30 November – Blenheim

This morning we wake up to find the verandah wet. Rain? We haven’t seen any since the tropical downpour in Port Douglas. We even spread washing out inside to dry, as it looks unlikely to stay dry all day.

After coffee, Harry decides that Blenheim is the place to go.

A mere hour’s drive away, and a pleasant town. Bigger than it looks at first, with lots of facilities.  We park, wander, buy a “home-made lemonade” from a man who tells us his mum was from Birmingham, and he and his wife  lived and worked in London for a couple of years.

We eat our cheese and crackers and drink the lemo on a bench near the market square – another slightly incongruous mock Tudor clock. My faithful Opinel knife cuts the cheese.

Back to the car, and then on to the Aviation Heritage Centre at Omaka,
just outside the town – an excellent display of genuine and reconstructed world war 1 planes, some of which are still flown in exhibitions. Alongside these planes, there are films relating to the time, uniforms and other ephemera from the Allies and the other side. Models of people engaged in various activities add to the atmosphere. The whole is housed in a large building with subdued lighting. Peter Jackson, who directed Lord of the Rings is an aviation and WW1 enthusiast , owns some of the displays, and was instrumental in setting up the displays.
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We arrive half an hour before closing time, but we’re told that they kick everyone out an hour after that. Last entry at 4 pm. This gives us plenty of time to look and absorb.

As we drive back the rain begins again in earnest and we see another side to the hills. Mist-shrouded moody mountains, and a greyer sea. DSCF5436

A refreshing change in some ways. At least we’re not having to hide from the strong sun!

Along the road from Picton to Blenheim we saw the “shoe fence’ referred to here by Robyn Carter, aka The Ambling Rambler.

1 December – Cullen Point near Havelock

December 1 2012 – Cullen point, near Havelock.

This was a very short walk – about half an hour or so, up to the top of Cullen Point, with a view over the Pelorus sound.  There’s a car park, and the Lookout is well signposted on the Queen Charlotte Drive a couple of miles from Havelock.

 

2 December – Picton to Kaikoura by KiwiRail

Dec 2nd to Kaikoura

The cleaning, the disposal of rubbish, the filling and return of the hire car , check-in of our luggage for KiwiRail, then a wander round the metropolis of Picton, coffee in Le café , sarnies in the park near the playground, as we watched kids chasing ducks, and the Interislander coming into port.

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Bright and breezy.

Back to the station in time to board the train.

DSCF5455This is a very slow laid-back way to travel.

DSCF5454DSCF5453 At first the word scenic seemed an exaggeration. We made our way between hills which looked bleak and bare, some of them had been cleared by logging. Then a patch of wasted willows – more unwelcome invaders needing to be eradicated? The farmsteads looked like temporary settlements, the sort of place that is put up on a hurry and the owners never quite get round to replacing. Old machinery rusts away before it has a chance of being reused. Cows and sheep are slightly fewer than on the lusher pastures.

DSCF5456Then we pass vineyards, vines in rows so regular that you see patterns in all directions. The train makes a short stop at Blenheim to drop and pick up a few passengers. There’s Lake Grasmere, and the salt pans, where sea water is evaporated by sun and wind. Interesting, but not scenic.

A tiny church visible from the train

A tiny church visible from the train

The commentary on the headphones is sporadic and laconic.DSCF5460
As we continue the scenery improves, with a magnificent view of the snow capped Mt Tapuae-o-Uenuku (2885m). This was used by Edmund Hillary as practice for Everest.
We cross the Clarence River, and there’s a tale of a boat lost while the captain was “entertaining a lady in his cabin”, and further tales of him abandoning the ship, and being drowned with vast amounts of treasure which are still on the seabed somewhere.
A little further south we see a colony of New Zealand fur seals, once hunted to near extinction, now recovering. They loll about idly on the rocks, though I spot two having a set to.
The mountains of the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges, are still in snow-capped evidence as we pull in to Kaikoura station. We are spending the night here, in the Aspen Court Motel.
Once we’ve found it and booked in we laze for a while before hot-footing it into town to find a meal – at the Adelphi, where a Spanish waitress serves us, and later explains that everything shuts down at 9pm, though at the height of summer they may stretch to oh – 10pm.
We walk back admiring the mountains to the north, and the almost overdone sunset to the west.DSCF5466

