Thursday, 15 January 2015

Exploring New Zealand’s South Island

After Christmas, we headed out to explore.  The plan was to check out some of the things we had missed last time and revisit some favourites.  Instead of travelling the west side of the island (which felt so much like travelling through B.C.), we followed the east side of the Southern Alps to discover that it felt like we were travelling through the foothills of Alberta.

Things that I learned about New Zealand.  You can never get enough fish.  Lamb is also a great choice of food.  Plunger coffee is common everywhere (still not filter like at home, but at least we are back to having “real” not instant coffee).  Dairy products are fast becoming the #1 export, primarily to China as infant formula.  Walking in the forests, it smells like home because of the pine trees that have been planted – it is illegal to cut any of the native trees, so forestry is exclusively a farmed occupation and North American Pine are planted in neat grids up the mountains to be clear cut 20 years later.

S 45.03.14 E 169.40.25 Otago Rail Trail

We spent five days biking an old railway line that has been turned into a bike trail.  The bikes were great and I learned how to really use those gears (all 27 of them) because “relatively flat” in railway terms was still rolling hills.  We stayed each night in small towns that had had railway stations before the line was closed and I made sure to stamp my passport at each spot.  Some memories of this trip include the folks we were biking with, including a lady who had trekked in Bhutan last year and was heading to Peru to hike there in another couple of months.  As well, another fellow turned out to have a very interesting past, including being commander of the Australian Airborne in the 1990s and continues to jump from planes on a weekly basis.
The crew:  Bec, John, Cal, Matt and Lorri
starting out from Dunstan House, Clyde

Introduced lupins cover the pastures.  Apparently a local
farmer's wife felt the grass needed more colour and would
spread seeds whenever she drove to town.
And Mum Nature did the rest.

Church of the Good Shepherd on Lake Tekapo

A little dusty and rusty, but apparently it still works

A view of the loo.  Basic,but well appreciated.
The curtain/wall is harakeke (flax) woven.

Midmorning tea.  Donkey poo.
Delicious - graham wafer crumbs and cocoanut and something.


Ophir Bridge.  Famous in the neighborhood.
As suspension bridges go, mind you, Dunvegan has it beat.

Canterbury Plain

Best fun for me was discovering that the hostess at our second night’s B&B was a quilter.  We had a great chat and she signed my journal quilt square.  In the living room, proudly displayed, was a  copy of New Zealand Quilter (actually the last one I had received before my subscription ran out) and the main article was about a quilter from the Central Otago area.  When I get home I shall update this blog with a photo of her “Ophir Bridge” quilt which we actually walked across earlier that day.
Central Otago and Canterbury (the area around Christchurch) are the major agricultural areas in the country.  Intensive dairy and sheep are possible because they irrigate pastures.  Yup, huge irrigation like we see in southern Alberta but watering grass. Fruits were just starting to be harvested and we had a lovely time taste testing everything, including farmer’s market jams.
Lauder Schoolhouse B&B and a fellow quilter
And another treadle machine for my collection

What the cliffs look like after you've removed all the gold

Cal and friend

First of three tunnels we went through

Our guide, Allison

Painting at one of our rest stops.  Does this not
look like the foothills of Alberta?

Young llamas.  Recently shorn

Marker for the 45th parallel.  New Zealanders think this is cool
because it is half way between the equator and the south pole

We actually had a beer at this pub and the street still looks the
same.  No sheep the day we were there.

Outside the curling rink.  The only international year round rink in
New Zealand.

Hog line.  Yes we played a game.
Team Canada beat Team Australia

Another interesting metal sculpture along the way.
I figure it is the way of farmers every where...

View from a loo.  Lupins of course

And some artificial sheep.

Poster in a loo

This little fellow had no fear and just hopped under our table.
Generally, birds in New Zealand have no predators so no fear.

Irrigating pasture for intensive grazing.

And we made it.  150 km in three days.

We took the Takeri Gorge Railway out to Dunedin.

