Friday, January 1, 2010

NZ Sth Island - Pt 10 Christchurch and Home to Sydney

Day 18 (Wednesday 2 December)

Happily ensconced in the Arthurs Court Motor Lodge on this, our last day in New Zealand. We have a lot we'd like to do, but foremost among them is to not completely expire from excessive fatigue. There's a bit of fuss as a problem with the hot water system is revealed and our hosts, clearly horrified at the problem and perhaps a little defensive, find us a solution before summoning an electrician. Luckily the hot water is working in a unit across the way so we pop over there to shower.

It's midday before we get to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens where the first order of business is to put the hire of the mobility scooter back long enough for us to grab a bite to eat in the gardens cafe. The meal was OK but not really anything to write home about. Quite expensive for what you got. It was however delightfully on the spot.

Lunch out of the way we claim the scooter. Sis is inclined to skip a walk around the gardens until persuaded to hire another scooter. This she finds delightfully liberating and the bonus for Mum is that she doesn't feel so conspicuous. We trundle quickly down to the Rose Garden where a beautiful display is in full flight. Mostly modern varieties, but not entirely. Some are familiar to us and others not so, perhaps because they are more suited to the milder, moister conditions to be found here in Christchurch.

As is hardly surprising by now, Daughter spends considerable time in macro zoom and in the process captures some lovely portraits.

The gardens are quite unlike gardens in Australia and there is a large variety of enormous cool climate trees and, for us, unusual shrubs. Magnificent elms with curly branches or weeping skirts. A giant gingko. Deep shade and traceries of bright green foliage over black stems and branches. It is utterly lovely. One day I will be back to go punting on the river.

There is a wide variety of features among the displays including some intriguingly tangled trunks.

Amongst the arboretum we are blown away to find the most enormous eucalypt. Safely planted as a specimen here you'd be hard pressed to find too many eucalypts like this in their home country. The sort of thing only to be seen in historic photos of timber getters of the 19th century. Incredible. I think the name on this one was Eucalyptus giganteum or something like that. Something that translated as "enormous eucalyptus" anyway!! We greet our fellow Australian warmly and pose for photos. What an amazing tree.

Sprinkled here and there at strategic intersections are a range of attractive sculptures of similar style but different subject matter. As well as an unfurling fern frond there is a single stemmed rose. Everything is very tastefully done here.

There are so many plants that are new to us. One of the most striking was what we presumed to be a giant acanthus but were later informed is a Gunnera. It's massive leaves almost dwarfing mum in her scooter.

Making sure we pass through the heather garden we make our way back to return the scooters. We make a few purchases in the gift shop. A Lui the Tui picture book is added to the family collection.

Our next stop is to the Museum of Canterbury. We utilise the mobility parking outside the museum and fetch mum a wheelchair. I would swear on a stack of sacred texts that the website for the Museum says they have a "collection of glass models of marine invertebrates made by father and son glassworkers, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka" purchased in 1884, that offers a "unique combination of scientific accuracy and breathtaking technical skill". I really want to see this. It's the same guy/s whose glass models of a different subject are in a museum in Ireland (also on my list of things I'd like to see). The staff don't seem to know anything about them. I can't find them. I'm a bit rushed for time, so perhaps I didn't see everywhere or didn't look carefully enough. I skipped the kids discovery area with the small fee for entry.. very disappointing, but oh well. It's not like I don't plan to return through Christchurch again one day. Shame Mum won't see them though.
While we're here we pop in to have a look at the Paua Shell house. Very quirky and amusing. I think its great that the long term hospitality of this lovely couple has been preserved like this. A nice and humorous commentary on the arguments between Aussie and NZ re things like pavlova too. We were really pleased to have seen it. The rest of the museum is also really well done and as I hurried through there were several galleries were I really regreted not being able to stay longer. I got a quick trot through the birds gallery which was great. I could have spent a LOT longer in the museum, as it was we only had about an hour. Some time was allocated to the gift shop. Time is getting precious and we have to face the rellies back home, some of which will be looking for a little something. Daughter in particular is getting desperate for something to get her other half. He likes tacky souvenirs and we've not seen many.

