Sunday, June 17, 2018

"Eat Crayfish"

Our new guide for the week, Jed, is much more experienced at tour guiding, even though today was his first day on the job with Wild Kiwi.  He worked for two other tour companies for about 10 years so he has tons of facts and info to share with us which I appreciate.  In addition to a new guide we have a new ride: a campervan.  The pace of today was so much more relaxed and easy-going since the distances traveled each day are shorter.  We drove for about an hour and then had a coffee stop in the little town of Chevoit.  The weather was beautiful so we sat outside the cafe chatting before heading on down the road.  We were able to spot some seals and dolphins along the way (driving along the east coast) so that was a bonus.

Kaikoura is located on a peninsula and they had a large earthquake there in 2016.  Jed hasn't been back through the area since before the quake and as we drove he kept commenting about how much things have changed, even just along the coastline.  The water level is about 3 meters lower than it was last time he'd come through and a lot of the rocks now visible above the water weren't visible before the quake. 

After checking out the view from the town lookout we did the beautiful Kaikoura Peninsula Walk, which took about an hour.  Farmland, beautiful sea cliffs, the views were worth the hike.  According to the DoC brochure, "The peninsula is a biological nodal point, a place where ‘north meets south’ or, more accurately, where ‘warm meets cold’.  Here, the distributions of typically northern and southern species overlap — the seaweeds show a strong southern affinity, while the animals show a warmer, more northern influence.  Add to this the rich variety of inter-tidal and sub-tidal habitats, and you have one of the most biologically diverse locations of the entire east coast of the South Island."

Our walk ended at the carpark, which is conveniently located next to a seal colony! We were able to get quite close to them and I was able to take some videos of them as well (which my nephews loved).

We'd heard good things about the fish n chips at Coopers Catch, so all ordered a takeaway and Jed drove us back up to the lookout to watch the sun drop behind the mountains.  It's a very small town and there's not much to do in winter (especially in the evenings), so we decided to make use of the hostel's hot tub.  With a few Brits on the trip it's been interesting to hear all about their take on the royal wedding, the royal family, etc. and it certainly was the main topic of conversation this evening. 

"Legend has it that Māui used the Kaikoura Peninsula as a foothold to brace himself when he fished the North Island out of the sea. From this comes the peninsula’s earliest name: Te Taumanu o te Waka a Māui, the thwart or seat of Māui’s canoe. The name Kaikoura means ‘eat crayfish’, recalling the occasion when Tama ki te Raki had a meal of crayfish here, pausing on his journey around the South Island in pursuit of his three runaway wives."

Monday, June 11, 2018

A Drive Down State Highway 43

While visiting the Church of the Good Shepherd, on my Wild Kiwi tour, I met a gentleman whose name I have since forgotten but his suggestions I did not.  In conversation I mentioned that I would be house sitting near New Plymouth.  He then proceeded to tell me of a "lost" highway which takes you through a town (at the time I couldn't understand the name he said) which has declared itself a separate nation from New Zealand.  I was even more intrigued when he told me that it is the only place in the island nation where you will find a road sign "welcoming" you to New Zealand.  I took note of his advice for later, and when I saw a sunny weather forecast for this Saturday I decided to put the dog in the car and head out on a little road trip.

Known as the "Forgotten World Highway" the entire drive is 3 hours, but I only did maybe a quarter of the 155km trail, which is New Zealand's oldest heritage trail.  According to the brochure it "follows ancient Maori trade routes and pioneering farm tracks through ambitious historic settlements, untamed native bush, and stunning natural scenery."  It was such a beautiful, sunny for a drive and the scenery was top-notch.  As I headed out of Hawera, towards Stratford (the starting town for Highway 43), I had a perfect view of Mount Taranaki.  She's often covered in clouds, or partially hidden behind the clouds, but that this morning!

At Strathmore Saddle lookout, traditionally considered the start of the "back country", I could still see Mt. Taranaki in the distance.  According to the signs, east of there "the dairy farming of the volcanic ring plain and rolling hills and valleys changes to mainly sheep and beef cattle farming" and there had apparently been several plans to tunnel under this "saddle", but they never eventuated. 
Strathmore Saddle, with Mt. Taranaki in the background;
the little white dots on the hillside are sheep.
With photo stops at the Pohokura and Whangamomona Saddles I was nearly to my destination.  The further I traveled the more the road seemed to curve and the tighter the curves became.  On one blind curve I saw a camper van coming around the corner, over the line and in my lane.  Because of the sharp bends I wasn't going very fast and I slammed on the brake pedal.  Had the other driver done the same I might have been able to back up far enough to prevent what happened next, but the driver didn't stop.  Time seemed to slow for a moment as I watched him finish coming around the bend, ever closer to the front of the car.  As I realized the vehicles would indeed meet I squeezed my eyes shut, as if not watching would make it not happen.  The woman in the car behind me stopped to assure me that there was nothing I could have done, "you stopped, but he was already in your lane".  My first car accident and it wasn't my car and wasn't my country.  Sam and I were fine, the damage was slight, and thecar was able to be driven.  I can't imagine how much a tow truck out of there would have cost so I had much for which to be thankful.  We exchanged information and headed our separate ways.

