New Zealand   March 2005

Touring With the Danes - Part II

The South Island

In our vagabond way, we spent the first night on the South Island in a completely different place than we had intended. Canvastown, so called for the many gold-seekers that once lived there in canvas tents, rated only a small paragraph in theLonely Planet guide and was a barely noticeable collection of maybe 5 buildings just off the highway. However, a few kilometres off the main road there was a lovely holiday park, where Bjarne's latent condition was to bloom into a full-fledged gold-fever. The park provided shovels, gold-pans, an information sheet describing the proper technique, and even little film cannisters to hold your gold. I was to discover that Bjarne had spent many hours in his youth panning for gold, so I got a live demonstration of the technique. It was fun for a short time, but it would have been difficult work for those who were trying to make a living at it. The positive reinforcement helped though; we actually did find gold. Bjarne got the most, as he was the most persistent, and had a more well-honed technique. The big deterrent in my books was the fact that we were being devoured by sand flies (a brand of black fly, erroneously misnamed by Captain Cook, who, if had he spent any time in Northern Ontario, wouldn't have made that mistake!). A refreshing dip in the clear, albeit cool, river gave temporary relief from the little beasts.

Aside from the flying teeth, the park was a great place, and had two other attractions beyond the gold: a glowworm cave and a unique golf course. The cave was an abandoned gold-mine shaft, about 30 m long. It was high enough to walk upright in, and the light at the end of the tunnel could be seen, meaning it wasn't too scary from a claustrophobia perspective. The floor had many pools of water to wade through, which were hard to avoid in the dark. At one point I got to wondering what might be on the walls. I shone the flashlight around and promptly discovered that ignorance is bliss: the beam fell on a large creepy-looking cave weta. Hmm, think I'll keep my hands off the walls. In the darkest part of the cave the glowworm larvae were hanging out. The larvae themselves are actually 2-3 cm long but they have a little green light, about a millimeter wide, in their midsection to attract insects (aka lunch). I hoped they liked sand flies. Next on the adventuring agenda was a chance to introduce Lizzi to the grand old game of golf. This was golf New Zealand style, complete with moving obstacles (sheep), and their copious droppings. Lizzi didn't think she'd take up the sport, despite being particularly good at finding lost golf-balls. I suspect years of spotting money on the ground has made her quite sharp-eyed.

The next morning, we provided the sand flies with breakfast while we attempted to find gold. With effort, Bjarne tore himself away from the river and consented to drive onward to Nelson, where there was a Saturday market. The market had a mix of crafts and produce. It isn't too hard for us to resist buying interesting bits: we just have to think, where would we put that on the boat? Lizzi was sorely tempted by a spinning wheel in an antique shop but she too resisted (fortunately, as it later turned out). We lunched among an assortment of trees in a lovely park in the centre of town. Many of the trees were unusual, but the most interesting one was the Camphor tree, which had a very strong smell, especially if the leaves were crushed.

Nelson's Founders' Village was a collection of old (by NZ standards) buildings and paraphernalia set up to resemble the town in its early days. Some things dated back to the late 1800s, but others were from the 1960s. Hey, that wasn't so long ago, was it? The print shop had some front pages from certain historic events, including the sinking of the Titanic. They had a nice maritime centre with many accurate model ships, including some in bottles (how do they do that?) In a pairing that seemed a bit paradoxical, there was a large New Age event that weekend in this historic village. There were all kinds of booths and seminars. In the Energy Centre there were tarot readers, palm readers, aura photographers, astrologers, and crucial information about a UFO cover-up conspiracy. The Health Centre had information about holistic approaches to health and alternative healing techniques, such as ear candling, and working with chakras. It also had a something new to me: iridology, where the eye is photographed so the iris pattern can be examined to tell you something about your personality or character. We also saw a tongue cleaner, which was a u-shaped metal band that one scrapes over the tongue. It wasn't clear what the advantages were over a toothbrush. The massage tent was tempting. We heard part of a seminar which advocated that we eat foods raw but we weren't there soon enough to hear if that included meat: We were afraid to ask in case it was obvious that we weren't supposed to be eating any meat, cooked or raw. And of course there were booths selling art, tie-dyed clothing, lovely crafts and jewelery. It felt like we were in Victoria!