Mum has found some excellent stuffed toys of birds that make the bird call. Can't go without a kea. A morepork is also irresistable. Sis finally finds some small tiki that she likes with a nice amount of carving on them. All in all we find the selection here very good... but I have to say you can get those bird stuffed toys several dollars cheaper duty free at the airport when you're leaving the country.
Our purchases safely stowed it's time to head to the Southern Encounter Aquarium. Sis and Daughter in particular have been looking forward to this but its not long to closing and Daughter is getting seriously desperate for two things. The tacky souvenirs and something for her bites which have been getting worse and worse and are now enormous arrangement of weeping festiness. The Soove just isn't helping anymore and she's being driven crazy with itching and consequent sleepless nights. She simply must get to a chemist. We say kia ora to Mum and Sis as they enter the aquarium and we head across the street. The staff in the chemist examine Daughter with interest and recommend some creams and some powerful Telfast antihistamine. These provide some relief but she's still suffering acutely. The only similar experience Daughter has had was getting bitten by the sandflies on Fraser Island in Queensland when she went hiking and camping there. That was bad, but these kiwi sandfly bites are just out of control and showing no sign of retreat. Why? We figure that the one major difference is that Fraser Island involves ocean swimming and Daughter went straight from Fraser Island to Lord Howe Island with us and spent a week largely in the salt water swimming. We always find the ocean a brilliant medicine for any skin ailment so as soon as we get home I ordered Daughter to the beach (not that she ever needs much persuasion to go swimming). Ocean bathing made an astonishing difference right away. She made daily trips for medicinal purposes and after a few days the bites were a thing of the past.

As we are conducting the transaction in the chemist our eye is caught by a display for a clearly fail proof hangover cure. We read the assurances on the stand. We crack up. That would be an awesome souvenir. We examine the boxes. Nah, the same claims are not made on the boxes. There's a lost sale. A photo of the display will have to do.

Next we do the rounds of the souvenir shops around Cathedral Square of which there are plenty. This proves rewarding with some particularly tacky options available. We go middle of the range on the tacky meter and get a cheap vulgar beer can holder. I can't resist getting yet another magnet. This time a faux roadsign with three cute woolly sheep and "next 800 kms" underneath. The sheep around the countryside are awesome. I'll enjoy having that on the fridge with the others.
We figure the logical way to meet up is to just head back to the car. We sit. We sit some more. Clearly the fatigue factor is kicking in for Mum and Sis. For some bizarre reason they went elsewhere - unknown to us - and waited for us there. A highlight of this anxious time in the car which was right outside the police station in time limited mobility parking (fortunately other vacant spots were available all during this time) -was a pass by the Christmas Tram which added a nicely festive touch.

Away at last having done a detailed post mortem on the reasoning behind the last hours mix up we head back to change for dinner. Need to make an effort on our last evening. We have a reservation at Sezn in Dallington. Our road atlas isn't exactly a Christchurch street directory and thinking it's too much to assume that the street the restaurant is on is the same one of that name in the city centre we give the restaurant a call for directions. They tell us a short cut, but the street is the same one that runs all the way from the CBD. At long last we find a park and wander inside. It's a modest streetfront. Not somewhere too attention grabbing. Clearly it's word of mouth that brings people in the door here.

We are greeted warmly by the staff and seated. The atmosphere is cosy and so far, it being fairly early, we are among the first tables to arrive. In due course the owner introduces herself and explains the philosophy of the restaurant. Locally grown organic wherever possible. Purists who love food. Where this could be coupled with a healthy dose of pretension, there is absolutely no sign of that. Down to earth people who just love food. So far so good. We are given a run down on the special features of the menu and settle down with our pre-dinner bread to await our first course.

In a short while an amuse bouche of a tiny little salmon cake is delivered to the table. Delicious.
Daughter and I have gone for entres. Daughter the Seared Venison with beetroot and hazlenut salad, and myself the pumpkin and marscapone tortellini with almonds and sage. Both Excellent and we all enjoy them as we give taste samples around the table.
Three of us went for the Ribeye with tongue'n'cheek pie onion rings and herb butter; Daughter headed (as is usual) for the fish - pan seared brill with lemon parsley and capers. Our steak was divine. No other word for it. Cooked to perfection as we ordered it, melt in your mouth perfection. The tongue'in'cheek pie was a small cushion of wonderfully delicate pastry encapsulating a quite dense and strongly flavoured meat ragout. Quite an intense flavour. I enjoyed that however Mum and Sis felt that was a little strong and wasted on them so donated theirs. Too good to waste!
Advised that each side dish was only of modest proportions we opted for the hand cut fries with house made tomato sauce and aioli; brocolli brown butter and almonds; and rocket avocado and bacon salad. All excellent.

