Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The rain is not only in Spain

So again I am sitting down to write the blog.  Just like every other day on this trip.

As we arrived in Christchurch, so we come back.  The weather here at the moment is damp and cool.  Today was a top of 17⁰ but the wind made it feel much cooler.  Summer here, it seems, is about as warm as winter back home!  We are told that after New Year it
actually got into the mid 30's.  I know I was looking forward to the cooler weather here before we left, but now, I'm craving the warmer weather back home.  Just as well we are leaving tomorrow.  We began our day down at the bus terminus getting ready to travel up to Mt Cavendish via the Christchurch Gondola.  En-route we see more and more of the public art offerings that artists were asked to contribute straight after the 2011 earthquake when the Art Gallery was damaged.  There are all sorts of offerings from raspy graffiti styled works to extravagant offerings that have contemporary themes.

It was brunch time and the offerings were pretty slim.  We settled on Japanese - Pork and Garlic Chive dumplings and Chicken Yatsu to share.  Really fresh and prepared in front of our eyes.  Yummy as!

We had checked out the bus times and finish our meal just in time to get the bus as it pulls in to the bay.  The Bus Terminus is fairly newly finished and really well laid out.  All buses pull in to a bay meaning that no matter what the weather, passengers get to board in the dry.  Seems to work like a dream with 13 gates available and buses coming and going literally every couple of minutes.

We have had to plan our day a bit better as we are now relying on public transport.  The bus to Lyttelton ends up at the Christchurch Gondola station - very convenient and takes about 20 minutes from the centre of town. Its interesting to have the opportunity to travel through the suburbs and get a bit of an overview to life in the Christchurch residential areas.

The Christchurch Gondola has a route that rises 445 m above the base station over a route of 1 km - almost fully vertically up (or so it seems to me).  Not for the faint-hearted and by the time we actually reached the summit, I was starting to feel it!  Still, the views are certainly worth the little bit of acrophobia felt.

You look out over the Mount Cavendish Scenic Reserve, Lyttelton Scenic Reserve, Mount Pleasant Scenic Reserve and Tauhinu-Korokio Scenic Reserve down over Lyttelton Harbour and across to Otamahua (Quail) Island.  Down over Christchurch city and out to the Pacific Ocean.  It truly is quite a vista.

Michael indulges his sweet tooth with a Cookies n Cream cheesecake while I enjoyed a date scone with my coffee.
Following this little sustenance, Michael set out to walk one of the trails while I explored the Time Tunnel that explained the history of the region. Their souvenir shop was surprisingly affordable - too bad that I have already bought my fill.

The Canterbury Plains are stunning and we are told that on a clear day you can see across to the Southern Alps, but not today.  As we are leaving, the gondola operator tells us that yesterday the weather was so bad that you could not see Christchurch until after the fog lifted about 4 pm, so I guess it is better that we came today.

We followed our trip up the Mountain with a foot trip through the streets of Christchurch finding more of the artworks and some new buildings that are brave and bold in timber and metal and now limited to 6 stories to limit future problems with any more seismic activity.  Buildings now are rated for earthquakes and although we are only on the second floor, I'm grateful the Ramada has a A1 rating! 

The famous Container Mall has been all but totally dismantled now that the inner city Malls are again taking shape.  It is interesting as when you ask where the City Centre is, the common response is that it is changing day by day.

The last remnants of the Chinese New Year celebrations are still up - you need to understand the incredible number of Chinese people who came to New Zealand when gold was discovered.  And as we have found during our stay, NZ is a very popular destination for Chinese tourists these days.

Our last stop for the afternoon was the Transitional Cathedral otherwise known as the Cardboard Cathedral.  The Evensong Service was underway and so I sat in, allowing the choister boy voices to lift my spirit into the cavernous void above us. 

I calculate that the seating as set out can accommodate about 340 people - significantly less than the 1,000 that the former Anglican Cathedral could house. 
Although this building is 'temporary', there is definitely a feel of persistence and permanence. 

After the service, we are told that the decision has just taken to re-build the former Cathedral, although there is not yet an appeal underway.

And nearby is probably the most poignant art installation, the 185 Empty Chairs memorial dedicated to the number of lives lost in the 2011 earthquake.

Back to the hotel just a few blocks away - they have a combined washing machine / dryer so we can do all our washing before we leave for home. It is getting darker now and much cooler. Time to be indoors.

And now, if only the broader weather patterns will behave themselves - we arrived on the coat tails of TC Gita.  Not at all interested in being blown home by TC Hola currently out in the Pacific - or any other one that our home messages are warning of.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Flights of the imagination - the only ones taken today

Today we had a flight over the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers with views up to Mt Cook booked for Michael (and I was even seriously considering climbing into a small plane) and so we had travelled to Fairlie to the closest accommodation we could get to the the airport at Tepako.  