We made our way to the west coast of the South Island, where the scenery is spectacular. It is more rugged than the North Island, with large sharp boulder and rock formations surrounding gravelly beaches, complete with waves from the Tasman Sea rolling and crashing onto the shore. The winding road along the coast held many moments of breathtaking views emerging around corners and bends. Many of the beaches have beautifully polished stones, some almost pure white, some translucent, some with swirls of colour, and others with sparkley bits. We spent a good deal of time combing beaches for pretty bits, weighing the car down with various treasures. At the town of Punakaiki (puna means fountain or hole), water crashed in around impressive pillars of layered rock, and spewed up through the blow holes. These Pancake Rocks are a popular tourist destination, and have well-paved walkway making the sights accessible while protecting the actual scenery.

The town of Hokitika is the main jade processing area in New Zealand. Here, we were able see some of the cutting equipment and to watch artisans carving and polishing jade. We also were able to watch some glass-blowing, and have since seen the products of that company in tourist shops all over NZ. The glass penguins were rather cute. The whole town was full of shops with New Zealand artwork and crafts, with a lot of information about how they were made, or the materials used. The holiday park here was one of the better ones, and even had a pool and a hot tub. We were a short walk from a long stretch of beach and enjoyed watching the sunset over the water, followed by a soak in the hot tub. As if that wasn't enough, we then wandered across the street to a glowworm dell, where we enjoyed the sight of little green constellations in the dark of the night. Hokitika also had a Kiwi House. Unfortunately, the number of kiwis has diminished, making these flightless birds hard to find - that, and they're nocturnal. We do hear them calling some nights when we've been anchored in the Bay of Islands. Anyway, we forked over the cash to see these elusive critters, which are about the size of a fuzzy basketball. We watched them poking their amazingly long beaks into the ground, searching for dinner, and using their beaks to groom each other. The rest of this Eco-centre had tropical fish, turtles, ducks, and a tank full of huge eels. We had the chance to feed morsels of squid to these beasts, which were wider than a soft-ball and about 15 feet long. For the Princess Bride fans out there, they were almost as big as the Shrieking Eels, but quieter.

Gold was still on the minds of some so we stopped at a former gold town, Ross, which had been heavily involved in gold mining, and had still many remnants of those olden golden days. A pleasant hike took us through a rather swampy graveyard, most of whose residents came from Ireland, and then along a stream bank pierced by many short mine shafts. We saw remnants of a water flue and trestles built by an entrepreneur who made money selling water to the miners. There was also an old jail, a restored typical miner's hut, and a small house set up as a museum. It was all nicely done. Bjarne rented a gold pan and worked while the rest of us sat in the sun on the river bank. In the old days, the people renting out or selling the equipment tended to make more money than many of the gold seekers. Today was no exception. The quest for gold was abandoned for a more rewarding venture: lunch.

From gold to cold - we're off to the glaciers! The Franz Josef Glacier is a speedy one (for a glacier), moving up to 1 m/day along the narrow, steep valley. We opted for the park's short trail leading to a good lookout point, rather than the lengthy hike to the glacier terminal. Had we visited the glacier 200 years ago we would have had a closer view, as it was then a kilometre farther downhill. Along the way, there was a photo from the late 1800s of some women inside one of the ice caverns. They were dressed very practically in long dresses and had that all important ice climbing tool: the parasol.

Just a little further down the road is Fox Glacier, which is a town and, of course, a glacier. It also has a rather poetic Maori name, meaning the tears of someone (whom we can't remember), which was arrogantly changed by a politician, Mr. Fox. Being a popular tourist area, the accommodations provided less for more money. As we cooked supper in the large but very crowded kitchen, we discovered some Danish backpackers. Eek! They're everywhere.