A leisurely chat and we head into the pudding course. We have enjoyed being ridiculously self indulgent on this trip. Sis Daughter and I ordered pudding. Mum ordered a spoon.. It's a very difficult choice but in the end daughter went for the Dark chocolate delice with peanut butter icecream and macadamia praline. Sis the lemon tart with granny smith sorbet and marscapone. I opted for the Caramel parfait with milk chocolate mousse and caramelised banana. What can I say. Superb!! For the first time in our lives we order seconds of the pudding. Another round of the Dark chocolate delice, and while you're at it hit us up with the Creme Brulee with coffee sorbet and shortbread. Now you would expect we would regret that when it comes down to actually polishing off more sweets after such a full meal. Not a chance. They were fabulous. We gush our compliments to our host who assures us the chef responsible will be thrilled to hear we enjoyed everything so much.

We have ended our trip as it began - with a superb meal.

Day 19 (Thursday 3 December)

We have a ridiculously early flight departure. Drag ourselves from our beds and head to the airport. We are rather surprised to find lots of people bedded down in their sleeping bags around the terminal. It's all quite routine this morning. Drop the hire car keys and so on in the secure slot at Europcar; do a spot of last minute duty free buying in the liquor store. A few souvenirs including a buzzy bee for my little niece for christmas. In no time we're on our Air New Zealand flight home, once more enjoying a comfortable trip with entirely satisfactory service. We're home by 8:30 am and busy declaring away to our hearts content. We are a while at customs as a result. The main delay was the need to have our shoes thoroughly cleaned. The usual teary embraces as we greet our other halves. Sis, who's never been away from home so long before and seldom without her other half, is almost beside herself to be home and back in his arms. She's had a wonderful trip but was getting pretty homesick. We are all very happy to be home.

We head to our various homes and promptly proceed to collapse from exhaustion! Talk about needing a rest after a holiday!! Mum was a bit of a write off for a couple of weeks, but has no regrets on that score.

So what do we say to close. In a completely fabulous holiday what really stood out among so many other marvellous experiences?

I think it's unanimous. Kaikoura. We concede that it didn't hurt that it was our first stop. It also didn't hurt that all our plans went like clockwork and we had optimal conditions for everything. However we just had the most wall to wall brilliant time there. From the minute we arrived and got a look at the beautiful snow capped mountains running right down to the ocean to the moment we made the turn south back to Christchurch it was wonderful. Kaikoura was also the scene for our No1 top of the mountain experience - seeing the seal pups at the waterfall. The Green Dolphin (both staff and food) were a highlight too... but the whole South Island trip was just so wonderful. It will be an experience none of us will ever forget.
I asked mum what her favourite things were and one of the things she ranked highly was the camaraderie of the group. That of course is so important and ultimately the main reason for the trip in the first place. We made unforgettable memories together. New Zealand will feature in our fondest recollections for many many years to come. We couldn't have chosen a better destination.

NZ Sth Island - Pt 9 Hokitika, Punakaiki, Arthurs Pass to Christchurch

Day 17 (Tuesday 1 December) Off to Christchurch via Punakaiki

Today we sleep in. Some of us until after 9 oclock. I lie in bed listening to the rain and writing up my notes. Ever health conscious we are obliged to share a litre of icecream for brekkie today. Daughter and Sis simply couldn't resist some high fat percentage walnut and maple syrup variety when they were at the supermarket and time is running for opportunities to sample. Delicious, but it will be good to get back on a healthier eating plan when we get home.