Rain came in overnight and this morning there was 8/8 cloud cover (I'll explain in my geography sessions back home 😀) and our phone call to the Air Safari's company confirmed just what I thought would be the answer - no flying this morning, there is a slight chance for a flight this afternoon, but as we need to return the car by 3 pm, we decline the offer to wait and see.

So we partially re-trace our steps and head for Christchurch.  But it is not all bad news - as this will give Michael time to 'properly' visit the Air Force Museum of New Zealand on the city outskirts.  I'll let him tell you all about it . . . 

New Zealander's certainly possess the moxy to develop page-turning and interactive museums, and the Air Force Museum of New Zealand is no exception. This museum is an aviation enthusiasts delight.

As with many of the museums which Maria and I have visited, such as the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, this Air Force Museum presents a chronological journey into the history of military aviation of New Zealand but highlights the human element.

One enters the museum via the main foyer (Wigram Hall) where suspended from the ceiling is a 1909 Bleriot XI monoplane, De Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth and De Havilland DH.100 Vampire. To the left is the cafe, and a display hall with three presentation aircraft: A25 Airspeed Oxford, AESL Airtourer and Aermacchi MB-399. 

We have breakfast at the cafe 
before the scheduled 11 am free museum tour begins. Maria reneges on the tour.

The tour is conducted by Richard, who is one the many volunteers who power the Museum. An ex-RNZAF and retired Commercial Pilot, Richard imparts his knowledge together with an animated presentation as though he was a little boy showing you his collection of model aircraft. Included in the tour is a visit to the reserve 'hanger' where restorations and general maintenance is carried out on aircraft for eventual display. Some of the aircraft receiving attention include a Bristol Airfreighter, PBY Catalina and V1 "Kirschkern" Flying Bomb.

After the tour it was time to explore this museum. 

As I navigated the museum and its displays, I perceived that an element of humanity has been added. Whether you were looking at an aeroplane, medal group or uniform you were being introduced to the person relative to the exhibit - this is a 'living' foundation. The main exhibition hall displays various aeroplanes and far too many to mention here. I could have spent far more time at the museum, but time was at a premium today. So, should you visit New Zealand ensure that the Air Force Museum of New Zealand is on your list.

Genevieve hit the nail on the head with her comment on Messenger to Michael:
"I can hear your ooo's and ahhh's.  I can hear you muttering to yourself while you soil your pants with excitement and let's not forget the best, Yelling at Mum with outrageous excitement because a PLANE DID SOMETHING!!"

We leave the museum right on 2 pm, make a quick stop at a nearby Discount Outlet Mall to buy another backpack (for the souvenirs) and fill the car with fuel delivering it back to Apex Car Hire at 2:45 pm.  The young attendant gave us a lift into our accommodation at the Ramada Hotel and Suites, needing advice from his co-worker to get him around the many roadworks here as he has recently arrived from Invercargill.

As we book in, we are handed some important paperwork to be completed tonight please - ah yes, New Zealand's National Census is tonight - we have heard it advertised quite a bit over the past two weeks.

Pizza in the unit from a local pizzeria for dinner tonight and I am going to hit the sack now - at 9:10 pm.  Looking forward to a lo-o-ong night's sleep.  I'm knackered after the last two weeks of constant driving!

One last day and a half in Christchurch coming up.  Too bad it is still raining, as it was when we arrived here a fortnight ago.  And to top things off, we flew in on a cyclone and now another is forming out in the Pacific - jeez.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Big things

The rain  had set in over Dunedin late last night. It was thunder and lighting kind of rain and this Allie commented this morning that as we were leaving, we could take our weather back with us - they are not used to this 'tropical climate'.  Lol - if only she knew that this was really nothing like we get at home!

It's been an enjoyable stay at The Brothers and Allie now predominantly runs the boutique hotel on her own.  Her father spent 14 years restoring and renovating the building and establishing the business.  These days he only comes down when she really needs a hand - like tomorrow when she has to do breakfasts for 28 people!

We head out of the hotel and down the steep one way street into the Dunedin centre and then turn north towards Oamaru and the beach at Moeraki.  We are travelling through rain and mist for the length of the journey.  Inconvenient but not at all cold.  As we are on the Highway 1 heading in the general direction of Christchurch, the traffic is much heavier with everyday commuters and delivery trucks than travellers.  And they are all in a hurry - as though their work cannot wait.  Oh, and the occasional pedestrian on a very long walk, a strange sight on a day like today.

Ooh, a cheese factory - we dart into a small side street to visit the Evansdale Cheese Factory - a small independent operation and come away with two cheeses - smoked brie and sage cheddar.

