What's Up, Down or Done

Musings, rants and ravings, and other gems of insight I nobody wants to hear now that I've finally got them. Also neat stuff I found on the 'Net when I should have been updating this blog....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Gotta Move Someplace with More Neighbors....

That is the opinion of my husband (and maybe also the current neighbors).

Okay, I'll admit that since I don't watch TV, neighbor-watching is a major part of my entertainment. But I always figured God made neighbors long before there was TV for that sort of thing…so my interest is natural, right?

Living out in the country as we do, most of our neighbors are pretty far down the road.  We rent the granny apartment on an organic farm, so I do have that family and all their critters as part of my landscape.  It may not be enough however.

See, I spent a couple days last Fall interfering in the love life of one of their roosters.

Now, wait!  Let me explain: Hunter is a magnificent hunk of rooster, shiny black with robust comb and neon greenish lights in his sleek feathers.  But he has a problem: he's old.  And not very aggressive.  So the younger and bigger roosters pick on him.

He has spent the last two summers very happily out in the orchard with 8 or 10 hens for company.  But when the frost comes, he must move to the barn with all the other chickens, where life is pretty unbearable.  He is not allowed any girls or space or even food, without the big white rooster and the silver Wyandotte rooster trouncing him.

So this year, he opted out immediately and returned to the orchard, even though it would soon be much too cold for a single bird to roost there.  Also, all of 'his' equally elderly hens went to the stew pot, but the family was sort of attached to him as their very first rooster, and wanted to spare him.

I felt sorry for the poor fellow, and continued to give him scraps from my kitchen, because he couldn't even get near the barns for any grain without not only the main rooster, but also a gang of adolescent cockerels from the spring meat chicks, hounding him.  Hunter wisely stayed away from all that hormonal chaos.

So a couple days after the great chicken move, I noticed two of the pullets from this summer's chicks were hanging out with Hunter near where I put out scraps at my front door.  (The house is between the barns and the orchard) I figured it wouldn't hurt his street cred with them if I just happened to toss out some more bread.  Make them think he is a great provider, so maybe they would stay with him and provide warm company.

Worked well until sunset.  They spent all day with him and were top heavy with crops full of all the good stuff he found for their delictation.  But they didn't follow when he went off to roost in the orchard.  And it got dark on them and they were then lost!

So eight o'clock at night they are still standing on my porch, which is a fair piece from the barns, but still. It does kind of support the notion that chickens are brainless.  Of course, maybe they were just using the 'old' man, hanging with him for the food he found, but not willing to actually commit…

When the farmer found them out there where they didn't belong, he wasn't patient and understanding with them, if you know what I mean.  Probably ruint all my work, I thought, since the traumatic end to a beautiful day would no doubt stick in their heads.  Poor Hunter might have to live on his memories.

Hunter showed up at my door next morning with the light.  It was a very foggy and drizzly daylight, so you can't exactly call that bright, even if it was early…  A couple hours later, I noticed that the two girls were back!  And they had brought along a friend.

I was thrilled, of course.  A successful matchmaker admires her work….until she notes that the third 'girl' is actually an adolescent rooster.  He was not aggressive, however, and Hunter accepted him without rancor.

Which lead me to wonder about this chicken's sexuality…like maybe it's confused?  It seemed to prefer Hunter's little harem to the absolute warfare out in the chicken coop.  Who wouldn't?   

But still…

When I shared my concerns with the aforementioned husband, that's when he declared that our next move would be somewhere with lots more neighbors!


New Zealand - Trip Finish

After about 20 hours cramped on three different airplanes (and several hours going through customs and security in various airports) we really enjoyed those last four hours in Amtrak business class seats on the train from Chicago to Ann Arbor. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!


New Zealand - Tasman Day Trip

Husband spent  several days in Wellington, across on the North Island, for a health informatics conference, but I got to continue vacation. Lucky me! I love being able to wander about and take my time and meet people, not to mention sample yummy things to eat. Saturday mornings, Nelson has a farmers' market, which includes a variety of cooked on the site foods, as well as arts and crafts.

