A wet day!

As forecast, today has been wet.  We did not rush to do anything this morning but eventually moved ourselves to go and look for the Black Stilt or Kaki, a rare bird only found in certain areas of New Zealand.  It is a wetlands bird that was almost wiped out but through careful conservation and management its numbers are increasing.

We travelled a short distance from Twizel to a wetland area where they are known to be breeding.  Needless to say that we didn’t find any and satisfied ourselves watching a variety of more commonly seen ducks and oyster catchers.

Following a spot of lunch in Twizel we went to have a look at Lake Ohau, another turquoise lake.  The rain was not too bad at this stage.  All the lakes we have seen so far are linked by a huge hydro-electric scheme, making use of the natural environment for generating electricity.

As the afternoon progressed the weather deteriorated and, with the exception of Angela making a dash to the supermarket in Twizel, we confined ourselves to our cabin, hoping that tomorrow will bring an improvement.

Angela’s Bit

This is the first rain in Twizel for 4 weeks!  The parched ground will be grateful even if we are not.  Sean the farmer tells us to keep an eye out of our bedroom window for views of Mt Cook…..

Um, not sure yet.

Have bought steaks & a DVD ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’….. a delightful local story starring Anthony Hopkins.  The till girl told me she grew up down the road from Burt Munro (the real-life hero of the story!)

Happy Valentines! xxx

Swimming with Dolphins (almost)

We left our cottage just before 8.00 and drove down to Akaroa for our swim with dolphins experience.  Following a brief introductory chat we, along with six fellow travellers, suited up in very thick wet suits.  I hoped swimming would be easy in mine because walking was not.  I felt like one of those animals that is very elegant in water but ugly on land.  Despite the fact that it is summer the air temperature this morning was only 11°C and the water slightly higher at 14°C.  It was cloudy and while I was initially optimistic that the cloud was going to burn off, it proved that the opposite was going to happen and we were hit with squally showers.  There was also a stiff breeze blowing.

All suited up, we waddled aboard and set sail, immediately heading out towards the mouth of the inlet.  The further we went the rougher the sea became.  We spotted a pod of Hector’s Dolphins, the smallest a rarest breed of dolphin.  There are now only 7,500 of them left and the numbers are still declining despite the valiant conservation work being done at Akaroa.  The problem is that they get caught up in a set net, which drowns them.  Those nets have been banned around Akaroa but are still used in other areas of New Zealand.  So, while the numbers are improving around Akaroa, they are declining at a faster rate elsewhere.

Hector's Dolphin

This first pod included a mother and baby, which meant we could not swim with them.  The baby spends two years closely bonding with its mother and nothing must happen to disrupt that bonding.  The baby drinks mother’s milk approximately every three minutes, so you can imagine the disruption eight human swimmers might cause.

We moved further out to sea, between the two headlands and the swell increased to about 12 feet.  Angela was finding it a bit difficult to cope with but managed to concentrate herself through it.  We found another pod, which swam around the boat but now the sea was too rough for us to get into.  We headed over towards the northern side of the inlet where there was a chance the water would be calmer.  However, before we got too far we came across a third pod of five dolphins.  They seemed reasonably curious so we gently lowered ourselves off the back of the boat into the water.  I was expecting to have to take a sharp intake of breath but, in actual fact, it was not necessary.  The swell was still about 12 feet but now the waves were regular.  We bobbed up and down, treading water, and making noises to attract the dolphins.  Singing down a snorkel tube was recommended, so I tried ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’.  Maybe the dolphins did not like my singing but they clearly did not want to play and while they made a couple of approaches to us, we did not really have the interaction we were hoping for.  It was exhausting in the water and after about 15 minutes we decided to get out.  Our captain and dolphin guide both decided it was not going to happen today and took us back to the wharf at Akaroa with the promise of a partial refund.

It was still a pleasurable experience and we did at least see dolphins swimming around the boat and we also saw the world’s smallest penguin swimming by the boat.  Angela mistook it for a duck to begin with!