We are travelling back through the mountains as they come down to meet the sea, which is broiling angrily today - passing through Palmerston (funny, I always thought it as a bigger town), then Bushy and then Shag Point before turning off to the beach at Moeraki.  At this beach, we (well Michael, while I looked from the car-park, because it is still raining lightly) visit the Moeraki Boulders.  These siltstone rocks are unique in their weathering.  The closest thing that I can compare them to are huge thunder eggs.

They vary in size from a rockmelon through to ones larger than a man - Michael's hat gives some perspective and his video really demonstrates their location well.  I love the ones that have been weathered by the constant forces of water and wind until they have broken apart.  Some of them are covered in tiny razor-sharp barnacles.

Then we are back on the road heading north to Oamaru.  Although the town only has a population of 13,900, its CBD is much larger than Maryborough's and along the entire length the main street is lined with flower filled hanging baskets - they provide colour and made the town feel very inviting and cheerful.  There are some impressive neo-classical buildings, but as we still have a way to go, we decide to have a quick look as we drive through.  

As we head north through town - ooh - another cheese factory!  This is the Whitestone Cheese Factory - much larger and with an established export market.  we try a sampler plate and they have some really delicious cheeses including a very smooth blue cheese that I can try as there are bands without the 'blue bits' in it - yum yum yum.

Allie has told us of a wonderful restaurant to pop in to for lunch.  
Riverstone Kitchen is about 15 kms north of the town.  In fact, it sits out in the middle of nowhere surrounded by farmlands.  Their gardens are filled with everything BIG. Big cosmos, big zucchini (and the zucchini flowers), big (HUGE) mushrooms the size of a dinner plate, big melons and some of the biggest pumpkin I have seen.  "It's the cow shit" explains the farmer laconically who is trimming stalks the size of bananas from the mushrooms!

There are plenty of people here and we need to wait for 15 minutes for a table.  There are people at a table adjacent who are having their dessert and it looks fabulous - gooseberry + blackcurrant shortcake with vanilla bean ice cream I am told when I asked.  The menu is simple and uncluttered and there are a couple of additional daily specials.  After forever to consider, we choose (Michael) beer-battered fish (sole) + chips with salad greens, tartare sauce, lemon + fresh herb while I chose Havoc pork with wet polenta, roast baby carrots, wilted greens + oregano oil.

Now, this meal was one of the highlights of our New Zealand food journey.  The polenta must have been cooked slowly, like the pork. And who would have thought to pair it with Oregano - it worked so well.  Michael's fish was delicious - the batter was light and complemented the pure white flesh it enclosed and the tartare sauce was to-die-for.
Normally we would bypass dessert, but not this time! Lemon Meringue with Blackcurrant Ice-cream and Michael had the Toffee-apple Crumble with Caramel Sauce with Zabaglione Ice-cream.  Both were amazing.  We finished with coffee and bought one (and only one) of their savoury scones to have for dinner as we knew that we would not want much.

Truly amazing and I am sending a message to Allie to thank her for the recommendation!

Once replete, we get back in to the car to finish our journey to Fairlie - back into the high mountains and the closest accommodation that we could get to Lake Tepako where Michael is hoping to take a flight over the Glaciers tomorrow.  He received a phone call from the company while we were travelling asking us to phone in about 8:15 am.  The cloud cover is very dense and covers a wide band of the skies today and if it does not clear, the flight just might be in jeopardy - egads!

We have a two bedroom unit at the motel here in Fairlie.  Tiny bathroom, but functional kitchen included.  I have sorted through the brochures that I want to bring home and safely packed the souvenirs.

And as a special treat, I tried to upload a  video Michael took of the Moeraki Boulders - but the file is too big - I'll give it a go on my Facebook page! 

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Land of the Long White Cloud

Well, we have witnessed and spoken about New Zealand's fame as the land of the long white cloud many times over the last two weeks. This title has its beginnings in the lore of the Maori and today, we found out first hand that the long white cloud originates in Dunedin.

The morning is damp and darker - the fog lingers,  We began with breakfast shared in the dining room with our fellow guests.  It is Sunday and everything is at as lightly slower pace.  Breakfast starts 30 minutes later and there is less hubbub and rush.  

We take the advice of Stuart last night and head up Signal Hill.  Wow, what a wonder this is.  The fog is burning off quickly and the morning is growing warmer and brighter.  The air as we climb into the hills is crisp and clear and is filled with the scent of the pine trees and grassy meadows with a slight undertone of the salt air coming in from the sea.
Once we reach Signal Hill, passing a number of people walking up, and one keen runner, we find a stunning monument and gorgeous views.  The monument links Edinburgh in Scotland and Dunedin, which has had a large number of Scottish immigrants.
The monument and the figures on either end of the landmark represent 'History' and 'the Thread of Life'.

The view takes in from the Otago Peninsula where we are headed today right across Dunedin from Port Chalmers to the hills behind.  You can see the fog burning off in the photo above, and you can also clearly see the long white cloud that sits firmly blanketing the city after the fog.

