Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Only Way is Up (Baby)

Before starting today’s blog, I’ve got a little quiz. Look at the photo below of Jackie, her shadow is directly to the right of her, we’re in New Zealand and its noon. In which direction is she facing? If we repeated the experiment in England, with her shadow directly to her right and at noon, which direction would she be facing then? Answer at the end of this blog.
So, I nipped to the loo while B tried to log in, got distracted and thought I’d go and look at the menu for the ‘plan B’ café across the road, finally got back to him as he was about to throw the computer in the sea and I’d been led across the beer taps for a tasting in the bar! He got no sympathy for lack of internet, and I breathed beer over him! I then decided to buy some WiFi Hotspot time, which amazingly cost $5 for 100Gbyte, but had to be used within 24 hours! We did our level best, uploaded all the photo’s, skyped my mum, B’s sister, friends Helen and Ian, and the ‘Monday club’ boys Mark and Bill. Still only managed to use just over 2Gb, but well worth remembering! I finally got bored, it had stopped spitting so we trekked ooh, 5 mins to the crags we’d come to climb on! Natural limestone, bolted, 30 seconds from the road, but in some vegetation, so at least the belayer was in the shade, and the cars couldn’t see starting points. Sadly bumped into a pre-uni group, who were slightly loud (and slightly hopeless) so did a couple of routes by them and moved on. The three ladies climbing at our second crag were much better, one obviously did some guiding, so sent us off to finish on a very exposed, long 5c, it was fab! 
Preparing to climb!

At the top, preparing to abseil down
Brian at the top, you can just see Jackie's helmet at the bottom!
Jackie abseiling off one route

Yesterday went to Farewell Spit (B: Named by Cook as he sailed past on leaving New Zealand on his voyage of discovery to Australia) in the am, as far N in the S Island as you can go, you can’t walk on the spit, only get a bus ‘eco tour’ (slightly strange I think you’ll agree). B: The spit is a long tongue of shifting sand, about 4km long and 2-300m wide, similar to the smaller Humber spit near Hull in the UK. We didn’t bother as even the ‘bird nerd’ lady Cath we’d spent a happy bottle of wine with the previous evening said not to bother, so we walked across to the N to fossil beach, saw no fossils, but 8 big male seals just lounging on the beach! We tried to keep land side of them as certainly one got upset when we cut off his access to the sea, he coughed a bit at us as we were probably within 3m of him, but that was all!  The scariest thing was the oyster catcher who dive bombed us, obviously had a nest close by, but we ended up in the lowest crouch we could manage! B was sad he didn’t get a photo, I was glad we didn’t get pecked! We were then joined by another couple, Sue and Pete, which seemed to coy the bird so we continued on our walk. They were a lovely couple, from the UK 40 years ago who it turns out live very close to where we are house/cat sitting over Christmas, we’ll have to see if they ring us to meet up, lovely if they did! We were walking away from the seals just as the bus tanked along the beach to ‘eco’ see them! I’d have been so hacked off if we’d arrived the other way round!

The 'eco' bus tour!

Farewell Spit extending out to the right

 Got back to Pohara in time to do one final climb, just as the sun was off the cliff, 26m, very exposed, well bolted fab climbing! Great tea – fish and salad, so I’d had white wine (sadly the cheap bottle of S African Sauvignon blanc – not making that mistake again!) while B had a post climbing beer! He decided a trip to the bar was called for, my tasting not having been in vain, I’d introduced him to ‘sassy red’. Off we went, so I asked for a sauvignon blanc, and before I knew it I was having a wine tasting! What can I say? Rude to refuse (also rude to not finish all the wine in each glass I thought!) Ended up with a glass of the Ned, which I hadn’t the heart to tell her I actually knew (thanks Iain M, Fiona and John) and I have looked at in the supermarket, but it’s been blooming expensive - $30 a  bottle. It wasn’t the most expensive, but the other three all tasted very similar, so already half cut by then, I had a lovely time!

Awoke this morning early, as it was sunny, so off we went to Paynes Ford (the other best climbing in the S Island, depending on who you talk to) I have to say that although still being limestone and having some wonderful pockets, it also had a decided gritstone feel to it – lots of slopey edges. We did a good 5 hours climbing, so gave it a fair go, but Pohara definitely gets our vote! Headed off fairly swiftish now towards Christchurch, we’ve found a free campsite. We were the second here, there are now 7 groups, but no one has cooked moules marinieres like we did! 
Preparing the moules marinieres

The moules may have been fab, but we had to rush into the van half way through as the sandflies became unbearable (I’ll rant about sandflies at some other point). OK I thought, all over now, until I went to the loo, it was a long drop (but no smell) but with the dusk came the mosquitos, OMG ever feared for your bottom being bitten while on the loo?
The public loo - hold your breath, wait for it.....

