New Zealand Trip
December 2005 - January 2006
Pictures from our December 2005 - January 2006 New Zealand Trip
Now - about that subtitle above - one difference from our first trip was the weather. Shall we say it was interesting this time, and provided an alternative view from our previous trip? We seemed to have a lot more rain this time, and definitely a lot more wind (up to 180 km/hr in the Southland!) - however, we still had remarkable luck when we needed it, and spent very little time inside wishing the weather would change. As you will see below, most of the rain came when we were actually in transit - and while that prevented us from seeing some spectacular scenery in all its glory - we had seen a lot of that last time - and this way we got to see both sides of New Zealand. Now we just need to go back in winter for the snow... The only unfortunate part of our trip was actually on the way home - as we sat down to write up our experiences, we found that Tim had apparently left his journal on one of the planes - and so far, Qantas has been unable to locate it. So hopefully the memories are fresh enough that we'll keep the facts straight, and not forget too many of the special moments - plus with nearly a thousand pictures to sort through, those should jog the memory cells as well (and, equally unfortunately, this was the first trip where Clara and Lucy didn't keep thorough detailed journals themselves - they were too busy playing and reading to do more than jot down a few things.)
Once again we left Adelaide on Boxing Day (December 26), a little more aware of the implications regarding availability of services on a public holiday this time. However, we still had a bit of a surprise after we thought our reservations were all squared away - Qantas recently introduced their low-cost carrier Jetstar as a no-frills, point-to-point service within Oz (which we took to Cairns a few months ago) - and during December they began switching some of their international traffic to the Jetstar banner - including our flight to New Zealand. This meant that instead of arriving at about 5 pm, we wouldn't get in until after 10 pm. Plus, we would have to manually transfer our bags between Sydney's domestic and international terminals, since Qantas does not forward bags to or from Jetstar. At any rate, we arrived at Adelaide airport Monday morning, checked in, and Qantas moved us to the earlier flight to Sydney at our request, since we would have to do a manual transfer in Sydney, and Jetstar has a strict policy requiring check-in no later than 60 minutes prior to the flight. The flight to Sydney went without incident, all our bags arrived, we grabbed a taxi, and were soon at the international terminal, where we had to wait a few minutes for the Jetstar check-in to open. We checked in, and headed for the Qantas lounge - where we had an even longer wait than expected, since the plane was late. Eventually we boarded, and were close enough to the front to get some food before they ran out. We arrived in Christchurch about an hour and a half late, to find our limo had come and gone without us, so we grabbed a taxi, found our hotel, and crashed into our quite nice rooms for the night.
All too early, given our late arrival, and the fact that Christchurch is 2 1/2 time zones later than Adelaide, we were up and went down to breakfast. Our car arrived partway through our meal, so we got that organized, finished up breakfast, checked out, loaded the car, and we were off to explore New Zealand once again! First we had to find our way out of Christchurch - not a big challenge, although we did manage to make an extra circuit of Hagley Park (the big park our hotel was on - we had intended to spend our first evening exploring it a bit, but not getting into our rooms until 1 am as opposed to 6 pm nixed that idea!), and then we were southbound towards Dunedin.
As we traveled south through the rolling farmland (lots of sheep, some cows), the first thing that struck us were the windbreaks - essentially huge hedges around many of the fields. Some were Lombardy poplar, more were an unknown fir, some flax or gorse - and, most amazing, some of the 20-30 foot hedges were actually trimmed, truly looking like the manicured hedges of some giant gardener! Some even showed signs of a very large circular trimmer. The paddocks which had sheep in them had the additional feature of a very uniform "upwards pruning" job done on them to the height of 3-4 feet by the sheep. We hadn't remembered excessive wind from our previous trip - and it wasn't windy at the moment, so we were wondering if these hedges / windbreaks were needed, or just for looks to remind folks of England (as in Longford, Tasmania). We were later to find out they were VERY necessary!
We were once again struck by the alternating names - as in Oz, where Aboriginal towns such as Wagga Wagga, Jabiru and Wollongong compete with European settlements such as Hahndorf, Kingscote and Hobart, in New Zealand it is the commingling of Maori names with primarily Scottish names - while we traveled the route from Christchurch to Dunedin to Invercargill, we passed through Timaru, Oamaru and Balclutha. Our first stop was in the town of Rakaia, which is set on the banks of the Rakaia River - a large, braided, glacier-fed river draining its section of the Southern Alps. And since New Zealand is one of the premiere trout fishing destinations in the world, it of course has the obligatory giant trout welcoming all visitors. While New Zealand is currently near the very top of the world's trout fishing destinations, that position is under threat - a destructive algae called Didymo is threatening the country at present - currently, it is limited to only a couple watersheds, but there is great fear of it migrating and decimating trout fishing wherever it goes. In addition, the popularity of NZ as a fishing destination has resulted in the NZ Fisheries agency starting to issue separate permits for certain backcountry fisheries, with the possibility of a lottery system in the future to determine who gets to fish when and where. This has occurred under pressure of local fisherman, who for many years were used to having rivers to themselves; the influx of foreign fishermen has caused a great increase in "crowding" - at least by New Zealand standards - if a New Zealander saw a single other fisherman in a day, that meant the river was getting too crowded! To Americans, and especially Europeans, this seems rather excessive (although Tim tends to agree with the locals - he would rather spend time on a lesser river if it meant he would also have more privacy while fishing.)
From Rakaia we continued south to Geraldine, where we stopped for lunch at a little cafe. We didn't have a lot of time for exploration, since we needed to get to Dunedin fairly expeditiously, so we could check in and still make it out to Penguin Place for our pre-arranged tour. We generally try to avoid fixed time constraints while we're on holidays, but we didn't want to miss the opportunity for this. We arrived in Dunedin (Gaelic for "Eden on the Hill", and the original name of Edinburgh, Scotland), a lovely small city located at the base of the Otago Peninsula. We immediately headed up the Otago Peninsula, following a road alongside the beautiful Otago Harbour, in search of our night's accommodation, Larnach Castle. As we went further and further, we were more and more certain we had misread a sign - so we turned around, headed back towards the city, and tried again. We later found out we gave up too soon - however, we were soon climbing up into the highlands above the harbour, and shortly thereafter arrived at the castle - the only castle in New Zealand. We checked in, but turned down the reception clerk's offer to escort us to our rooms and provide some background info, since we needed to get to Penguin Place; instead, we requested directions to Penguin Place, further out near the tip of the peninsula. And then we were off, luggage still aboard, and arrived at Penguin Place in time to check in for our tour.
Penguin Place is special since it is one of the few places you can see yellow-eyed penguins in a wild setting. Contrary to common perceptions, most penguins do NOT live in the arctic/antarctic regions - many of them live on temperate land, either rocky shores or even in woodland/grassland. Yellow-eyed penguins are one of the latter. They are also the third largest of the penguins (which still doesn't make them any too tall - they are nominally about knee height - the tallest are about two feet tall when stretched out.) Penguin Place is a private reserve, which was set aside by Howard, the owner of the property (primarily a sheep station) in the mid-80s. He dedicated a very lovely beach and the surrounding bush lands to the project, and since then has been steadily building blinds / hides (largely covered tunnels with viewing windows) throughout the area, adding small dams (ponds) and restoring the native bush (including the beautiful native fuschia). Approximately 70-80 penguins call the general area home, with many of them setting up nests and raising young in the bush. One or more babies are born to each couple, and they start out as fuzzy brown balls, then during the course of their first year, they moult and take on the black and white coloration plus the yellow eyes - however, they do not develop the characteristic yellow band through the eyes - that comes after their second moult when they are a year or so old. Before the penguins moult, they have to feed up very well; otherwise, they will starve during the month-long course of the moult, when they are no longer waterproof and cannot go out to sea to feed.
The guides who took us around know the penguins well, and can tell them apart by name. Even in our short time of observation, it was clear that there were a wide range of personalities among the penguins - from the skittish youngster which kept trying to get across the beach to its nest, but being "scared" by a seal which was doing nothing more than dozing in its path, to the young bachelor bird that just stood near its hole under a flax bush and watched us pass within 5 feet, to the yearling that splashed and played in a pond with total unconcern - or the fuzzy baby which kept trying to scratch its back on a branch and then fluttering its flippers wildly. We greatly enjoyed moving from blind to blind, watching the antics of the penguins, while the walkie-talkies of our guide crackled occasionally with more "penguin sightings", which caused us to move on to new viewing sites. These are completely wild animals, and while they may be accustomed to humans in the vicinity, they are not fed, or tamed in any sense. The Penguin Place people keep careful track of the penguins, and which ones are breeding together, what young are born, etc. And it's all done via private funding, primarily from the proceeds of running these tours. As we made our way back to the starting point, we passed Howard, the owner, working on a fence repair - like most of the Australian and New Zealand farmers we've met, he is clearly dedicated to the land, and not a front-office guy - and we certainly greatly appreciated his foresight in putting aside this land - and, what would in America be a multi-million dollar beach - all for the benefit of 70 or 80 penguins.
We thanked our guide, and then headed back to Larnach Castle, agreeing that getting to see such cute penguins going about their daily business from such close range was well worth the rush from Christchurch. Back at the castle, most of the day guests who had come to tour the castle had left, and we made our way around behind the castle to the "lodge", which was build out of one of the original castle outbuildings, across from the stables, and with absolutely stunning views out across Otago Harbour and the outskirts of Dunedin, hundreds of metres below and kilometers away. We had requested two rooms, and found that each room had a theme. The first one we opened was "The Goldrush" - and the room's centerpiece was a huge kingsize bed built into the middle of a wagon - four large spoked wheels surround the bed, with a driver's bench big enough for two suspended above the foot of the bed - the girls took one look and said "Could we have this room?!" They immediately hopped onto the bed and began playing. Sandy and Tim left them, and continued on to their room, the "Queen Victoria" room - very staid and proper, with a four poster canopy bed, and a picture of Queen Victoria on the wall to discourage any horseplay (it was not one of the three known pictures of Victoria actually smiling, as Clara reminded us!) We settled in, enjoying the views, and then very soon it was time to walk back up the hill to the castle, where we were eating dinner "family style" with about 15 other guests around a large table in the castle dining room. The meal was Scottish-influenced, and even included a first course option of a variation of haggis. We had a very enjoyable 3 hours talking and eating - the girls were proper little ladies - while Clara was better positioned to take part in conversations, Lucy was more limited, and quietly read her book in between courses and discussions with Sandy and Tim. The guests covered the spectrum from a Dutch couple living in Hong Kong (where he is a banker), to a middle-aged fighter pilot (looking nothing like it) who is part of the OpFor (opposing force) for exercises with the British RAAF, a Japanese couple who were as surprised by the cuisine as Sandy was on her trip to Japan, an Australian couple who live just a kilometre or so from us in Adelaide (!), an English émigré couple who live on the North Island, and a Sydney couple. We had quite a broad discussion about life in different countries, and the worries the Europeans in the group had regarding the lack of agility and inability of the European Union to actually present a sufficiently united view to the world to keep their economies going in the face of threats from the growing powerhouses in Asia. After dessert, we said our good nights as the first to leave, taking the girls back to the lodge and pouring them into bed. Tim and Sandy stayed up a bit, again enjoying the views and the few lights across the harbour, as we heard the other guests return to their rooms.