It rained cats and dogs, or maybe kiwis and possums, but by morning we had clear blue skies surrounding the mist-shrouded peaks of Mt. Cook and Mt. Tasman. A few minute's drive brought us to the 1˝ hour loop trail around Lake Matheson, where we had a had a lovely walk along a remarkably level trail. The serene lake was blanketed with low mist that gradually cleared as the sun rose higher. The mist surrounding the mountains cooperatively cleared as we stood gazing at the stunning view of the snow-capped peaks reflected in the quiet lake. All of the many visitors fell under the spell of this peaceful place, conveying their awe of the beauty in hushed tones.

We had another glacier to see, so after a coffee break we were off and running... well, walking, along the trail leading to the terminal of Fox Glacier. Glaciers are rather grubby at the terminals. To see the really beautiful views of clear greenish-blue ice one needs to hike out onto the ice mass (a guide was strongly recommended), or hire one of the helicopters that will gladly take you out for a look. We chose the cheaper option. Along the way, there were a few turquoise pools, and a rapid milky river running past with chunks of glacier ice. For some reason, there was a warning sign that you shouldn't swim there. It seemed pretty obvious to me. The path took us through a valley with high walls, and huge boulders that were suspended precariously. We could see the descending paths of other boulders that had crashed through the vegetation. Hmmm, maybe not a good place to linger - an idea that was reinforced by sign warning us not to stop. The size of the glacier seemed hard to grasp. I had to look for other cues to show me the scale, and I would then be surprised at how far away the glacier actually was. It was a pretty impressive hunk of ice, although the Greenland contingent were a bit more blasé.

The town of Haast was a wee bit smaller than we expected, as was the &lquot;supermarket&rquot; there. We purchased pricey provisions and made our way to a Holiday park where we stayed put for a couple of days. Beach access, always a popular choice, was about a 15 minute walk away. This particular beach didn't have a lot of pretty stones and shells, but did have a good assortment of driftwood. Bjarne, always the engineer, saw this as good building material. Lizzi and I got in on the act and soon we had a rather impressive piece of art. I thought it looked a bit like a Kerplunk game. Bjarne and I also did a little bit of kayaking in a nearby shallow estuary. We tried unsuccessfully to sneak up on a heron, and wondered what might happen to us if the noisy cow on the nearby shore decided we were the cause of her irritation. We decide to paddle by fairly quickly, just in case. These vessels were a bit leaky, but not nearly so much as the ones we didn't use and, hey, they were free. They just needed some simple fibre glass work but the owner didn't seem familiar with the process. We wondered if we should offer to fix them in exchange for our accommodation. I doubt the necessary supplies were anywhere near this small town which once was only accessible by boat or helicopter.

We had to drive through the Haast Pass in the mountain range called the Southern Alps. Apparently, this pass was much ado about nothing, according to the B.C. Mountain snobs in the car. The scenery was pretty, with winding and very hilly roads through green forest. The drizzly weather cleared up on the other side of the pass and we were treated to a lovely rainbow over two lakes, one on each side of the highway. We had our coffee break on the shores of Lake Wanaka. It was a cool day so no one went swimming, but we enjoyed the view and the blackberries that Bjarne's dad found.

Further down the road, we discovered a bicycle race between Wanaka and Queenstown. This is no small journey and we were all impressed with the fortitude of the cyclists: not only were they cycling along a road with blind corners, switchbacks, and some hills that our car had trouble getting up, but they were braving the cars on this not-very-wide road where drivers are permitted to do 100 km/h. We saw a lot of spandex (and sweat) that day! We also passed some interesting fences. One surrounding this farmer's field was lined with hundreds of bras. Less titillating was the fence with hundreds of shoes hanging off it.