Yes, it was that far down to the river

Manuka (Tea Tree)

The whole crew at the end of the trip

S 43.44.15 E 170.06.03 Aoraki/Mt. Cook

After a quick overnight stop in Christchurch, we headed out to visit the National Park.  Last time we were here, we hiked on the Fox Glacier (practically next door to Mt. Cook but hundreds of kilometres away by road) but hadn’t had a chance to see New Zealand’s tallest mountain.  For people familiar with the Rockies of Alberta, the Southern Alps have much the same grandeur but in a smaller area.  The townsite has about 100 permanent residents and there are limited resources for the many tourists who come here. Nevertheless, we had a great time doing some walks and kayaking on Lake Tasman.  Mt. Cook is where New Zealand mountain climbers, including Edmund Hillary, learn their skills before heading to other mountains.  Mt. Cook rises more than 3000 meters above the plain, which is only a wee bit less than Everest rises above the Tibetan plateau.  It also is more dangerous than many mountains because of the winds which roar from west to east bringing fogs, snows, rains and other weather without warning.

Aoraki/Mt. Cook with Lake Tekapo in the foreground.
The perfectly clear view that almost never happens.
Aoraki means cloud piercer

Foxglove.  Introduced but

A bit of cloud but still warm and beautiful

Hiking up the Hooker Valley


All the local flowers are a variation on white with yellow
center.  There were daisies of several types as well as Mt. Cook lilies.
Still not sure which was which.

Hooker Lake which is fed from the glacier

piece of greenstone (pounamou) that is going to find it's way onto
the journal quilt

Cafe in the village.  Prayer flags.  The Hillary connection
is strong here.

Momentary clouds on Aoraki

Iconic photo of Hillary (months before he died) when
he visited to work on the documentary that shows at the
alpine center.  The statue in the back is Hillary just after
sumiting Aorakoi/Mt. Cook 

Stained glass windows in the Park Info Center

Kayaking on Lake Tasman
This is where a huge iceberg broke off and created 3.5 meter waves
during the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

These guys were just babies but big enough to overturn
a kayak if we got too close

A sad note is that the hiking we did on Fox Glacier is no longer possible because the foot of the glacier has retreated so much and is no longer stable.  Glacier hiking is now helihiking to the higher areas.

S 46.55.35 E 167.46.48 Stewart Island

With an overnight stop at Queenstown, we then arrived in Invercargill for the start of our Stewart Island adventure. Rather than stay in the town of Oban for a day or two like last time, we booked a tour with Kiwi Wilderness Walks that started in a boutique hotel in Invercargill (Victoria Railway Hotel), then had a small plane trip to drop us off at Mason Bay (one of the huts on the Northern Circuit Walk) on the sand.  This is the farthest south we will be in our year of travels.  We took the easy way, though, because we had to carry none of our gear or food as we headed toward Freshwater Hut.  Then water taxi out the river and down the inlet to Oban.  The next day was exploring Ulva Island again as well as a hike out to the lighthouse point and some historic buildings. Then our last day, a bit of retail therapy and the chance to see the local production of "A Local's Tail" which is narrated by Lola the dog, who welcomed us personally into the theatre.
Invercargill.  Another treadle machine 

Victoria Railway Hotel.  Lovely boutique hotel

Flying over Stewart Island.  The red trees are
rata - South Island Christmas Trees.  Almost the only native flower that isn't white.

Circling for a landing

And we are down on Mason Bay

The couple on the left were here for two weeks as
volunteer wardens.  The other group were hunters come
to pick up the ladies who had brought in extra food for the
next few days.  Their camp was about 30 minute walk from
the beach.

Our home for the night

This plant only grows on Mason Bay.

Mason Bay is the site of a former sheep station.  Buildings werre
built of driftwood and fences were old fishing net.

The night of the kiwi hunt

Boardwalk on the way out to Freshwater Hut.
"Relatively flat" means "through the swamp"

Coral lichen.  It is actually hard to the touch like coral

Kaka having dinner nuts outside our bach in Oban

View out the window

Rata in flower
Kaka on Ulva Island

Rimu - native pine

Creating my message for the quilt.  Muttonbird scrub leaf and
Miro ink from this tree.  This used to be legal to send in the mail.
On Ulva Island, you still find them being used - the ferry's return ticket
is a leaf

Our guide, Chrissy, patiently modelling the leaves.  She's
wearing a cook oystershell pendant that she found in an Op Shop.