Not to be deterred we motored on along and finally saw the sign welcoming us to the Republic of Whangamomona.  The 'wh' in Maori is usually pronounced as an English 'f' sound.  The village was once a bustling frontier town with nearly 300 residents, but by the 1960's the numbers declined to around 20.  In 1989, after a dispute about the redrawing of regional council boundaries, the townspeople declared themselves a republic in protest.  They hold elections for president, but the eligibility rules are rather lenient; Billy Gumboot the Goat, Tai the Poodle, and perhaps the most famous: Murt "Murtle the Turtle" Kennard, have all served as president of the republic.  According to Wikipedia, "the local garage owner fought off strong competition from former president Kjestrup {human}and a cross-dresser called 'Miriam' to become the 4th President. He was re-elected in 2009 by one vote. He was re-elected again in 2011 by a landslide."

My brochure had another interesting fact for me to pass on: "Rugby fans might be keen to know that Whangamomona is the only club in NZ that is allowed to wear an all-black strip - as they had it well before NZ's All Blacks."  I stopped in the hotel for a coffee, and to browse the old photos and town history, before taking Sam for a walk along the train tracks to let him stretch his legs.  The drive back was just as beautiful, but thankfully didn't involve a run-in with a camper van.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Hawera Tiki Tour

I was introduced to the New Zealand term "tiki tour" by my Kiwi tour guide, Jed.  He used the phrase quite often and I gathered that the meaning meant had something to do with not set destination, just a general browse of an area.  Thanks to the internet, now I know its exact meaning: noun,
"NZ a scenic tour of an area".  It's also number nine on this list from the NZ Herald of 15 Kiwi Slang Words.  All that just to explain my blog title, but hey, you never know when that little factoid might prove useful in your life ;)

Val, a friend of Gill and James (for whom I'm house-pet sitting), invited me to her home last evening for a little get together.  She's a retired chef from Auckland, immigrated from the UK (Liverpool, I believe) years ago, and moved to Hawera around the same time as Gill.  At the party I met several people and one of the couples was Allan and Carol.  I had meant to be leaving the party, but got stuck talking to Allan in the kitchen.  I literally mean stuck, he is rather chatty and I couldn't find a decent break in the conversation to politely make my departure.  Anyway, he was born and raised here but has traveled quite extensively around the world (40 countries was the count he gave me), so at least we were talking about a subject I enjoyed.  Shortly before his wife decided it was time to head home he invited to me to go on his school bus route in the morning to see what he has nicknamed "The Green Canyon".  He claimed the landscape variety within the drive was spectacular and unlike anything you normally see.  It seemed impolite to say no, and besides, it's not like I really had anything else to do and would most likely never go to this area on my own anyway. 

At 7:25 am this morning I met him at his house and we climbed in the van and headed off.  As we headed out of Hawera (population about 11,000 according to Allan) we were in dairy country - very flat, as you can see in the below photo. 

One of the major employers in this area is Fonterra Dairy Co-operative, Allan even has a story about a time he was in China and told people he was from NZ and their response was "Fonterra!".   As we drove, the landscape changed considerably once we headed east.  The roads were now incredibly windy and with the sun coming up over the clouds and hills it was quite a beautiful morning.  He was able to quickly stop for a moment (we had kids to pick up and a schedule to keep) at Mangaminigi Saddle so I could get a photo; it was an amazing view.  I found this video online of some drone footage that gives you a look at some of what I saw (and the road I was on): Taranaki Mangamingi.

He picks up 3 elementary children who live on farms way out "in the sticks" as we would say, or as the Kiwis say: "in the wop wops". They mostly raise sheep in this area, but of course there are some cattle as well.  We even drove past the area where they hold the NZ Dog Trials for Taranaki.  The family of one of the girls he picks up helps with the trials and she told me they had 30 entrants this year and it was a 2-day event.  It was an interesting way to spend a morning and Allan certainly had plenty of facts and things of interest to point out along the way. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Shades of Blue

Friday was our last day together and it was once again spent mostly on the bus.  As we headed out of Mt. Cook we still couldn't actually see the top of the mountain; as if to placate us we were instead rewarded with a rainbow.  We traveled, once again, along Lake Pukaki which was as beautiful as ever.