Queenstown, where we stopped for lunch and provisioning, is a very picturesque town on the hillsides surrounding a pretty little lake. The town has a lovely waterfront with brick sidewalks, statues, and lots of cafes and shops. It seemed an energetic place with lots of people hustling about, despite the rainy weather. Maybe lots of them were tourists. Some Torontonians in the grocery store recognized our accents. Funny to meet Canadians when we feel so far away, but there are actually quite a lot of us out here. Queenstown is a ski resort area and is also considered the adrenalin sports capital of NZ. We didn't take advantage of this opportunity to roll down a hill inside a large clear plastic ball (Zorbing), nor did we go rafting down a river running through caves (black water rafting). Lizzi was sorely tempted to try paragliding, but it is a rather pricey endeavour. Back to meeting Canadians: about a month later we met two young women who had tried pretty much every extreme sport they could think of while in NZ. We met them on a rainy day when they were dealing with their cabin fever on a small sail boat they'd chartered following two whole days of instruction. We figured they had these exciting vacations to make up for their very dull jobs of fighting forest fires in B.C. and Northern Ontario.

Invercargill is a fairly large town right near the bottom of the South Island. They too have a Queen's Park (it seems a common name here). This one was huge, and had a nice rose garden complete with a class of aspiring artists trying to capture some of the beauty. We probably marred the scenery a bit for them, but Kiwi folk are pretty friendly so no one complained :-) There was also a large aviary, with lots of brilliantly coloured birds. Invercargill also had a great museum, with a very good display about Antarctica and the Subantarctic Islands. It was pretty interesting to learn about some of the shipwreck survivors on these islands. At least if we got shipwrecked we'd be warm and could eat coconuts (just kidding mom, I'm sure we won't be shipwrecked). The museum is also home to lizard-like Henry, a 120 year old Tuatara, along with a few of his younger relatives. The Tuataras hardly move at all, and they breathe just a couple of times a minute. When they are cold, they breathe even less often and their heart rate slows to less than a beat a minute. I guess they won't become the mascot for adrenalin sports junkies.

Just a bit south of Invercargill is the rather bleak and industrial town of Bluff. While not especially attractive it is quite famous for its oysters. We were there just after breakfast and no one was keen to try this delicacy, but whenever Kiwis hear we were in Bluff they like to let us know we really missed out on something. It was here that we took the requisite tourist shot of us standing under the sign post showing the directions and distances to various places, including Antarctica. The resident sand flies are well conditioned to recognize tourists: we were brutally attacked as soon as we neared the sign.

On Britta's birthday (Bjarne's sister) it seemed appropriate to go visit a fossil beach [sorry Britta :-)]. Here at Curio Bay, I was fascinated by the hundreds of petrified stumps and logs that were exposed at low tide. This forest had been alive some 60 million years ago, and had been covered in volcanic ash. Some of the wood was so well preserved that the grain and knot holes were perfectly visible. Along the cliffs one could see layers of petrified wood, revealing the subsequent forests which had grown over top and then also been enveloped with ash. In some split boulders there were fossilized fern fronds. Quite amazing.

We had many tourist stops to make the next day as we worked our way to Dunedin. Near Curio Bay, at a beach aptly called Porpoise Bay, we were treated to the sight of rare Hector's Dolphins surfing along the waves as they rolled into shore. These playful creatures really looked like they were having fun and I couldn't help but feel some of the thrill and joy that they must experience. After watching for half an hour, we sallied forth, as even on holidays one sometimes has appointments. Lizzi was to meet up with another spinner for a little spinning tutorial and a chance to try out some different kinds of wool. The rest of us tagged along and occupied ourselves by meeting the Alpaca, and other ungulates. Lizzi emerged from the spinning room a couple of hours later, beaming and carrying a large bag of wool. We continued, but detoured down a very bumpy gravel road to see some Sea Lions. They were quite far away but we were entertained by a young one sliding down the sand dune. We finally reached Dunedin and settled into the holiday park by 8 that evening.

