Thursday 18th Aug, 2011 (cont’d)
On the bus journey (takes 25 mins and I have the bus to myself) through the Christchurch suburbs to town there is evidence of the earthquakes they’ve had with some homes still fenced off, others demolished with back gardens, washing lines and bbqs exposed to passers by. In places the fast melting snow is putting a strain on the already knacked sewers, especially by the rivers and there is some minor flooding to roads.
Hagley Park is deserted and is full of snow-melt puddles and forgotten fallen snowmen. The birds seem to be loving it though; mallards race past on the fast flowing water and Paradise Shellduck are climbing trees by the side of the Avon River. It’s raining on and off so I head for the botanic gardens and it’s wealth of trees and bushes and the respite of its cafe (good black coffee, stodgy citrus cake) which has an open hearth at its centre piece that is being hogged by a group of foreigners (perhaps students, perhaps tourists like me).
The Botanical Gardens are excellent with tree ferns you can hide under when it rains and all sorts of weird and wonderful trees. The path through the gardens leads me to the far end of Hagley Park and the hospitals. Like all hospitals everywhere the entrance is littered with staff, patients and visitors all huddled around having a fag.
The walk back to the bus stop is past the museum, arts centre and Christs College, all of which took a beating during the earthquakes. The spire/turret of the arts college sits on the pavement waiting for the restoration work to be completed while other walls are propped up with giant metal structures.
After cooking a bolognese for all for tea, Adam and I head back to Hagley Park to see the aforementioned Hera who is playing in the temporary arts centre village. Under normal circumstances the gig would’ve been in the arts centre but it’s now in a temporary building in the park. It’s a lovely temporary building though with parquet flooring, nice booths along the walls and a good light rig and the sound is excellent. It’s also numbingly cold, probably about 4C, but very pleasant if you’re wrapped up.
Hera has a great voice and can play but her songs are a bit limited and dull. One song is all about her favourite dress and the lyrics go something like: “this is my dress, it is blue, it is my favourite”. Her backing band are straight from casting central: stoned-looking bassist – check, cheesy lead guitarist – check, Schroeder wannabe on keys – check, plaid shirts all round – check.
New Zealand is not immune to the rise of the hipster and there is one present tonight and he has an obligatory dandy ‘tache an odd hair cut and the ubiquitous trousers-that-are-slightly-too-short.
Getting back home, we find out Susie has got into Uni so Adam, Claire and I have a celebratory beer for her.
Friday 19th August 2011
Up early and off on our roadtrip. We head out from a gloomy Christchurch and as we leave the city behind, the sun sneaks out and the snow covered mountains that lead to Arthur’s Pass look great. I’ll probably overuse superlatives in these posts but the country and scenery and stunning and deserving of the praise. Cars become fewer and the temperature drops the closer we get to the mountains and the snow is much deeper.
We stop off at Mt Cheeseman so Adam can try his new snow chains up the snow and ice covered unsealed road to the ski resort. The 12km track is a fantastic drive through snow-laden trees and spectacular views across the valley below. The skifield at the top of the track is very small and basic facilities but the conditions look perfect with deep fresh powder and blue skies and sunshine. We have a quick lunch and take a few pics of the view then continue on our the journey before I get too jealous of the boarders.
After a quick pit stop at Arthur’s Pass village and a photo opp at Death’s Corner with enough time for me to stand in a snow drift right up to middle and the car to be attacked by a persistent Kea, we head for Greymouth on the west coast. As we drive the mercury rises to a warm 13C and the snow vanishes. We stop in the town for supplies and sunglasses for me and we hurry along the stunning coast for Punakaiki and our house Flaxhaven so we can catch the sunset.
We unpack quickly and even though it’s winter the weather is so good we get the bbq going and eat tea in a house bathed in orange light as the sun sets infront of us with nothing in our way except 200m of rainforest and endless miles of the Tasman Sea.
The house has a bonus of a friendly Weka patrolling the grounds and a hot tub from where we watch the billions of stars appear and a special view of the Milky Way. We guess at what the constellations are, failing miserably when Google Sky Map shows us where we went wrong.
A few beers are nursed at night while listening to a New Zealand music channel, trying to guess which Bee Gee is dead and what songs Jimmy Cliff sang.
Saturday 20th August 2011
Clear skies at night in winter make for a freezing cold morning and the house only seems to have a small, fairly ineffective electric heater but it soon warms as the sun rises above the mountain and bathes the house in morning sunshine.
Ethan and I play Frisbee in the gardens and there is lots of bird song to hear from the surrounding bush. We have an early morning stroll around the impressive Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki but the tides aren’t right for the blowholes.
The roadtrip continues up the coast to Tuarangi Bay, a lovely sweeping beach with grey sand and a couple of surfers bobbing about off shore. There’s a seal colony at Cape Foulwind that are mucking about on the rocks below. It’s hard to see seals at first but once you get your eye in they’re everywhere. Plenty of mothers and pups but no sign of the father.
The restaurant we’re hoping to lunch at has moved to town and as there is nothing but a car park and a few lovely looking houses, we head off to Westport and the excellent Townhouse restaurant. Adam and the kids have fish and chips (the fish being turbot), I have calamari and Claire has a good looking eggs benedict. There isn’t much left but a few chips and some salad as the food is so lovely and well worth the trip.