3 December – Kaikoura and to Christchurch

The motel was pretty decent, but a bit noisy compared to our previous isolation.
We took the local shuttle taxi to station and whale watch place, where we waited for about half an hour to see if they would sail. We whiled away the time with decent coffee and toast. Then on screen the announcement changed from pending, to cancelled. “seas too rough for safe sailing”. The later trips which were probably ok to run wouldn’t be back in time for our train, so we decided to walk along the esplanade, and out to the seal colony on the headland of the peninsula. The wind was still fairly strong.
Out past endless motels, and a park where a plaque explained that Kaikoura was name (meaning the crayfish?) because a Maori chief had stopped to cook food here, while on a journey chasing three of his wives who had left him. Not a popular guy. When at last he found the first one she had been changed into greenstone. He found the other two and the same fate had befallen them. Anything better than returning to their husband?
Alongside this legend, were the street names – Yarmouth, Ramsgate, Margate not forgetting Scarborough.

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We passed the New Wharf, and then the Old Wharf, established by a certain Mr Fyffe, an early settler and whaler. There’s a memorial garden in town, set up by Lydia Washington to commemorate those who died in the world war, and decorated by whale bones.

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the brick chimney is part of an old wharf shed, possibly the custom house

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After the Old Wharf we came to a fishing area which is being conserved to replenish stocks, then came to Harmer’s beach and a drinks and food stall by the roadside. There’s a board walk and benches erected by Kaikoura Lions. A small freshwater area supports several families of mallard, lots of ducklings, though there was a squabble of gulls which made me wonder if canard à l’orange was on their menu. Right at the end of the peninsula we reached the car park leading on to the seal colony. Not many seals around, and those lumbering and lazy.

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We climbed the path to the top of Point Kean, but didn’t have time to walk much further.

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The noticeboard map of the peninsula looks like a suitably mythical beast.

However, we had a train to catch, so we made our way back towards the station with a pause to finish off some of our lunch supplies, attended by a seagull. I found myself harbouring murderous feelings towards it, and was sorely tempted to lob pebbles in its direction, but restrained myself.

At the station we sat outside, muffled in coat and hat, writing draft blog entries.
Inside for a coffee we noticed that the later whale watching trips were cautioning of the danger of seasickness, but they had at least gone!
Too late for us, as we had to go away on the Coastal Pacific KiwiRail south to Christchurch, through scenery which may have been less majestic than some, but was refreshingly agreeable.

We took a taxi from the station to reach Red Door Cottage, which is spectacularly good, and welcoming, with lots of basics in stock – always a major plus.
After a brief chill out, we explored the nearby Papanui Road, and the Merivale Centre, which yielded a few relatively expensive restaurants, and a decent supermarket. Eggs and beans on toast was,our gourmet choice for the evening, before a quick watch of Tv news and bed.

4 December – Christchurch

Dec 4th Christchurch

The sleep of the log like , followed by a leisurely breakfast. This place is beautiful, very similar to England in its vegetation, slightly warmer and drier in climate, perhaps, and we have a clover covered lawn, surrounded by roses, receiving the morning summer sun. Someone’s vision of heaven, and they don’t even live here themselves.

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It’s not far from the city and there’s plenty of traffic noise this morning not to mention a gardener with a chainsaw, clearly employed to keep the immediate areas up to scratch, or not to scratch. Lawns, hedges trimmed while you wait? I ramble . . .And then play about with the time settings on my camera. I may have dislodged the battery when replacing the memory card.

Coffee on the veranda, with the awning pulled down part way in the bright sunshine. Then we decide we’ll walk into the CBD. All along the way there is some evidence of rebuilding after the earthquake damage from Feb 2011. As we walk along Victoria Road we see more of it. There’s a clock tower built for Queen Vic’s jubilee in 1897. The decorative ironwork at the top is bent, and we notice cracks in the brickwork, and the fact that the whole structure is held up by props at the base. It’s surrounded by the usual fence, with warning that it’s unsafe.

Closer in there are huge patches where buildings have been demolished.
We walk along close to the river – Avon is its English name. When we reach the safety-fenced Bridge of Remembrance, we turn left into the Re-Start container mall. Lively and hopeful in the face of tragedy and adversity. We shop a bit, and get a cold drink.