Following a warming cup of coffee we headed back to Christchurch, not by a direct route but by a scenic one.  We climbed up our of the crater and took a road that skirted around the rim, giving us stunning views down to Akaroa on one side and similarly stunning views down to bays set between lava flows on the ocean side.  They were tantalisingly beautiful so we took the opportunity to drive down to Le Bon Bay for a picnic lunch on the beach.  It was 10km down to Le Bon Bay through a beautiful valley with lava flow ridges down each side.  At the end of the valley, behind the beach, is a small community living in an idyllic setting.  To make it even better the sun came out, rewarding me for my optimism of earlier in the day.  The beach was deserted and we had it all to ourselves, and a few optimistic gulls that thought we might give them a crumb or two.  There was one who was particularly aggressive towards it fellow gulls and would do anything to keep them at bay.  If food was on offer he was going to get it first.

After a relaxing and entertaining lunch we continued with our drive to Christchurch.  Our accommodation in a house in the suburb of Papanue is superb in every respect.  We were made to feel very welcome and the facilities are outstanding and really good value for money.  Half way up the stairs there is a large case on its side.  It has fallen over so many times during quakes that it now cannot fall further.  There are very few ornaments in the house, all having fallen from their shelves during the big quake or one of the thousands of aftershocks Christchurch has experienced since.

Kate Richardson came to pick us up at 5.30 and take us to their house.  Kate and her family emigrated from Worcester two years ago and their house fell victim to the earthquake, so are in temporary accommodation until their house can be rebuilt.

The damaged Catholic Cathedral in Christchurch

After meeting them we were taken on a tour of Christchurch, starting with their house down the road.  Remarkably, it can be rebuilt and made earthquake proof.  The city centre is a scene of devastation.  Much of it is fenced off and out of bounds as the whole of the centre is being demolished, block by block.  Many people have not been able to return to their properties to retrieve their possessions as the buildings are too dangerous to enter.  Stone built buildings faired worst as they are too rigid and lack the flexibility of wooden and modern structures.  Hence, churches, including the Catholic and Anglican cathedrals came off really badly.  We could not get any where near the Anglican cathedral where the spire came crashing down.  Many buildings were fenced off and the fallen masonry still lay on the ground as it had fallen a year ago.  The whole experience really brought home the devastating effect that an earthquake has on a community and the infrastructure.

Following a very pleasant evening, sitting around the garden table, eating a lovely meal and catching up on each other’s news, Angela and I strolled back to our lodgings for the night, well satisfied with our day.

Angela’s Bit

Naturally I had some misgivings about our sea trip but in retrospect I am thrilled to have done it and more than a little proud that I swam and sailed in 12ft swells and wasn’t seasick!  The dolphins were very cute, small and beautifully coloured in tones of blue/grey.

Back in Christchurch we settled into another immaculate and well equipped B & B, before being scooped up and taken on a guided tour by the Richardson Family who moved here from Worc. 2 years ago. Their house was badly damaged in the quake a year ago so they are in rented accommodation nearby.  They drove us into the city and the devastation is shocking.  They have had 10,000 quakes, 20 of which have been significant!!! But they are philosophical about it and still happy with their lot.  We had dinner with them and were made very welcome.  Kate (who I taught when she was 7 is now 21 and going off to Uni in Auckland soon)

Te Papa

The weather forecast was not particularly good for today and as Ben and Kelly were both at work, we walked up to Brooklyn to catch the bus into town and spend time at Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand.  I cannot remember spending so much time, willingly, in a museum; it is brilliant.  There are five galleries, although you tend to spend more time in some than others.  We spent the whole of the morning exploring ‘Our Unique Environment’, which focused on forces of nature – volcanoes, earthquakes, mountains, the sea, flora and fauna.  There were some really awesome exhibits, including the house which gave you an earthquake experience, an inter-active map that produced pictures on the wall as you walked over certain areas and a chance to experience all the thrills New Zealand has to offer while sitting in a chair that reacts to the film images being shown. Through the ‘High Ride’ I have now done a bungee swing, a free fall parachute jump and a whole lot more without getting a scratch, or feeling scared!

Having spent all morning in this section we decided to go to Level Six and work down.  The higher the floor the less space there was so we quickly passed through the pottery section on that level and spent a little more time in the art gallery section.

