Tuesday 30 March 2021

Photos from travelling to Christchurch and the party of the decade

Getting from the West Coast over to Canterbury on the east coast requires travelling across the Main Divide. It is an amazing piece of road through absolutely stunning scenery - mountains, ranges, more ranges and more mountains, and deep rocky rivers. Locally the road is known as Arthur's Pass, but actually Arthur's Pass is just one place on the route, and the route follows the valleys in a large S shape. And even then, you reach quite a height on the way through.

The distance as the crow (what is the NZ equivalent of that bird?) flies between Hokitika and Christchurch is 160kms (101 miles) and to drive it's ˜248kms (154 miles). Over 3.5 hours to drive (for me, but quicker for others ...) and a flight time of about 40 minutes in a little plane.

Whenever I drive it, I think of the people who traversed this route on foot, and of the people who surveyed and then built the road. These days it is a doddle - even when I first drove it regularly back in 2016 while working in Hokitika, there were parts of it that I did not enjoy, especially when the road was being worked on and large trucks were still making their way between CHCH and the Coast - they didn't leave much room between them and the cliff edge ...

As you can see, the climb starts just a few kilometres from the West Coast (just out of Kumara) and it's lots of up and down until Springfield before crossing the Canterbury Plains.

Anyway, I digress - yet again!

As we travelled, David took photos from the passenger's seat; sometimes he took them as I pulled over for following traffic. I know there is nothing more annoying to car drivers than snail-like motorhomers crawling along in front of them, so I pull over wherever I can.

This where we stopped for lunch - lots of drivers were pleased I was off the road and letting them make their speedier way over the hill.

Just past Otira Gorge is a lay-by/viewing area. Looking back you see the rock protection platform and the waterfall diversion - both of which are vital to keeping this part of the road open. This was a sunny day, and still there was water coming down that shute. During and after heavy rain, that is an absolute torrent.

A rockslide from a few years ago - well away from the road fortunately.

Apparently this kea lives near the lookout back down to the Otira Gorge and the huge bridge. It (not sure if it's male or female) was quite keen on investigating if there was any rubber bits it could purloin on the roof of the motorhome - in lieu of food, you understand. I think people feed it just to save their windscreen wipers...

An amazing piece of engineering and construction - it may not look it, but that bridge is at a very steep incline. Trucks are generally in an extremely low gear coming up it. Before I took this photo though, I was diverted by the kea ...

I am rather partial to palindromes ...

So then we had a gap in photos - none taken obviously in Oxford of the town or of Dean and Phaedra, dammit!

David and I are not that good at selfies, as you can tell. David tries to see himself in the screen so he is often squinting, and I forget to arrange my face properly... However, that notwithstanding, this is us on the Christchurch Tram which is a hop on hop off affair that goes around the city. Both of the drivers we encountered, given we did the HOHO thing, were really great at their job - friendly, informative, entertaining.

I don't know where this is in Christchurch, nor do I know what it is. But it looked vaguely Parisian to me.

The River Avon in central Christchurch. Lots of punting takes place here in the summer.

The old tram - across the road from the museum, I think.

One of Christchurch's buildings still undergoing repair more than 10 years since the major earthquakes.

The exhibition in the museum that moved me the most was the Taonga - treasures. 

The 3 waka huia displayed on the rear wall are beautifully carved and preserved. I cried.

Footwear made from flax - a precursor to modern sandals.

There was a photographic exhibition - this photo made me think of Irene Jameison from NB Free Spirit. I think she would have loved the exhibition, and would been a worthy entrant given the beauty of her photos.

A street coordinated to lift its image. I think there were lots of cafes along here.

Sunset at the camp - I was awake!

I am not sure why I thought this was noteworthy - David is rolling up the grey-water waste hose to fit it into a plastic container - to make it stay in place in its coil, it has to be secure with a bungee cord. It is not easy to roll the hose and then wrangle the bungee cord one-handed. I think I may have asked if I could assist but was assured that wasn't necessary. Maybe this photo was my looking for proof that he should have accepted my offer ... 

