Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Last Day of 2009

We were talking over dinner about how we have spent our past New Year’s Eves.  There has not been one that was extremely remarkable – well or at least nothing to write in a blog about.  In a way then we were a bit like a fish out of water.  What does one do on New Years Eve especially in a foreign country?
At the very least, we knew to get moving.  That seems to be a regular part of our day this week – get in the van and drive somewhere.  It may be short or it may be long, but it’s still part of the day.  Today’s drive took us from Oamaru to Christchurch.  There was a glimpse of the alpine mountains from this coast.  The Island at this point is under 250 km wide.  There is a train that runs from Christchurch to Greymouth in half a day.  That is remarkable and one does get a glimpse of the mountains, but I do prefer the views from the other coast.  The positive part is on this coast, we can reach our destination much faster.  It’s all a trade off.                             image Raspberries are in and we were able to pick up some on the side of the road.  No pick your own this time, but I’m not complaining.  Produce and summer has been one of our favorite parts of the trip.  We are getting a chance to live here and not just tour about.  Picking up life at home will be hard just for that reason alone.  So we’re getting it while we can now!                                      image In Christchurch, we headed straight to the Art Centre on Worchester.  This is a boys school that has been converted into chops, galleries, theatres and restaurants.  It’s quite English, don’t you think?  If that’s not English enough for you , it is right next to a set of botanic gardens that are considered to be of national worth.  It’s even the Avon river that runs through the gardens and city.image image I specifically went to the Arts Centre to meet Marilyn Rae-Menzies who  is a tapestry weaver there.  She was very generous with her time and her pieces are amazing.  It’s one thing to see them on her blog site, but another altogether to see them in person.  Her studio space is shared with two other weavers, but it is a wonderful space that brought me comfort and inspiration.  From Marilyn’s studio we went to a wool co-op that carried fleece, yarn and finished goods.  I was able to pick up two skeins of Romney – one dark and one light.  They should complement the Gotland well and be on either side of it in value.  I’m thinking if I could get a black and a white natural yarn, I’d be pleased.  Truth be known I would like to find one of the more amber colored yarns.  Well, there’s still the North Island to go….
Even with the very traditional architecture of the Arts Centre, there is still a splash of the contemporary.  Some are simply glass boxes, but others have some interest.  Outside of the Canterbury Art Museum was this stainless steel sculpture called “Reasons for Voyaging” by Graham Bennett.  These easily stood two stories high.  There is a “string” across the bows that I watched and listened for vibrations.  No such luck.  The piece is still beautiful.image Christchurch is about the size of Greenville, SC, which means it is large enough to hold a New Year’s Eve Celebration.  The night started with a Swedish band who attempted to impersonate ABBA.  The music was fun to sing to, but the as always the second band was much better.  This was The Black Velvet Band that mixed mostly rock versions of Irish jigs, with Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, and a little bluegrass.  They were fun and I think they would thoroughly enjoy keeping up with the front porch bands playing bluegrass on Fridays in Oolenoy, SC.imageHere is the last second of 2009!  2010 came in with bagpipes playing Auld Lang Syne and fireworks.                                               image image Our wish for your is a wonderful and prosperous 2010!  Happy New Year!
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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Oamaru – (where the wind goes whipping down the plain)

Come on – sing it with us now – just take out Oklahoma and replace it with Oamaru.  I’m not sure it happens everyday in Oamaru, but the wind was fierce in our drive up from Dunedin.  This big box of a van did sail a few times across the lane, but thankfully not out of it!  Fortunately it wasn’t raining also.  It still was gusty last night.  It looks to be a calm day today.
Oamaru is just 35 kilometers from Dunedin, but also the home of a little blue penguin colony.  So we’ve wandered up to Oamaru, spent the day shopping, and the late afternoon making some new friends – all waiting for dusk when the little blue penguins come home.
imageOur first stop was to the Whitestone Cheese Factory.  I will be looking for more of their products.  This is good cheese.  We recommend the Farmhouse.  If you like a blue, the Windsor Blue is a creamy, softer cheese and not too sharp on the blue taste.  I’d give up meat before I’d give up cheese.  Add that to fav list of chocolate and cherries.