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We go back to the bridge. The river is delightful with clear green water and ducks. There are grassy banks and further along you can have a ride in a punt. A darker note on the billboard – “we can show you where many of the city’s iconic buildings once stood. ”

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We wander by the river through the park near the hospital and then the botanic gardens . All is green, peaceful and dappledly shady. Much like a hot summer day in England. Near a children’s paddling pool and playground we stop for an ice cream.

Gradually we make our way back, for a cuppa, and time to relax.

5 December – Christchurch, Garden City

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We walked again. This time to Mona Vale gardens, and Riccarton Bush. Both houses are still closed, and undergoing repairs, but the gardens at Mona Vale are spectacular. I can imagine my mother’s parents going into raptures over them. My grandparents always leap into my mind whenever I visit a well-tended display of roses.

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Huge lawns sweep to the small river. Seats are dotted about, and a bridge with wooden sides recalls willow pattern plates.

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A few people sit around, youngsters shout and laugh as they run through a water spray. A young woman lies down working on a laptop.

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The large white conservatory, the Bath House, is empty, but near by the formal arches of the rose garden attract us, and just opposite, past a modern statue of Eros, is a pond full of water lilies – so full that young ducklings walk over the leaves towards the food source they’ve identified, picnicking lily-worshippers.

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We sit in the shade at a picnic table for a while, then move away. Along the path I tread on a large dry leaf , so big that I think I’ve dropped something. I search through my bag – no camera. Back to the table and there it is. Ok, it’s my cheap one, but I’m pleased to find it within two minutes of losing it. Memo to self – check, double check.

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We follow Harry’s notes towards Riccarton Street. Full of shops and cafes. Further along we join K . . . ? Street and Riccarton House and Bush. The house is where a family of Scottish settlers lived.

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Jane Deans was largely responsible for the planting. The bush is a section of native trees, now surrounded by a pest-proof fence. We noticed more birdsong in there – a tui was singing.

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Finally the weary walkers wended their way back home for a late lunch.
Later we try to watch “Love Actually”, but it proves too much (froth?) for both of us.

6 December – Akaroa

6 Dec – Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula

A day trip with the “French Connection” Akaroa shuttle bus, including door-to-door pick up and drop off.

The bus trundles through Christchurch picking up our fellow trippers, then makes its way round the centre, with a lively commentary from our driver. As the fourth German passenger boards he asks, “is there anyone left at home? I’ve got half of you on here.”
We’re shocked at the extent of the earthquake damage. No one knows what the final fate of the cathedral will be.

There is a lot of demolition still underway, some restoration, and vast amounts of work on the repair of underground pipelines. But he’s lived here all his life and wouldn’t live anywhere else.

We leave the city and pass through suburbs where they’re building new housing – no.longer, he tells us, the quarter acre plot of land that New Zealanders could once count on, but there’s no need for high rise out here.

The first part of the journey is flat, and we get no more than fleeting glimpses of the southern Alps, hidden in cloud today. The Port Hills and the Banks Peninsula Hills are on our left as we drive along a flat road, past lush farmland, though there a plenty of sheep higher up too. The large Lake Ellsmere is on our right, and we pass the smaller Lake Forsyth. The iconic black swans are boycotting the place this morning, so we continue on our way to the village of Little River. “We’ll stop for fifteen minutes – there are toilets, a cafe, and an art gallery, which is well worth a walk through – no obligation to buy.” Just as well, some nice stuff, but a bit pricey. We leave an Italian girl here – she’s working for a week or so as a woofer.

After Little River, which was at one time a railway terminus, the road starts to climb through the volcanic hills of the Banks Peninsula. At the summit of the road – Hilltop, no less, about 500 m high – we have a two minute stop to take photos. A great view of the whole crater with Onawe Peninsula at the core.

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The harbour is one of the deepest natural harbours in the world and a regular call for cruise ships. None there today though.
We follow highway 75 downhill, as it winds past Barrys Bay, then the village of Duvacuhelle and Robinson’s Bay, eventually arriving at the very pretty seaside resort of Akaroa.