The intention was to celebrate Britta's birthday by going out for dinner. It took us three days to manage this feat. On the actual day we weren't near a restaurant; on the second day we arrived so late in town that nothing acceptable was open (Chinese takeout at 9 p.m. was good, but didn't count). Day three found us so anxious to have this much anticipated dinner that we were at the restaurant before they opened. We finally had a lovely meal, complete with an entertaining waiter, and were able to toast the absent birthday girl. We walked back to the car park with full tummies and feeling content. This feeling evaporated quickly when we discovered that our car was locked inside the closed parkade. About seventy-five minutes and thirty-five dollars later we drove back to the holiday park and consoled ourselves with some delicious tarts for dessert. I hope Britta's birthday dinner in Montreal went a little smoother. The Otago Peninsula, aside from being beautiful in its own right, has some resident yellow-eyed penguins. We made our way down long sand dunes to Sandfly Cove. I myself was a bit nervous about a bay with such an ominous name but we actual had no problems with the little nippers. Helge spotted turtle tracks heading out to the sea, and we were graced with a beautiful rainbow going from one end of the bay to the other. From a distance Bjarne spotted a lone penguin waddling up the beach. We carefully approached, giving heck along the way to two other tourists who had gone right up to the penguin, despite clear signs saying not to. We were very excited to see this yellow-eyed penguin, although it looked a bit scruffy since it was molting. It stood remarkably still while we quietly gawked at it, giving us the impression that it was the unfortunate penguin who had drawn the short straw that day and had to go entertain the humans while the rest of the flock cavorted in the water. Just around the corner there was a large male sea lion basking in the sun. He would look over his shoulder at people as they peered over a rock to see him, decide they were nonthreatening, or perhaps not good enough to eat, and then lay his head back down. The onset of high winds and rain hastened our departure.

The rain continued with a vengeance when we got back into Dunedin, and we arrived at the museum quite drenched. A fellow who was giving me directions commented that one should always carry an umbrella in Dunedin. We took advantage of the cafe to get some warm drinks before exploring the museum. This one had a very good display of different islands in the South Pacific. The detailed carving on some of the wood was simply amazing. The other tourist highlight of Dunedin is the world's steepest street. Bjarne, Lizzi and I walked up it, while Helge stayed in the car, probably thinking we were nuts.

The drive to Christchurch, along the east side of the South Island, was much less scenic than the west coast. The highway was straight and flat. The clear day allowed us to see across the plains to the snow-capped Southern Alps. It was here that we discovered that our fuel gauge didn't accurately represent the tank's level. A kindly but rather erratic driver took Lizzi and I the 25 km into Timaru, waited for us, and then drove us back to the car. We were greatly relieved that we didn't need to bleed the fuel lines. It seems the diesel engines in cars can handle running out of fuel better than those in boats.

The highlight of this day for Lizzi was a stop in Ashburton, home of Ashfords, makers of fine spinning wheels. This was the place to be if you like spinning your wheels. They even had a small museum room displaying various spinning wheels, along with some of the history of the company. We had stopped there to buy a hard-to-make part, which Helge would use when making a new wheel for Lizzi. The plan was quickly scrapped when an end-of-the-line wheel was discovered to be available for a very good price. Lizzi happily sat with the large boxed-up wheel in her lap for the rest of the way to Christchurch.

The holiday park on the outskirts of Christchurch provided the best accommodations we'd had so we stayed two nights. The cabin had a lovely rustic (but not run down) look, with a beautiful wooden interior and good facilities. It felt a bit like Lizzi's and Helge's cozy log house. Bjarne and I entertained ourselves by watching CSI New York on TV. By this point in the trip I was a bit beached-out, so declined the walk along the long stretch of beach that was nearby. I wandered around the residential area looking at gardens and houses, just for a change.

In Christchurch, we strolled along the Avon River where some people go punting. The cost for the pleasure of punting was plenty, so we perused the place from the pathway. In the city's centre (Cathedral Square) there was lots of activity, with a market, buskers, and a fellow pontificating loudly about something or other to an attentive crowd. He is apparently a local icon. There was a large Anglican cathedral with lovely décor and a memorial room. This room had flags from the commonwealth countries during the two world wars. Canada's was there, of course, but we found it interesting to see Newfoundland's flag as well. It always surprises me when I get reminded that Nfld wasn't part of Canada until fairly recently. We also checked out the Canterbury museum, although we were too tired by then to explore all of it. What we saw was good, although the dinosaur exhibit was not nearly as extensive as the one at the Royal Ontario Museum. A longish walk through a nearby park and botanical garden finished us off. We returned to our cozy cabin and ate take-out from the Mad Dog Pizza company. Mmmmm.