image From there we wandered into the historic district where we found an exhibit from the Oamaru Car Club.  After all of the organic shapes from the magnificent landscapes, I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed photographing the patterns and geometrics of these cars, tools, parts.  Not to mention it was just fun to see these old beauties.  The building was quite old and a little dusty, but I can tell you, the cars were not.  Below is a 1953 Ransley Riley that has a supercharged 4 cylinder 2.5 litre engine.  It was timed at 128 mph with the present gearing.  Behind it is a 1981 500 SLC Mercedes.  This model was used for the European Touring Car Championships.  image Here’s a 1936 AC Sports Tourer with a 6 cylinder 1991cc engine.imageLastly, a 1967 Riley Elf MKIII – just for the Elf…image Oamaru also is a large source of limestone.  Many of the historic buildings were built out of the rock.  They were quite beautiful an ornate as one would expect.                                                 image Also there are a number of people who offer carvings out of the stone.  We still have not found a creche to add to our collection, so we commissioned Ian Anderson to create us one.  I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with.imageWe then rang up some friends of friends and spent the late afternoon with them over a nice Sauvignon Blanc.  It turns out the one winery, Hunters, we visited in Marlborough was their favorite. 
It was a good day and dusk finally came on.  We were to be at the Oamaru Little Blue Penguin Colony at 9 pm.  We were a little early and were escorted to the grandstands.  Yes – grandstands.  Literally, there is a covered set of stands that has been built on the shore.  Rafts of penguins will come in from the sea directly in front of the stands, then make their way up the rocks to the level nesting areas.  The center has built huts for them, but a few penguins will build their own in the bush.  Just as we were told, these rafts of penguins would come in about 10 minutes apart.  We were able to watch nearly 100 come in from the sea and pass right in front of all 350 of us.  Definitely a different experience than the night before!Unfortunately, no photography is allowed, so no pictures here.  But I can tell you the little blue penguin is about 10 inches tall and weighs a little over 2 pounds.  It is the smallest penguin.  Their backs are a navy blue so they cannot be seen from the air while they fish during the day.  Their bellies are white so they cannot be seen from deep within the sea.  There are about 500 in this colony and another 600 not far away.  These guys are doing well and were particularly cute.  The best part was hearing the chicks in the huts cry out when the parents came in to feed them.  Think of what it took to get 350 people to be quiet enough to hear that!
Without the penguins, there are just a few pictures – but here they are!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Today was for the birds

image First, thanks to Tom and the office staff here at the holiday park for the correction on the blue bird with the red forehead and beak we saw yesterday.  It is a Pukeko which is a swamp hen and VERY common, which is good because we like them.
We are in Dunedin which is on the east coast of the South Island.  Dunedin has a huge Scottish heritage which can be seen in the architecture and the street names!  We wandered through the City Center which includes the Octagon.  Below is the Town Hall and St Paul’s Cathedral.image One of the first public art galleries is in the Octagon.  They were celebrating their 125th anniversary with an exhibit called Beloved, which features their most beloved pieces in their collection.  Pieces are being rotated in and out of the exhibit to allow for all the favorite pieces to be seen.  I enjoyed a small sketch of Rembrandt laughing and another of a girl blowing the fuzz off a dandelion.  Below was not part of the exhibit, but is permanent;y is the main lobby.  This is “Cones” by the Christchurch artist, Neil Dawson.  image From there we did a little grocery shopping and then headed out to explore to Otago Peninsula.  This finger goes out from Dunedin into the Pacific and the coral shelf lies just 12 kilometers from the shore.  The sea is rich with plankton which attracts and enormous amount of wildlife.  While there are seals and whales that move through this region, wildlife in New Zealand is mostly birds.  Here is the spotted shag that is roosting among a number of kin facing the ocean and his view up to the point of the peninsula.imageimageJust on the other side of the point toward the Otago Harbor there is the Stewart Island Shag that migrates here to breed before flying back to Stewart Island to live.  Those mounds are their nests.image Between the two shag colonies, there is a colony of Northern Royal Albatross.  This is the only place in the world where the Albatross breed on a mainland.  It is assumed that they mistake the peninsula for an island.  The other part is this head of the peninsula has always been a strategic area for humans – be they Maori or European.  The humans have carved a number of flat area into the side of the head for creating forts.  These flat regions are perfect for nesting and the Albatross did not come here until 1920.  This time of year, the Albatross are incubating the eggs.  There are 80 Albatross in this colony and presently there are 17 fertile eggs.   The Albatross only mates every 2 years.  Once these chicks hatch, grow and fledge.  They will leave here and not touch land again for 4-6 years!  That’s why their landing for the first time back is so comical.  They are out of practice!  Remember the Disney movie the Rescuers. image image The albatross wing span is up to 3 meters (9’6”) long and it can fly up to 120 kph (75 mph).  It mostly glides on those large wings.  Here you can see how it compares to Stewart Island Shag (Blue), the black backed gull (yellow), red billed gull (orange) and the sparrow (white).  Of course there is also the typical human beneath all of that!image That evening we took a tour at the Penguin Place which for all intents and purposes is a working Romney sheep farm.  The owner saw that a number of yellow crested penguins were attempting to live there and he has created a space for them.  In fact the sheep and penguins share some of the same space.  Of the 18 types of penguins out there, this is the most endangered and the most anti-social.  There are only 3000 of these that are known and 700 of these live on the South Island.  They only come as high as your knee.  They are antisocial mostly because there is generally no need for being in numbers.  It is not the Antarctic cold where they need each other for warmth.  It is also New Zealand where they did not have predators to worry about.  Of course now they deal with the stoats, cats, possums and rats, so the numbers are fading.  Here are two that are just coming from the surf.  Generally they go out to sea and come in alone.  This is not usual to see them together like this.image These two were not a breeding pair and at one point they did go their separate ways.  The penguins head up through the bush to their homes.  If they are breeding, they are taking the meal back to the chicks.  It is a regurgitated meal of fish and squid.  If they are delayed by fleeing from predators or humans, there is less for the chick.  We were only able to be there because the penguin place has built a set of tunnels and hides throughout this portion of the farm.  image The penguins also need shade.  They are made for the cold ocean water and coming on land in the summer sun is exhausting.  The Penguin Place have built huts that give shade and privacy for the families.  It also makes it easier to monitor their survival.  This is just a temporary solution as they have starting planting of trees in the last 20 years and continue to recreate the bush.  In the meantime, these two 4 weeks old chicks are waiting for dinner.image For more pics, check out:

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Catlins from Beginning to End

There is just too much to do, see, and experience here in the time that we have.  We knew that coming into this and told ourselves that whatever happens we can’t go wrong.  It was a wonderful day and what we chose were great things – I just wish for more time to linger.

We were in desperate need to do laundry, so we catching up on real life delayed us from leaving the holiday park early.  I did a little google search on Invercargill and found that Hayes Hardware has a some of the Burt Munro memorabilia.  It was indeed a hardware store of the Ace Hardware style (you’dve gone nuts Daddy).  The difference was periodically among the shelves there was an antique motorcycle.  image Towards the back, there was the No 35 Munro Special that Burt raced in the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.  He built the bike himself and was able to get it past 178 mph at the Bonneville Speed week in the 1960s.  (Oops, I just ruined the movie for ya’!)

imageFrom there we headed east following the Scenic Southern Drive into the Catlins.  Our first stop was Slope Point.  You ever think you’ve done something and then realize you really didn’t?  Turns out that Bluff is not the most southern point of the South Island.  It’s just where Highway 1 ends (or as Bluff puts it – it’s where Highway 1 begins…).  It turns out that Slope Point is actually the most southern point on the South Island.  So of course we HAD to go there.  There were no bragging rights on Bluff once we learned that fact!  image Not far from Slope Point is the Curio Bay with it’s extensive and well preserved Jurrassic fossilized forest.  It turns out that during the Jurrassic era there was a forest here on the coast.  Volcanic ash rish in silica washed down with the rain.  The trees absorbed it which caused them to petrify within months.  The entire area was flooded with ash and soil.  Some of the trees fell into this muck.  The sea began to erode the soil away leaving the petrified stumps and logs to be revealed.  This is best viewed at low tide – and fortunately it was when we arrived.  Timing is everything!                                   image image We wandered back north a bit to the main highway and chose a little adventure across it to a llama & sheep farm.  Sheep farm after sheep farm are piled upon each other as we head down the road.  We went out of our way to get to this one because they raise Gotland Sheep.  The route took three gravel roads to find the farm.  We did spot what we think could be a takahe which is another flightless bird that was thought to be extinct in New Zealand.  How many big blue birds could there be with a big red beak in New Zealand?   Comments?image I was able to purchase a 100g skein of the naturally colored yarn.  It’s a soft grey and I love it.  Janette also sells fleece, skins, and even handmade clothing under the line “The Hidden Valley”.                imageThe afternoon was quickly passing into evening and we were only halfway through the Catlins.  We made one last choice on what to see.  The very end of the Catlins is at Nugget Point where there is a number of seals, spoonbills, shags and gulls.  These we did see with the aid of binoculars.  There also have been reports of Hector dolphins, gannets and the yellow eyed penguins.  These we did not see in any way shape or form – but tomorrow is another day.  The walk was worth it for the views.

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Sunday, December 27, 2009

How Low Can You Go?