I found fruits and veggies and plants for the garden (spring bedding plants dominated), had an outstanding breakfast of fresh crepes wrapped around bacon and scrambled eggs -- all cooked at once on a flat round griddle. There were paintings, sculpture, leather work, wool yarns and knitted woolen clothing, wooden toys, and inlaid wood tea trays and kitchen utensils. Husband found the perfect Kiwi hat at a stall with hundreds of caps and chapeaux. AND, I found a lady cooking real Mexican recipes out of a tiny wagon in the middle of the market. She's married to a Kiwi and got bored living out on a vineyard, so he set her up in the wagon and all of us were happy!

When husband returned from the conference (he flew over, and even got to see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's airplane in the Wellington Airport) some of our new friends wanted to take us on a little tour of the area.  Everyone, including the tourist bureau, thought we should at least see some of the Tasman Reserve, which is this huge National Park area just over the hill to the west of Nelson.

They took us out to the Riwaka Resurgence:
I was feeling pretty tired by the time we got there, because we had already had a couple miles of walk around town, plus another hour or two of driving tour, but Althea assured me that it really wasn't much of a walk to the Crystal Pool and the Resurgence...
It was about half a mile of this -- beautiful, but a bit taxing for those of us who do not run up to the Center of New Zealand every morning. (See last post)

A resurgence is the spot where an underground river comes back to the surface. Riwaka River flows for some of it's length deep in limestone caves and comes out at the Crystal Pool, clear and icy cold.
 Some of the local wildlife got into this shot of the cave opening...
As the water flows down towards the sea, it warms up, but before it does, there are several pools that look very much like something out of an exotic National Geographic Magazine spread.
The water really is this color, and absolutely clear. There isn't even any moss or algae in it for a mile or so. And the walk is literally hacked from the side of the jungle choked gorge. I kept thinking I would see Tarzan any minute, but over all it was incredibly serene. It is a holy spot for Maoris, and I can see why.
On the way down, near the car park, is a lone picnic table on a grassy spot next to the water, and this was the view out towards the pasture and mountains.  See the native brush slopes on the right? And the conifers on the left? A perfect day for a picnic, or just resting the feet sitting at the table and wondering what that bird was which we could hear but not see... I kept asking, "What's that plant? What bird is singing?" until I think everyone was exasperated with me.

Alas, all good things do come to an end, and so we left New Zealand after 17 days of fun and wonder. It wasn't long enough.


New Zealand - Nelson

Nelson, NZ reminds me very much of Morro Bay, California.

It sits on a jewel of a little bay, protected by a long spit, with hills surrounding and long, agriculturally fertile valleys inland. As it faces north, it has more sunlight (being southern hemisphere) than any other city in NZ (or so the Chamber of Commerce says). That makes the weather more like Avila than Morro, if you  all remember what summers were like: we'd want to go to the beach, but only Avila is south-facing and without fog in summer.

One major difference, though, is that from the bay, you can see snow covered mountains:
The town is about 50K, including several suburban areas, but very quiet and almost sleepy while we were there. Downtown is discreet, with wide streets and buildings mostly limited to 2 stories.
Many of my photos are dark, I think because the sunlight is SO intense; confuses my little digital camera into focusing on the sky instead of anything in the foreground. Sorry.
The residential areas have narrower streets than downtown, but one thing I wanted to show all the California family: see these closely pruned trees?
That is, believe it or not, a sycamore tree! Can you believe that these huge trees could be kept to a mere 20 feet tall? And why ever would you want to do that to them? Of course, Nelson isn't semi desert, so maybe sycamores can get way out of hand there -- like just about everything else in the garden.

While we were planning our trip, initially with no idea what we wanted to see except for Christchurch, I happened to mention in email to a friend (Hi, Naomi!) that we were finally going on a vacation after all these years, and she wrote back immediately to say that she had a friend in Nelson! Well, thanks to Skype and the Internet, we met Baki and Dayanira, and through them several of the other Bahá'ís in that area.

One of our new friends was planning to be out of town for several days and offered her home (renting to visitors is a common practice in NZ) and she is a darling! We managed to meet her in Christchurch as she was returning and we were leaving.

This is Margaret's house, our home in Nelson for about nine days.
It sits on a smallish (by USA standards) lot in a beautiful neighborhood full of trees and flowers. Her garden is especially lavish, with way more plants than anyone would think could be crowded in together successfully. (I found this true of every garden I saw in NZ!) Love that garden!! So many flowers I haven't seen since I left California...camelias, for instance.