Our main objective was returning to Christchurch in time for anyone who had a flight out that night, so our only really tourist stop was at Lake Tekapo.  Oddly enough the town and the lake are both named "Lake Tekapo".  As with Lake Pukaki, this one also owes its magnificent color to the suspended 'rock flour' in the water.  It is the middle-child, in terms of size, of the three lakes in the Mackenzie Country (Pukaki being the largest).  There are two well-known statues in town, which I dutifully photographed for you all:
"This monument was erected by the runholders of the Mackenzie County and those who also appreciate the value of the collie dog, without the help of which the grazing of this mountain country would be impossible."
Eleven Himalayan tahr, one of the world's premier game animals, were introduced into New Zealand in the early 1900's to complement the deer species that had already been established tin induce tourism.  Now classified as 'vulnerable' on the list of endangered species, New Zealand has the only substantial herd of wild tahr outside their native India and Nepal.  It is also the only country where they can be hunted in a free-range natural alpine environment.
Ok, for full disclosure, those two statues are not the reason people visit Lake Tekapo (the actual lake nor the town).  They visit because of a tiny, now famous, building: Church of the Good Shepherd.
If you search Google images for photos of this church, you will not be disappointed - since it's still in the dark sky reserve there are some amazing photographs taken at night.

Built in 1935 it was the first church built in the Mackenzie Basin and is still in use as a place of worship today.  They do not allow photographs to be taken inside the church, but the window above the altar has a top-notch view.  The gentleman on greeting duty gave me some cool advice about a place to visit at my house sitting job in Hawera, there's an old lost highway that travels through a town that has declared its sounded quite intriguing so I made a note in my phone to check it out.

We arrived back in Christchurch and said our goodbyes; only four of us (including me) were continuing on to Abel Tasman.  Telli gave us the scoop on our next guide, as best he could, and told us we would have two more people joining our tour tomorrow.  Week one in the books, week two on the way.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The "Cloud Piercer"

On Thursday morning we woke up to snow on the mountains in Queenstown!  The view from the hostel kitchen was so lovely since it looked out over the lake and had the snow-capped mountains in the background.  As we left Queenstown, headed for Mt. Cook-Aoraki, the view as we drove was lovely.  We stopped in Cromwell for a coffee break, the town is known for its fruit in summer, but since it was winter we didn't stick around.

We drove through Lindis Pass and there was still some snow on the grass at the lookout point.  Our resident Queenslanders (the tropical region of Australia) were completely enamored with the snow, they had never touched it before so it was a new experience for them.  It's not that there isn't snow in a few areas of Australia, these two had just never been there.

After lunch in Omarama we found ourselves driving alongside Lake Pukaki.  For my LOTR fan readers, the following excerpt is just a piece of an entire article about the area and the movies: "A pure distinctive light, the amazing turquoise hues of the lake and the sharp alpine landforms were all part of the attraction for the film-maker who has used this region three times to backdrop major location scenes in his 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' Trilogies."  For the rest of us, the lake is fed by the Tasman River, which is in turn fed by he Hooker and Tasman Glaciers.  It is the largest of the three glacial lakes in the area and as you can see is indeed an amazing blue-green color.

The water colour of the lake is a bright turquoise due to glacial flour, made from extremely fine rock particles that have come from the surrounding glaciers...When the sun hits the surface of the lake, it reflects off the particles transforming it to a brilliant blue." source  Since it was such a clear day we managed to get a glimpse of Mt. Cook (the Maori name, Aoraki, means "cloud piercer") before it was engulfed by clouds.  We had planned to do a three hour hike to a lookout below the mountain, which happens to be the tallest in New Zealand.  A storm was moving in and none of us had the proper clothing for a hike in rainy slush, Telli adamantly advised against it.  As he put it, "the animals of NZ don't kill you, the weather does."  No one wanted to quit before we started so we bundled up as best we could (the wind was incredibly cold) and went about 25 minutes down the trail.  We had been able to see the river, which was nearly white from all the glacial flour, before the spitting rain started.  We asked some hikers, that had come from the mountain, if there was anything up the trail further to see (i.e. "should we continue in this crazy weather?") and they advised that we wouldn't see anything because the weather was too poor.  Satisfied that we had seen what we could we turned back to the warmth of the lodge (after a group selfie).

To be honest, I didn't mind terribly that the weather had ruined our hike, what made me sad was that the weather also ruined my chances of star gazing.  "Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of only eight in the world." source  I had also been secretly hoping to get a glimpse of the Aurora Australis while here as well.  I guess it wasn't meant to be this time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Queenstown - Day 5

Today was the first time I actually saw Queenstown in the daylight!  It is not very big, but is quite lovely since it is lake front.  Although it is known as the "Adrenaline Capital" of the country, I'm not into adrenaline sports and my friend Oksu, that I met in Christchurch, was staying here as well so we had decided to meet up for the day.

I had a leisurely morning and enjoyed a walk along the waterfront while waiting for my laundry in the dryer to finish.  I stopped in some souvenir shops as well, but at the end of the day I just don't need any of the things they're selling and none of them grabbed my attention enough to make me want to pay for and carry in my suitcase for the next 4 months.