This morning we have a few shopping errands. First up we go back to the glass studio and watch some glass manufacturing as there was none yesterday due to the public holiday. Having mulled over the options overnight we each make our souvenir purchases then it's off to the possum shop. I am very sorely tempted by a beautiful possum skin throw, but at $1000 it's a bit steep for the moment. I resolve to wait and see how the new house is in winter. No point having a possum throw if your house is too warm to ever use it. We settle for some luxurious possum slippers and a possum skin for daughter 2. In the course of our conversation with the person serving we mention that I hadn't heard of the availability of possum skins in NZ until I visited the Museum of Australia and read about how some of the indigenous people from areas most greatly affected by European settlement were wanting to resurrect some of their traditional skills. They referred to possum skin cloaks that had been collected back in the first days of contact and set about studying them and figuring out how they were made. Then they got busy making the cloaks that are now on display in the museum. Possums are protected in Australia, so for the project to go ahead they had to import skins from NZ. We are pleased to discover that it was this very same company that they bought the skins from. In another amazing turn of good fortune for us this shop only opened 3 days or so ago. It was still in the process of setting up!

Our Hokitika business completed we head north. We have a number of options again today and discuss the alternatives. It's absolutely pouring rain, but Mum is very keen to see the Pancake Rocks so that settles it. We head north. It consistently pours rain the whole way as we pass through Greymouth. Noone could doubt our faith as we press steadfastly onward to our next natural spectacle.

North of Greymouth the traffic ahead slows to a stop as we reach the site of a landslip that has just occurred. The road is blocked. A little way before we had overtaken a slow moving piece of earth moving machinery. Ah. Now the slow moving earth machinery overtakes us and heads to the pile of debris across the road. We watch the slow clearing of the blockage as sand continues to trickle down the escarpment. Most entertaining. It must have been alarming to be driving along here when the slip was taking place. Eventually the road is cleared enough to allow a single lane of traffic to pass and the cars queued in either direction take their turn to continue their journey.

Pondering on the chances of further road blockages before the deluge eases, and secretly happily philosophical about even a slight risk of maybe having to drive around to Christchurch via Nelson. I drive on as (temporary?) waterfalls cascade down onto the road and mist shrouds the bordering vegetation.

On arriving at Punakaiki I am somewhat surprised at the scale of the pancake rocks and the visitor facilities accompanying them. This is obviously a major tourist attraction. From the off hand, not a must see, sort of way in which I have heard them spoken about in the course of my research this was not what I was expecting at all. It's all very impressive.

On queue the rain which has been absolutely belting down, eases. Not that Mum was about to be deterred. She has already located her umbrella. We park and head through the impressive rock entrance to the very pretty walk to the viewing area. Daughter wastes no time in her appreciation of the macro attractions of the area when she sees some bright orange fungi peeping out from the leaves on the embankment.

In contrast to the beautiful tiny flora the mysterious pancake rocks are on a large scale. These are eroded cliffs. I was thinking they were an eroded rock platform or something flatter and more tide affected. Perhaps my confusion has stemmed from the references to trying to be here at particular tide conditions. The blow hole is indeed tide affected in terms of when it puts on a display, but the rocks themselves are enormous and would be worth the visit at any time. The infrastructure also is very very nice. Stone walls leading around the site. Bridges for viewing the deep hole where the swell surges and breaks. The whole precinct is fabulous.
There are a lot of people here and everyone is bearing expressions that suggest a sense of wonder is widespread. Mum and Sis in particular are loving it as they slowly move from one spectacular vantage point to the next.

Another marvellous attraction at the site is that it is a sea bird rookery. Now that's a happy bonus!! Terns and red billed gulls. Sitting on nests. Chicks! We settle in for some extended viewing of some nesting terns and have the great good fortune to see the parent bird return with a shining silver fish. The offering gratefully gobbled it heads back out to sea before some minutes later returning again to the nest with another silver morsel dangling from its bill. This is apparently the shift change and the bird sitting on the nest rises and it's place taken by its partner. Fantastic! Fancy seeing that!!

One of my favourite parts of the place was the huge hole where the tide surges and the foam of the breakers washes over the submerged rocks. You can't rush an appreciation of this area.

The rain is continuing to drizzle lightly like an aerial varnish for the beautiful flowers of the native vegetation. Here and there honeyeaters are dining on the flowers of the flax. Playing hide and seek with curious tourists like me.