Margaret has an old-fashioned garden, and one that matches the unwritten rule that every Kiwi must have a cabbage tree in front and a lemon tree in back. Cordyline australis looks a bit like a Joshua Tree, only it gets to be 60 feet tall in NZ! Plus, she has a lemonade tree in the side yard. I SO want one of those! Looks just like a lemon, very thin skinned; peel and eat like an orange; tastes like the very best lemonade you ever had. Sigh. Not available in the US, and not likely ever to be, given the   restrictions on citrus even crossing state boarders, let alone national ones...

Sunshine comes into her kitchen every morning!

And see what a lovely wide view she has of her side yard? Yum! We enjoyed our sojourn, and fed the cat, who is very old and regarded us as pretty hopeless idiots, but maybe not too dangerous if we held the can opener. She even led me over to where the catfood was, and assured me that she should also have canned food morning and evening (which we found later was not the case). Margaret might not be too old to travel, but the cat was too old to tolerate her absence well.  (Or yours truly has sucker clearly stamped upon her brow)

We walked every day, venturing down town and out to the beach:
The bicycle belongs to the postman sitting in front of a tiny grocery for his morning break. Mail is delivered by bicycle all over city areas on the South Island. Carriers sort the mail by routes and the bundles are dropped at suitable points along the way, like this grocer, so that the whole load doesn't have to weigh down the cycle from the beginning.  Pretty nifty, and boy were those carriers, male and female, in good shape!
There was quite a lot of provision for tourists in Nelson -- it is sort of an artist's colony -- including a couple mile walk down the riverside to the sea. We passed gardens and parks and lots of not very wild life:
This fellow probably has a mate sitting on a nest nearby, but we couldn't see her. There was a duck with a passel of ducklings in the same area, and even some seagulls horsing around having mid morning bath in the shallows of one gravelly stretch of the river. I couldn't get them in the camera without blur, they were having such a good time.

And only a couple blocks down the street from Margaret's house is the trailhead to the Center of New Zealand:
This is a 20 minute hike, according to Andrea, who does it every morning, but took my husband a couple hours. It winds uphill rather steeply through a series of hairpin turns, every one of which offers stunning views of the city, bay and valley beyond. He took lots of pix, but strongly advised against my trying it. I think he worried that I might indeed make it to the top, but then I wouldn't be able to get back down again, and there is no other way out except walking back down.

As it was explained to us, the monument was set some years ago in a fit of National Pride, before GPS, when map makers believed the top of this little hill was indeed the geographic center of New Zealand. Turns out the actual center is a kilometer or two away, but the monument remains. That other spot just isn't as picturesque...

One thing Nelson has throughout the town is extensive bike accomodation. Bike paths run from beach to bay to downtown to historic sites and more.  And some of them are quite wide enough for two lanes of travel!
And, frankly, I find separate walkways and bikeways comforting, given that I still haven't mastered the drive on the left thing....


Monday, January 10, 2011

New Zealand - To Nelson

We came back from the Forest Primeval at Te Nikau to the Wild Coast Cafe around lunchtime and caught the northbound NZ Transit bus, which is much bigger than expected, and full of really large windows so we wouldn't miss a bit of the scenery.

Along the coast, that scenery was pretty exciting, largely due to the unfamiliar experience of traveling on the left side of the road -- that part hanging on the edge of cliffs with sometimes very large drops to the rocky coast below.

In places, the road drops to single lane due to wash outs, and some even have traffic lights if the drivers cannot see the other end to know if there is oncoming traffic.
Traffic lights? This suggests a long term solution... And the story the driver tells, pointing out a little pole by the side of the road about 20 feet up the bank above the washout 50-60 feet below us, is that the river in flood a few years back filled this incredibly steep ravine over 100' feet deep.  No wonder the government isn't in a rush to spend millions rebuilding the second lane....

That big bus makes every tight turn seem rather exciting, as I mentioned. We were sitting near the front, which I do not recommend to the faint of heart, LOL. Driver was quite non-chalant, often driving with just one hand...not showing off or anything, but because he makes this 7 hour drive from Greymouth to Nelson every day, back again the next.  He's bored!