Around noon Oksu texted to say she was ready.  For such a small town we shouldn't have had so much trouble finding each other, but it turns out Queenstown has a 'thing' about having two locations for a lot of their stores (which neither of us knew).  I said I was outside Ice Bar and eventually went inside to ask what the actual address was and the woman informed me they had two locations (only 2 blocks away from each other).  Anyway, we finally met up and decided to take a walk along the lake.  It was a bit frigid and we could see some clouds rolling in; with rain forecasted for the afternoon we decided to head back towards town to find some lunch.

Oksu had already eaten at Fergburger but was game to try it again.  Unfortunately, the line was crazy long again and I just wasn't convinced it would be that amazing.  Telli had told us about FergBakery which is right next door and claimed they are the absolute best pies in town.  I love a good pie and Oksu was game so we popped over and ordered a Lamb Shank Pie.  Oh my goodness, it was excellent! Probably the best pie I've eaten in this country so far (and in case I didn't mention while blogging about my North Island tour, I had a pie for lunch nearly every day of that tour so I have had my fair share).  We ate our pies on a bench by the lake and soon decided we needed to get out of the wind so we went to a cafe to have a chat.  After finishing our drinks we decided to walk around town for a bit.  As mentioned, it's not a very big town and everyone comes to do crazy things like sky diving, bungy jumping, paragliding, the Shotover Jet, mountain biking, the list goes on and on.  Most of the shops are bars or restaurants so there really wasn't much to look at anyway.  We'd walked past both locations for Patagonia Chocolates and decided a hot chocolate would help warm us up.

They had a great seating area upstairs with a huge window overlooking the lake, so when the rain started we decided to stay put.  The rain eventually let up enough that we decided to venture out and find some dinner.  Oksu wanted Thai food and her Korean guide book suggested a couple places and we eventually decided on the second option.  Everything was very tasty and we eventually parted ways hoping to some day meet again, perhaps in South Korea, or perhaps in the USA.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The 8th Wonder of the World?

If I were naming the wonders of the world I can't say that this place would make the list; but Rudyard Kipling is the one who famously dubbed Milford Sound the Eighth Wonder of the World.  To clear up any further confusion, it is not a sound; it is a fjord.  "Sounds are formed when a river valley is flooded with the sea, whereas Milford Sound was carved out by an erosion of ancient glacial ice." Here are two other interesting facts about Piopiotahi: it is one of the wettest places on earth (268 inches of rain annually) and is hundreds of meters deep with a combination of fresh and salt water.

To have our cruise at Milford Sound we had an early wake-up call.  Telli met us at 5:45am with breakfast on the bus and we were off.  The first two hours of the drive it was either too dark or too foggy to see anything out the windows, but when the sun rose and the fog started to burn off -- wow.  The main objective didn't stop us from some very cool photo stops along the way.  Knobs Flat was first with of great view of the mountains out in the distance.

The photo win of the day was at an unexpected location: Lake Gunn.  Remember the tips for getting a good "mirror effect" on Lake Matheson?  We stopped not long after dawn and there was no wind so the water was perfectly still, adding to the drama were low clouds in spots.  To be fair to Milford Sound, if the views of Lake Gunn hadn't been so spectacular maybe I would have been more impressed with the fjord.

Before finally arriving at Milford Sound we drove through the fascinating Homer Tunnel.  Started in 1935 by five men on a government work project, the number of men soon increased despite the harsh working conditions (tunneling by hand and bad weather), work was, after all, scarce during the Great Depression.  They made it through in about 5 years, but it wasn't wide enough for cars and the work was delayed by WWII and a large avalanche.  The 1.2km tunnel was finally opened in 1954, prior to this you had to fly or hike over or sail around the mountain.  The strangest part for me was going through a tunnel that was on an incline.

I love a good cruise so, despite not being incredibly impressed with one of the biggest tourist attractions in the entire country, I enjoyed it.  Since it was a clear day we were able to view both of the permanent waterfalls; when it is raining many temporary ones crop up.  As seen in the photos there are sheer rock faces, some 3,900 ft or more, on either side of us for most of the cruise.

The fjord is frequented by many animals such as seals, whales, penguins, and even dolphins, but the water is so dark it can be very hard to spot them if they're not close to the boat.  Before returning to the dock we even cruised briefly into the Tasman Sea (it was insanely windy out on the open sea).
I suppose the sheer scale of things is what makes it so impressive

The route back was identical, but this time we could see the entire drive.  Apparently Te Anau has a lake, it was too foggy when we'd stopped that morning.  It is known as the gateway to Fiordland National Park and apparently the lake has a lot of trout.  We got back into Queenstown and all headed out to a late four complete.