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You Just Can't Do Everything!

Saturday 31st October 2015

semi-overcast 16 °C

Our intention was to do much the same as we had done yesterday, but having ascertained exactly when high tide was, we aimed to get to the blowholes for around 2:30pm so that we could see them at their most active. On that basis there was no need for us to rush out, but equally we wanted to have some of the morning to explore. We had breakfast and did a few things in the cottage before driving the short distance to what is known as the Truman Track. There is a small parking area near the start of the track and next to this there is a dark peaty looking pool. We crossed the road and walked for a while through some typical New Zealand rain forest.


A number of the plants were labelled which gave an added interest to the walk. After about a kilometre the path opened out and after a short distance we were at the sea. There were lovely views in both directions with some steps that went down onto the beach.


From there we could get an even better view of the waves crashing over the rocks. The tide was starting to come in and so we didn't really have time to walk on the sand, but from where the steps were we could see a small waterfall flowing onto the beach.


We then retraced our steps and walked back up the track to our car. Nigel then drove a short distance in the direction of Punakaiki to the car park at the start of the Pororari River track. We walked about a third of the track to a point where we had a lovely view of the river. The scenery was beautiful with a sheer cliff edge with a more gently sloping bank covered in vegetation and fallen rocks.


There were a number of places where trees were bent over the path, or rocks partly obstructing the track causing us to duck. We did think about going further but were aware of the time and the fact that we wanted to be catch the high tide. Whilst we were standing there enjoying the view, two kayakers came past and seeing how gentle and shallow the river was I was a little envious and wished that we had chosen to do the same.


On the way back to the car we met a number of other walkers who looked like they were intending to do the full three hour loop. It was getting towards 2:20pm and high tide and so instead we went to have another (our third) look at the blowholes. The tide was at its highest and some of the waves were crashing onto the rocks in a quite spectacular fashion.


Although there was water spouting out of the blowholes we agreed that it wasn't quite as spectacular as the day before. We were feeling quite hungry by this stage so we stopped at one of the cafe's on the main road near the blowholes for a bite to eat before venturing back a short distance to look at a cave that was reputed to have some glow worms. We had brought a torch as suggested, but once inside it looked like a bit a scramble through a fairly narrow passage to get into the cave proper. Although we could see torchlight shining from under the rocks, so we knew someone else had been able to get through, we decided not to venture any further.

Instead we went back past our accommodation and made use of our 4WD vehicle and drove about a kilometre or so up a gravel track alongside the Punakaiki River. We parked up and then crossed over a swing (small suspension) bridge.


Again we walked a short distance before turning back as by this stage Nigel's hip was playing up and I was also getting pretty tired. In some ways I regretted that we hadn't continued on the Pororari River track we were on in the morning as both footpaths linked up, and we had probably walked the same distance. However had we done this we wouldn't have had time to go along the Truman Track. This is all part of the compromising you do when you are somewhere for a limited time. Once we had walked back to the car, we drove the short distance back to the cottage and after relaxing for a while we had another home cooked meal and then a fairly early night in readiness for an early start.

Posted by Gill's Travels 20:59 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes sea rivers new_zealand punakaiki Comments (0)

Paparoa National Park

Friday 30th October 2015

sunny 16 °C

Today was our first day full day in Punakaiki and the Paparoa National Park and our intention was to stay nearby and explore some of the countryside on our doorstep. We drove northwards a short distance up the coast initially stopping at the Irimahuwhero Lookout. There were great views of the coast in either direction. Looking back southwards also gave a good indication of the local geology, particularly the unusual rock strata. We got chatting to a bus driving who was taking passengers from Nelson down to Franz Josef and he kindly offered to take a our photograph.


We carried on driving in the same direction until we arrived at at the great named Woodpecker Bay. We parked up here and had a look at the beach. Like some of the bays we had seen in the North island this one was also littered with lumber.


The ocean seemed quite wild and even if it was warm enough it wouldn't have invited me to go in for a swim. From there we wallked over the road and crossed the old and somewhat dilapidated Fox River Bridge. This had signs saying that it was unsafe and that you progressed at your own risk. It looked safe enough to us and as there were only two of us walking on it we were sure we would be fine. Once we got to the other side we walked through a cave that came out a short distance down the river bank.


I didn't much like it inside even though it was more like a short tunnel, and it was very wet and drippy. We made our way back across the bridge and started walking down the Fox River Track. It was quite wet and muddy in places and a few short up and down stretches but was still pretty easy walking. As we wanted to do other things later in the day we only walked for about half an hour along the track. We stopped once the path got near to the river and scrambled through a bit of undergrowth to get on the the stony river beach.


