14 teachests seem highly extravagant.

Hands up if you thought the world’s steepest street was in California. Me too, but all the guidebooks maintain that Baldwin Street in Dunedin is the record breaker, so we went to have a look. The road is so steep there are steps where the pavement would normally be, and on the way up we had to keep on stopping to take a breather.

Baldwin Street, Dunedin, the world's steepest street (allegedly)

Whenever I stopped I would hear faint rolling noises getting gradually louder and then fading away again. On closer inspection of the tarmac, I found the culprits hop-skip-jumping along in the gutter - dozens of jaffas, (little balls of orange flavoured chocolate covered in an orange sugar shell), which someone presumably had let go at the top of the street.

Look, no ropes!

One of the annual events held in Baldwin Street involves Jaffas. It's a Jaffa race, where competitors pay a couple of dollars to sponsor a jaffa. The winner gets a cash prize and the rest of the money raised goes to chairty. The event regularly attracts up to 10,000 entrants. Another yearly event is the Baldwin Street Gustbuster, in which athletes test their stamina and balance by racing up the street and back down again.

In the evening we went to visit a colony of yellow eyed penguins on the Otago Peninsula, at a privately-owned conservation project called Penguin Place. A series of tunnels and hides allowed us to view the penguins at close quarters, and our guide was very knowledgable.

an adult yellow-eyed penguin, showing the first signs of moulting

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, taking about a hundred photos (although only two or three were any good). Even though the visit lasted an hour and a half, I could happily have stayed twice as long. Here's a link to the website of the NZ Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust.


Say hello to Smudge!

Here are the first photos of our new kitten, Smudge.
First impressions of her character:

conclusion drawn _____supporting evidence

placid __________________Neither the car journey, the change of scene, nor the absence of her mother and siblings seem to have disturbed her equilibrium.

a keen climber____________She's been shinning up the back of the chair and has been looking for curtains to climb up so that she can see out of the window; fortunately, we've got a blind.

very vocal (oh dear!)________Smudge seems to have a meow for all occasions.

contented________________She purrs loudly and frequently.

a potential lap cat__________She keeps clambering up onto me and going to sleep. Of all the cats I've owned I've never had a lap cat before, and it would be very nice to share a home with one at last!

not overly intelligent________Smudge has a penchant for sleeping in her litter tray. I've had to remove her four times already.


Friday, 12 January 2007

South Island Trip - Day 8 - day trip to Milford Sound

The day of our Milford Sound trip dawned cloudy with only a few tiny chinks of blue, and it was difficult to judge which way the weather would go.

The two-hour drive from the town of Te Anau, where we were staying, to Milford Sound was one of the most scenic sections of the entire trip. First of all the road skirts the shores of Lake Te Anau – the largest lake in South Island - and then it enters the Fiordland National Park – the largest National Park in New Zealand. Fiordland is a fascinating vista of jagged mountain peaks, beech forest clinging to near-vertical cliff faces, and countless waterfalls, some of which are many hundreds of metres tall.

a view of Milford Sound from the shore

By the time we reached Milford Sound the cloud had cleared completely. The staff at the visitor centre said we were very lucky with the weather, as blue sky days are pretty rare. On average it rains heavily two days out of three, and most of the days when it doesn't rain, it's overcast. Milford Sound is one of the wettest spots in New Zealand, with an average of between 6 and 7 METRES of rain per year.

a couple of Milford Sound's many waterfalls
After rain, the volume of water increases enormously.

We took a boat trip around the sound, lasting 1 ¾ hours. When we got back we wanted to stay on the boat and do it again! There are overnight cruises available, which would be a wonderful thing to do if you had a little more time and money.

Harrison Cove

Milford Sound is absolutely stunning. We sailed beneath a cliff that's twice the height of the Empire State Building, and a waterfall that's three times the height of Niagara Falls, but the scale was far too big to be able to judge it without the help of our friendly cruise captain.

some tourist

Milford Sound does suffer a bit from being a 'honeypot' site. As the most accessible of Fiordland's many fiords, (being the only one with road access), it's by far the most visited, and there's a constant procession of cruise ships leaving every few minutes. There must have been at least ten of them on the water at the same time as us. But by far the most intrusive visitors are the dozens of light aircraft and helicopters, whose engines buzz loudly as they swing in low over the cliffs. However, all this hustle and bustle means that the other fiords remain relatively wild and untouched, and even the constant whining of the aircraft engines couldn't spoil the experience for us.

a group of fur seals taking a siesta

I know I'm fond of saying this, but you really must believe me this time when I say that our photos in no way do the place justice. The visit to Milford Sound was definitely the highlight of our South Island trip.


