Friday, 4 January 2013

New Year, floods and ancient New Zealand history (if you believe it)!

We’re now at the end of our third day into the New Year, although we’d hardly know it as in New Zealand it appears to be a non-event! There was an event with fireworks in Hagley Park, Christchurch attended by about 5000 people that we thought about going to, but the lure of a bottle of wine was too much, so we stayed at home ate paella and watched TV. There were no New Year celebrations on any of the channels we could watch, so we watched ’the best of Graham Norton’, which had a commercial break around midnight and no mention of New Year. We gave up about 12:15 and went to bed! Very strange to think we were in 2013, but the UK wouldn’t be until 1:00pm the following day – and the last countries (Alaska or Hawaii perhaps?), not celebrating until it was about 11:00pm on New Years day for us.

New Years day was warm and sunny and we were chilling out in the garden reading, when Jackie pointed out Pete, our next door neighbour and of fairly advanced years, up on the roof of his workshop doing some repairs. 
Yummi plumb crumble! Thanks Pete!
Jackie suggested I go and see if he wanted a hand, so I spent a very pleasant hour with him on his roof. It felt a bit nostalgic to me, as he reminds me a bit of my dad. Pete’s a woodworker (as was my dad) and his workshop is stuffed full of machines that I can remember at my dad’s works, the smell of wood, the jumble of bits of wood, tools, screws, glue and the whole atmosphere took me right back to those days. We got the job done and, as a reward, he offered me some plums off his tree, so I came back with bags of them and cooked a plum crumble, which we ate with home-made custard for our tea!

Jackie chilling out on the patio, reading
We’ve had some very strange weather here since 30th December, a big low pressure has been bringing lots of rain to the western side of the Southern Alps, but warm, often sunny, but very windy weather to us in the Canterbury Plains. It was forecast on the day we went to the Rakaia Gorge and had our jet boat ride and walk back; the jet boat owner told us he wouldn’t be there for about a week now as rain was forecast in the west which would bring lots of flood water down this river. He was right (see below)! On the way back we saw the Nor’west cloud arch, which signals North Westerly warm winds, usually bringing rain to the west. In fact it lasted until today, we had occasional rain, often sunshine, high winds but always warm, but on the west they’ve had torrential rain. Apparently they’ve had something like 400mm rain per day that flooded the Milford Track, one of the worlds ‘Great Walks’ and one people have to book up at least 6 months in advance. 
Alpacas - very silly looking sheep!
We heard the path was 1.5m deep in floodwater, with trampers being told to stay put in the huts and await helicopter rescue as soon as conditions improved. It also washed away a bridge on the western road north of the Franz Joseph Glacier, completely cutting off that side of the country and making that road a 300km cul-de-sac. Additionally a landslip in Arthurs Pass also cut off that road. It meant that anyone on that side of the country had a massive detour to make. Not very pleasant, but we haven’t heard of any injuries.

Rains on the mountain tops flood rivers on our side, even though it’s been relatively dry. We heard that the Rakaia gorge bridge was in danger due to high flood waters and people at Rakaia Huts, where the river enters the Pacific and has the ‘gentle lagoon and pebble beach’ Jackie described, were advised to consider evacuating due to high water. We were going to have a look yesterday but decided against it as it was very windy and started to rain, so we left it until today, going over the ‘longest bridge’ over the Rakaia river, into Ashburton (quite a busy metropolis), back through Methven and onto the Rakaia Gorge bridge. The river was amazingly full of a raging torrent of very muddy water. Below are two pictures taken on our two visits to the gorge, but they don’t really convey the atmosphere. The first has a fast flowing, but relatively benign clear blue river, the second shows a much fuller, angrily flowing muddy river with lots of swirling currents, not one you would want to fall into!
Before - clear blue water

After -  muddy, angry water

Next we went back to Rakaia Huts and the nice blue lagoon we saw a few days before. There were two reasons for this, one is to see how flooded it was (yes, the lagoon was a lot fuller of muddy water, but no flooding in the village or campsite), but the other was to do a bit of investigation work on the ancient history of New Zealand!