Wednesday morning we got up and dressed - as we were dressing, the girls noticed a cat (perhaps feral) in the garden below our room - and as they watched, several kittens bounded out, prompted mutual loud "Ooooohhhhssss!" They watched for a while, then went exploring the gardens, trying to find the way into the path where they saw the cats, but it turned out to be behind a locked gate. So, they returned and we wandered the short distance across the courtyard to the former stables, now a dining room and kitchen, where we placed our orders, and were soon tucking into a good breakfast (somewhat Scottish, but no black pudding or haggis, to the girl's relief.) After a couple cups of coffee, we went back to our rooms, packed up, and then headed up to the castle to checkout. We would have liked to take a tour of the castle beyond the few first floor rooms we had seen, and the beautiful grounds, but wanted to be on our way - we had a couple things to do in Dunedin, and then quite a ways to go to our next stop, Fortrose, where we would be staying for five days - long enough to catch our breath and relax. So back down the hill we went, once again admiring the views over the harbour and city, and into the downtown area, where we stopped at a place the girls have wanted to go for quite some time - the Cadbury Factory (actually, it is the factory in Tasmania they wanted to go to, but this is what they got!) Unfortunately, one problem with touring around manufacturing operations during Christmas-New Year period is that they are frequently shutdown to give the employees leave, and/or to do annual maintenance - and Cadbury was no exception. However, they were giving a reduced tour, and do have an interesting small museum describing the company, its origins, and the chocolate-making process. And in the main entrance is a lifetime supply of Cadbury Crunch (not, however, one of the girl's favorites!) For the tour, we watched a short video, got a free sample bag, and got some more background info - including some which quite disturbed the girls - that Americans are the largest consumers of chocolate in the world by far, eating a per capita average of 22 pounds a year! This shocked us, as we don't eat nearly that much even between the four of us - so either Cadbury's numbers are wrong, or there are truly a massive number of chocolate addicts in the US. (Sidenote: A quick look on the web after our trip at various sources indicate that northern Europeans in general, and the Swiss in particular eat far more - the Swiss manage a per capita consumption of about 22 pounds per year - while Americans eat on the order of 10-12 pounds per year - still a lot but not quite as outrageous!) They did have one piece of operating machinery, although it was part of the museum, not the factory proper - a small, antique conch machine - which is a machine that "folds" liquid chocolate over and over for hours to give it the proper texture. While we didn't really get to go into the manufacturing areas, we did get to walk up through one of their large silos and out onto a rooftop where we got an excellent view over the city - we then returned inside, where we got to watch their one ton chocolate "waterfall" - i.e., one ton of liquid chocolate that cascades down the inside of the silo - while somewhat impressive, not nearly as exciting as we expected when we heard the word waterfall - we were expecting a Willy-Wonka style chocolate waterfall - guess that's the trouble with movies - it raises expectations unreasonably!!)
From Cadbury, we walked around to the Victorian railway station to admire the architecture, then up to the "Octagon" - a sort of eight-sided "square" in the heart of Dunedin; some of Dunedin's oldest and most beautiful buildings are in the area, especially St Paul's Cathedral; however, Tim's motivation for visiting was the statue of Robert Burns. After Tim posed for a photo with Burns (the patron saint of scotch drinkers around the world), we headed south. We passed through still more sheep paddocks and general farmland, with the ever-present hedges / windbreaks, and began passing over more rivers - uniformly high and brown to Tim's dismay, as he had hoped to get in a little trout fishing this time around. We stopped in Milton for lunch, at which point Highway 1 becomes part of the "Southern Scenic Route", a tourist-driven designation of the road which loops around the southern-most tip of the south island, through the Catlins to Invercargill. (Sidenote: we finally came across a one-way bridge, and Tim at last felt he was back in New Zealand - on our last trip, it seemed we came across one-way bridges every few miles! Guess the main road from Christchurch to Dunedin and beyond is too heavily traveled for them!) Upon reaching Balclutha, we parted ways with Highway 1, following the Southern Scenic Route down to the Catlins. Since we'd spent a fair bit of time in Dunedin, we just drove straight on towards Fortrose, admiring the hills and occasional ocean views, but eventually we passed through Tokanui and then pulled into the homestead of Ian and Jeanette. One of their daughters made us welcome, and then Jeanette arrived back from the cottage, and took us up through the paddocks to our home for the next five days. The weather up to this point had been generally good - some clouds, but no real rain. In fact, it was fairly warm when we arrived at Fortrose Retreat.
Ian and Jeanette run several thousand sheep on about 850 acres which has been in Ian's family since his grandfather's time. Back in 2003, they built a small, comfortable and modern two bedroom cabin on top of a hill overlooking much of their paddocks, with a view to the sea beyond. It was clear enough that afternoon that we could see where the mainland curved around to Bluff and on out to Stewart Island. Jeanette showed us through, and then we unloaded and settled in. The girls immediately pulled on some of the "gum boots" (ie rubber boots) which were provided, and headed off down across the paddocks to check out the sheep. (See also here and here for the sheep's reaction!) We had picked up some groceries back in Balclutha, since we didn't expect much in the way of local shopping given our location halfway between the tiny settlements of Tokanui and Fortrose (we were right, the locals go to Invercargill for any serious shopping), so we were set for the night. After calling the girls in (reluctantly on their part) for dinner, we had a quiet, relaxing night.
We had a leisurely start the following morning, which was quite pleasant after a couple days with schedule commitments. Eventually we decided to make a loop over the local "Heritage Trail", and headed off first to Fortrose, and then down to the sea and along unsealed roads down to Waipapa Beach for a look around (and gathering of the first of many Paua shells, among other things!) A couple of seals were out and about, as were some sooty oystercatchers - including this one that was quite aggravated at Tim for walking (apparently) so close to it's nest. The sky clouded up some more, and rain started just as we headed towards Slope Point, the southernmost point on mainland New Zealand (Stewart Island, visible in the distance from our cabin, is further south.) By the time we reached the start of the hiking path to Slope Point, the rain was substantial - and we had left our hats and raincoats back in the cabin for some reason. We decided not to walk down in the rain, and instead continued on towards Curio Bay.
Curio Bay is the location of a fossil forest - essentially a beach, visible at low tide, where instead of sand, there is rock - and the rock contains many fossilized trees (10-20 metres long, and 1-2 feet across) and ferns from 160 million years ago. It is quite an amazing place, with the grain and structure of the wood clearly visible. The trees were conifers, and similar to the kauri and Norfolk Pines found throughout New Zealand today. A secondary attraction of Curio Bay are the yellow-eyed penguins which nest in amongst the flax plants surrounding the beach. We had a good exploration of the area, then left just as a ranger started herding people off the beach to allow a penguin to make its way home. From Curio Bay, we made our way through the tiny settlement of Niagara (essentially just the Niagara Cafe!) - Niagara is named after Niagara Falls - a joke perpetuated by a surveyor who had just returned from a trip to the Niagara Falls on the US-Canadian border - the New Zealand version of the falls are essentially rapids... Then it was home for steaks cooked on a George Foreman (!!) electric grill that Jeanette and Ian provided for guests - and a quick rush out to clean and put away the grill when it started to rain. The rain soon stopped, and we enjoyed a pleasant evening in the cottage.
Friday, we headed off to Invercargill. Our first stop was at the Southland Museum and Art Gallery, which had a small but interesting collection of artifacts of local interest (including some Bert Munro memorabilia - Bert set 9 world speed records back in the 1960s, and the recent movie The Fastest Indian in the World provides a very interesting view of his first trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats, and the first of his world records aboard an old Indian motorcycle he had heavily modified.) Even better was the exhibit of Maori artifacts, including displays showing how various tools and weapons were carved / created. And then perhaps the most famous display at the museum is actually living - the Tuatara exhibit - featuring Henry, a Tuatara over a hundred years of age, plus many of his relatives - the museum has one of the most successful breeding programs in the country, and the displays were well done. Tuataras are reptilian relics from the dinosaur age and are found nowhere else in world. From the Tuataras, however, things went downhill as we entered the art gallery, which contained a couple major exhibits of contemporary art that none of us managed to appreciate!
From the museum, we headed further west to Riverton. Our motivation for this trip could be found in the bathroom at Fortrose Retreat - one of the first things we noticed upon arrival at the cottage was that the bathroom had some tile trim made out of Paua (Abalone) shells - very bright and distinctive, with a swirling pattern of green, blue, silver and occasionally a flash of pink, a bit like a film of oil on water. This inspired Sandy to search out the source, so we inquired of Jeanette - who told us she had gotten it at one of the Paua places in Riverton. So off we went - and successful we were - we visited a couple Paua shops, and came home with sheets of Paua material, plus a variety of jewelry / gift items for friends and family. We had a good lunch of blue cod at the RSA (Returned Servicemen's Association - analogous to the VFW in the USA and the RSL in Oz), stopped for Tim to take a picture of the giant paua shell at the entrance to the town and then headed back to Fortrose, where the girls continued playing about the house and paddocks, and Tim took a trek down into the stand of native bush immediately below the cabin - which reminded him of the Daintree with its plethora of ferns and fern trees, vines, and generally green and moist undergrowth. For some of the things he saw about the paddocks and bush, see these wildflowers, butterfly on a thistle and this female (we think) tomtit that fluttered about him, and which he thought might even land on his hand for a while, native fuschia and a bumblebee on a thistle.