Thursday, 11 January 2007

Real time interlude

I know we've only got as far as day 7 on the blog, but yesterday was day 15 of our South Island trip, and we arrived home last night.

Our first job this morning was to bail Pookie out of prison. We were delighted to find her not in the slightest bit stir crazy, and we got the impression she'd been very well looked after. Apparently it's traditional to treat the cats to a special meal to mark their final night at the cattery, and Pookie had been given red meat, eggs and vegetables, which she'd polished off with gusto. Tom, the owner of the cattery, and by far the most cat-dotty person I've ever met, said Pookie was delightful and had made it into his 'top five cats of all time' list. It was nice to hear, but the cynical side of me couldn't help thinking, 'I bet he says this to all the owners!' As a parting gift he gave us some photos of Pookie which his wife had taken. Despite howling all the way home in the car, (a journey that thankfully lasts only ten minutes) she soon settled down (after giving the house and garden an inspection first, of course.) Poor Pookie - she's in for a shock tomorrow when we go and collect Smudge!

We've spent most of the day today unpacking (having taken an uncharacteristically huge pile of stuff with us) and trying to wrestle the rampant garden back into shape. Always keen to enliven boring domestic chores through the use of power tools, Iain weeded the patio using our high pressure waterblaster, and ended up absolutely caked in mud. I really, really wish I'd taken a photo.


Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Day 7 - Haast to Te Anau

Lake Wanaka

After a very relaxing time strolling around Haast beach we set off on a pretty long drive today - passing through some of the best scenery NZ has to offer. Being New Year, the honey pot sites of Queenstown & Wanaka were overloaded with tourists and so we headed on through to the lakeside town of Te Anau - gateway to the northern part of Fijordland.

Lake Wanaka was utterly stunning, as were the surrounding mountains, but the towns of Wanaka & Queenstown were uber touristy and nothing special - we stopped for lunch at Arrowtown, an old goldmining town in the mountains - Old West style architecture on the Main Street – very trippery though.

We weren't expecting much of Te Anau as it's completely in the back of beyond, but it was pretty bustling and a very pleasant place. The lake there is beautiful and marks the start of several well known tramping trails. We've booked a two-hour cruise on Milford Sound tomorrow – it’s a 240 kilometre round trip, but should be worth it, providing the dry weather holds. As this area gets 7000 mm of rain a year, the odds aren’t looking too good! The weather so far has been superb - other than the first day & the day in Christchurch, it's been blue skies all the way! Not so in the rest of NZ according to the reports, but we've been following the sun about -hopefully it'll keep up for tomorrow.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

South Island Trip - Day 6 - Greymouth to Haast

crossing a road/rail bridge

A rather disconcerting feature of the road between Greymouth and Haast is the number of bridges which are shared by the road and the railway line. There are no barriers across the road. (There are none of these anywhere in New Zealand, though). There aren't any friendly red flashing lights to warn you of an approaching train. In fact, on only a couple of the bridges were there any road signs warning that the road and the railway were about cross, let alone merge. We'd be driving along, enjoying the scenery, when suddenly we'd find ourselves driving along railway tracks, sometimes for up to half a kilometre. We felt like Wile E. Coyote trying to outrun an express locomotive on a jigger, his arms pumping up and down so fast they're just a blur.

One of the villages we passed through was HariHari, whose claim to fame is as the landing site (albeit accidental) of the first solo flight across the Tasman Sea. Australian aviator Guy Menzies took off from Sydney on 7th January 1931. He meant to land in Blenheim, further to the north and on the opposite coast, but bad weather forced him off course, and he ended up crash-landing in a swamp just outside Harihari. Not exactly a glorious end to his adventure, but he did succeed in his goal and was lucky enough to walk away uninjured.

Guy Menzies and his aeroplane after crash-landing near HariHari

Just over halfway between Greymouth and Haast is an area known as Glacier Country. This area of the Southern Alps contains the glaciers which covered a broad swathe of the South Island during the last ice age. Two of the most famous, due to their easy accessibility, are Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier. There's some interesting information about the glaciers here.

Franz Josef Glacier - note the people in the foreground!