When we headed away from the coast, climbing into the mountains and dropping through lush valleys, the rain which had been threatening all morning arrived.  It was not bad, though, just drizzle, and not enough to ruin the views.
Most of the valleys had rivers through them. Large rivers in wide rocky beds, and with quite a lot of water from spring snow melt. And many of the bridges? One Lane. Not because of wash outs, but originally designed to be less expensive that way. Imagine squeezing the great big bus across this!
I swear, it looked like there wasn't 6" clearance either side! And note: driver is sipping his coffee and maneuvering one-handed.  =:o  After three or four bridges like this, and some of them offered tummy turning views hundreds of feet down into spectacular river gorges, my hair did quit standing on end, LOL.

You can see where part of the mountain looks forested and part bare...Native, jungly brush and trees have been cleared and fast growing conifers planted as seedlings. This is the lumber monoculture which provides exports mostly to Japan. It is just a mind-numbing huge operation, and can't be easy, either. It takes bulldozers to clear the underbrush, and these are not nice round foothill sized mountains. Whoever those dozer drivers are, they must have nerves of steel.

A couple hours along, about half way to Nelson, we stopped for snack and driver rest in a particularly beautiful valley, and tell me what you think this town looks like:
Snake River, Idaho? Durango, Colorado, back in the 1970s? Any small mountain town from the 1950s California? Amazing.

That is one thing we noted about much that we saw of the rural communities (and even some parts of the cities) on the South Island: the architecture and lifestyle remind me VERY much of my 1940-50s childhood in a rural farming area outside San Luis Obispo, CA.

As we came out of the mountains a few miles west of Nelson, the land flattened out into fields and vineyards and orchards. Thousands of acres neatly divided into relatively small plots: apples, peaches, grapes, kiwi fruit, blackberries in a snowstorm of of huge blossoms. And truck gardens of cabbages, lettuce and greens of all kinds, asparagus, onions and leeks.  Didn't see a single corn field or soybean planting, but maybe it was too early in the season for them.

We got into Nelson right on time, and I think the bus driver would have taken us right to our door, had we not arranged to be met. At least, he was arranging to do exactly that for one or two of the other passengers, who were headed to one of the backpacker hostels downtown.  Apparently on his way home.  Guess he takes the bus with him over night...

Baki and Dayanira met our bus and ferried us to Margaret's home, our residence for the next nine days.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New Zealand - West Coast

Even on a rainy day, the West Coast is amazing, and reminds me of many spots along the Pacific Northwest coast of the US.  Same brush-clad cliffs plunging down to broken rocky coast lines and gravelly coves. There is both limestone/sandstone type rock strata carved by wind and water into fantastic shapes, and granite and basalt and other igneous layers and lumps scattered about.

This is the area where I first began to see just how strange NZ is. Up till now I could see so much that reminded me of other places I had lived or visited, but the West is the largest area of native flora and fauna remaining, and this place is truly weird!
Think of every dinosaur movie you've ever seen. Think jungle so thick that you can't walk through it in any kind of straight line. Think tree ferns.  Think DARK at night, especially on an overcast night.
That palm tree is about 60' tall, and those fern fronds about 8-10' long. The canopy wants to be up around 100'+, so you can't even see the sky through it. And even though this is a cool rain forest, and doesn't have a single native animal larger than a mosquito that's likely to bother us, it feels seriously different from anywhere else I've ever been.

Unlike the rain forests of Central America, or the swamps of Louisiana, where it seems like every living thing is out to have you for lunch, this place doesn't feel threatening so much as, well, indifferent. NZ has had humans living there only about 700 years, so my theory is that its native flora and fauna did not co-evolve with us.  There is no place for us in that eco-system.  No food, no shelter, no welcome. Even the Maoris brought their own edible plants and animals when they decided to stay.

We stayed at Te Nikau Resort, which is a couple miles down the ravines from the bus stop at Wild Coast Cafe
and is not exactly what might be called a resort in, say, Key West. It is a collection of idiosyncratic cabins scattered about in jungle so impenetrable that you can't see from one to another. Accommodations vary from dormitory that sleeps 9, to bunks, to the main lodge, where there are four bedrooms, a kitchen, dining, living room, laundry and little office space with a pair of computers for checking one's email.
This is, in fact, the loveliest honeymoon spot I can think of! There is a small pantry in the kitchen with a cup for cash purchases of things like eggs, tinned fruits and meats, cereal and juices (It's a looooooong walk back up to the Cafe and its mini grocery store). There is also bread or muffins available freshly made upon demand if you order a day in advance.  Whole grain, of course.