We arrive at our next house at Gentle Annie at about 2.30pm. It is on the banks of the mighty Mokihinui River, which is the largest river in New Zealand not to be dammed… yet. We take a 2km tramp along a coast path and down to the beach, again empty but for us and and a few sea birds. I roll up the jeans and paddle in the Tasman Sea (part of the Pacific) which quickly numbs my feet. Ethan is made of sterner stuff and is playing for ages in the surf, hitching up his trousers which end up getting wetter and wetter the more daring he gets. The beach has excellent drift wood and we spend a while collecting various specimens and trying to knock down sticks with stones.
Tea at the River House is a chili and again we’re blessed with a lovely orange sunset. The fields and trees surrounding the house are full of birdlife, including Pukeko, Tui, kingfisher, fantail, and a sighting of a New Zealand falcon. The highlight is seeing two tiny spur-winged plover chicks in a field with their parents.
The New Zealand birdlife seems to be much less wary of people than in the UK. Maybe it’s because there are lots less people here and much more space or maybe it’s because the people are ultra friendly and birds pick-up on that!
Sunday 21st August, 2011
Another brass monkeys morning in the bach until the sun comes out. I go for a short run on the bush tracks around the house. After following the waterfall track for a while it suddenly peters out and I’m trying to find my way through the trees back to the path. Now, there’ll be some people aware that I’ve previous of getting lost/never going back the way I came, so it’ll be no surprise that when the trees turn to bush I carry on regardless. Before I know it I’m trying to get through near impenetrable bush with massive tree ferns, spiky trees and hidden gulleys and streams. After what seems like ages (but is really only 200m or so) and a few moments of panic (glad this isn’t Australia and its myriad of poisonous beasties) I happen across the path with a few cuts and scrapes for my troubles.
The roadtrip continues albeit briefly via the wrong track, which is a fortuitous wrong turn as we see a wild stag, to the Charming Creek Walkway. It is a tramp along the Ngakawau river to the Mangatini Falls, which are very impressive. Just before the falls is a wobbly swingbridge which is fun/scary to walk across, depending on your disposition. The Walkway is an old coal train line, the trains have long since gone to be replaced by a cable car and gondolas which bring the coal down from the mine straight to the railhead.
We eat our lunch sat in a sunny patch on the now disused railway line. The 7km or so walk goes through forest and clearings, tree-tunnels and actual tunnels, following the river below which has car-sized boulders in it and is very blue. There are some nice looking beaches and spots but they’re inaccessible with two little boys in tow.
On the road to Hanmer we stop for coffee and cake at Reefton at the Future Dough Company Broadway Tearooms and Bakery. The lady is closing up but I pile on the charm and she agrees to stay open as long as ‘you sit in the back so I can lock up the front’. The coffee and banana cake are excellent as is the display of ornamental salt and pepper shakers, which include everything from a pair of pink elephants to giant bunches of celery.
As we leave Reefton in the sun, I take the driving through icy Lewis Pass and back into the mountains, the temperature dropping and the snow returning as we leave the sunny and mild west coast. Again, the state highways are a mix of long straights with twisty turns and the odd hairpin thrown in. The views range from the spectacular to the amazing and we even see a pair of old Ferraris heading the other way.
We arrive in Hanmer just as it is getting dark and cold and our house is quite new and enormous. Adam and I head off for supplies – a trip to the bottle shop then the Fish and Chip shop. While waiting for the fried food we have time for a cheeky beer in the Monteith’s Brewery Bar. I try a very nice, but icy cold Winter Ale. The barmaid keeps saying ‘choice’ – not sure if she’s saying if it’s a good choice or not. The two handsome Gows are quickly chatted up by a local lady but we make our excuses and leave when she tries to guess our accents as being scouse?!
The house is very large and well appointed – it even has Sky Sports so we’re able to catch 30 mins of England hammering India in the 4th Test before another early night.
Monday 22nd August 2011
It’s so cold again in the mornings and the light and airy house is frozen. The water in the taps is so cold that it’s impossible to gargle when brushing your teeth. The car has a fur covering of ice and we pop into Hanmer for a coffee before a visit to the famous hot springs. It’s a lovely way to spend a couple of hours, relaxing in the open air with heated pools and the snow-covered mountains and blue sky above. Adam and I have a go on the waterslides which includes a new plughole ride which is good fun. The kids have a great time with both Noah and Ethan relaxing in the pools, the former practicing his swimming technique while the latter lies on his back and does a good impression of an otter.
Lunch are some excellent pies from the town bakery, eaten in a small park on the main road sat in the 16C sun with chaffinches and sparrows buzzing us for our crumbs.
The journey back is via Culverden so Ethan can claim his winnings from being the victor in the hair growing competition. The ice creams are lovely and we sit and eat them in the sun in a small park just off the highway. We are serenaded by a bird (looked like thrush but difficult to tell as left the binoculars in the car again) sat at the top of the a very tall tree going through his entire repertoire of songs, chimes, whistles and clicks. The town is a popular spot on the journey to and from Christchurch though we have the park to ourselves.
We then journey the hour back to Christchurch past vast winerys and the through suburbs and the end of a great trip.