Back to the North Island

On March 11th we came full circle and arrived back in Picton. Ice cream helped pass the time while waiting for the 1800h ferry. Picton has quite a nice waterfront. On this day there was a sculpting event going on. We watched artists working on blocks of limestone with tools ranging from hatchets to more precise filing and sanding things. We drove to the ferry lineup at 1700h but the ferry had changed our reservation to be 2000h, yet hadn't emailed this information to us, leaving us stuck in the ferry lineup when we could have been wandering around downtown. That was the only glitch however, and we arrived back on the North Island by 2130h.

We drove along the west coast of the North Island, stopping in a town called Whangaru for lunch. We were about to leave when a steam-powered tractor drove by, pulling a cart-load of people. This lead us to discover that there was a steam-engine show on so we also had some entertainment. Many of the engines had been painstakingly restored and it was apparent that these hobbiests were very fond of their machines (it takes a counsellor to note the emotional aspect of a steam-engine convention). There were also various arts, goodies and crafts for sale.

As we headed inland, we could see signs of a major flood that one of the locals had been telling us about. Some of the roads that were winding through this very hilly area had washed-out edges that work crews had been working on, or areas that were only recently cleared from rock slides. From the high vantage points we had good views looking out over large areas of forest. As luck would have it (this being the bad kind) we blew out another radiator hose. Duct tape and seizing wire fixed the 2 inch problem until we could get to the next town, fortunately not too far away. Not so fortunately, it was 4pm on Saturday, and we figured we had a snowball's chance in that hot place of getting things fixed anytime soon. Wrong we were. A mechanic lived right near the service station and was willing to take a look. He had to jury-rig the repair with a hose from another make of car, but it worked and he charged quite a reasonable rate. That ended a lot better than we had feared, but it was late so we stayed the night in this little town, Raetihi.

The fact that we didn't get as far as we intended that day was only a problem the next day when we were actually expected somewhere. The drive to a dairy farm on the outskirts of Hamilton took a little longer than we'd hoped, but we still made it in time for a lovely lunch with Geoff and Diane (the family we had met at New Year's Eve in the Bay of Islands), and a friend we had made in Hawaii (Barbara). We had a stroll around the farm, where we saw the cows being milked from a very close-up perspective, and got to eat lots of blueberries from the huge patch of 8 foot-high bushes. Lazing on the porch on this fine sunny Sunday afternoon was topped off with a traditional Kiwi meal: roast lamb with with mint flavoured gravy, mint sauce, veggies and potatoes, kumara, and Pavlova (meringue cake with lots of whipping cream and fruit) for dessert. We sat around stuffed to the gills after this feast, comparing the ways people do things in different countries. Lizzi and Helge were a big hit with their interesting stories of Greenland, and about life in Northern B.C. We were all pretty tired by bedtime, and slept well in the quiet countryside. Diane had jury duty the next day, so Geoff was left to his own devices. He made us a nice &lquot;fry-up&rquot; for breakfast, and we all had a try at the famous Marmite. There'll be no worries about me trying to smuggle that out of the country. We bid our farewells around noon, having greatly enjoyed our visit with these warm and fun Kiwis.

Our last night together was low-key. Lizzi and Helge got all packed up, including the spinning wheel, and we had a nice dinner in our cabin, followed by a game of cards. The flight was at 0900h the next morning so we left early and had our breakfast of Danish-style pastries in the airport. Sometimes it pays to plan ahead, as we had picked up these yummy treats the day before. Goodbyes were said and we watched Lizzi and Helge make their way to their departure gate. We waited until they were gone just to make sure they actually left :-)

We drove to Whangarei and had the radiator hoses replaced, then drove to Opua where we bombed our boat for cockroaches. Even the cruising life has its moments.

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