It was lovely and peaceful and I loved the tropical vegetation including many tree ferns on the opposite bank. We stayed there for a while before retracing our steps back along the footpath to the car.

We wanted to go and have another look at the blowholes and other features at the Pancake Rocks. The main blowhole was throwing out a lot of water, sometimes it was more of a mist and other times more like a fountain with clearly discernible droplets of water. Because it was quite a sunny day most spurts ended up with a lovely rainbow across the hole. We found it fascinating and stood watching it for ages. It was quite wet standing there and a bit of a challenge taking photographs whilst trying to keep our cameras reasonably dry.


All the other features were pretty dramatic as well. There was a channel that had huge waves rushing in and this fed into a small steamy blowhole called the chimney. On the other side of the access bridge there was an archway under which huge waves would race into an enclosed bay and crash into the cliff wall opposite. This pool fed into a larger blowhole which didn't spout much more than a slight mist but it did make a sudden booming noise every time water was pushed through. Further round the cliffs the waves were rolling in a crashing on the open cliffs. It was an amazing place and a real reminder of the power of the ocean. Some of the pathways looked pretty precarious and almost certainly will eventually collapse. Once we had finished looking at the spectacle and taking photographs we made our way back to our temporary home from where we had a very late lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon inside and we finished the evening with a meal cooked by Nigel and then we watched a bit of television.

Posted by Gill's Travels 18:38 Archived in New Zealand Tagged beaches rivers rain_forest new_zealand paparoa Comments (0)

Crossing the Alps

Thursday 29th October 2015

semi-overcast 15 °C

We had a fairly early start this morning as the Transalpine Train that would take us across the South Island to Greymouth was scheduled to leave Christchurch at 8:15am. We decided to have breakfast on the train and so all we had to do was pack up our things and check out in time for the taxi that we had arranged to pick us up at 7:15am. He was the friendliest taxi driver we have had so far on our trip and he soon got talking to us about his experience of the earthquake. He said that his wife had been particularly affected and that until recently she would cry every time she felt a tremor. He also told us that approximately 10,000 people had left the city since the quake struck. The population is now slowly on the increase and more and more people connected with the rebuild have come to live here. He seemed hopeful that many of these people would settle and stay permanently perhaps giving new life and young people to the city. He dropped us off in plenty of time and again we said a heartfelt goodbye to him and wished him well. The train was in the station and we checked in and as soon as the baggage handlers were ready we stored our large bags in the baggage car. Our seats were in a great position, on the right hand side of the train we had requested (for the best views) and near to the open observation car.


This meant we were quite a way from the buffet car but you can't have everything! We settled in our seats and Nigel went and got us some breakfast as soon as they started serving. For the first half an hour or so after we left the station we were travelling across the flat landscape of the Canterbury Plain, passing agricultural land and the odd milk processing plant. The railway line then starts to climb as it makes its way through the northern foothills of the Southern Alps. At first it was hilly with lots of gorse, and then the hills became higher and we were travelling along gorges and crossing over spectacular bridges with milky blue meltwater streams below.


Once the scenery became more interesting I went up into the open air observation car along with many other passengers and it became a bit of free for all with people jockeying for the best position on the ever changing most scenic side of the train. The hills gradually got higher and we could see snow capped mountains in the distance. As we approached Arthur's Pass the train line ran alongside the Bealey River.


We stopped for a while in the station and at that point nearly 100 people left the train, presumably with the intention of exploring the area. The township of Arthur's Pass is 740 metres above sea level and has some good views of the surrounding mountains.


One of the reasons that the train has to stop for a while is that almost immediately after leaving the station the train enters the Otira Tunnel. This is 8.5 kilometres long and inside the track descends at a gradient of 1 in 33 meaning that the town of Otira is 250 metres lower than Arthur's Pass. In order to control the descent two more locomotives join the one that hauled the train from Christchurch. There is also a fan and door system in order to take away any fumes. For this reason the observation car is closed for the whole time that the train is in the tunnel. Otira station was interesting and slightly weird not only was there an old Fiat parked there but also a figure of a monk with one arm laying beside it!


Some of the buildings in the very small town were also extremely colourful. The mountains slowly gave way to hills, and the gorse that was a feature of the eastern side of the range returned. The valleys became wider and we went past a lake and then the line ran alongside the Grey River until we got into the town of Greymouth.


Once we had collected our bags from the luggage car we went to the Avis desk to get our hire car. This took much longer than we expected and we had been upgraded in that they had given us a a four wheel drive vehicle, not something we would normally want to drive but something of a bonus on some of the roads in New Zealand. Given that we had been advised that there weren't any shops near where we were staying we needed to go to the supermarket and get enough food to last us for the three days that we would be there.