The only reason we came back to Waikanae was for Bruce and Gary's 40th anniversary party. They have been married for at least 8 years - shortly after same sex marriages became lawful, but they have been partners for 40 years.

The piece of ruby coloured glass that we bought in Hokitika as their ruby anniversary gift.

There was a whole bunch of us that went out for the usual Saturday breakfast, and I asked these two to come back to ours before heading home, so we could give them their present more privately.

At the party there was this wonderful cake.

Gary and Bruce - lovely friends, fabulous hosts, amazingly kind and generous people.

At Wellington Airport on the Monday morning, ready to fly back to CHC to carry on with our holiday. And even though I had found a lovely fruit compote with meusli and yoghurt for David, he then complained that the piece of sandwich I couldn't finish was out of bounds for him as it had egg and ham in it.

OK, the date of that last photo was 1 March. It is now 31 March - I only have a month to catch up on! I can do this, I am sure ...

Friday 26 March 2021

Greymouth to CHC, but no photos because this does need to be posted before I turn 71 ...

I may have mentioned that our original plan for the South Island had been a 3 ½ week trip to circumnavigate the island – we had done it twice before in that timeframe. The first time was back in 1993 with my mum and my Aunt Molly who we had brought out to NZ as a surprise for Mum’s 70th birthday. And the second was in 2001 when we had intended to fly to the US (David had a work commitment there) and then on to the UK, but 9/11 (or more properly 11 September) put paid to that.

Back in 1993, I was 42, and in 2001 I was nearly 51 and somehow in the intervening 3 and 2 decades, I appear to have lost the capacity for driving long distances and still having energy to do touristy things. Having said that, twice in the last 5 years, I have driven to Auckland from Waikanae with only a stop for lunch with John and Adair in Pukawa, when flights from Wellington to Auckland have been cancelled all day due to execrable weather and we have had to get there to fly on to the UK.

So I think it may be that driving the noisy motorhome could be the tiring factor – the motorhome is easy to drive, but it does rattle even when things are insulated, wrapped, cushioned – the whole body of the habitation area is flexible and makes a constant noise – so maybe it’s the noise that tires me.

Our original plan of 3.5 weeks was predicated on needing and wanting to be back in Waikanae for Bruce and Gary’s 40th anniversary party. Given our very very snail-like progress, we decided to fly back to Wellington for the party weekend and then return to the South Island and continue our perambulations at a suitable pace for those in their 8th decade.

So on the Sunday morning, we headed south for a quick shopping expedition in Hokitika – we were keen to buy a piece of glass in red to give B&G for their ruby anniversary. Present purchased, we headed away – slinking out of town hoping that we would not be seen by any friends. We had already failed though – I bumped into Jose in the supermarket, and David caught up with her dad to give him back a tape David had copied for him. But lovely to catch up on some of the news.

Our intention had been to stay at Jackson’s Alpine Retreat, but they had not answered their phone and had not responded to a voice mail, so we carried on past. We then decided that Klondyke Corner would be the place and stopped in Arthur’s Pass at the DOC site to pay for a night at Klondyke. When we got there it didn’t look that appealing so we tried the place that was up the road opposite. I didn’t like that either – it turns out I am not so comfortable about freedom camping on a weekend when there are no other motorhomers around to give the comfort of company. I am a scaredy cat, obviously!

So on we went.  And as always occurs when I am low in blood sugar, making decisions is beyond me! 

We stopped on the side of the road near the turn off to Hawden Hut, another place Jose had suggested, to have some lunch. We stopped briefly at Lake Pearson to check that out - a beautiful spot that I would be happy to stay at but it was as windy as all get out and we would have been confined to barracks as it was not pleasant outside. But with lunch eaten and blood sugar topped up, I made a silent decision that we would go on a lot further than planned and stay at the Oxford Club. Decision made, it was a doddle to do the drive.