Saturday morning, Ian arrived in his jeep at 10 am to take us on a farm tour. We put on our boots, loaded up, and headed off across the paddocks. We had a truly enjoyable and fascinating morning touring the station, and learning about the intricacies of raising sheep. We would never have guessed at the level of management and attention to detail required to ensure that the sheep are in the best paddock for their current growth requirements, to know how and when to move sheep to ensure that the feed (primarily grass and clover) in the paddocks is eaten at the best time, and allowed to be eaten neither too short nor to grow to long; how important it is to place fences in such a way that the redistribution of nutrients by the sheep (grass in one end, poo out the other) maintains the fertility of the fields as a whole. They are also always working on improving their sheep breeds, and currently run primarily a composite breed of several distinct lines; they have 25 rams of their own, but will hire in rams for a season in order to breed in certain characteristics to the next generation. Almost all their sheep are aimed primarily at the production of lambs for the export meat market, with a secondary objective of decent wool (it is a coarser wool used in manufacturing carpet and primarily exported to China). They also run a few meat-only sheep; these are distinguished by their black faces - which immediately made the girls sad when they found out the end of these "special" sheep! The recent development of good chilled shipment methods providing a shelf life of 6 weeks allows them to export fresh (not frozen) lamb to markets around the world (the UK is the largest customer), with a much better quality than frozen lamb can provide.
They currently run about 2500 mature ewes, and this year have another 700 hoggetts (yearling ewes); the ewes routinely produce well over 100% (i.e., more than 1 lamb per ewe; we read in an article that some farmers manage to hit 150% with their lamb production). This was the first year their hoggetts had exceeded 100% (and getting hoggetts to lamb is a relatively new idea, and requires special care and attention to diet as well.) Ewes generally last about 5-6 years before they go out of production; you can tell age of a ewe by the number of teeth it has. We were also fascinated to hear that they routinely ultrasound the pregnant ewes, and then separate out the ones with twins and triplets to give them a richer diet. They also take special care with late pregnancies - after the first few weeks that the rams are put to the ewes, a dye marking system is harnessed to the rams, and any ewes that turn up with dye marks are carefully watched, to ensure that when they do lamb (generally well after all the others) they can be properly cared for. Another important consideration is lamb size - the desirable size for a lamb is market-driven - lambs that are too big don't bring as good a price. Some of the local farmers also keep lambs year round, to get the off-season price advantage, but it's a lot more work, especially in a climate like the Catlins, which is always borderline too wet - Ian remarked that their best years tend to be when there is a bit of a drought elsewhere.
Another feature of their stock and paddock management is their selection of which paddock to put into swedes (sweet potatoes) and turnips each year. This provides winter food for the sheep, plus a paddock that the sheep can stay in to avoid tearing up the grass during the wet winter conditions. Then in the spring, when the sheep have eaten off the swedes, the sheep are turned out elsewhere, the garden paddock is replanted with grass, and a new paddock is planted in swedes (this year, Ian is experimenting with some rows of rye grass between the rows of swedes to see how the sheep like it.) Clover is the best feed for the animals, but it has a shorter growing season, meaning that grass has to remain the primary feed. Thistles (both the small, multiheaded California variety and the larger Scottish variety) are a perpetual problem, as is gorse, which was another of those great mistakes made with good intentions - it was introduced to NZ as a potential fenceline / windbreak plant, and has become a pesky weed.
As we toured a far paddock next to a creek and some native bush, we saw some feral goats hanging about - they live in the bush, but come out into the paddocks to feed as well. We then headed down towards the center of the farm, and Ian moved some sheep from paddock to paddock with the help of a single "header" dog. Header dogs work the front of a "mob" (flock) of sheep, usually quietly, bringing them back together, as opposed to "huntaways" which drive the flocks from the rear, usually while barking. At one point, the girls helped move about 1800 lambs by "baaing" to get them and keep them moving. After a look through the shearing shed (quiet at the moment, but amazingly busy when in production - the shearers work an 8 hour day, shearing a sheep every 1-2 minutes!) We then went over to his brother's place (he and his brother have adjacent farms, both originally part of their grandfather's farm), to watch them "drenching" some lambs (essentially giving them an oral solution to prevent worms; they have to do this every few weeks until the lambs develop their own immunity.) And then, the best part from the girls' perspective - Ian fired up a 4 wheel bike and let Tim give them a ride around the paddock - they hopped off at the end with big smiles.
Ian then dropped us back at the cottage, where we had a quick lunch before heading east - back through the central Catlins to Nugget Point. This was originally on our itinerary for the day of our arrival, since we passed fairly close by - but we had been running late enough that we decided to press on to the cottage instead. So now were were backtracking, over a very pleasant, winding and hilly road through some beautiful countryside. We stopped along the way for petrol and ice cream bars, and then again in Owaka when we noticed a small store named Catlin Quilts. Sandy and the girls got a few New Zealand fat quarters of fabric, while Tim added another turned wooden bowl to his collection - this one of Rimu, carved by the in-laws of the lady who runs the quilt store (and who live on a couple hundred acres of native bush over on the West Coast, where the Rimu is protected, but they are allowed to harvest any old fallen trees). From Owaka we continued on to Ahuriri Flat, where we turned south onto a new (to us) road for Kaimataitai and the winding, hilly approach to Nugget Point. Nugget Point is a sharp bit of land, reached by walking along a narrow ridge to the point where the still-operating lighthouse stands. The "Nugget" in the name comes from a handfull of large rocks (almost small islands) which stick up above the water around the point. This is both a treacherous area for ships, and a wonderfully rich habitat for wildlife - fur seals, sea lions and elephant seals all live along the shore far below (the only place in NZ where they live together), and penguins are nearby, along with many varieties of birds. Large amounts of kelp are visible above water, and we read that underneath is another rich environment of corals, sponges, anemones, etc. We heard very raucous noise as we made our way out to the lighthouse, which turned out to be a combination of birds and seals. A very beautiful spot, and one worth exploring in detail. See also here and here
However, it was getting relatively late, given the distance we had to go. The timing turned out to be nearly perfect, since it started to rain again just as Sandy and the girls reached the car (Tim was, as usual, trailing along behind, taking pictures of whatever caught his fancy). We had promised the girls some beach time (and the "beach" at Nugget Point is a loooong way down!) so we stopped just before Kaimataitai, and the girls fossicked for sea shells, while Tim and Sandy enjoyed the views. From Kaimataitai, we drove straight back to Tokanui - we thought about stopping briefly at one of the well-known waterfalls along the way, but decided we had seen plenty of waterfalls on our previous trip, and would have many more opportunities on this trip, given our planned path up through the Alps and along the often-wet West Coast. We stopped at the store in Tokanui by mistake, thinking that it was the "bistro" Jeanette had talked about. After a very mediocre meal, we walked out to the car and noticed the real bistro around the corner just a couple hundred metres away - oh, well, better luck next time! Then it was back to the cottage for the evening, and an early New Year's celebration - we have to admit we were even less well-equipped for New Year's this time around than last year in Tassie - we did at least have fizzy drinks for everyone to toast the New Year in with (and no, the girls didn't have anything alcoholic in spite of the rampant silliness apparent here and especially here!)
Sunday morning began lazily, and then Tim and the girls headed through the paddocks, over the hill and down to the far paddock next to the bush, in search of the feral goats - which they found. They had a great time watching the goats (which stood up on their hind legs to get at the higher vegetation), and then exploring the bush itself - again, very reminiscent of the Daintree in places. The girls discovered some paperbark trees, and started gathering fallen bark, and peeling off the outer layers to make "parchment" for their planned Wizards game at Last Straw Cottage (they had received the book Wizardology for Christmas, and brought it, along with a couple other similar books as the basis for this elaborate, Harry Potteresque game they had been planning for days if not weeks!) They were quite excited to find a goat skull and many of the bones - and desperately wanted to take the skull along as one of their wizarding props, but Tim told them it should stay where they found it. After quite a long ramble in the bush, the three headed back up the hill and across the paddocks to the cottage - many kilometers under their belt.
In spite of the long ramble, the girls weren't through yet, and apparently had developed a taste for herding sheep. Here they are trying to approach a herd from below the ridge so they wouldn't be seen. And here is the result in spite of their best efforts! Then, sadly, it was time to pack and have a last meal at Fortrose Retreat.
We had been generally very lucky with weather, with some stunningly good days, and only occasional rain or overcast - but Sunday night was extremely wet and gusty - the cottage is near the top of a hill, and with some trees behind and to one side, but none between it and the ocean. We enjoyed a bit of a rainbow, with nothing to block it either! The wind howled much of the night, with Tim estimating it at 60-80 mph. We found out the next day that winds in the Southland area had reached 180 km/hr in spots, so perhaps we weren't far off! We also found one of the short, heavy wooden deck chairs 30 metres down the track the next morning! Everyone got a pretty good sleep in spite of the wind and rain, and Monday morning we had a quick breakfast and loaded the car in between rain squalls. Then it was northbound once again, back past Ian's and Jeanette's farm house, out to Fortrose, and north along small tracks through the windbreak-lined paddocks - and now we really understood why there were so many windbreaks!
From Fortrose, we headed north to Gore (one terminus of the so-called and sign-posted Presidential Highway - which runs between the NZ towns of Gore and Clinton!) Tim had intended to make this trip himself during our stay, as the fishing is supposed to be superb in the area (Gore has a large trout statue at the entrance to town, announcing it as the trout capital of the world - much like many other places we've seen.) However, the weather had kept the rivers high and dirty, so he decided not to. We had also hoped to visit the Moonshine Museum and Art Gallery in Gore - but they didn't open until afternoon since it was a public holiday, so we continued on northward instead. From Gore we headed northeast - choosing to cover new territory rather than head northwest and shortly start retracing our path from our previous trip. We had briefly considered heading over to Queenstown on the way, to take a jetboat ride on the Shotover River - something we missed last time around, in spite of spending several days staying in a house above the Shotover Canyone. Fortunately, we decided that would make the day too long - and it turned out that Shotover Jet had been shut down right after Christmas, due to an engine fire which sank one of their boats, and put all the others offline for inspection. Even by the end of our stay in Nelson over a week hence, they were still shut down.