Maori House

Level Four, Journeys through History, proved a lot more fascinating with a lot of the emphasis on Maori history and culture.  Here we saw fabulous examples of Maori carving in their canoes, houses and meeting houses.  I cannot pretend to understand the significance of it all but it was fascinating.  The crux of the exhibition is the treaty celebrated yesterday, Waitangi and signed in 1840.  We were able to compare the two versions, that given to the Maoris, which said that everything that they owned was theirs forever unless they chose to sell it, while the English version claimed that the Maoris had no rights and that the English could take anything they wanted.  Hence the anger that is still felt today.

The second part of this level concentrates on the history of New Zealand since the settlers began to arrive and the influence they have had on the building of a nation.  There are hotspots in Britain and Europe where many people from particular areas emigrated to New Zealand because they could not see their lives improving back at home.  Often if one member of a family emigrated, more would follow in what was called chain emigration.  Kelly’s family are a fine example of chain emigration.  Hotspots in the UK include Laceby in Lincolnshire where agricultural workers were encouraged at Temperance Hall meetings.  Similarly, Grimsby, the home of fish and chips was another hotspot, which in turn introduced fish and chips to New Zealand.  There were other hotspots dotted around the UK and Ireland, all of which had some influence on the way New Zealand has developed.

We finished off on this floor by watching a short film entitled ‘Golden Days’, which showed amusing and poignant highlights from the past 100 years of New Zealand history.  Remarkably, there was no mention of Ed Hillary.

The final level, Level Three, focused on Shaping the Landscape and how the landscape has changed to cater for a growing and diverse population, how an untouched environment has been transformed into cultivated land.  We were also introduced to the influx of non-native species, which have had a negative effect on the indigenous species.

After six hours in the museum we went to the New World supermarket across the road to buy the ingredients for dinner, which we were cooking for Ben and Kelly.  All the food was beautifully presented and very little of it was pre-packed and all very fresh.

Dinner went down well and we had an enjoyable evening sitting around the dinner table talking.

The Girlie Perspective

Te Papa (our place in Maori) proved to be NZ history, geography and culture in a nutshell.  I felt a bit wobbly and nauseous after the earthquake house experience……I don’t want to think of Ben & Kelly having the threat of that kind of disaster hanging over or under them.

I was intending to visit the V & A exhibition of Wedding Dresses thru the ages but there was so much else to do & see that I was distracted.  However, there were some nostalgic fashion items from Vogue NZ in the Sixties, it only needed Audrey Hepburn to be modelling the short dresses and Chanel style suits.

Arrival in Wellington

A Mixed Reception and First Impressions

Helen came to the hotel at 6.30am to collect us and take us to the airport for our flight to Wellington.  Check-in was very friendly despite having to pay 40$ for the privilege of having a third piece of hold luggage.

The flight was really good and the fact that we were unexpectedly fed made up for the excess payment.  The airhostesses were some of the friendliest I have come across, finding time to chat to us and show interest in us.  The airport took a while to maneuver through with passport queues, baggage collection and finally to have our bags checked for anything, which might be illegal or harm the environment.  The chap placing the bags on to the x-ray machine conveyor yawned hugely as he lifted one of mine.  His excuse, ‘…tired from celebrating winning all the time…’ New Zealand had won the IRB 7’s again this weekend.  All you can do in such circumstances is congratulate and shake hands.  The woman at the other end of the x-ray machine was rather less friendly and hit us with, ‘You can be fined 400$ for not declaring everything!’  She asked about walking boots.  I don’t have any.  ‘What about the walking poles?’  In the end you just hold your hands up and say ‘Sorry’.

The real welcome came a few moments later with Ben and Kelly’s beaming smiles greeting us as we came through the doors.  Lots of hugs and kisses!  It was so good to see them.

Despite Wellington being the capital, the airport is very much a provincial one with limited flights because of the length of the runway.  Most international flights will arrive in New Zealand at Auckland and then connect with other places through a domestic service.

The drive from the airport into town was fascinating and nothing like I expected.  With the exception of the city centre, which is like nearly all other city centres, concrete, tarmac, shops and offices, the suburbs seem to lack permanence.  All the houses are wooden, perched on hillsides or hugging the shoreline.  There are very few manicured gardens so that the houses jut out of the natural vegetation, which, if allowed, would consume the buildings.  The gardens are out there, on the hillsides, on the shore, a blaze of flower and just about every variant of green imaginable. Beautiful!