The site was excellent, no power, but no need for it. And the bonus was that we called Dean and Phaedra and they joined us at the club for dinner that evening. And we had a cuppa with them late the next morning before we headed for Christchurch.

We only did one day of touristy things in Christchurch – the Antarctic Experience and the Canterbury Museum plus a hop on hop off tram tour. The rest of the time was blobbing, getting the washing up to date and avoiding the extreme heat (over 30 degrees C) and strong wind! Six pegs required for each sheet – so definitely a bit breezy!

When we flew home, we left the motorhome at the same holiday park (North South) which is very casual and comfortable and felt very safe.

The party was lovely, we saw a lot of people we knew and it was great. Then I developed a migraine and had to head home quickly after downing two ibuprofen – the speed is required so that the aura doesn’t get too overwhelming and stop me seeing anything. Bugger! I missed most of a very, very good party, dammit!

I spent most of the next day in bed apart from a short visit to see Joy and Grahame. And the following day we flew back to Christchurch. It was a good thing we had the motorhome hooked up to power while we were gone – we had left one of the little spotlights on … Without the electricity, we would have well and truly drained the leisure battery!



Monday 15 March 2021

Murchison and points west: Punakaiki and Greymouth

 It is a very LONG time since I posted and I don't have any excuses. While the text in this post is not very long by my standards, I have included heaps of photos. My apologies - this blog is for the readers, and as well as that (and as important) is that it's a record of now for the future. At the moment, our grandkids don't read it, David doesn't read it. I know our daughter does, but I am fairly sure our son doesn't. But at some time in the future, they will want to so they can find out more about who we were and what we did. 

So as I said, my apologies if this is exceedingly long - please just scroll on through quickly if it's a bit boring! 

However, I'd suggest that you use the photos of the stunning part of the country as a travel brochure - of a country you plan to visit as soon as Covid-19 releases its hold on us all...

When we left Marahau in Golden Bay back in mid February, we knew we had to put in some miles if we were to get around this island in any reasonable time! So our next stop was Murchison, which feels like, even if it isn't officially, the entrance to the West Coast. I think it's to do with the topography and geology of the area.

We stayed two days at Murchison Motorcamp - a wonderful place that is about 8kms short of the town. And we just blobbed and juiced and walked down to the river and went for a walk along a made path on the property and sat in the sun reading and caught up on washing. And took photos. And watched a group of kayakers playing in the rapids on the river. And we didn't feel the need to do anything more strenuous. It is a holiday, after all.

Most sites have a wee hedge or a tree planted between them. I reckon this photo was taken early in the morning - so probably by David ...
Part of the grounds - tent sites are closer to the river and the hills to the east. Karen did say the occupancy was down 52% because of COVID-19, and there were only a few motorhomes in while we were there.


And the hills to the north, whence we came ...


Down by the river - the little set of rapids near the trees

I am upright here, but boy, was that surface hard to walk on steadily!


And down river. Look at the blue of the sky!

Very rocky beach - not easy to walk over. Can you see the kayakers on the left just coming around the bend in the river?
Into the rapids

And through them


And the next one comes through

And the first one goes back through again - a lot of playing!

And there were inquisitive chooks - David was pleased because it meant there was an appreciative group waiting for the detritus from his juicing. I was pleased because I do like vege scraps to go to something further down the food chain!

In the evening we walked down to a different part of the beach - a bit of a tricky route down and back, so it is rope-assisted. Reminded me of the track our kids used to go down to the beach at Rowles' Bend in Tongaporutu - but that was a much steeper and longer path, however they are much younger than us ...

In case we weren't sure ...

In case you think David has an easy life, here he is mopping the floor by hand on his knees. See, he really does SUFFER!