What a difference a day can make – or even as we experienced today an hour.  We woke to a foggy morning out in the Harrison Cove of the Milford Sound.  The rains have stopped, so even if the fog were gone, there are few waterfalls to be seen.  The boat started moving at 7 am, and so did we.  We rode out into the Tasman Sea.  This is a motorized boat that was built 9 years ago to look like an authentic ship from the late 1800s – complete with a set of sails.  It is not a sailboat however since it does not have a keel.  The sails are only used when the boat heads out into the Tasman Sea to help stabilize since the waters are so much rougher out there.                          image image The fog was still dense as we returned to the fiord.  It is still quite beautiful, but I was disappointed not to be able to see the tops of the peaks around us.  The fur seals were still at the resting place this morning and they always bring a smile to my face.  image As promised, we docked at Milford Sound at 9 am and an hour later we were down the road.  As we moved inland, the sun made it’s way through the fog.  The views at this point could change dramatically.  We would stop at one of the overlooks or waterfalls along the way back to Te Anau.  The view could be partially clear and by the time we would return 15 minutes later all was again in clouds.  Take your pictures when you can!                                                          imageimageimage It still took us all day to get back to Te Anau.  We’re right now heading on to Invercargill for our stop tonight.  Did you ever see “The World’s Fastest Indian” with Anthony Hopkins?  It’s about Burt Munro who built his own speed bike.  Burt was from Invercargill.  If you haven’t seen it, we highly recommend it.

Once we arrived at Invercargill, we realized that we do have time to run down to Bluff for the sunset.  Bluff is as far as one can go south on the South Island.  It’s where Highway 1 ends at Land’s End.  To go any further it requires heading over to one of the islands or to Antarctica!  Officially the coordinates are S46 deg 36 min 54 sec E168 deg 21 min 26 sec.

image Here’s the sun setting over Stewart Island:                                 

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Some Other Day When the Rain Came Again

Remember the nursery rhyme -
“Rain, rain, go away; Come again some other day”  ????
I always end up thinking there’s an invitation in the “come again some other day”.  Like there is some day that we would welcome the rain.  If there is a place to welcome the rain, we have found it. 
We left Te Anau this morning and headed north to Milford Sound, the most accessible of all the fiord in the Fiordland National Park.  I just learned tonight that a fiord is a channel that is created by a glacier and is filled by the sea as the temperature of the region and the sea level rose.  A sound is created by a river cutting through the land that is subsequently filled by the sea.  We were told likely at the naming, there was no word for “fiords” in the English language – so Milford Sound should really be called Milford Fiord.
The drive is 2 hours and 45 minutes from Te Anau to Milford Sound, but we finally had the opportunity to take our time, so we explored every nook and cranny we could on along the way.  The difference today is that is rained – all day.  This is the first day that it has rained more than an hour.  It’s been a steady sort of rain.  Not a summer storm like home, but more like a spring rain that sets in.  Some hours are harder than others, but still constant.  We have rain gear, so we set out to do some exploring of small hikes, waterfalls and lakes.
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We came across fields of these flowers.  Anyone know what these are?  They are beautiful in their own right, but are quite spectacular with the misty mountains in the background and the turquoise blue rivers in the foreground.

image There comes a point when the road is not simply running beside the national park, but actually within the park.  It was then that we began to understand why it was a good thing that the rains had come.  The mountains on either side were covered in waterfalls – as high as the eye could see.  We learned later that most of these falls only exist when it rains.  In fact, within the fiord, there are only 7-8 falls that run constantly.  The rains had also brought in clouds that hung low.  These would drift and suddenly we would get a glimpse of another layer of cascades even higher.  The haze from the clouds and rain were so dense, most of these views were nearly in black, white and grays.  Further and further into th park, we learned this had as much to do with the black rock, the white ice/snow and the sheer size of these mountains.  We gasp at every turn.                              imageimage image We have arrived at Milford Sound to board the Milford Mariner at 4:30 pm.  The Milford Mariner is a 60 passenger boat that cruises the fiord all the way to the Tasman Sea and back.  This can readily be done in an hour and a half.  There are some cruises that do so in 3 hours with nature guides to point out more.  Our itinerary is to ride out the sea, take a peek, and come back to weigh anchor in the Harrison Cove for the night.  We’ll not return to the harbor until 9 am in the morning.
These are the pictures, but they don’t do it justice – simply because of the scale.  It’s far too fantastic, far too much like a fantasy.  imageimageimage We finally met the keas today.  These are the only known alpine parrots.  They are particularly known for their aggressive behavior.  They will tear into weather stripping around windows on vehicles.  We had two today that decided that our Rudolph antlers needed to come down.  One sat perched on the antlers and the second on the side mirror going to town to tear the antler apart.  (sorry these are pictures from the next day in the sun – but they are soooo much better!)  I just hope we find the camper van in one piece back at the harbor!imageimageCamera is acting up, so I’ll ad my pics when I can.  In the meantime here are James’!