The weather continued off and on wet and (very) windy as we made our way north to Raes Junction, where we met up once again with the Clutha River (which goes to the sea near Balclutha, where we did our initial grocery shopping on our way to Fortrose). Swinging northeast, we tried to stop and get petrol once, but power was out, so the pumps weren't working. We managed to find petrol in Roxburgh, along with some beautiful fruit (we were traveling through another great orchard area). We continued on to Alexandra (home of the annual Easter Bunny Shoot on Good Friday, when hunters converge on the area to help get rid of the pest of introduced rabbits). There we stopped at Nuno's, a seafood and burger place where Tim once again proved he is a magnet for strange food - the daily special "Tasting Platter" was whitebait fritter, paua patty and island style groper. He made it all the way through, but decided that once was enough for all three items! Sandy and the girls stuck with a more conventional (and better!) seafood basket / fish and chips (with the fish being Blue Cod - since that seems to be what all the fish and chipperies advertise, we're not quite sure if that's a generic name for generic white fish, or an actual species!) We also discovered the New Zealand public holiday surcharge - since the government recently legislated that small businesses such as restaurants and cafes have to pay time and a half to their workers on public holidays, or provide time off in lieu, many eateries have stopped opening on holidays; others, like Nuno's, respond by adding on a 15% surcharge (to what are often already fairly high prices, given the relatively high minimum wages in NZ - like Australia, tipping is uncommon because of this).
Having survived lunch we continued northwest past the town of Clyde and the Clyde Dam, bringing us into a region of large, beautiful lakes - some natural, some manmade. We soon hit Cromwell, and were back on familiar ground. From Cromwell it was a short hop to Wanaka, where we found our way to the Edgewater Resort, located, not surprisingly, on the shores of beautiful Lake Wanaka, with a great view across to the mountains of Mt. Aspiring National Park (see here, here, here and here.) It turned out our room wasn't quite ready, so we relaxed in the lounge rooms with coffee and soft drinks complements of the hotel, until we were able to move into our quite nice room on what we would call the second floor in the states, but what Kiwis call the first floor (the bottom floor being the ground floor, not the first floor). The rain was still spitting a bit off and on, but we drove into town, found a lakeside parking spot, and wandered through some shops, particularly a used book store, as the girls were running low. We followed our noses to a great Indian restaurant, where we enjoyed some excellent curries and naan bread, before heading back to the lakeshore for a little walk. Then it was back to our rooms for the evening.
The following morning we were up fairly early. The girls wandered out on our little balcony to admire the ducks in the duck pond just outside and below - which caused all the ducks to wander over and congregate under our balcony in hopes of a few morning tidbits. We went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, then packed up and checked out, and headed north again, around Lake Wanaka and then along the shore of Lake Hawea, yet another large beautiful lake in a stunning mountain setting. The weather remained unsettled, so we didn't stop to explore much as we worked our way into the Southern Alps, and upwards to Haast Pass - where it was once again pouring down rain, just as it had been two years ago. This time, we didn't see quite as many spontaneous waterfalls (perhaps it hadn't been raining quite long enough), but the scenery was still very pretty, and the rivers and waterfalls we did see quite impressive. After Haast Pass, we made our way through the Gates of Haast, along the Haast River, to the towns of Haast, Haast Junction and Haast Beach (get the idea that someone named Haast had an important role in the region??) and back to the ocean. Not surprisingly, the waves were quite large, giving the beaches a good pounding. We did stop for a few pictures, but again chose not to run along the beach and get soaked!
The road alternated between the shore and inland a ways along the flat farmland and bush between the mountains and the sea, before heading further inland into the Alps, towards glacier country. We arrived at Fox Glacier with low skies and rain, which put paid to one of our planned side trips - the Cook River makes its way from the Alps at this point to the sea, and following the river valley westward one comes to a couple points of interest. First is Lake Matheson, which is the source of many of the picture postcard views of Mt Cook (the highest peak in NZ), since the lake and mountain are perfectly positioned for a nice reflecting picture. Beyond Lake Matheson is the sea, with a (supposedly) beautiful black sand beach. However, the weather suggested we weren't likely to get much in the way of views, so we continued north, once again without seeing all of Mt Cook (we did manage to at least see its base from the other side, overlooking Lake Pukaki on our previous trip.) Next was the Franz Josef glacier, where a small town has sprung up along the road to service passing tourists and those wishing for a closer approach to the glaciers, whether by foot or helicopter. We stopped here for lunch at a small cafe before heading northward (still in the rain).
From here until our next stop in Hokitika, it was a run through the rolling farmlands of the coastal strip, interspersed with a few hilly and twisty sections. The other activity we had thought about was exploring the White Heron sanctuary just north of Franz Josef. This remarkable place is the home for ALL the white herons in New Zealand during the period from December to February, when they gather in this single location to breed. Once again, the rain was heavy enough to dissuade us from the required boat ride and walk (even assuming they were operating in that weather!) so we continued on until we reached Hokitika in early mid-afternoon. We were staying once again at the Jade Court, a very nice motel with two bedroom units, ensuring everyone could get a decent night's sleep. After unloading the necessary kit, we headed into town where all the girls shopped for a special piece of greenstone (i.e. jade) jewelry. Then we headed to yet another fine Indian restaurant, had an equally good meal as the previous evening, and then stopped by the beach for a quick look for greenstone - the rain had lightened up to sprinkles by this time. However, Tim and the girls got so engrossed that they forgot to watch the sea - which was still sending occasional large waves up the beach - fortunately for the girls, they were further up the beach - but Tim got caught about as badly as Clara back on the Yorke Peninsula - so it was back to the motel, where he spent a goodly part of the evening drying out his shoes with a hair dryer, and draping the rest of his clothing over the (fortunately heated) towel racks in the bathroom!
After a good night, we ate breakfast at the same little cafe as last year (pretty much the only place open at that hour), then headed north once more, with the rain and wind still upon us. Lonely Planet refers to this region as the "Wild West Coast" - and it certainly is! On our previous trip, we got the great views, blue skies, and infinitely varied blue-green shades of water; this time, we got the grey, cloudy skies (with an occasional tiny patch of blue), and huge booming waves; quite a different atmosphere, and, while not what we may have expected (or hoped for), it was certainly worth seeing and experiencing! We passed through Greymouth, the largest town on the west coast with a population of nearly 14,000 - it is also the western terminus of the Tranzalpine train from Christchurch - yet another adventure we'd like to take someday if we can work it in. Greymouth is also the home to Monteith's Brewery, whose products Tim took a liking to in Fortrose (although he wishes they would stay with standard beers, which they do quite well, and knock off the strangely flavoured beers they do in case someone wants to drink a beer that tastes like, say, Sprite, or Poo's honey bucket...)
After Greymouth we had a choice of turning inland to cover new, unseen territory, or repeating our trip up the coast (in the opposite direction.) Normally, this would have been an easy call, with us choosing the new territory; however, on our last trip we gave Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) a miss due to the horrendous crowds when we passed in mid-afternoon. This time, we were arriving much earlier in the day, and on a day of less-than-perfect weather, which made us think (hope!) that we might find fewer crowds - so we took the coastal road, where we were rewarded with great (if different, as previously mentioned) views - and, upon arriving at Punakaiki, we had it to ourselves! Not only that, as we pulled in the rain stopped, the sun came out, and blue sky appeared. And as a final bit of icing on the cake, the seas remained high and booming, which meant we got to see some of the "blowhole" action (and hear and feel it) even though it wasn't high tide.
The Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki would be fascinating even without the blowhole activities. The rocks are formed of layers of horizontally-oriented limestone a few inches thick, separated by very thin mudstone bands. What provides the unique look of the rocks (that of a stack of pancakes) is that the mudstone has preferentially weathered away from the limestone, leaving what appears to be a stack of pancake-like slabs of limestone stacked up in columns. Because the structure around Pancake Rocks is largely limestone, there have also been some passages through the rocks created by slightly acidic water, which means that during high tides (and high swells) the ocean can actually penetrate into and among the rocks via these passages, resulting in a booming sound as the water hits the roofs of the caves, and also sprays or jets of water coming up out of the vertical passages. All-in-all, it was a fascinating place, with perfect weather and almost no one else around. We had a good look around, listening to the booming, watching the birds, examining the rocks and plants, and then headed back to the car. And as we headed back - the weather turned once again, clouds covering the sky and the rain starting - talk about luck! So we ducked into a cafe / visitor centre across the road for a couple cups of coffee and some postcards, and then headed north once more towards Westport.
This last section of twisty, up-and-down, cliff-hugging road between Punakiaki and Westport had been our first introduction to the West Coast two years ago, and we were stunned by the colours of the ocean then. Today, the colours were darker and more subdued, but the scenery was still spectacular. And as we traveled north, the sun came out a bit again, to give us one last taste of the fantastic palate of blue-green ocean colors, before we turned inland. We detoured a bit off the direct route to go into Westport for petrol and some very good sandwiches and desserts at the bakery right across from the gas station. Then it was back to the main road and eastward along the Buller River, which, like most other rivers we had seen so far, was running high and dirty. At Kowatiri we parted ways with the Buller, and continued north-northeast, with the girls getting more and more excited as we got closer and closer to Brightwater - we recognized the area, and had no trouble locating Last Straw Cottage - and as we drove in along the lane between the paddocks, we saw Fatty, the grey mare the girls rode last time, along with another beautiful chestnut horse which were to learn was little Whisky, now all grown up and named Xena. We parked and piled out, and were relieved to see the cottage was as we remembered it, and perhaps even nicer - it was great to be here after three days on the road and in the rain.
As we unloaded the car into our home for the next eight days, the girls immediately headed out to the beautiful old climbing tree along one side of the garden - this was to be their "home" for the next week or so! After unloading, we headed on into Richmond to get groceries - we "almost" remembered where the grocery store was, but it took a little searching to find it for sure. We loaded up on groceries and headed back to the cottage for a relaxing evening. Lynne and Jon stopped by in the evening to welcome us back and drop off the newspaper (they'd already left a selection of bread, muffins, milk, eggs and so on for us.) And the girls had been incredibly excited to find a bag of "Dragon Drops" on one of their beds - these are essentially spherical chocolates, with various flavored fillings, made nearby in Richmond - and they fit right into the theme of their wizarding game.
Thursday morning we lounged about the house, and Sandy caught up on laundry (she insists doing laundry at Last Straw is enjoyable, since she gets to hang it up on the Hills Hoist clothes line (an Aussie invention broadly used across Oz and NZ), surrounded by beautiful scenery. The girls got tucked into their wizarding game, making various concoctions / potions out of available flowers and copious mud, finding perfect broomsticks from amongst the branches laying on the ground, and began working on their "school projects" for their wizarding classes. Later in the day, Tim and the girls headed into Richmond again to check out the used book store we had seen on our grocery expedition. The girls found a couple things to help stretch out their remaining books, then wanted to go next door to the "Kerstens" store, the source of the various chocolate treats which Lynne & Jon had left around the cottage for us. Afterwards, we just headed back to the cottage, and had a lazy remainder of the day - it was so nice NOT to be out and about doing things and riding in the car! The girls also enjoyed feeding the horses with Lynne (see here and here.) Late in the afternoon, the girls were anxious to check out the old swimming hole on the river - so off we went, in spite of it being a bit cool - the girls were determined to swim, even though they were the only ones there - and you know if must be cold if the locals weren't around, considering the it is considered a heat wave if the temps approach 80!