Barry the cat was lurking in case there was any lunch for him to share. Karen has constructed a covered verandah all around the kitchen dining area - covered to keep out the wind, rain and sandflies which are ubiquitous here.

We will definitely go back there - it is a very welcoming and peaceful place, beautifully set out with a great eye for detail and for what works for its visitors. Karen who owns and runs it, designed and developed the whole place, and the garden and landscaping have been designed and developed by her and her mum.

The only flaw on our way between Marahau and Murchison was that the rear vision camera cut out occasionally - it had done so on our way into Takaka, and David had changed the fuse which seemed to fix it. But then it started cutting out frequently. It is disconcerting to suddenly look at it for a view of what is coming along behind and find that the screen is BLANK! I have very good wing mirrors but they don't show me what is right behind me - and cannot do so given the width of the vehicle and the position of the mirrors. What we did find out fortunately was that if I stopped (at a safe place with enough space for me to pull off the road) and turned off the engine, the camera would reactivate when the engine started up again. Weird, or what?

We tried to find an auto-electrician in Westport, but the only one there was booked up till about Easter - no use to us. So we decided that because we could get it to start up again, we would book in with an auto-electrician in Greymouth who could see us on the Friday, which was a few days ahead - hence the blobbing in Murchison.

It was many years since we had visited Punakaiki, even though I had worked down on the West Coast and David had visited - we had never made the trip there. We had been past a few times but not stopped. So this time, from Murchison we headed through the Upper and Lower Buller Gorge (a fabulous trip on the most amazing road built with grit and muscle and sheer hard work!) out to Westport. 

The Buller Gorge is heavily forested in native trees, and follows the Buller River
Not a very good photo, I'm sorry, but it contains significant information. The journey between Nelson and Paringa is 562 kilometres (about 350 miles) and now takes just over 7 hours to drive. So 1124 kms (700 miles) and 14 hours to drive. Almost all the way, it is very challenging terrain and is mostly through mountain passes and along river gorges, and through thick bush all the way - apart from some short distances where it goes through river flats and swampy areas close to the sea. As I say: very challenging! So I am not surprised by the 550 days for a return journey.

The road through the Buller Gorge is spectacular - an amazing feat of engineering. There are a number of one way bridges - there are many of these on the West Coast - and I like to drive over them slowly so David can take photos. Of course, being high up in the motorhome means there are great views.

This is Hawk's Crag where the road has been carved from the cliff with enough height for large trucks to go through easily. It's one lane only, so there's time to contemplate it before you go through. I took this photo from a rest area/viewing area just before it. I remember the first time I drove the motorhome through, I ducked my head - nuts, I know, but even though I KNEW there was plenty of headroom, it felt very close ...

We had wanted to catch up with Leonie in Westport but she was heading away to Karamea and we would just miss her. So we had a bite to eat in the town, did the grocery shopping, swapped an empty gas bottle for a full one, and headed on down the coast on yet another amazing road to Punakaiki. 

Yet again we were both so admiring of the work that the Dept of Conservation has done in developing the site at Punakaiki, aka the Pancake Rocks. The segregated parking to make sure cars and motorhomes do not get in each other's way; the buildings, both the DOC info centre and the commercial activities across the road from the sea. The paths, the decking, the bridges are all top notch in quality. The signage is informative and interesting and very comprehensive. And the track meanders through the coastal bush, with no straight lines but in sympathy with the trees and ferns and flaxes. And you can hear the birdlife as you walk. It is lovely.

And then you come to the rocks and cliffs. It is just magic - or as Sam Neill's character in Hunt for the Wilderpeople said, it's majestical. 

The immense power of the sea is on display in the way the waves muscle their way through the gaps in the cliffs and pound against those still standing. It is awe-inspiring.

Nikau palms and flaxes alongside other trees that grow so prolifically along this coast.