Every black dot is a mosquito!
 The only negative thing I have to say about Pohara and I could quite happily have spent a fortnight there was the dead little blue penguin we assume had been crossing the road to feed a chick, consequently I did ‘penguin watch’ 2 of the 3 nights we were there (last night he poured me into the TV room to watch a film) but didn’t see any!
This is Brian: The following day (Friday) dawned a bit cloudy, but before setting off I wanted to explore the area a bit. The free DOC (Department of Conservation) campsite we had found was at a place called Kawatiri Junction, which is at the junction of the SH6, Nelson to Greymouth road (about halfway between the two) and the SH63 road to Picton, but from an historical point of view, it is on the site of an old railway line and, in particular, at the railway station. The picture below shows the main road junction and the old station platform and it was planned, in 1886, to be a station on a railway line to run from Nelson to Greymouth but, dogged by building delays this section was completed only in 1926 and was the end of the line for scheduled services.
A further section to a place called Gowan Bridge was completed in 1929, but this was only used for supply trains and, after this the whole project was abandoned due to cost and the onset of cars and roads. The railway never made a profit and the section to Kawatiri was closed in 1931, the whole line closed in 1955. We walked a short distance to an old tunnel (the Pikomanu tunnel) and a couple of old bridges, now preserved as a walking trail, the return being over the hill through a forest. It was obviously built at a huge cost and then to be abandoned as too costly seems crazy. The end of the line, Kawatiri is a place absolutely in the middle of nowhere, so it could have benefitted very few!
The Pikomanu Tunnel
A little later in the day we went to a place called Murchison, which was to be the next location on the railway network. We had a pleasant walk over a swingbridge, round some old gold mining works, next to the Buller River and over an old earthquake faultline, which looked quite dramatic. It turns out that, in 1929 a huge earthquake occurred that raised the ground 4.5m on one side of the line causing devastating mudslides and rock falls, but miraculously only 17 people died, mainly due to the sparse population then (and now). Since 1929 was the time they decided not to continue with the railway line extension through Murchison, could the earthquake be a contributing factor in their decision?
Jackie negotiating the swing bridge at Murchison

The waterfall that apparently shows the 4.5m land shift in the 1929 earthquake
We also visited one of the ‘Nelson Lakes’, Lake Rotoiti. Very picturesque, it is a lake formed through a retreating glacier in the last ice age, but it also turns out to be on a major faultline at the junction of two major tectonic plates, the Indo-Australian and the Pacific plates. It is the sliding of these two plates that has thrown up the Southern Alps and we saw an aerial picture of the Alps from space that shows this line very clearly right down through New Zealand’s South Island. We probably stood at some point on both plates, but unfortunately there was no evidence!
Lake Rotoiti
Of more notice were the NZ Bellbirds and Tui who have the most amazing calls that make you realise you really are somewhere completely different. I didn’t manage to get any photos as they were too far away and fast moving, but I did get a very interesting photo of a red beech tree. What’s so interesting about that? Well…. It turns out that a special insect burrows into the bark of the red beech and lives off its sap. It has a very long anal gland that hangs out of the trunk (unpleasant thought I know) and it excretes a fluid called honeydew, which is very sweet. Native birds and insects live off this honeydew as does a black fungus that grows on the outside of the tree. The black fungus allows other insects to nest, that further enhances the local foodchain. The honeydew is very good for us as well and we sampled a few drops on our walk. Here’s a closeup photo that I hope shows the glands with some honeydew drops.
Anyway, after covering quite a few more kilometres we are now in Greymouth on the West Coast. We’ve got one more day in Arthurs Pass tomorrow and then on to Christchurch to exchange the van for a car and then head off to John Carver’s house for our Christmas and New Year house sitting assignment near Lincoln, about 20 minutes drive from Christchurch. Still no mobile phone reception, so can’t post this yet! Guess we’ll be in Christchurch before we can do that!

What we hadn’t realised was how much of a good plan housesitting was, we’ve been warned by numerous people and camperpark staff how crowded it will be, and we smugly reply, we are ok. We’ll be in a house…..
And the answer to the quiz? In the Southern Hemisphere, where New Zealand is, shadows at noon always point South, so Jackie is looking East. In the Northern Hemisphere, where England is, shadows at noon always point North, so Jackie would be looking West! What seems very strange is that, when looking towards the sun, it moves through the sky from right to left here, whereas in the Northern Hemisphere, when looking at the sun it moves through the sky from left to right. How weird is that!

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