Friday we decided to take a little trip. After a slow morning start, we headed off towards the Upper Motueka valley. The Motueka River is one of New Zealand's great trout streams. We were actually heading upstream, near Golden Downs, in an area of "exotic" tree farming, and a ways above the best trout water. It was also a bit smaller river up there, more to Tim's liking. We drove along the river for a ways, checking for a good picnic spot, and eventually doubled back to where Tim had spotted a narrow track through the bush. We stopped and he walked down to the river, clearing some dead falls out of the way, then came back and drove down. We had a lovely little clearing above the river, right at a bend with a deep pool. We got out and had a picnic lunch, and then Tim got his fishing gear together, helped Clara and Lucy down the steep bank, and then headed upstream to fish while they explored nearer the car. All three had a great time, with the girls finding more pretty rocks (particularly blue and purple striped ones) than they could carry, and while Tim didn't catch anything, or even see a fish (not surprising, given the wind rippling the water surface most of the time), he thinks he might have at least had a couple nibbles. Then he worked his way back, and helped get the girls and their treasures back up the bank, before heading back down and across to try his luck in the deep pool near our parking spot, but to no avail. Then it was time to head back to the cottage. Along the way, we stopped at one of the many roadside fruit stands and made one of the outstanding discoveries of our trip. Boysenberries, raspberries and strawberries were all in season, so we had to pick up kilogram boxes of the first two for only NZ$7.50 each - that works out to about $2.20 per pound US - a heckuva bargain, and they were all fresh-picked and ripe.
The girls continued to explore and play - they found a bike in the barn - too big for Lucy, to her chagrin, but ok for Clara, so Clara took a few spins up and down the lane - stopping, of course, to talk to Xena occasionally. And when all else fails, there was always the sandbox. After dinner that night we had the first of many treats - large bowls of berries and vanilla ice cream - fabulous! This immediately became one of the high points of the trip. We also noticed an inquisitive bird which made persistent circular rounds through the courtyard every evening - it didn't seem to mind if we were sitting in it's path, and would continue on as if we weren't there.
Saturday we decided to reprise something we'd done the previous trip - take in the Nelson Saturday Market. We remembered how crowded it had been last time, so this time we set out quite a bit earlier - and eventually arrived at the market site - unfortunately, we had slightly misremembered where the market was, and none of our maps were detailed enough - so we had to do a bit of hunting around - but we eventually found it and started cruising the stands - an amazing array of hand-made crafts including jewelry, clothing, pottery, cosmetics, wood turning, etc, plus lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. We ended up with several wooden articles plus some fruits and vegetables (including a mandatory bag of apples for the horses - it turns out there were six horses staying at Last Straw Cottage, and all but one of them really liked apples.) Tim and the girls then took a quick look around the fishing and hunting store adjacent to the market (where the girls made a rather sad "Ooooohhhh!" over the stuffed rabbit and fawn.) Then back to Last Straw by way of Stoke (so Tim could check out the Mac's Brewery - unfortunately, it wasn't operating either, so not much in the way of tours.) Another relaxing afternoon and evening followed, with the girls feeding apples to the horses, doing a little more wizarding play, and of course evening boysenberries, raspberries and ice cream. The girls had also discovered the Bocce set at the cabin, and so we started another evening tradition of playing a game of bocce before turning in.
Sunday we decided we were recovered enough for a longish day, so we headed north towards Abel Tasman National Park. Abel Tasman is one of the smallest (at around 23,000 hectares) and most heavily used (in summer) of New Zealand's parks, yet stunningly beautiful. Most use of the park is based around the coastline, where a twisty, rugged coast, with copious small sandy beaches make great places for kayakers and sailors to play. Water taxis abound, and are always moving up and down the coastline, dropping off day-trippers, or hikers who only want to do part of (or one direction of) the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, a 50-odd km hiking trail following the coast for the length of the park. Immediately to the west of Abel Tasman is the Kahurangi National Park, a much larger park covering most of the peninsula, and extending south to meet other parts in the northern Alps and Nelson Lakes area. It is the largest untouched wilderness area in New Zealand - meaning you have to work seriously hard to get into it, either by foot or perhaps by helicopter. We weren't up for either of those things, so we simply admired the forest and hills from the road which twists and turns northward between the two parks as we made our way towards Golden Bay at the northern end of Abel Tasman.
However, on the way north, we first took a detour to Kaiteriteri (another popular summer destination for Kiwis - wall-to-wall caravans and tents all along the foreshore, and then on to Marahau, where we stopped at the base for the Abel Tasman Waka Tours. We wanted to do something along the coast of Abel Tasman, but hadn't been certain what until we discovered these Waka (Maori Canoe) tours. We wanted to check to make sure Lucy was old enough (no problem - the six year old daughter of the owners regularly goes on these trips!) so we signed up for Wednesday, then continued on to the Marahau beach, where we got a good look at all the water taxis being towed out to launch by tractors (the beach / flats are so shallow, that people wanting to go on a water taxi ride at low tide would have to walk across half a mile or more of beach to board their boat otherwise - this way, they board the boat while it's on a trailer, and then a tractor hauls it across the sand flats to the water.) We also noticed this interesting juxtaposition of a small car and large boat - it brought to mind the Littlest Engine that Could - "I think I can, I THINK I can!" From Marahau, we made our way back to the main road, and continued north, retracing our route from two years ago.
We made our way along the Takaka River, up and over Takaka Hill, via twisty roads with great views out across the Tasman Bay to Nelson, and northward into beautiful farming valleys. We passed through Upper Takaka, bypassed East and Central Takaka, and then arrived in Takaka itself, where we turned east for Abel Tasman. We hit the coast of Golden Bay at Pohara, and began seeing lovely beaches and rocky cliffs. We turned inland once more onto an unsealed track, and after 11 slow, twisting and and hilly kilometers through dense green forest (lots of tree ferns) we emerged at the extremely popular beach / campground at Totaranui. The campground was full, and there were obviously a lot of day trippers like us around to enjoy the beautiful golden sand beach (from which the bay takes its name). Even so, there was plenty of beach for everyone. We all lathered up with sun screen, enjoyed a picnic lunch of cajun-style smoked salmon, venison sausage, various cheeses and fruit at a picnic table by the beach and then the girls headed off to swim. Tim and Sandy just sat on the beach watching them. Clara was quite fascinated by a fishing boat which came in with a catch, watching one of the fisherman clean their catch - then, as he leaned over to wash his hands, he spotted a big fish in the shallow water, so he dove in to follow it. The girls never saw that fish, but did see other smaller ones working the shoreline. Later, they conspired to bury Lucy in the sand (the sand, by the way, was quite interesting to look at close up - it wasn't a single color, but many grains of different colors - oranges, yellows, white, grey - all adding up to a beautiful golden color.) Eventually, it was time to head back, as we had a long trip, much of it over twisting roads.
We had thought we might have time to explore a couple other beaches, or even stop by one of the Lord of the Rings filming sites near Ngarua Caves, but instead we decided to head back to Takaka, and then took a brief detour north to Te Waikoropupu Springs (most often abbreviated to PuPu Springs). These are the largest freshwater springs in New Zealand, producing on the order of 14,000 liters of water per second from at least 16 vents. The area unfortunately saw a lot of exploitation years ago, with extensive gold diggings and sluicing undertaken, and most of the forest chopped down. Nowadays, it is protected as a conservation site, and the advantage is that you can see the remains of the gold works (primarily in the stacks of large round boulders removed during slucing), and the four phases of the regenerating forest - from the initial stands of very weedy and tightly-packed Manuka trees, to the very small stands of mature, hundreds of years old trees. Swimming is no longer allowed (much to the girls disappointment, since they were still in their bathers), although limited diving is allowed. Since this is a fragile area, and important to the Maori as well, the Department of Conversation is trying to reduce / eliminate diving as well, although they haven't produced an outright ban yet. We walked along Fish Creek (which has several springs feeding it) to the main springs - and what a marvelous sight it was! Extremely clear water, filled with wild underwater growth, and the odd large trout (which made Tim wonder "Hmmmm - the signs didn't say anything about No Fishing here...") Much birdlife as well. One of the features of the main pool is a "backwards" periscope which allows you to see underwater into the main pool, where the "dancing sands" are - i.e., the bottom of the pool is in constant motion near some of the main vents letting fresh water in.)
Much as we would have enjoyed staying there even longer (and having another picnic lunch as some other guests were), we still had a lot of hilly road to traverse before we got home. So it was back through Takaka, back up over Takaka Hill, and down across the Moutere Inlet. This was the scene of another controversy while we were in the area - recall from our last trip that a common occurrence is for people to spell out messages and designs on the extensive tidal flats, using the readily-available round stones. Sort of an environmentally-friendly graffiti outlet! It turns out that at least one of the local council members apparently doesn't like this practice, claiming it causes car accidents [although no statistics on that were stated], and has been trying to get it declared illegal, and cleaned up. A couple weekends previously, this same council member apparently got a group of volunteers together to go out and - get this - not remove the graffiti, per se - but to rearrange it into a generic fish logo that he hoped would be replicated up and down the mud flats! It sounds to us like he is more of an art critic than actually someone concerned with safety and/or natural appearance of the area! At any rate, as far as we could tell, the rock-graffiti artists were still going strong. We made it safely home in spite of the distraction, had another quiet evening.
Monday morning we were actually quite glad that there hadn't been enough space for us in the Monday Waka trip, since after the previous day's extended stint in the car, we were all ready to spend the day around the cottage. It was a quiet day of reading, catching up on journal writing (still lost, unfortunately!), postcards, carving wands for the girls (who continued their wizarding game), feeding the horses, playing Bocce, and a round of Hand and Foot for Tim, Sandy and Clara in the evening after Lucy went to bed.