We decided this was actually a favorite spot for those who were weary of camping out or backpacking, but did not want to spend the big money that Punakaiki Resort would charge for hot tubs and sea views. It was not as inexpensive as the many hostels and homes that rent rooms, but it did have hot water and washing machines and very comfortable beds.
This is the view looking back up towards the road that led to the highway. It is also where I saw my first Weka.
These are a native flightless bird about the size of a small chicken, utterly fearless of humans, or anything else, and not inclined to move fast. Those two characteristics, we were to discover, mean they make up most road kill we saw. :(
  We explored as much of the area around Te Nikau as we could, always expecting to get rained on and not wanting to go too far afield.  The pathways to the various cabins and sheds were more like trails made by children: narrow, meandering and fun! Definitely not handicapped accessible. If you followed them far enough, they came out on one of the access tracks and had signs that pointed to the beach nearly a mile farther and almost 1000' below. We didn't know that, of course, so we went happily along till we hit the National Park Service trails, which were much wider and almost paved, especially out towards the water.
Some of the non-native fauna...
Park service used barks and limestone fines to try and keep the jungle out of the trails...
There are often borders sunk in the ground to hold in the fines, and ditches outside of those to handle runoff.  It rains here.
About two thirds of the way to the beach, the landscape becomes salt tolerant and the rain forest disappears. Not that we could see the water, though, because New Zealand flax is the native sea coast ecosystem...about 6 or 7 feet tall! And so packed together that even the Weka's can't walk through it. I did notice that some of the rain forest underbrush would squish in among the flax bowls, but it never rose above where the coastal breeze would prune it. And as we neared the ocean, it was only flax and assorted mosses.
Here's view is from the highway, looking down about 1500 feet. It is from an aborted hike towards Pancake Rocks trailhead, which the signs did not mention was actually about 4 miles away, by the time you added in all the twists and turns and hills in the road. And then it would be another long walk down from the trailhead to the water (and then back up again!). After a mile and a half (in addition to the two miles we had already walked to and from the beach) of puffing we gave up and went back to Te Nikau. Husband got some great pix, however. Check them out on his Flickr! site. Scroll through his galleries to the one's he has labeled New Zealand Trip.

This whole area is just stunningly beautiful, even on an overcast day. And the park paths are well maintained, but unmarked. You need to do your homework and are obviously expected to use good sense and know where you are. For instance, the last 50 yards to the water in the cove is of steps cut into the sandstone -- with no handrails. There is one small sign warning that when the tide is in and the mossy rocks are wet, it can be dangerously slippery. The fall from those rocks is about 20 feet into surf and there is a sharp undertow. But other than that, Kiwis apparently figure people can take care of themselves. And it might be true, since you have to be in pretty good physical shape just to walk down to those rocks in the first place!

I wanted to stay on the West Coast much longer! The lodge was so comfortable and the young people traveling through on their various Gap Year adventures all had great stories to tell. There were so many interesting looking trails to explore, and it would have been fun to take a picnic down to the coves. And we didn't get to see the pancake rocks (3 miles walk up and down about 2500 feet of elevation) although we did have a small blowhole right beside the slippery rocks...

And besides, the pukekos were flashing their white bums at us, daring us to play tag...


Christchurch to Greymouth, NZ

At 6 the next morning, we walked the several blocks (maybe 3/4 mile) from our motel to the train station, lugging our baggage, which now included a third suitcase because one of the smaller ones was coming apart at the seams. (Honest, we hadn't bought anything yet! I think the clearer air down under made our stuff expand...) Our train was to leave at 7:45, which would have seemed very early except that we hadn't completely recovered from jet lag, so were still waking up in the very early hours, anyway.
We took the Tranzalpine Train from Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast.  Looks nice and flat and short, right? And it is flat, a grandually rising plane on the east side of the New Zealand alps, which are a ridge running down the western edge of the South Island.