Our first stop was to the house Angela and I are borrowing from some friends Ben and Kelly’s.  It is a wooden house as they all seem to be, in a narrow, lush, green valley with a road running through the bottom of it a few houses dotted through it.  Inside it is a treasure trove of Maori culture.  Shane works for the Maori Museum and is a collector of all sorts of Maori, art, musical instruments and paraphernalia.  You could spend hours looking and touching.  We are very lucky they are away and that we can use their house.  We will eventually meet them at the wedding next month.

Ben and Kelly’s flat is superbly positioned with a huge picture window giving them an elevated view of the whole of the harbour.  (In the space of three days we had been to Helen’s, Rijan’s and now Ben and Kelly’s flats and the one thing they all had in common was a superb view.)

After a catch-up over a couple of beers and some bucks fizz, we ventured out to find a restaurant for a meal.  Ben took us through the Botanical Gardens so we could take the funicular down into town.  The driver was not very friendly and slammed his newspaper down when I suggested he read out the clues to the crossword!  Oops!

The restaurant chosen was a pizza one on the harbour.  It was not busy but had a reasonable number of customers. It was Sunday evening after all.  Having ordered we waited, and we waited, and we waited.  In the end Ben asked where was our starter, a plate of antipasta to share.  It eventually came after we had waited nearly an hour.  That polished off we thought it would be quickly followed by our three pizzas to share.  Again we waited, and we waited, and we waited.  Again Ben went to check and nobody seemed to be working hard and our three pizzas hadn’t even gone into the oven.  We left.

At least the taxi driver was friendly and chatted away all the way back to our house.

The Girlie Perspective

Wow!  Here in NZ at last!  Here for hugs and kisses and I have to confess to a few tears too!  Unbelievable views, there are clouds in the sky, but not the predicted wind.  It is warm and welcoming.  Our flights have been comfortable & we have been able to catch up on sleep so not feeling too jet-lagged.  The Botanic Gardens are opposite B & K’s flat so we walked there on our way out in the evening and enjoyed the aroma from the roses.  We have a lovely big bed to flop into at Shane & Kay’s.  Phew!


The Day of the Lobster

Slept well and woke up refreshed with no ill effects from the long journey.  The day started out a little dull but it looked as if it might clear up as the day progressed.  After breakfast made contact with Rijan (ex King’s and Best Man to be at Ben and Kelly’s wedding).  He and his wife, Helen, have just had a baby boy, Harley, ten days ago.  Rijan came to meet us and took us back to their flat in the fashionable Mosman district on the north shore.  The flat had a stunning, to die for, view over the estuary.  Harley was a little sweetie and took to snuggling up to Angela like a duck to water.  When we had finished Rijan took us to the ferry wharf via Balmoral Beach, a very quiet, perfect family beach.

The ferry took us to Circular Quay where we waited, with a beer, at the opera Bar for Helen to join us.  I don’t think either of us realized just how effective the sun had become and the time we spent waiting, along with the time spent eating lunch was sufficient to give us a good dose of Vitamin D.  I had forgotten to pack a hat and neither of us was carrying sun cream., so before we boarded the ferry to Watson’s Bay we bought and lathered ourselves in sun cream.


Sydney Opera House

On arrival at Watson’s Bay we paddled in the warm waters and booked a table at the famous Doyle’s Fish Restaurant for the evening. Then we strolled along the cliffs where Angela and I had watched the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race in 2007.  The sun was feeling very strong in the clear sea air and I knew I was going to suffer as the evening progressed. Cancelling our reservation we took the last ferry back to Circular Quay and ate a superb meal on the quay.  I had kangaroo steak on a bed of beetroot risotto.

Predictably, I did not sleep very well, and hardly at all after 1.30am, as a result of a rather sore head, sunburned like a lobster!

The Girlie Perspective

Sydney was seen in all its summer glory today.  I had a memorable precious cuddle with 10 day old Harley.  He was very relaxed and soon snoozed. His Mummy & Daddy, Rijan & Helen were very welcoming, treating us to coffee and Rijan’s homemade brownies (domesticated Daddy or what!) We sat on the wall near the Opera House, people watching and lapping up the atmosphere in such an iconic spot.  The coastal walk was lovely but my recently damaged foot did start to complain so I was ready to rest at Glenferrie Lodge after a fish & chip supper.