Tuesday, we had another quiet morning, but then headed back to Richmond to the Höglund Art Glass Centre. This is the base of Ola Höglund and Marie Simberg-Höglund, who are internationally-known glass artists - Ola is the primary glass blower, and Marie is the primary designer (who also does some of the glass painting / engraving for certain styles of the glass they create.) We arrived and arranged for a tour, then spent a little time looking through their extensive gallery of beautiful glass - both soda and crystal, created in a variety of styles and techniques. Then Rachel, our American guide took us into the next room, and explained the glass making process to us - the different raw materials, how they are processed, the techniques the glass blowers use, and the things that can go wrong (a display of goblets which had "slumped" since they were put into the annealing oven at slightly too hot a temperature were extrememly interesting.) Then we got to go back to the glass-blowing "studio" - essentially an open-sided building with all the tools and people arranged as if on a stage. The team of Ola (principal glass blower and founder), Chris (another master glass blower from Sweden), two apprentices (Dave and Josh) and a friend (Dmitri) from Europe who was helping out and also learning some new techniques. They were just starting a large vase as we arrived, so we watched them complete this while Rachel explained what they were doing and the tools they were using. It was quite a complex ballet of five people, all doing something important, that had to be scheduled down to the minute to allow the work to progress and not fall apart. We then watched them complete this vase, and start the next one, so we could see the complete cycle (including the application of color from "canes"). The piece they were doing today was black and white (Lucy remarked "I wish we'd come on a green and blue day!"), which is a difficult combination to work with, due to the different heating characteristics of the two colors of glass. The strength and precision of the glass blowers was amazing - they whirled several kilograms of molten glass around on the end of a long punte to get the shape they wanted (Rachel commented that Ola likes to push the envelope of speed and size, and often tried - and succeeded - at things other glasss blowers wouldn't attempt.) We spent probably an hour or more watching, and could have stayed much longer, but we didn't want the girls to get bored!
It was interesting to watch the techniques and tools used - from a chunk of newspaper dampened and then used to shape the hot glass, to the extremely dense fruitwood blocks also used to shape perfectly round glass, The blocks aren't too heavy when dry - but they soak up a lot of water - and are always stored in water, in fact. When they are applied to the glass, a thin layer of steam is formed which is what the glass "rides" on during the shaping. The blocks range in size from a couple inches across (which can be handled by a single person) to much larger ones a foot or more in size which are used in pairs like molds for shaping large objects such as the vases they were making today - and which require at least two people to use. One of the unique aspects of today's item was the need to switch the initial attachment point 90 degrees around the item, creating a new blow hole at the same time, to allow the color (and joints between the two halves) to go at a 45 degree angle to vertical - adding a lot of character to the finished item. While picture taking was unfortunately not allowed, the website linked above has some good pictures of the team in action.
Ola and Marie both trained in Sweden with Kosta Boda and Orrefors, and came to Nelson in 1982. They initially set up shop in Nelson, in a shared space call the Craft Habitat which gave a lot of the local artists their start. Later, they moved out to the paddocks outside of Richmond, Chris joined them, and they began taking on apprentices. They have also expanded by adding galleries in several countries around the world, and recently opened a second studio outside Port Douglas in Queensland, where they spend half their time. The apprenticeships currently run 10 years - glass blowing is hard to master (in Europe, they run 15 years!) Two of Ola and Marie's sons are also apprenticed in to them, but were currently both off on sabbatical.
After the excitement of the glass-blowing, we went back into town in search of a second used book store, as the girls were once again running low. We eventually found the one we were looking for, got a few books, and headed back to the cottage for another quiet, relaxing evening - with more Bocce and Hand and Foot.
Wednesday, we were up relatively early, as we had to get up to Marahau by 8:30 for our Waka trip. We headed north through Motueka, this time going by the main road rather than the back roads we'd used the previous time, and going directly into Marahau the "back" way, avoiding all the hills and narrow, slow road getting into and out of Kaiteriteri. We arrived in plenty of time, to find some of the other Waka tour members there, as well as a few kayakers. We got fitted out for life jackets and boat shoes, and then after a while Glenn fired up the Sand Shuttle (essentially a covered platform built on top of a tractor), we climbed aboard, and headed off to the waterfront at a leisurely pace. Today was quite different from a few days ago - then we'd arrived at low tide, and the sand flats stretched out for hundreds of metres from the shore; today the tide was in, and the water was up close to the beach where the Waka was located.
Our guides for the day were Glen Gribben (he and his wife Tania started the business three years ago), another lady family member whose name is too difficult for us to attempt to spell, his son Kyle and a friend of Kyle's (the latter two would be driving the auxiliary boat, carrying our odds and ends plus our lunch. Our other companions consisted of an Australian couple from Newcastle (north of Sydney), a Swiss couple, a brother and sister from Germany and a couple from Holland. Before starting, we gathered around a circle of paddles (hoe, pronounced "hoy" to rhyme with toy) with a carved serpentine statue in the centre. Glenn told us about proper Maori etiquette, showing us the specially carved steering paddle he uses, with a carved head on one end, and the tongue (blade) on the other; each paddle traditionally represents an ancestor, so to treat it properly you always lay a paddle down, rather than throw or drop it; you also never step over it, but rather around it (like a sleeping person on the beach), and finally, never stick the blade in the sand - hold it blade up, or rest it on your foot. He told us a little more about the history of his family (he and our other guide introduced themselves in Maori, then translated - this is part of standard Maori greeting protocol known as pepeha, and all the proper details to pass on can be found here on the Maori Cultural website), and about the Waka, and the significance of its name and design.
Since we would be together for the day, working together as one, we had to undergo the hongi (literally meaning "to sniff") with each other to become part of their "family". To the Maori, the head is sacred, so one never touches someone else's heads (unless you know then very well) - thus the significance of touching foreheads during the hongi ceremony; one also touches noses and inhales sharply to indicate a sharing of the breath of life. Thus, we worked our way around the circle, one hand on a persons shoulder, the other clasping their hand, pressing foreheads and noses, inhaling, and saying "Kia Ora" (Maori for good morning, welcome, thank you...) After this, Glenn always used the word whanau (pronounced roughly "fahrno") when talking to us as a group, signifying "family", rather than, for example "guys", "folks", etc.)
Once we were all family, Glen explained a Maori tradition from when groups of Maori would depart a village on a long sea voyage. One of the elders would gather a lump of clay, bless it, then pass it around for all the travelers to hold briefly, then divide it in two. Half would stay in the village, and half would go in the Waka for the journey; the theory was that the pieces of clay would keep the voyagers attached to the village, and draw them safely back eventually. In our case, Glen showed us a piece of serpentine rock which had been carved by a local carver, and presented to them as a gift upon the blessing of the canoe at 4:30 one morning three years before. Since then, the carving has gone on every Waka trip, and been held by every person to travel in this waka, from little children to rock stars! We were nearly ready to go, so Glen lined us up by height (the girls were in the front row, Sandy in the middle, and Tim nearly at the back.)
Before loading up, Glen had us practice five commands in Maori (which we unfortunately cannot remember at this point!) - essentially "Get Ready", "Paddles Up", "Paddles Down", "Stroke" and "Stop/At Ease". After we'd run through these with a bit of success, Glen moved people around a little to balance weight - the girls were moved to the back row, and Paul (the Aussie from Newcastle, and the only experienced sea kayaker among us) moved to the front to sit beside our second guide. Glen's son Kyle blew on the Pukaea (conch shell imported from Fiji for the purpose), and then it was all aboard, Glen offered a prayer of thanks and hoping for safe travels and then took the single rear seat, with the steering paddle in hand. Kyle and friend provided a little help with the pushing out, and then we were headed out into the Tasman!
We practiced our synchronized paddling in the shallow waters, and also learned (very roughly!) the proper Maori challenge with which to greet / challenge other canoes. This turned out to be quite important, as many of the water taxis working the coast stopped alongside the Waka as we made our way up the coast, and didn't leave until we'd performed the challenge for them - we can only wonder about how many home videos will we appear in, waving our paddles over our heads and sticking out our tongues! We admired the coastline, the beautiful water (and schools of fish circling about) and the beautiful day as we made our way northward deeper into the Abel Tasman. As we went Glen described more of the history of the area, his family and Maori roots in the area - and also kept the chants going to allow us to synchronize our paddling ("Tokihi ... Tokihi ... ) (pronounced Toe - Key - He ... Toe - Key - He ... in a one - two - three rhythm - "paddles ready " - "paddle!" - "tap paddle on gunnels") He would occasionally branch out into different chants, to which our response was "Te Waka". And he tried to get some of the crew to sing their national songs in time to the rhythm, which proved too hard for most of us - about the best we could do and still maintain our rhythm was "Tokihi ... Tokihi ..." along with an occasional pass of the chanting lead by way of names - "Tokihi ... Tokihi ... Clara ... Lucy ..." would be how Lucy would (and did!) pass the lead from herself to Clara. And once, when everyone was paddling full bore ahead, Glen called softly to Tim, Eric, Sebastian and his partner in the back to stop paddling. Then Glen modified the chant to keep the front going, and then working in "... Thank You ... Look Behind You ..." so the folks in front could see they'd been giving a free ride to those in back. Then he swapped it around, and had the rear seats give a free ride to the front, then all hands forward again, then another quiet message to the rear to paddle backwards!
As we passed between Motu-Arero Iti (Little Tongue Island - known as Fish Island to non-Maori) and Mutu-Arero Roa (Big Tongue Island - known as Adele Island to non-Maori. Adele was named by d'Urville on his short stay in the area - he was on quite good terms with the Maori; his name is attached to a number of other NZ locations as well - d'Urville Island and the D'Urville River feeding Lake Rotoroa for two), Glen explained that Maori do not name natural features or locations for people or events, but rather either in descriptive terms (e.g., these two islands look somewhat like tongues) or what is found there (e.g., Kaikoura, our next stop in a few days, named for the abundant food [Kai] in the form of crayfish [Koura] available there.) This provides more clues to visiting / traveling Maori as to whether they are correctly following the directions someone has given them, and/or approaching the desired location. We passed several beautiful beaches, most with folks enjoying them (mostly kayakers, plus a few bushwalkers_ and noticed a number of sailboats anchored in the lee of Mutu-Arero Roa as well. During one of our rest breaks, Glen passed around the Conch shell, and everyone had a go - the girls managed a reasonable sound, and Tim and a few of the others did respectably as well. Glen then asked if we wanted to stop at the beach immediately in front of us, or continue further north around the next point to see if we could find a less "crowded" beach (considering that this is the most popular park in NZ, and this time period was the absolute peak of the annual holiday season, we were hard-pressed to consider them crowded in relation to what an American or even Australian east coast beach would look like under these conditions!) We voted unanimously to continue on, and enjoyed a couple more challenges for water taxis loaded with tourists, raced a couple two person kayaks, and then headed in to our chosen spot for Kai (lunch) at Akersten Bay.