Hmmm, ridge? Much more like the Rocky Mountains of the western US! You can see snow capped peaks from Christchurch, and just about everywhere else we went on the South Island.  They seem quite close, but the travel time across that stretch is more than four hours.  Pleasant hours, however, with comfortable seats and very wide windows.
You can't see them in this picture of the sign, but most of the car length is in glass. Passenger trains are few and maintained largely for tourists, now that roads cross the mountains in a few spots. It is said that every Kiwi drives, so there isn't much in the way of accommodation for pedestrians or public transit outside the cities! What limited rail tracks exist are used mostly by freight trains, which go faster than passenger trains, but that's okay by me because there is so much spectacular scenery to see.
Much of the Canterbury plain looks like this. It's pasture land, graneries and truck farming -- divided regularly by tall hedges neatly trimmed to look like walls.  The engineer, or maybe that voice over the loud speakers was the conductor, explained that these hedgerows were to provide protection for the sheep and cows from winter winds.  It doesn't actually snow that much, but the winds can be awful. It was hard to tell from the train, but these hedges looked to be trimmed off flat at anywhere from 12 to 20 feet high.

Hard to believe winter winds on this lovely spring day, but we remembered that only a week or two before we arrived, tens of thousands of lambs had died in an enormous late season blizzard . From the air, the Canterbury plains look like some huge green patchwork ala National Geographic photo spreads. This is the 'bread basket' of New Zealand.

I tried to get some pix of the newest farm animals, but they don't like the trains and were too far away. Our impromptu guide was telling us that the move to raising deer as meat was somewhat controversial, as they require more pasturage than sheep, goats or cattle, which means more water to irrigate pasture, as the summer has little rain. I squinted at what he was calling deer and decided they look like our little California Tule elk--miniature wapiti.

Along the roadsides, fence lines and anywhere else not mowed or plowed easily, were brownish green and greyish green shrubs covered with yellow flowers. These are the scourge of NZ farmers and ranchers. Invasive species are a pain anywhere, but in a land where just about everything people eat has to be non-native, the chance of bringing in something annoying, or even dangerous, is multiplied. Early English settlers brought not only food and forage plants, but also their familiar garden, hedgerow and meadow flowers.

Enter Gorse and Broom. Nothing in NZ (pronounced locally as en-zed) flora or fauna eats them, attacks them, or otherwise controls them. And they both love poor soils, semi-drought and wintery conditions. Land cleared of the native flora in order to provide pasture for non-native animals is heaven for these two weeds. Gorse is woody and full of spines, so avoided by cattle and sheep, alike. Broom's tiny grayish leaves taste bad and being a legume it makes millions of seeds that burst outward from the pods. Both gradually fill in any empty ground until the farmer must take a bulldozer to clear again. At this time of year, we could see hundreds of hillside acres of slightly mustard yellow gorse and paler yellow broom along drainage ditches and fence rows. Clearly a constant battle.

After about two hours, the train began to climb out of the plains and into some pretty spectacular mountains. There was still snow and/or glaciers above us, but the passes were clear and full of that peculiarly deep wet green of alpine meadows. I gather that even these meadows are not native, and the hillsides have been cleared of brush to allow grass to grow for sheep. And there are sheep everywhere, looking at a distance, rather like lice nits on a particularly ratty baby blanket. No disrepect meant; I just have a strange mind, LOL.

Cattle graze in and around gorse thickets in the flat valleys, but these are few and far between, as those valleys have been cut by spring runoff from snow melt. New Zealand describes her rivers as braided, because they are inconstant. It's flood or trickle with them. They lay wide swathes of gravel across the flat lands, and cut new beds for their silvery streams every time it rains. From the plane it looks very much like braided water!

Up close, those stream beds actually have no sand visible in them, just boulders ranging from fist size to school bus. The train crossed and recrossed several river beds on very long tressels, even though the water didn't look all that deep or wide.
That isn't sand at the water's edge down there; it's gravel so big that you can't walk on it.

I was totally frustrated by the double paned glass in the train windows because all I could get were reflections in the camera. There was a special open air car for those brave souls who wanted to take pix, and husband is one of those. He went several times, but had to come back inside to thaw out regularly. It is early spring in the mountains, so only just above freezing, to which one must add the windchill factor of a moving train.