Our ‘investigation’ work was instigated by a book I’ve just read, ‘1434, the year a magnificent Chinese fleet sailed to Italy and ignited the renaissance’ by Gavin Menzies. I’d picked it up in a second hand bookshop in Hornby and was interested as I’d previously read his first book ‘1421, the year China discovered America’. In his first book he presents evidence (which is quite believable), that the Chinese had a huge armada of up to 1000 large ships (up to 50m wide and 150m long), sailed and mapped the world long before any European and that they produced maps (or charts) that were given to Europeans (to allow them to pay homage to China), that allowed subsequent European ‘discoveries’. He claims that Columbus, Vespuchi, Magellan and Cook all sailed with Chinese maps, so knew exactly where they were going. In his second book he claims a Chinese delegation, led by Zeng He, visited Venice in 1434 and gave maps, knowledge on civil and military engineering, machines and star charts for sea navigation. He claims our great European geniuses and inventors, such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Regiomontanus were merely very good illustrators of Chinese inventions! Bold stuff!

The evidence he submits is quite believable, but he makes such massive leaps of faith that it’s easy to discredit parts, which throws doubt on the whole thing. 
The raised 'fortified' bank (lagoon and Pacific in the distance)
I’ll leave you to read the books if you’re interested in this sort of thing, but our interest in New Zealand concerns research conducted by a Cedric Bell in 2003 that he used in his ‘1434’ book. Menzies claims the eventual cause of China retreating from world domination is the almost total destruction of their fleet following the impact of a comet in the sea off the SE coat of New Zealand that caused a massive tsunami right across the Pacific rim, with a wave about 220m high around New Zealand. The wave, he says, caused the destruction of over 90% of their ships, a situation they never recovered from. 
I don't think Jackie was taking this very seriously!

Apparently evidence of a 20m diameter crater has been found on the sea bed that dates to this time (1440) and Bell claims the Chinese had been settled in New Zealand for many centuries by then (up to 2000 years ago). He produces evidence that they had a city where Christchurch now is, major harbours on the Banks Peninsular at Akaroa and another large settlement at Rakaia Huts! He also claims the boulders on the beach at Moeraki are actually ballast from a Chinese treasure ship and he says, on the beach at Moeraki are the remains of about nine 50m x 150m ships that were smashed into the cliffs by the force of the tsunami. I’ve seen these boulders on a previous visit to NZ 12 years ago and we intend to visit again with Pauline, Jackie’s mum, in February, so I will be keen to look for evidence. Watch this space, I’ll report then!

You can read Cedric Bell’s report on Rakaia Huts (and Moeraki) by following this link:
and we went to try to see his evidence. The large settlement was apparently situated where a campsite and some housing now stands and you can see on the website a sketch of how he thinks it looked. We wanted to look for the fortified bank, the flat area of the old town, the harbour they built and the 12m wide canal he claims linked the lagoon to Lake Ellesmere. 
The man-made 'harbour capable of taking ocean-going ships?
He claims to have located evidence of wall foundations underground in the campsite using instruments, so of course we couldn’t check these. We could see what he claims is the fortified bank and the flat area in the campsite and could see what he claims was the harbour and canal, but it seems there could be many other explanations for what we saw. 

The flat area and ‘fortified bank’ could, for example, have been formed by a retreating glacier from the last ice age and the ‘harbour’ and ‘canal’ look to us like natural features on a shingle beach. Why, for example, build a canal parallel to the sea when the lagoon and Ellesmere Lake are both open to the sea? Why not use the sea? 
The 12m wide canal? Note the Pacific further to the left
Why build fortifications when the land was uninhabited at the time (pre-maori)? Read the books and look at the evidence and make up your own mind, but at the moment I’m open minded. I’ve no doubt there is something in what he says, but whether it’s quite as he believes is anyone’s guess. 

Another view of the 'fortified' bank and the flat area (now the campsite)

I can remember in the 1970’s a guy called Erich Von Daniken writing a book called ‘Chariots of the Gods’, where he claimed aliens visited the earth long ago. He referred to these old maps, shown in Menzies books, claiming they could only have been drawn from space. Menzies says the distortion is due to the difficulty in determining longitude in those days and, if he corrects for it they are almost perfect! Others disagree. It will be impossible to ever prove, but it’s very interesting!

I’m looking forward to further ‘investigation’!


  1. Did the alpacas taste as good as the lambs on Lundy ??

  2. Haven't sampled an alpaca, we are having enough problem getting venison to sample, and there are hundreds of deer about!