The rain gradually accumulates and drips from the tiny flowers of what appears to be a species of hebe. The light shining around the edges of tiny water droplets as they hang weightily on the edge of a petal. How much we would miss if we only ever ventured out in the sunshine.

We are amazed at the continued restraint of the clouds overhead which are clearly aching to dump their load. Just one tricky obstacle to navigate. Some steep uneven steps in the track. Daughter hangs back to steady her grandma. We return slowly towards the road marvelling at a spider's web heavy with rain sparkles. Beautiful but shy for the camera.
Back at the road we venture into the cafe and gift shop. There is a broad range of quality souvenirs including the most beautifully carved pounamu we have seen so far. Daughter wishes she had the $600 necessary to buy me a gorgeous small piece called Spirit Carrier. I wish she had it too. I guess it would be cheating to lend it to her.
The others have an intention of picking up some snack wraps from Maccas or KFC or wherever in Greymouth (they were paying attention as we passed northward). I'm not keen on that and decide to try something take away from the cafe. I get a sort of quiche like product from the cabinet and decide to give the large Anzac biccies a go. The service was distinctly surly and the food pretty average. Quite disappointing. The Anzac biccie was OK, but I'm in the crisp school of Anzac biccie officionados and these are the chewy sort.

Conscious of the time we assume our travelling positions once more and head south. The coastline is quite striking with stacks of black surf sprayed rocks by a sea of pale green. We pull over at one of the lay bys to capture some memory joggers and hopefully decor shots too.

It's late for lunch but not dettered we do the rounds of the multi-nationals in Greymouth before turning towards Christchurch. (Ah, I inadvertently lied in my previous report from Dunedin. Oops.) It is in this area that we see what we decided is one of the most remarkable sights of our trip. We have had no difficulty negotiating the many single lane bridges but here the shared use of infrastructure takes a turn to the really extraordinary. Here there is a single lane bridge used not only for both directions of road traffic but for the rail line as well. It is closely followed by a large roundabout with the train lines running smack bang through the middle of it. What the... Noone will believe this. We head back to video the experience of travelling through this set of hazards. We find that we have just missed a freight train coming through. Drat! Clearly the local populace must be quite accustomed to the situation, but it seems unbelievable to us to see the local police patrol car queued up on the railway tracks waiting for their turn across the bridge.

Whilst enjoying this entertainment we take a particular liking to the hazard warning sign for cyclists. We think it communicates the risk quite effectively.

As we head up the valley towards Christchurch once more we find ourselves back in the realm of broom (or is it gorse?) which blankets the ground in bright yellow. Through the rain a little further up the valley wild foxgloves have established, their purple spires dripping. They are mostly just a pink blur through the rain today though.

We know we have climbed in altitude when we start to see the beautiful Mt Cook lily flowering on the hillsides. We failed to take any photos when we've seen them previously so make a point of pulling over when we see a safe opportunity.

Travelling through the pass, the scenery resumes what I can only describe as broad scale grandeur. By now its well after 6 pm and we are dull to say the least as we recline heads against headrests and periodically doze as the glorious scenery slips by, although not always unappreciated.

It is not often that I find I have a distinct sympathy with an arsonist, but yes, I discover that even this is possible as we enter the little community of Springfield. Now I have to say that I did enjoy the first several seasons of the Simpsons (we'll choose to disregard the 15 or so seasons since they ran out of ideas worth actioning). However I think things are really getting out of hand when a little town like this decides that a large pink donut with a bite out of it, should be its claim to fame. I guess I should note that my sentiments are not shared by all in our vehicle. Sis and Daughter think it is funny. Even funnier still when we notice the abortive attempt to obliterate it. A photo stop is demanded.

Having done the photographic deed we do a double take as in our peripheral vision we spy a sign that seems on casual glance to be a little extreme. One could be forgiven for wondering if Nazism is alive and well in this town. Then again, if that were the case surely the Simpsons would be the first to go.

The wagons are rolling into the Arthurs Court Motorlodge quite late after a stop to photograph an ostrich farm. 8:30 sees us stopping once more at Starmart Russley for a sneaky trip through the (fairly ineffectual) car wash. None-the-less the evidence of our explorations is less apparent when we emerge. None of us have any recollection what we did about dinner that night. Now tomorrow night, our last night of the trip - that is memorable!