We passed coal mines and their tiny settlements, which used to be served only by the trains before the government put a road in place. The summit is Arthur's Pass, which on the downside has the longest railroad tunnel in NZ, if not the world. It is a fifteen minute ride in pitch black which can take only one train every four hours in order to allow the pumps to refresh the air inside for the next train. If the power goes out and the fans aren't running, neither do the trains. People died in there regularly until this system got worked out!

All of this was explained to us passengers in alarming detail as our train waited for about half an hour to enter the tunnel. It gave us time to look out at what remains of the settlement of Arthur's Pass and wonder at the fortitude of those folks hardy enough to stay in a place that averages 15-30 feet of snow every winter.  All the buildings were wood frame, looked to be very old, weather beaten and heated only by wood or coal. I'm betting they were uninsulated, as well, since Kiwis pride themselves on being tougher than the environment. If I hadn't seen folks out hanging clothes on the line, or smoke rising from a metal flue or two, I'd have said it was a ghost town!

On the west side of the mountains, it was a rainy day, very suitable for Greymouth, I thought, since the town is built on either side of a river flowing into a tiny bay. By the time we got to the end of the line, all was grey: sky, land, sea and town.
After the very bright sunshine of Christchurch and the plains, this was sort of a shock and neither camera dealt with it well. All the pictures we took there are very dark and dreary looking, even though it didn't feel that way at the time. The people in this shot are waiting for the same bus we are. NZ has a national transport system, so that you can usually catch at least one bus a day going just about anywhere. Out on the West Coast, these are not usually very large buses, ranging from about 30-60 seats. But they all have wrap around glass for catching the views!

Greymouth is pronounced Gray mouth, not greymuth. Awkward to say, but this EnZed, and they do things their way. The town of 30K or so is the Western seaport and handles mostly fishermen and tourists these days. It is the gateway to the wilds so popular with outdoors enthusiasts of all kinds.  It used to ship coal out, but now the trains take coal from the many mines along the coast all the way back to Littleton, which is Christchurch's international port. It may reflect a change in who's buying Kiwi coal, but also allows for much larger ships to come in.

We wandered about a bit while waiting for our bus up the coast to Punakaiki National Beach and forest. This is the home of Pancake Rocks National Monument and numerous beaches tucked into coves beneath huge rain forested cliffs. It is also where our overnight stop will be at Te Nikau Resort. (I'll explain what 'resort' means in Kiwi terms later.)


Monday, January 03, 2011

Hagley Park, Christchurch, NZ

According to Wikipedia, Hagley Park is the largest urban open space (164.637 hectares) in Christchurch, and was created in 1855 by the Provincial Government.It was opened to the public in 1856, so those trees are many of them over a century old.

That makes for very BIG trees. And well established plantings throughout, a river running through (California sized, not Michigan. In Ann Arbor, we have drains bigger, LOL) plus acres and acres of playing fields, tennis courts, lawn bowling, a botanic garden, antique rose collection, orchid house and ponds.  Through all there are paved walkways, little benches and nooks and niches and picnic tables. Everyone goes, old, young, babies in strollers, rugby players and joggers and dog walkers.

Especially appealing was it being right a cross the street from where we were staying meant we could wander over just about any time we wanted.  And we wanted a lot! It being springtime down under, EVERYTHING was in bloom.  Except the daffodils and other bulbs were done. Did find the occasional late tulip, though.

There were, for instance, rhododendrons the size of school buses. (I'm not kidding) Look:
And masses of azalea plantings:
Azaleas in every shade you can think of from white all the way to a rich mahogany. And roses, many of them very old fashioned and very old. Also camelias, and I haven't seen camelias since I left California. And so many other blooming things whose names I don't know or can't remember!
I think this one pretty much tells it all: Azaleas, camelias, rhododendrons...and a palm tree down front!
The trees were just amazing, too. I mean: HUGE. Now, I'm from California; I've seen Sequoias. And in Michigan I've been exposed to oaks and maples of considerable size.  But none of them can touch these monsters!  Most wouldn't fit in my camera... For instance:
This is a Monterey Pine. Yeah, yeah, you're thinking. Been there, seen them scrawny little things...
See what I mean? That's none too small me for scale...

I loved that park! And I loved the way every scrap of yard (and Christchurch houses are crammed together closely) is planted full of flowers and trees. It is called the Garden City, and at this time of year, truly lives up to its name.