Weka - as in the workshop creating all the Lord of the Rings

Love the humour

Bunkhouse Theater where we watched
"A Local's Tail"

Assorted shells

Whitetail deer, imported from North America, are so common in the south that they are hunted even on Stewart Island in the national park.  Red deer, imported from Scotland, tend to be semi domestic herds which is the type of meat you eat as venison.  Mind you, my hairdresser in Invercargill (probably my last hair cut), said that red deer were fair game if they wandered onto a hunter’s lot.  Rather than getting a tag to shoot an animal like in Canada, hunters bid for a piece of land which they can then hunt on for a given length of time (a week or two).
Cal's photo of a kiwi.  The body is in the center.  Look right past
the two blades of grass and you see his eye and then the beak
going diagonally to the bottom corner.
Imagine the weka (above) with a walking stick
which is the Maori name for a kiwi

We were totally delighted with this tour.  Our guide, Chrissy, was young but had been doing these tours for a few years.  She understood that balance between being helpful and giving interesting information and backing off and letting us do our own thing.  It turns out that her grandfather had climbed mountains in the Antarctic with Hillary which was another fascinating thing to talk about.  The food and accommodations were fantastic and varied.  The hiking we did, although the easy bits of the North West Circuit, were long enough and challenging enough to feel like we truly had explored some of the wilderness of Stewart Island.  Our night hike to see a kiwi resulted in a brief sighting but also in clear stars as well as the full moonrise.  Then on Ulva Island, we watched a kiwi foraging for about 15 minutes just off the pathway.  Good news for us, but not so good news for the kiwi who should have been in his burrow.  It’s been a very dry summer and there isn’t enough food for the birds or moisture for all the rainforest plants.

S 41.16.23 E 173.16.52 Nelson (NZ not BC)

It was a couple of quick plane rides from Oban back to Christchurch, then one last day exploring our favourite city and one last meal at the local pub.  Then on the train north to Nelson.  Well, actually, the train lets you off in Blenheim and then you take a bus along a narrow winding road through a pass and across to Nelson.  Last time, we had part of a day to explore before heading out to the Abel Tasman Track, so had seen the Nelson radio station and where The Ring was created, but little else. I hadn’t even been aware that Nelson is on Tasman Bay.

Central Otago Museum

Tourist posters from the 1930s.  Substitute cows for
sheep and it could be Alberta

One of three Massey tractors used by Hillary on an
Antarctdic expedition.  Fascinating reading about Hillary's
exploits after Everest. Christchurch is the base for New Zealand and American
Antarctic missions

The neighborhood pub.  It used to be on Cathedral Square and
was closely associated with the American Antarctic missions.
We actually lunched there on our last trip.
This wall shows the sign from the bar, a piece of the gate
and a photo of what the hotel looked like after the earthquake (rubble).
 The small red framed item is a till receipt for about the time of the February earthquake
 that destroyed the CBD

One day we spent biking the new Nelson biking trail – you could go one way along the ocean or you could go the other way along an old railway bed and through the wine/beer tasting areas.  Eventually, it will be joined and become a multiday trail.  Biking along the ocean, across to an island that felt like we were visiting our Queen Elizabeth Park, then across on a wee ferry to have a lovely lunch before heading back was great fun.  The Gentle Cycling Company (love that name) picked us up in Nelson and delivered us back at the end of the day.  Lunch was fish and chips, a wee drink, and ice cream.  However, in New Zealand, fish and chips starts out with what is the fish of the day and is then battered by the chef when you order it.  The wee drink was a berry cider made at a local craft brewery.  The ice cream, salted caramel, was made by hand at a local creamery, placed into homemade profiteroles, then with a splash of  chocolate sauce, flakes of chocolate and boiled sugar droplets for garnish.  Yup, it was a tough day.
Hostel greeter

One of the cats

Loved the message

Responsible shell collecting

Ferry to take us across to lunch

Our second day, Cal left me to explore the artsy side of Nelson.  First off, I figured out the local bus system and visited the World of Wearableart /Classic Car museum.  New Zealand is one of the ground breakers in the area of wearable art – the first show was in 1993.  The photos I took do not do the displays justice – and from watching a video of the last show, I suspect that seeing all the costumes in real life is even more spectacular.  On the way home, I also checked out a weavers’ space as well as woollen shop and (yes!!) my first quilt shop since Australia where I replaced my poor old thimble that has done great duty on this year of travel.  Yes, some other good bits of stuff that will find their way onto the journal quilt and other projects are now in my backpack.

Grand prize winner.  Made of old suitcases with messages.
The front model was male and the back was female.

This was created by two artists from China

Flock frock.  Sheep in the pasture.  Farm house and the model
wore wellies (rubber boots)

One of the bizarre bras

New and old thimbles.  My old one has done almost ten years
of honourable service.

From Cal - the pole at the center of New Zealand

And view to the top.

Next, across to Wellington on the ferry.

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