The drive up to Punakaiki took us about 35 minutes and we were pretty pleased when we arrived. We had a lovely little cottage which had partial view of the sea, and as if to remind us of its presence it could be heard as a permanent background roar. Once we had settled in we drove the short distance to see the Pancakes Rocks and blowholes. The view was stunning and we had great fun watching the blowholes spouting.


We both felt that it was the most dramatic coastline we had seen since we had been travelling, probably trumping even the great ocean road in Australia. It had been a great day and we relaxed in the evening and had a home cooked risotto for dinner washed down with a glass of wine.

Posted by Gill's Travels 01:41 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains trains ocean new_zealand Comments (0)

Christchurch: the Earthquake that Shook a City

Wednesday 28th October 2015

rain 17 °C

We only had two nights in the city which meant that we had just one short day to explore. We had some breakfast and then made the easy walk into the city centre where we were intending to do a free city walk. Once we got near the Cathedral the damage to buildings became evident. Apart from being shored up it looked as though nothing had been done to repair it since the earthquake struck on the 22nd February 2011.


The weather was overcast and drizzly and it gave the city centre an understandably gloomy air. We went and got a coffee from a mobile stand in the square and got talking to the people running it. They had been out of the city centre on the day the big one struck and it was lucky they were, not only would they have been showered in glass and possibly masonry but they also spoke of the awful looting that took place in the days that followed. The army tried to keep control but they spoke of a jewellers that was completely cleaned out. Fortunately people have been able to claim for the damage and theft on their insurance. The woman spoke of the lasting impact of the quake and how any loud noise will instantly make them fearful. They also said that all three of their children had since left Christchurch, not just because of the fear of earthquakes but because of the impact it has had on the city. It was good talking to them about their experience and thoughts about the tragedy and it seemed cathartic for them. However you also feel conscious that you might be stirring up unwanted memories at the same time. By then it was time for our tour and so we said our goodbyes and wished them well and made our way to the Chalice (erected for the millennium) which was the agreed meeting point.


Michael our guide duly arrived at the appointed time and introduced himself to the eight people that had turned up for the tour that morning. He also had been out of town on the day of the earthquake coming back a couple of days later. He was incredibly knowledgable about his home city and the walking tour included elements of pre-quake history, information about the architecture as well as some very human and very tragic stories about the quake. What I hadn't appreciated was that the tremors began on the 4th of September 2010 and continued until and after the main earthquake. The initial one was in fact the strongest, but it was quite a bit deeper and so did less damage and no one was killed, in contrast to the 2011 quake. Michael told us about people trapped in an office building when the stairwells collapsed. Some of them tied fire hoses together and abseiled down the outside of the building whilst the rest went up onto the roof from where they were eventually rescued by crane. Michael also took us the the site of the Canterbury Television Building (CTV) where 115 people lost their lives. Most of the dead where on the lower two or three floors and were crushed when the whole building collapsed in on itself leaving a pile of rubble only a couple of metres high. many of the injured were language school pupils and he read out an account by a Japanese student who survived but lost a leg. It was all very emotional and despite the fact that Michael must go there nearly everyday it was clear that it still touched him in a massive way. We also went to the chair memorial where there is a chair (some donated by family members) for every one of the 185 people that died. This really brought the death toll home, and seeing a baby car seat and a high hair was particularly poignant.


Not all of the tour was sad though, there were examples of optimism and a desire to rebuild. There were the official projects like the temporary 'cardboard cathedral', gardens planted on wasteland left from buildings demolished but not yet rebuilt.


There is the reStart shopping mall constructed soon after the quake out of old shipping containers and the art and street murals which have 'lifted' many of the damaged and abandoned buildings.


It was a profoundly impactive tour and at the end of it we were happy to give Michael a tip, which is the only money he gets for doing these tours. He was off for coffee after the tour and he invited people to join him. As we were both wet and cold we took him up on his offer and we went to a reStart cafe and ordered our drinks. It was slightly strange sitting in a second storey container and I felt a bit sorry for the staff who had to carry everyone's orders up an external staircase in the rain.

Michael told us a bit more about himself and how he came to set up his business in Christchurch having seen such enterprises in Europe. After we had finished our drinks we wished him well and we went our separate ways. We then went to get one of the circular tourist trams that runs round the city centre as we thought we had got wet enough walking in the rain. We went as far as the Canterbury Museum but when we got off the bus there was a small break in the cloud so we decided to take advantage of this and get the shuttle bus that goes from there to the Christchurch Gondola. When we got there the rain was still holding off so we had a bit of a view going up and down although unfortunately the top was still shrouded in cloud.