From Wikipedia

In 1838 Captain Jean François L’Anglois made a provisional purchase of land in “the greater Banks Peninsula” [3] from Tuaanau. A deposit of commodities in the value of ₤6 was paid and a further ₤234 worth of commodities was to be paid at a later period. On his return to France, he advertised for settlers to come to New Zealand and ceded his interest in the land to the Nanto-Bordelaise Company, of which he became a part owner. On 9 March 1840, 63 emigrants left from Rochefort. The settlers embarked on the “Comté de Paris” — an old man-of-war ship given to them by the French government — for New Zealand. The “Comté de Paris” and its companion ship the “Aube” captained by Commodore Charles François Lavaud arrived in the Bay of Islands in the North Island on 11 July 1840, where they discovered that the Banks Peninsula had been claimed by the British. The French arrived in Akaroa on 18 August and established a settlement.The area still has a French influence, reflected in many local placenames.[4]

The driver points out the French street signs and shop names, but assures us that the language spoken here is English. Indeed the only time I hear French is when a couple of tourists walk up to the lighthouse, where we’re sitting to eat our packed lunch.
First stop, coffee, what else? We sit inside the Trading Rooms Restaurant. It feels like a colonial outpost with dark, polished wood, and solid tables and chairs. The coffee is very good and strong.
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We walk along to the lighthouse, a few hundred yards away along the flat waterfront road. Then on past the (closed) artist studio that was advertised, and out until we were not authorised to walk past the sewage station. We followed signs up to the Britomart monument – the name of a british ship which just beat the French to proclaim sovereignty over the South Island, after the signing of the treaty of Waitangi.

A quick look at our street plan, and we headed uphill to Stanley Place, which headed even more steeply uphill to meet the high level road back to the main village. We turn downhill to walk through a small section of near native bush, and hear the tui. The path continues down via the Anglican cemetery, whose headstones have been shaken about extensively in the earthquakes. We reach the lighthouse again, and decide it’s lunchtime.

Rolls, cheese, garlicky hummus, but then it’s back to the main drag to find a drink. Ginger beer fills the need, and as I bring it back to a seat by the sea, I notice a small bronze bust – Frank Worsley, seaman and navigator with Shackleton on his Antarctic expedition, and largely responsible for the successful rescue of the crew from Elephant Island after the Endurance was crushed by ice.
It looks as though he has a new nose, though!

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We walk along the main street, buying a few postcards, looking in the odd gallery. One friendly owner talks at length about the area near Tekapo and doesn’t expect us to buy a thing.
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Rain threatens, and we make our way back, a little early, to the bus pick-up point. Then the sun comes out just as we have to leave. We pick up a Polish traveller and set off back to the city. A stop at Barrys Bay to sample the cheese “No obligation to buy”. We buy a small pack of their tasty blue cheese.

Another stop at Little River – comfort stop only this time, then on to Lake Forsyth, where the graceful black swans are now in evidence. Another detour to the bleak settlement of Birdlings Flat. Mainly baches, but with a few permanent residents too, though none of us can imagine why anyone would want to live there. Sure, it has a sort of beach, but it’s too dangerous for swimming, and it’s at the landward end of Kaitorete Spit, a huge shingle bank.

On the way back we hear of the relationship between New Zealand and the USA, warm since World War 2, but a bit,up and down during the Bush years, and we see the memorial to 9/11 as we re-enter Christchurch.

It feels good to be delivered back to our door around 6 pm.

8 December – So long, Christchurch

Farewell Christchurch

We didn’t do much of note on Friday – we had weather that reminded us of the Isle of Mull – eight hours solid rain. We ventured out late in the afternoon to shop – the car park outside the shopping centre was doing a passable imitation of a paddling pool.

Saturday morning involved the usual clean-up, then we wait for the taxi to take us to pick up our hire car from Chch airport. The weather is brighter, though the paving stones are still damp.
The taxi driver tells us of the problems he’s had since he lost a house in the earthquake. Insurers insist on the use of certain builders etc etc.

We collect the car from a very helpful woman who suggests we could take the Inland Scenic Route to Geraldine. We look at the map and ask a few questions – we were bitten by a scenic route on the way to Stratford. This one looks much more driver-friendly, so we take her advice. The route proves scenic, and a good road.

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Huge windbreak hedges, wide shies and mountains in the distance.