The sea is exceedingly powerful and has caused the many little islands/rock formations

The nature of the rock in strata is exacerbated by the constant pounding of wind and sea

The sea has forced its way through and formed an open-topped cavern

On the other side of the cavern, the waves have rushed through and smash against the opposite wall. 

These two shots show the detail of the sea's work - all the way to the tops of the cliffs
This is why they are called the Pancake Rocks - they look like stacks of oddly shaped pikelets to me!
The viewing platform and the view south along the coast. I would love to know why these rock formations occur here and nowhere else on this coast. I sense a bit of research coming on ...

And still people do climb over it ...
On Sandra and Barry's blog nb Are and Are they had a fabulous photo of a koru - this is my attempt! Not as good by any stretch though!

We headed back to Punakaiki village to the motorcamp there and set up in a very nice spot - but soon had to move. AAARRRGGGHHH!!! Right behind us was a building that was currently housing about 30 7 - 9 year old kids on school camp. AAARRRGGGHHH!!! They were NOISY. They were constantly shouting and shrieking, and the noise went right through me. So I asked at the office if we could move somewhere less screechy. The new site wasn't so pretty but it was quiet ...

Our original spot - you cannot see the house behind housing VERY noisy kids...

On the beach right beside the camp, looking north

and south towards Punakaiki where we had just been that afternoon.

Still not sunset ...

Happiness is sitting on a bench on the beach in the setting (eventually) sun.

And we were leaving quite early in the morning to head to Greymouth to see the auto-electrician, so an early night was definitely called for and there would not have been an early night with 30 kids right behind us! I don't think any of the kids would have been asleep much before midnight - it was school camp after all and staying awake late is a rule, I reckon! However I did have an early night - so early that I didn't even stay awake to go back and see the sunset from the beach beside us.

We left the motorhome with the auto-electricians by about 8am the next day, and then walked to Blanchard's Bakery to have brekkie. We have found that cafes here are very accommodating about David's dietary needs and Blanchard's was no different. Lovely food and excellent and friendly service. It's one of my favourite bakeries ever because of the range of food, and that it is retro without meaning to be - it's just the way it has always been. So it is a nostalgic place to go.

As we were leaving, David got stopped by a guy at one of the tables who recognised him from when we were staying in Hokitika last year while I was working at DOC for the 6 - 7 weeks. David had been out on one of the Hokitika Hikers walks with my boss's wife, and this man is a regular and had been on the same walk. So a long chat with him and his friend ensued. They have both been involved with the development of the Pike 29 Memorial Walk from the Maori perspective, so it was interesting to listen to them talking about what it means to the local runanga and iwi.

We took a walk across the Cobden bridge to check out the river bank down towards the mouth, then back over the river and along the built up river wall - it borders the town and because of frequent flooding, the banks are very high. It is amazing to see the river when it is placid and gentle and low, and then see it as a raging torrent when the heavy rain that has fallen in the hills sweeps down into the river upstream, bringing logs and debris that catch on the stanchions of the bridges. At those times the high build of the wall doesn't look quite so high!

The auto-electrician had done a search along the wiring where it was visible but had not been able to replicate the fault. Since then, of course, it hasn't happened again - that could be because we haven't travelled over such rough roads and so the connections haven't been stressed. Who knows?

We had decided that we would have a quiet weekend in Greymouth and had chatted with a guy on our walk who said it was great down by the rivermouth on the northern side. We went to have a look but at just after noon it was already jam packed with motorhomes and caravans and campers. Not for us! So we headed a few kilometres away to the Top 10 - it is on the south side of the town and very close to the beach - as everything is in Greymouth ...

It was peaceful, sunny, well-equipped and clean. And we had shade. 

My view as I wrote the last blog post. Beyond those shrubs is the cycleway and then the beach - next stop Australia!

David took this photo - he thought it worthy of note.


If I remember correctly, we blobbed a lot. David did juicing and happily fed the chooks. I think I wrote the last post there, and that was weeks ago ...