While lunch was being prepared (brought along by Kyle and friend who had been following us in the outboard boat), Glen told us the story of their Waka. Every Waka is very personal, and designed to reflect the lives of and things important to those who use it. There are carvings all over the boat, with specific meanings, most of which we unfortunately cannot remember clearly without our notes. In short, the canoe was designed and built specifically for Glen and Tania three years ago, and combines traditional design with modern materials (a fibreglass bottom, to make it light enough for reasonable use). Afterwards, we took up our paddles and gathered around to learn some Maori fighting moves, with the paddles substituting for the spears we would normally use. Glen volunteered his son plus another friend who just happened to be on the beach to lead the demonstration. After practicing the moves individually, we put them all together in a sequence - and while any Maori warriors would have fallen down laughing at the overall result, the girls were quite serious and did quite a good job of mimicking Glen! Then we carefully put the paddles back in a circle, and walked over to the lunch, where after another prayer of thanks, we tucked into smoked fish, smoked and garlic mussels, chicken, ham, salads, kumara (sweet potato which is a very revered food for the Maori because it is one of the few carbohydrate sources in their diet), fruit, and bread for a nice feast. Then it was swimming time for those who so chose (primarily Clara and Lucy, but a couple other folks hopped in as well.) One couple was leaving us here, to walk back to our starting point along the coastal track; the rest of us boarded the speed boat for the trip up to Te Pukatea Bay by way of the "Mad Mile" for a little bush walk to explore the ruins of an old Maori Pa.
Glen chose Lucy, as the youngest, to tell him when to go ("Ready, set, GO!") and he hit full throttle, taking us out of the little bay and around the headland into the stretch of water known as the Mad Mile, due to the way water is channeled through, and kicks up waves. Clara's grin got wider and wider as our speed increased, and we jumped the waves - they may not have gotten their jetboat ride, but this was a good second best! We soon reached Te Pukatea Bay, and backed in, anchored the boat, and went ashore. Then we made our way inland, and started climbing upward to Pitt Head. This area had been named after the Pukatea tree - but unfortunately very few still exist in the area - in fact, this particular area was farmed in the not too distant past, although it is recovering nicely; there are still a few cabins in the park which have been grandfathered in; when the current owners die, they will revert to the government.
This entire area is Glen's backyard, and he knows it well. He goes hunting here (for wild pig) and diving for crayfish and spearing flounder; in the winter, he told us, the weather isn't much colder, and the skies are blue and the water calm - sounds like a perfect time for a return trip. We stopped just up from the beach to watch and listen to a bell bird, whose bell-like tones we tried to imitate to coax it closer. Then as we made our way through the bush, another sound took over - that of massive numbers of cicadas, which was deafening (Glen remarked that he sometimes has trouble hearing his dog when hunting, due to the noise); the foliage was dense and green, with various types of ferns (including the NZ symbolic Silver Fern) and fern trees all over. Glen stopped and told us characteristics of various plants - including the flax that is still used for baskets and ropes (and which was one of the items the Maori successfully traded with England in the early days of colonization; in fact, the English traders felt so threatened by the Maori success, they caused the government to impose a law requiring all traders to sail under a national flag - which the Maori lacked, thereby putting an end to this entrepreneurial venture - yet another instance of the difference we saw between Maori and indigenous Australians, and their willingness to involve themselves in western / European society, and make a place for themselves.) The Maori clearly understood as well the care of these plants, and how important it was, in the case of flax, to leave the "children" and "parents" of the plant (the innermost, youngest shoots) and only take the older outer leaves. Other plants are useful for medical purposes, or emergency supplies (such as the vine which is used for lashings, and which can provide a mouthful of fresh water from its youngest ends.)
As we made our way up to Pitts Head, we caught various picture postcard views both of the beach we landed on, and other beaches, cliffs and forests in various directions. Upon approaching the end of the point of land, we had to pass across a narrow ridge, which had served as part of the defense in depth for the Maori Pa. The narrow ridge and long drop on either side made it an expensive proposition to attack. While the Maori had shelters throughout the area, and harvested food over a wide area, when they got the warning call from their lookouts that potentially enemy canoes were approaching, they would all head to the point of land, and the warriors would man the defenses. These consisted of a series of deep trenches, with mounds of dirt and walls behind them - walls with only narrow doors, which limited the ability of enemies to force their way in en masse. Some signs of the old ditches and mounds are still there and visible, although the forest is regenerating from a fire a few years ago which cleared the area; soon all the signs will be once again hidden. Clearly, the Maori understood defensive (and offensive) warfare well - Glen told us stories of other Pas which made use of caves and tunnels, and which held out not only against other Maori tribes, but against westerners armed with western guns and cannons as well - in fact, the British picked up the idea of trench warfare from the Maoris, and took it with them into World War I. In the end, the true "conquest" of the Maoris had more to do with disease, and things they couldn't see to fight, rather than pure warfare - the Maori quickly acquired an understanding of western weapons and redesigned their defenses to handle them - and were able to source guns as well from other western traders.
After looking over the remnants of the Pa, and enjoying the views, we headed back to the beach. There was a crowd gathered near the boat, and it turned out there was a Little Blue Penguin (smallest in world, smaller even than Fairy Penguins) floating nearby - at first it was thought it was hurt, but it didn't appear to be. We boarded the boat, and carefully maneuvered around the penguin, then Clara gave the command, and we were off once again, southward bound, back to Akersten Bay to rendezvous with the Waka and those folks who just wanted to lie on the beach in the sun - plus Kyle and friend, who were watching over things. We picked up our remaining passengers, and then headed south once more - this time detouring to see "Split Open Rock", one of the icons of the area - it has the look of a very large, perfectly round builder, which split in two, slightly off-center, and sits perched on another rock just offshore. The Maori story behind it is that the gods of the land and sea were continually arguing over who owned the rock - since at low tide, it was clearly connected to land, yet at high tide, it was clearly an object of the sea. Finally, the god of the sea one night took his weapon and split the rock in two, half for each.
Then after a brief stop near some cliffs to check out fur seals, we headed back Marahau, where the tide was out, and we could see the shore a looooong way away! Fortunately, Glen's father-in-law was there with the Sand Shuttle, to take us back across the sand flats to the shore. We arrived just as the couple who had chosen to walk back arrived, and then we transferred to a van, and then headed back to Glen and Tania's house, the tour base camp (Glen didn't come with us, as he still had many hours of tasks left - he had to go back to his son and friend at the Waka, and get that back, and then go off to help some of their kayakers; the previous night, he had had to search an extra 20 km of coast for some kayakers who had misread the map, and ended up far off course for their overnight stay! He eventually found them safe a few hours late! Then he and Tania were out to dinner late with a group of indigenous Japanese who they had taken on the tour that day, and who wanted to set up a similar venture in Japan.) Once back at the house, we thanked Tania for a fabulous experience - it was certainly one of the highlights (if not THE highlight) of our trip, and we were so impressed with Glen, his knowledge, friendliness, hard work and good nature - they are clearly in this for the long haul, and the right reasons - and we recommend one of their tours to anyone.
Fortunately, the trip home didn't involve many twisty mountain roads, and as Glen said, we'd sleep well tonight after all the paddling and bush-walking. We made it home safely, had some left-over Tandoori, and finished packing - since it was, sadly, our last night at Last Straw Cottage. We had one final round of Hand and Foot, and then headed off to bed.
We were up early for breakfast; while we loaded the car, the girls went off to say good bye to all the horses. Then we were on the road out of Brightwater shortly after 9 am. The skies were still cloudy, with intermittent rain and showers forecast the entire way to Kaikoura - and that's essentially what we had. We went back through Nelson one last time, then continued east towards Picton (where we had landed on the ferry from the North Island during our first trip.) The countryside was very pretty - lots of farmland, some forest and hills, and a fair bit of tree farms (for logging, rather than Christmas!) We stopped briefly at the beautiful Pelorus River for a couple pictures, but mostly just continued on. We avoided the beautiful (but slow, twisty and hilly) Queen Charlotte Drive, instead taking the southern route from Havelock down to Renwick, and then across to Blenheim. Blenheim is the "capitol" of the Marlborough wine region in New Zealand - we began seeing vineyards as we approached Blenheim, and continued to pass through them long afterwards. One of the largest wineries in New Zealand is the Montana Winery, with vineyards scattered all over; thus, we stopped at one of their vineyards where they had a winemaking operation as well as a cafe to have some lunch. We didn't, however, take time for a tour - we needed to get to Kaikoura in time for our scheduled helicopter flight.
We enjoyed the coastal scenery once again, along with the rolling farmland and rivers. The hills were much browner on this side of the mountains, in spite of the intermittent rain we were encountering. The girls enjoyed keeping track of a train that was heading south, sometimes in front of us, sometimes behind us - and once, on top of us as we simultaneously crossed a double-decker one way bridge!! We made it to Kaikoura in good time, and found our way through town and out the peninsula to our accommodation for our last two nights in NZ, at the Anchor Inn. We had been toying with the idea of cutting our stay to one night, and heading on to Christchurch to give ourselves a day to explore the city, but our arrival at the Anchor Inn got rid of that idea - it was a lovely modern hotel, and our two-story apartment was right across from the water, with a view out into the ocean and of the mountains along the mainland shore (even though we couldn't see the mountains at the moment due to low clouds!) We checked in, unpacked, and then headed back into town to the railway station, which is also right on the water, and where the helicopter whale watching flights are based.
We arrived at Kaikoura Helicopters - World of Whales, wondering if they were even able to fly today given the relatively low ceilings. We walked in, and they assured us they were flying, and to come back in a half hour or so. We wandered off around the corner to another Jade / Paua shop and browsed for a few minutes, before heading back. We arrived back, and found out they had decided they would be able to fit us in their smaller copter (a Robinson 44), thus saving us some money. So, we paid, were given life jackets and weighed, and then told it would probably be about 30 minutes before we took off. The reason for this lies in the habits of the whales - they tend to dive to feed for about 45 minutes (although one of the local Kaikoura whales has been timed to dive for about 2 hours and 17 minutes!), then come up to spend 6-8 minutes on the surface, reoxygenating their blood (all 3000 pounds of it!) so the flights are based on careful timing of whatever whales are active in the area at the time, to ensure successful viewing. In this case, we were waiting for a whale to surface again and then dive, so we could be out in the right area when it resurfaced.
