Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Meandering Southward

By Jen.

When we came to New Zealand, a couple from the US that we had met in Australia gave us some contacts here, one couple on each island. It just so happened that we managed to met up with the South Island couple before the traveling couple left for South America and Antarctica! I love chit-chatting with couples that do similar things as we do so that I can get ideas. I found out how to take my vehicle through China by talking with them, which makes me very excited. I will not lie, I definitely have a bad case of fernweh. I always have a strong desire to be traveling the far reaches that I haven’t been yet. Anyways, the couple was kind enough to take us on a tour of their dairy farm, which was interesting.


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They have 2 methods for milking. First more traditional method involves corralling them into lines in a barn.

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The second, newer method involves putting them in individual stalls in a carousel.

Apparently in NZ since they produce much more milk than is consumed, they actually let the cow rest from milk production during the winter.  Indeed, they produce so much milk that most of it gets dehydrated, turned into powdered milk, and exported.

From there, we took a drive over Danseys Pass. It has been toted as an unsealed, adventurous drive, but it was pretty calm and unassuming. Some good views.

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Every country calls these differently. I grew up with cattle guard. Canada calls them Texas Gates. Australia just calls them a grid.

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Within an hour or two, we were over the pass and on towards Dunedin. We picked up our mail (this time a DOC vehicle pass), and various groceries, and then decided to stay the night. It was the end of January and a super blue blood moon (meaning 2nd full moon, close to earth, and fully eclipsed) was supposed to appear that night, but thanks to former cyclone Fehi, the clouds covered it and we didn’t get to see it.

The rain was pouring the next morning and while emptying our grey water and filling our fresh water tanks, I discovered that my mostly waterproof jacket wasn’t waterproof enough. So, on the way out of town, I had Jonathan stop so I could purchase a rain jacket. I am sure you will see me sporting my new purple jacket in future photos. That rain continued for several days, so I was thankful for it. The rain and cold was making things a bit miserable outside that day, thus we decided to spend it catching up on internet-related things instead. Then, the next day, despite the lighter rain, we started exploring again. First off was Tunnel Beach, which is a steep walk to a cliff, which then turns down into a tunnel to a rich guy’s own private beach. At some point, it was made publicly available so we could all enjoy it.

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It was a bit short for my tall husband. You can still see the pick marks.

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The end of the tunnel opens up on a small and rocky beach, which that day had 2 waterfalls.

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I went to examine this small natural tunnel, but I got too close to that fur seal, who barked at me, informing me to vacate the premises.

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The seal went right back to sleep after that, though.

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The private beach from the arch that sticks in the ocean.

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On the way back up, we spotted a small bird preening its feathers in the wetness.

From there, it was on to Nugget Point Lighthouse.

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There must have been some fish or something caught in this pool as we the seals were going crazy swimming around it.

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Lots of juvenile seals around here.

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As well as nesting spoonbills.

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Someone had fun decorating.

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A colorful bird.

Last stop was Jack’s “Blowhole”. We didn’t see it act as a blow hole, but it was pretty cool to see seawater and waves in a sinkhole 200 meters from the shore.

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A fluffy bird.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Peel Forest and Penguin Spotting


Like most of the east coast, the vast majority of the forests of Canterbury have been cleared for agricultural uses.  There are only a few forests left with old growth behemoths like the totara tree below.  Peel Forest contains the majority of these ancient trees in the Canterbury region.  So we decided to give it a go.

This totara tree is over 1000 years old.  It was well established when the first major Māori migration reached the South Island.
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Its truck is 8.4 meters in circumference, and it towers above us at over 31 meters tall.
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These monsters once dotted the landscape wherever fertile soil was available.  Most were logged for timber, or burned by Māori during hunts, or to clear land for kumara (sweet potato) farming.
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It was quite warm, so we decided to skip a longer walk Peel Forest, and head towards the coast.  With slightly better weather, we hoped to have success spotting yellow-eyed penguins at Oamaru. 

Yellow-eyed penguins nest year round at Bushy Beach, and they can be seen coming ashore a few hours before sunset.  These are the rarest penguins, having only a scattering of small colonies on NZ coasts.  We parked, had some dinner, and did the short walk to the lookout.  People are not allowed on the beach during nesting season. 

At about 7pm we were getting tired after waiting for 45 minutes with the sun in our eyes.  All of the sudden a very fast ripple shoots across the water right next to the beach.  A penguin pops its head out for a look around, zips up and down a few times, and waddles up out of the water.  Their awkwardness on land is more than made up for by their agility underwater.  These little birds are fast, with sustained speeds faster than Michael Phelps's 5-second swim sprint.