Haast is only a tiny village. The primordial rainforest that surrounds it is so rare that the whole area has been designated a world heritage site. Haast is by far the most remote of the places we visited on our trip, and still has the feel of a true frontier settlement. For example, it's not connected to the national power grid, the whole village relying instead on a couple of generators. The lights in our hotel room were really dingy and there were no fridges in any of the rooms, all in an effort to conserve power. According to the hotel information leaflet, the electricity can be cut off for days at a time, especially in the winter. Until about forty-five years ago there were no roads at all into or out of Haast; there were just tracks through the bush. Overland travel of any kind was very hard and slow because of the terrain. Boats were used instead.

The first road connecting Haast to the rest of New Zealand (to Hokitika – currently a 4-hour drive away) was only completed in 1960. The road south to Wanaka, two hours’ drive away, wasn’t completed until 1965!

The people of Haast used to look forward to the supply boat that arrived once every three months. When it arrived there was always a huge party, and if it was late - delayed by storms for example - people would go hungry. If anyone was ill and needed medical treatment they would be carried out on a stretcher along the bush tracks by a team of volunteers. The journey took several days.

After we'd dumped off all our stuff at the hotel, Iain and I went to Haast beach for a bit of R & R. It was a shame we didn't take a camera with us, because it was the most spectacular beach I've ever seen. Miles and miles of sweeping golden sand, turquoise blue sea, a stunning bush and mountain backdrop, and it was utterly deserted. While beachcombing I found a green pebble which I think might be a piece of jade. The area around Haast was on the ancient pounamu (greenstone) trail taken by the Maori, so it's not too fanciful a notion. I'm planning on polishing the stone up and making it into a piece of jewellery when I get home.


the beautiful landscape around Haast - The Haast River

Friday, 5 January 2007

South Island Trip - Day 5 - Christchurch to Greymouth

the Southern Alps

When we turned on the laptop this evening to download the photos we'd taken today, we discovered we were in range of an unsecured wireless network. So we've taken a cheeky piggyback to make this post!

We're now five days behind in our trip report, but I'm going to post just one day at a time rather than trying to catch up all at once.

On day 5 of our South Island trip we drove right across the country from Christchurch on the east coast to Greymouth on the west. We really must put together a map showing our route, and add it to our posts, but I think that's a job that's best left until we get home.

It was day 5 that we got our first glimpse of the Southern Alps, the mountain range that runs almost the whole length of the South Island. We took the road that goes over Arthur's Pass. There's an interesting history behind the pass, which you can read here.

Part of the way down the west side of the Alps we stopped to take some photographs, and our car was attacked by a cheeky kea, or alpine parrot. It made two holes in the cover of our spare tyre and had started work on the piece of rubber securing our back window before Iain managed to chase it off. I think 'flying monkeys' would be a better description for these birds!

Who's a cheeky boy, then?

On the road to Greymouth we went past the old Brunner coal mine, the site of New Zealand’s biggest ever mining disaster, in 1896, in which 65 people died. There's an interesting account of events here.

After we'd checked into the hotel at Greymouth we took a short drive up the coast to see the pancake rocks and blowholes at Punakaiki. Here's a description from the official Punakaiki website:

The Pancake Rocks that Punakaiki is famous for, are limestone formations that began forming 30 million years ago, when lime-rich fragments of dead marine creatures were deposited on the seabed, then overlaid by weaker layers of soft mud and clay.

The seabed was raised above sealevel by earthquakes to form the coastal cliffs and coastline. The sea, wind and rain have since etched out the soft layers to form the unusual rock formations we see today.

When conditions are right, heavy ocean swells thunder into the caverns beneath the rocks and huge water spouts blast skywards through the blowholes in a truly spectacular sight.

some of the 'pancake rocks' at Punakaiki

the beautiful West Coast - we thought this bit looked more like the Caribbean than New Zealand!

Greymouth seemed a bit of a dump, to be perfectly frank. When we arrived it was New Year’s Eve and everywhere was shut - including most of the pubs and all of the restaurants. The streets were deserted apart from the occasional small group of bewildered tourists, looking in desperation for somewhere that was open where they could spend the evening. Eventually we found a cafe that was open, and despite the seedy decor, the food wasn't bad, and the waitress pointed us in the direction of the place where the party was - an Irish bar. In distinctly un-Irish fashion we left before midnight, making a New Year's resolution not to bother coming back to Greymouth again.


Thursday, 4 January 2007

A rapid hello

Hi there - we're in Dunedin, spending fifteen minutes at an internet cafe. So far, none of the places we've stayed in have had internet access, so we've not been able to upload our photos and trip report, but I've been keeping notes about what we've been up to, so you can expect a long entry some time soon! So far the highlight of the trip has to be our boat trip along Milford Sound yesterday. Can't wait to tell you all about it.
Bye for now,