We got the next available shuttle back to the museum and went and had a look inside. It had a great eclectic collection from Moa bird skeletons, Maori artefacts, exhibits relating to the first settlers, and mock up of shops (including a penny farthing you could sit on).


It also had an interesting exhibition about some of the Antarctic explorers. There was a great exhibition on mirrors and we had great fun playing with these


and there was also a replica of a house that had been decorated by its owners in abalone shells (quite bizarre). Both of us had a great time there and it was good to get out of the rain. Once we had finished we had one more circuit on the tram before getting off and making our way back to our apartment.


When then got talking to the female manager and she also spoke to us about her experience of the earthquake and how terrified she was. It is a testament to the architects of the building that it survived undamaged, but she spoke of how upset and scared she had been a couple of days prior to our visit when there was a small tremor. She said that if there was ever another biggish quake she would leave the city and not come back. She also lent us a copy of a book full of photographs taken by Christchurch Fire Service photographers hours and days after the quake. It made chilling viewing. We had found it a very moving day and I felt a genuine warmth for the people who had been through so much and were still so troubled by what had happened. We went out later for a meal but I think we both felt a little subdued.

Posted by Gill's Travels 15:03 Archived in New Zealand Tagged churches new_zealand christchurch graffiti earthquake Comments (0)

A Wet and Windy Day En-route to Christchurch

Tuesday 27th October 2015

rain 15 °C

We had set our alarms for just after six just in case the weather had improved enough for us to go whale watching. However it was every bit as bad as the weather forecasts had predicted with winds of 40 kilometres an hour with gusts more than double that. To make matters worse it was also raining hard. On that basis we were pretty sure that the whale watching tours would be off. I didn't even bother to get up and dressed but decided to lie in instead. We both felt that even if the boats were running we didn't want to go out, expecting that it would be very choppy indeed. Once it got to 7 o'clock Nigel was able to ring the office and although they hadn't got the captains definitive decision they were sure that no boats would be going out that day. It was so disappointing as whale watching was the sole reason that we had stopped off for two nights in Kaikoura.


In the end the apartment had proved to be very good and the town had some very nice stores so we had got lots of shopping done. Resigned to not being able to do much at all, we packed up most of our things and then went to the cafe a couple of doors down for hearty breakfast knowing that this would be our main meal of the day. We were very lucky in that the owner of our apartment had said that we could stay all morning if we wanted to as they had no one else due in that day. I think this was done in part as compensation for the confusion caused by a very recent change over in ownership and some obstructiveness by the previous owner. Whatever the politics of the situation we were glad to have somewhere we could stay with our bags until it was time to leave for our train. Marie at the apartment had very kindly said that she would get someone to take us to the station and she was as good as her word. When we arrived there laden with our bags the weather was still looking as miserable as it had done first thing in the morning although the wind had dropped quite considerably.


This leg of our train journey was a little longer than the one from Picton the Kaikoura but it started as the other one had finished with the line running alongside the ocean. It looked pretty inhospitable as we looked out to sea and although I have quite good sea legs I was pretty pleased that the whale watching trip hadn't gone ahead.


After about an hour or so the track turned inland and we started to climb up into the hills. The scenery was very pretty with lots of gorse covering the hillside in yellow. My understanding is that this plant is not native to New Zealand and is a bit of a pest in that it crowds out some of the native species, however it does make for a pretty spectacular backdrop.


We also passed a number of farms, mostly with sheep and cattle grazing and we saw a lot of somewhat outdated looking farm vehicles.


At one point we had to stop for a while waiting for signals to change and there was a light aircraft buzzing directly overhead. I'm not quite sure what the pilot was doing but it provided us with some entertainment for a while. The land then flattened out as we started to pass over the Canterbury Plain and we crossed a number of wide moraine strewn rivers.


All too soon we were entering the outskirts of Christchurch which was an indication that our very enjoyable journey was coming to an end. I must admit I was looking out for the inevitable remnants of the 2011 earthquake but as we were on the train none was evident. When we pulled up in the station we collected our bags and quickly found ourselves a taxi to take us to our accommodation which was just outside the city CBD. The apartment was quite small, and the bedroom had only a small high window which made the room seem quite dark, but it was nicely furnished and the lounge/ kitchen area though compact had everything we needed. The managers were very friendly and helpful and so we felt immediately relaxed. We settled into our room, ate a snack (we didn't want any more after our large and rather late breakfast) and spent the rest of the evening watching a film.

Posted by Gill's Travels 14:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes trains rivers ocean new_zealand kaikoura Comments (0)

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