They look so small on the empty beach.  They only weigh 5-6kg (less than 15lbs) and stand less than 20 inches tall.
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You can see the yellow crest over each eye.
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The Māori call them Hoiho, which is a close approximation of their call.  When they come ashore they sing a loud high pitched “I’m home!” song with a little dance.  Nesting as pairs, this helps them find each other, and generally lets them cool off after a long swim.  Without the cooling effect of the seawater, they can easily overheat on land.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cave Stream and Castle Hill

By Jen.

On our first pass through Arthur’s Pass, we tried to do Cave Stream, but then shortly realized I would be too wet and cold than was good for me while sick. The whole elaborate loop through both passes was just so that we could do this walk. This time, we were both quite healthy, and the water didn’t look too high, so we thought we make a try for it. We knew the water could get up to waist deep, so we changed into water-appropriate clothing (me into my stinger suit and swim gear), and pulled on shoes we didn’t mind getting wet. For me, that was Jonathan’s old pair of shoes that he wore daily in Australia and retired when we came here. For him, he thought he would see how water-proof his new hiking boots were. Geared up, we started down the hill to the entrance.

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The entrance is the deepest section. And, sure enough, we had to plow right through the water that just kept getting deeper. I was reminded that Jonathan’s and my heights vary quite a bit. While the water only reached his upper waist, it was up to my chest at the deepest part. I was also reminded how different NZ is from AUS. The cave and accompanying stream in AUS was placid and you mostly got walk on dry ground with only occasional low-level water crossings. We were able to do that walk in our flip-flops (called “jandals” here). In NZ, it was a rushing, roaring stream in a rocky cave, walking almost exclusively in the cold water and not on land. We had to do it in secure shoes and watch each step. Definitely a different atmosphere!

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The deepest section. Definitely much deeper for me!

Was it fun? Oh yeah! We acclimated to the cold water pretty quickly. While very dark, it definitely wasn’t quiet. You know how rapids sound? Magnify that in an echoing room. We had to shout and be close to each other to be heard. And, while there were no sharp edges, the walls were definitely not flat. It was like walking through a surrealist painting with whacky walls and shapes.

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I made Jonathan take photographic proof that went through it.

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This time the glowing red dot is my husband’s headlamp, not young crocodiles.

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As we went along Jonathan was able to spot a few fun things as well (my light was way too dim to see much). This is an eel.

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There were a couple sections around some of these dividers that were narrow, with water rushing through with great force. Some we were able to barely get through, another we had to try and rock climb on the walls past it (while not dropping my camera into the churning water).

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Some foam.

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A rock bridge that we had to go over.

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Some water that was falling in from another source than the stream.

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This is the end. See those rungs, we have to climb those to get out. In that dark chamber beyond is a 3m gushing waterfall that you can’t climb up on your own.

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Then, when you get to the top, you have to hold onto the chain on the left and crawl along on all fours to make sure you don’t descend back down that 3m.

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The waterfall and 3m drop.

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Sure doesn’t look so bad from the outside, does it?

After drying off and having some lunch, we ventured down the road shortly to Castle Hill. Here rocks have been weathered down into fanciful shapes that remind some of old buildings, castles, or forts. We took a leisurely walk through them.

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That isn’t actually an arch, just different colored rock. Deceptive, huh?

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Next day was a visit to Mt Thomas, but with the heat and humidity, I didn’t last very long.

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In a town on the way to Mt Thomas.

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Then, the next day, we ran into Christchurch for supplies. Our colander developed a crack that was ever-widening, and I wanted some water shoes. The flip-flops that I had owned since 1st or 2nd year of college (11-13 years ago, a really hardy pair given to me by my mom) finally broke in Australia, back when we put our canoe into a crater lake in the Atherton Tablelands. I tried for a while to find a cheap pair to replace them, but couldn’t find what I wanted. I finally gave up and opted to wear Jonathan’s old flip-flops whenever I needed them (which wasn’t very often). But, Cave Stream had been a reminder that those wouldn’t work when crossing rivers, and I didn’t want wet feet for long hikes. So, we went in search of several items that day in Christchurch, and were mostly successful. And, of course, I had manipulated our schedule so that we would be in Christchurch on an ultimate-frisbee-pickup-game day. So, while Jonathan was being productive writing posts, I learned a new game of frisbee that you can play with only 4 players.

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Only one of the flip-flops broke, but it was time. The water shoes are lightweight, cheap, and my feet won’t slip out of them when walking on awkward, wet surfaces.