The road back into the City is very steep and we need to drive down with one foot firmly on the brake.  So we figure that the next spot to visit is Baldwin Street - listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's steepest residential street at a 35% slope!  Even I am not going to drive down that one.  Just after Michael takes his photo, a local hoon turns into Baldwin Street at the top and roars down the road, scattering the tourists who are busy standing in the street taking photos.  He thinks he is funny.  Will be singing a different tune the day his brakes fail.  Idiot.

From here we head over to the Peninsula.  As we drive over, we realise that the long white cloud is coming in from the sea.  It travels silently across the water, finger-like into the bays and inlets, keeping a long, low profile until it hits an island in the Bay where it rises like a bulbous mass before again settling into its long low profile on the other side.

The bay alternates between being shrouded in the mysterious dampness that comes with the low cloud, and bright sparkling summer waters complete with sunshine glittering and small boats at play.  It is totally captivating and Michael who one minute says "enough Bay photos" and before the day is through, maxes out the storage on the camera and on his phone! The easiest way is to show you!

We drove the entire length of the Otago Peninsula and finished up at the Royal Albatross  Centre.  Michael took a walk down the path to the signed lookout, but there are no albatross to be seen - just a fur seal surfing the waves.  Up at the Information Centre,we are told that the Albatross are nesting in the cliffs behind the centre and can only be seen on a guided walk.  The tickets are normally $50 per person (yep 50!) but because there is only one albatross and a chick at the moment, the tickets are discounted to $35.  We decide that the cost is actually too expensive for what you get and opt to just explore the information room which is very good, and free.

Once fortified with a coffee and a shortbread, we head off again, past lots of small fishing shacks, a fisherman getting his cray pots ready and a lady putting up a paling fence.  Our next visit will take the rest of the afternoon - Lanarch Castle. This was another of the 'must-sees' that everyone had told us about.

New Zealand's only castle, it is actually a manor house built by an Australian.  Our first activity was to have some lunch in the Ballroom Cafe - it has gone past 2 pm - no wonder we are hungry.  I have a Ploughman's Plate and Michael has the Squid Ink Pasta.

Our hunger sufficiently sated, we enter the hallowed halls of this imposing home. The first impression one experiences is the wooden paneling and carvings made from mahogany, walnut and rosewood. The capital which has been injected into the castle's restoration over the past 50 years is unimaginable. The entry tickets we purchased had given us access into the main building and the gardens.

Entry into the dwelling is by way the main foyer with its magnificent tiled floor, and from a simple lesson in navigating the manor by the directions on the information pamphlet provided. Taking the stairs leading down to the ground floor, gun room and reception room. In the reception room, visitors are presented with an audio/visual on the history of the manor and the current owners' work in progress in restoring the building and grounds.

Every window contains a proportion of coloured glass which is also found in the pantry windows! From the conservatory through to every room, all have been faithfully restored to its original splendour. The central staircase is a sight to behold, as are the views from atop the main tower. The view from the tower is a panoramic 360 degrees which gives the visitor an outstanding appreciation of the gardens.

The gardens! Now, for those devotees of Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carrolls' masterpieces, "Alice Through The Looking Glass" and "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland", these gardens are for you.

Off with their heads!

As with exploring the manor house, the same applies to the gardens - map. If a visitor follows the directions faithfully, they are taken into Alice's world: the Queen of Hearts, White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat and others....of course our heroine, Alice herself.

I've got a good idea...let's change the subject!

As the afternoon was galloping, we decided it was time to push on as our laundry washing was calling and as was good coffee. However, we had intended to stop at a cafe called '1908' on the way back to Dunedin which did not eventuate. We were on the return journey when we realised that 1908 was 14 km in the direction from where we came! Ces la vie! We pushed on to our rendezvous with the laundromat. 

Two hours later, the clothes washing done-and-dusted, we drove into Dunedin city centre  and had a wonderful dinner at a Japanese restaurant called "Tokyo Garden". We started with a complimentary Miso soup followed by our mains: Maria- Karaage Chicken Bento; Michael - Teriyaki Beef Bento. Yummmmm!

Pleasantly satisfied with our meals and feeling somewhat weary after another full day, we made our way to The Brothers - in the rain. The expected downpour finally arrived . . . two days late.

Upon our return to the hotel, we met a male couple who arrived at the same time as us. They introduced themselves as Rob and Robert who hale from Bournemouth, UK. They weren't expecting to arrive due to the intense snow fronts affecting the UK at present. So, after a chat and providing them with a few hints of what to see and how to get around Dunedin, we bade them a good night.

To you good friends....

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this and all is mended,
That you have slumbered here
While these visions did appear.....
So, good night unto you all
Give me your hands if we be friends
And Robin shall restore amends.