Kaikoura is the only place in the world where conditions are right for viewing sperm whales within reasonable reach of shore. This is because sperm whales (and their food supplies) require very deep (2-3 km) water and a rich environment. While sperm whales are only the third largest whales, they ARE the largest toothed whales. Thus, instead of filtering smaller food from the water with baleen filters, they eat larger prey, including both fish and giant squid - in fact, they actually use their acoustic abilities to sonically stun their prey, then suck them in and swallow them whole. So why are they common close to shore around Kaikoura? Because of the geological features in the area - specifically, the Kaikoura peninsula sticks out into the ocean several kilometers, and then beyond it for score of kilometers, all the way to the Chatham Islands, is an underwater obstacle, the Chatham Ridge. The water over the ridge is only a few hundred metres deep, whereas just north of the ridge the bottom sinks quickly away to 2-3000 metres (2-3 kilometers) in depth. Finally, a strong warm current comes down the NZ coast, and hits this ridge, thereby allowing lots of food to pile up. The sperm whales have learned to take advantage of this. However, instead of pods of whales occupying the area, what largely happens is that young males (young meaning up to 15 years old, and 15-16 metres in length) are kicked out of their pods after they are weaned from their mothers, and they have to find a place with a rich food supply to live while they grow to maturity, before heading off to find their own pods. Thus, Kaikoura is essentially a nursery for these young whales, which need to eat approximately 450 kg (nearly 1000 pounds) of food per day! One other interesting characteristic of the whales is that, like dolphins and albatrosses, they sleep with half of their brain at a time, otherwise they would drown.
Dave, our pilot, arrived at the shop, gave us a briefing of what to do in an emergency, etc., and passed on lots of information about sperm whales, then headed off to get the helicopter. He was back in a few minutes, and we loaded up. This was the first time in a helicopter for all of us, and what a wonderful experience - Sandy and Tim both had the thought as we lifted off that this would be worth doing even if we didn't see a whale! We headed off across the town and over the bay, passing the whale watching boats which were all tied up at the docks today - the seas were too rough for them - another reason for us to be happy we'd picked a helicopter instead! We headed out, and listened to Dave on the radio, talking to a fixed wing plane and the other chopper as they searched for one of the two whales known to be in the area. We kept our eyes peeled as well, but naturally it was Dave who saw it first and told us as the chopper tilted sharply and dropped, to settle into a tight orbit about 500 feet above a 15 metre long sperm whale! We watched it moving slowly across the surface, occasionally spouting. Looking up, we noticed that the other chopper and the fixed wing (looked like a Cessna 172) had joined us in our tight circle. Then, after several minutes of watching, Dave announced "He's going to dive!" (he had told us you can predict this from the way the whale moves - it sinks a bit, then starts to turn up - so you have several seconds warning before the tail is vertical, and you get the classic advertising photo of a whale sounding.) As soon as the whale had gone under, we resumed the search for the second whale in the vicinity. However, the weather was closing in even more, with the haze building, so we ended up heading in without seeing a second whale - but the one we had seen was quite impressive, and the helicopter flight was wonderful - we came over the foreshore on the way back in, admiring the line of huge Norfolk pines lining the fine grey gravel beach, before landing once again at the railway station. We thanked Dave and got off, and watched him take off for their home base - it turned out that these were they only two helicopter flights they had gotten in all day, and they wouldn't be doing any more because of the weather - once again, we were fabulously lucky - another great experience and highlight of our trip.
After the excitement of our flight, we headed back to the room, made reservations at one of the many nice seafood restaurants overlooking the bay (this one was the Green Dolphin.) We arrived just as they opened, and sat down at a table near the windows, with a great view out over the beach and bay (the waitress apologized that the mountains were hidden by clouds). We had a very good and pleasant meal, largely of local seafood, and then headed back to the hotel for the night. Another nice feature of the hotel was a free lending library of both movies and books. So Tim traded in a couple of his finished books for a new one, and the girls picked a movie to watch (Caspar the Friendly Ghost). The girls went to bed early, while Tim and Sandy stayed up a bit - and the promised change to the weather came through, bringing quite high winds reminiscent of our last night in Fortrose! However, we all had a good night's sleep, and in the morning awoke to blue skies and a stunning view of the Kaikoura Ranges to our west - now we knew what we'd been missing last night at the restaurant!
We headed downtown to a cafe we had noticed opens at 6 am, and had a good breakfast. Then it was back out the peninsula to the point where the seal colony is. The girls were in a bit of a grumpy mood at first, but once they got crawling and running and jumping and exploring the tidal pools, they were back in a good humour. We were wondering where all the seals were (not that we were put out to miss them, considering all the opportunities we'd had to observe them elsewhere, such as on Kangaroo Island!), but still had a great time watching the various birds, poking around in tidal pools and under rocks, and general exploring. We did manage to get a family photo with the mountains in the background - and when we were heading back to the car, Tim almost tripped over a sleeping seal - if Clara and Lucy hadn't warned him, it might have really surprised both of them! So we watched the snoozing seal for a while, then wandered around a bit, looking under rocks for crabs, eels, etc., and then another seal turned up. So we got to see a couple anyway. We then headed up to the height of land above the point, and enjoyed the view for a while - but at this point, everyone was getting a bit peckish, so we headed out to the jetty to a seafood place that gets seafood from the incoming boats and sells it to the public. We picked up some smoked fish, shrimp and crayfish cocktails - and, the pièce de résistance - a cooked whole crayfish. Kaikoura crayfish are about the size of Maine lobsters, but they lack the large front claws. They are a primary attraction of the local restaurants - however, the restaurants charge the "export" price for them - nominally $75 to $100 each! So we decided we could get by with a less-fancy preparation, for 1/3 the price, and still get 90% of the experience! Back to the hotel we went, where we made a meal of our purchases, plus some fruit, cheese and crackers we still had - it turns out the crayfish seem to have more good meat in their tails than lobster, making up for the lack of claws.
After lunch, we headed back to town for - you guessed it - more books for the girls (unfortunately the hotel lending library only had adult books.) The girls found a couple books, and then we did a little more souvenir shopping, before heading back to the hotel. We had been planning just to do takeaway pizza for dinner (since we had takeaway pizza once again in Brightwater, and it had reminded us of the fact that NZ pizza is much more like American pizza - and, even after 4 1/2 years of Aussie pizza, we still prefer the American style), and finishing the girl's movie - but it turns out that the two pizza places in the phone book were both out of business, and the one restaurant in town advertising pizza had had an electrical failure to its pizza oven just an hour before we called - so we were out of luck! Instead, Tim went to the store and brought back the fixings for nachos and fresh fruit and veggies, and we made do with that along with our movie. The evening brought a full moon rising over the bay, and a beautiful view. Tim wandered out to take some pictures of the moon and mountains, and of the steadily improving sunset, and ran into another bloke staying at the hotel who was heading out on the same errand! Another interesting tidbit showed up in the Christchurch paper - the caption was something like "Big Bad Australians show up in New Zealand" - we thought perhaps they were talking about the Cricket team - but it turns out that Huntsman Spiders have been found in Christchurch! And just as with the South Islanders view of their "heat wave" weather, we have to laugh, coming from the home of the Huntsman Spider - where they are found in every house, and don't even rank in the top 10 most dangerous spiders!
Saturday morning brought our last day in New Zealand - while we were sad it was coming to a close, we'd had some great experiences, and were ready to sleep in our own beds once again. We had breakfast at the same place as the previous day, went back to the hotel to clean up, load the car and check out - and then we were southbound once again. We followed the coast for a ways, enjoyed the standard spectacular NZ coastline - with showers and clouds once again showing up off and on. We also noticed a few seals along the way, and the girls particularly like the way the road cut through numerous small tunnels in the ridges that ran out into the sea - in one case, there was a separate tunnel for each direction of traffic plus one for a train (and a train was actually coming through when we saw it). Then the road mostly turned inland, once again through farmland and small towns, returning to the coast once more before Christchurch, and soon we were in Christchurch, and at the rental car place. Over 3600 kilometres for this trip! We unloaded our car and got into the transit van for the airport.
We quickly checked in on our Qantas flight to Sydney. Unfortunately, we realized that our plane was already running 1 1/2 hours late - and we only had 1 1/2 hours between flights in Sydney - but there was nothing we could do besides relax in the Qantas club and wait to see - the Qantas staff assured us they'd make new arrangements for us if we were too late, as there were 25 people on our plane continuing to Adelaide. The plane showed up just about when expected, and we made up a half hour in the air. We had been seated near the front, so we got off quickly, and through immigration, and our 5 bags also appeared very quickly (a little advantage of all of Tim's trips, since he is a very frequent frequent flyer, and gets priority tagging of his luggage). We headed off to the red lane (another reason we expected to have no change of making our flight - we had so many things that we knew quarantine would want to check, we expected to be there for 30-40 minutes!) - but the red lane was closed! So we moved over to the green lane, and they directed us to a quarantine agent - who was only interested in our carved wooden bowls - and then we were off and running for domestic transfer station (shades of 4 1/2 years ago, but in the opposite direction!) We checked our bags back in, hopped on the bus, and waited, and waited - and eventually we made it to the domestic terminal, ran to our gate expecting to see it empty as we were well past departure time - and found that they hadn't even started boarding yet - apparently our connecting flight had been late as well! So we walked up and were among the first on. We collapsed thankfully in our seats, glad we weren't going to have to spend the night in Sydney (this was the last flight to Adelaide that night - Qantas had cancelled the normal later flight) - and enjoyed the trip home, with Tim taking a few pictures, and then, running out of memory cards, borrowing Lucy s camera after we touched down in Adelaide and noticed the beautiful rainbow behind the line of Qantas jets illuminated by the golden light of the evening sun - Tim thought this would be a great advertising photo op for Qantas marketing! Then we were off the plane (down the stairs once more - Adelaide's new airport is STILL not operational - even though it has been completed for several months, due to fuel delivery system problems.) We grabbed our luggage (all safely arrived), hopped in a station wagon taxi, and were soon home. Another wonderful trip under our belt - and hopefully not our last one to Aotearoa - the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Pictures from our December 2005 - January 2006 New Zealand Trip
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