First stop Darfield for a coffee and a salmon scone. These NZ savoury scones are excellent.

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Next stop is at Rakaia Gorge. NZ does a good line in public toilets – there’s almost always a good one when you need one!. The Rakaia river is one of those wide ones with a stony bed, and just beyond the car park a couple of bridges cross the water. We decide not to take a jet boat trip.
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As we drive on the mountains make their presence known in the west. Long snow capped ridges rise up from flat valleys. These peaks are high and rugged. We reach Geraldine, and grab more drinks. I take a short walk by the river, through the rhododendron dell, which is well past it’s best.

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Christmas decorations

Westward and upward now until we reach the Farm Barn Cafe, a few kilometres short of Fairlie. It’s at the top of a pass, and has almost a 360 degree view of mountains. Tea and a date scone here. It’s a fine building, and must do a reasonable amount of trade with tourists, though no one else was there when we were.

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Down again, and up over Burke Pass. The roads are edged with lupins of all shades, pinks, purples, oranges, and in the background the snow of the southern Alps.

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We carry on, and suddenly it’s Lake Tekapo on the sign, and round a bend, there is the lake.
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9 December – a walk up Mount John

Our longest walk in N Z so far. About 10 km – up to the hill top Observatory and back the longer gentler way.  We followed instructions from a local leaflet.

The only map we needed on a fine summer day was the one in the picture. The tracks are clear, well signed when they diverge, and easy to walk along. I had the photo on my camera – just in case!

ready for action
not as steep as the Trig Track on Kapiti Island
out of the woods
welcome . . .
telescopes
toposcope

 

Lake Tekapo
Heights above sea level
Lake Tekapo: 710m
Mount John 1043m
Deepest point of Lake  120m

Harry’s blog

10 December Aoraki Mount Cook

Aoraki Mount Cook

No, we didn’t climb it! But we did see it in its sunlit glory this morning, before it decided to hide its head in the clouds.We drive south west towards but not as far as Twizel. The road is wide and clear, and crosses a wide turquoise canal – part of the complex hydro-electric system which ensures that each drop of water is used eight times to generate electricity before reaching the sea.

After about 30 kilometres we see Lake Pukaki, another blue-green sheet fringed with snowy peaks. Aoraki Mount Cook stands out, its height and shape unmistakeable. We stop along with several others to take photographs. It looks perfect, with the detail of its eastern slopes picked out by the morning sunlight. As we approach the Visitor Centre the views just get better. There’s a shop selling salmon products – and coffee. There’s a varied display of historical information, and natural history, as well as the hydro-electric system.

A passing truck driver calls in to buy a pack of salmon. How odd that he can drive through this scenery almost every day as his job.

We scramble about on the boulders in search of the perfect photo. Harry asks a couple of young Dutch women if they’ll take one of the pair of us, and returns the favour. The view of the mountain holds us there for far longer than the cup of coffee. We turn north along the road to Mt Cook village. 55 kilometres.

There’s a viewpoint before many kilometres – Peter’s Lookout. Another photo op. We stop to look at some pictures for sale from the back of a car. Pat Prendergast worked as an illustrator for several government departments for seventeen years, she tells us. She’s also a climber, a member of the NZ Alpine Club, and was up a mountain near to Cook just yesterday, even though she reckons she’s “a bit long in the tooth”. But the Alpine Club’s motto is “While we can!” We buy a small hand-coloured print, and she signs it. She recommends a walk along the Hooker Valley, if we have time.

IMG_6532When we get to Mount Cook village, the mountain is still visible, high above us. The cornices of snow are sharply sculpted. But the clouds are increasing. At ground level we find only the Visitor Centre and the Old Mountaineers Bar/Restaurant. The Visitor Centre has some excellent exhibitions, and we watch part of a video about Mountain Rescue. We decide to make do with our scant picnic provisions. Then we walk a little further and discover the Edmund Hillary complex with its cafeteria and shop.

Several tracks leave nearby. We choose a short walk to Kea Point, where you can see the moraine from the Mueller glacier. The glacier itself doesn’t extend this far at present. By now Aoraki is completely covered in cloud, though most of the lower mountains are clear. We see no more of him today, though the view at Pukaki car park is still splendid.

Home, with a stop for petrol and a mini food shop.