Saturday 30 November 2013

Cathedral Cliffs & Christchurch

It was still raining when we left Parnassus two days ago but by the time we got to Cheviot the weather was clearing. We filled up with diesel in Cheviot at this cool garage located around the back of the main street. This is what a good old country garage used to be like; flowerbeds in old tyres, worn wooden floors that would have seen (& heard) thousands of  feet pass over them, the smell of stale oil & grease, old wooden chairs & counter, a few vital items for sale & most importantly personal friendly service.

From Cheviot we took a scenic route detour via Gore Bay, we’d both heard that it was a lovely place & while I’m sure it is during the summer we found it a bit bleak & windswept and the road was very narrow, twisting & quite steep as we pulled out of the bay. 

We stopped near the beach toilets & reserve where this little lonesome rock made us both smile; made us wonder what we were being thanked for.....perhaps using the toilets instead of the bush? A random gesture by someone passing by.

Gore Bay is known for it’s “cathedral” cliffs & at first we thought it must have been the ones that rose from the shingle beach, which while grand didn’t look too spectacular. But when we got to the top of the road out of the bay, there was a non-descript  lookout for the “Cathedral” and wow, what a surprise when I looked over the fence. These could easily be missed if you only had a little amount of information on the area; I was expecting a lookout over the bay we had just left. “The Cathedrals" are eroded siltstone pillars, which are a typical example of what has come to be known as badlands landscape, after the famous American example.

Back on the main road we made good time heading south to Christchurch passing over the long one way bridge spanning the swollen Hurunui River. I thought for a main state highway they would have replaced this one awhile ago. But I know this is just the beginning of many one way bridges in the South Island.

On through Woodend we went , me grabbing this quick shot especially for Dad who was born here many (many) years ago! I wonder how fast the horse & carts were allowed to go......

Began feeling right at home when a coal train passed us just like the hundreds that passed by the bottom of our garden back in Tauranga.

On and around the outskirts of Christchurch for what seemed like forever before arriving at the NZMCA Weedons Park where we have been parked up for the last two nights. This is a large site & there are plenty of vans coming & going, along with quite a few semi-permanent residents who are living in their RVs while their homes are repaired or replaced after the disastrous Christchurch Earthquake three years ago. There’s also a storage area which is of interest to us as we will be able to leave the fifth-wheeler here when we fly back to the North Island sometime next year to catch up with family & friends.
While here we have been doing a few more errands & shopping including doing the laundry at a local Laundromat. I guess this is going to become a familiar scene while we’re on the road. At this stage we have no room for a small washing machine so it’s either do the washing by hand, at a camp ground or a laundromat. I HATE sitting around waiting at the laundromat so I’m going to have to get more organised & have something to do next time!

While driving around Christchurch we have certainly noticed how much activity there is with the re-build of the city. There are road works everywhere; this city will have enough orange cones to supply the rest of the country for the next ten years when they’re finished with them. There are vacant sections everywhere you look with cranes, trucks & building supplies spilling out onto footpaths & roads. Around the edge of the city there are a number of large dump sites where there are mountains of rubble that is slowly being broken down and reused in the rebuild. We were a little sad to see that our favourite restaurant Saggio di vino has gone (bottom right photo), well gone from its old building. It’s now a brand new place next door. All the character of their old place has been lost. We used to visit the restaurant every time we were in Christchurch when we had our factory here.

This afternoon the infamous Canterbury nor’wester  has been buffeting the van and weather reports say that it will increase in strength overnight so we are battening down the hatches, pulling in the side & getting prepared to be rocked to sleep. Not. I guess it can’t be as bad as the two storms we lived through at The Mount. Can it?

Signs the Nor'wester Arch is forming
Tomorrow we will be back on the road, I’m not sure how far we’ll get or where in fact we’ll stay. All part of the fun.

NB- It is in fact today now; I couldn't get access to my blog last night. We survived the night after some pretty big gusts & a lot of rocking although I think the Mount storm was a lot worse.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Kaikoura- Don't look now...

We were parked up in the rain on the Kaikoura waterfront having lunch when I looked up to see this. There‘s even a woman under one of the raindrops sitting in the back seat with a video camera! I doubt it will go viral but I guess we’re going to make it onto someone’s home movies.

After lunch we carried on along the waterfront to Fyffe Point where the Peninsular Walkway leads around to a couple of seal colonies, not that we had intention of doing the walk in the rain but I was hoping there might have been a few seals resting near the carpark.

And there was, and not only on the rocks but lounging about under the flax bushes beside the boardwalk. They reminded me of the big fat sows (& the occasional boar) from the pig farm of my childhood.


At only a metre or so away, they were totally oblivious to any observers, not even opening an eye to check us out. A geese family wandered about in amongst the seals & I was waiting in trepidation for a seal to take a snap at them but no, they slumbered on.

There's also a another seal under the flax bush on right

After the visiting the seals we carried on south along the rocky coastline following the narrow & winding main state highway through a couple of tight tunnels that had us checking the sides as we passed through.

We pulled into the NZMCA Park at Parnassus in North Canterbury with it still raining & where we were greeted by a noisy & friendly peacock no doubt looking for hand outs.

The Association have about 18 parks scattered around the country and as long as you are members you are free to park over at any of the properties for the miniscule fee of $2 per person per night, basically just helping with maintenance, some just request a gold coin donation. And even at this tiny amount some quibble & moan & from experience leave without paying. I can’t understand it, $2 is hardly going to break the bank & look what you get, a safe & secure resting spot for the night in a good location. There are some that aren’t even aware that a payment is required; those are the ones, I bet, that hold up the long lines of traffic. Totally ignorant to the world around them.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Ohau Seals

One more place I wanted to stop on our way south was Ohau Point to see some of the large colony of New Zealand Fur Seal (Maori name- Kekeno) that resides along this rugged coastline north of Kaikoura.

And in particular the Ohau Stream & waterfall which flows into the ocean at this point. Over the winter months there can sometimes be a few hundred seal pups swimming and playing in the pool below the falls or resting on the rocks & boulders that line the stream. These pups were born in the previous spring and have made their way 700mtrs up the rocky stream, no mean feat in itself, to look after themselves while their mothers are away at sea feeding. This protects them from marauding males and because seals are very social animals it also provides them with support & playmates while they’re on their own. They must return to the coast every few days to feed on their mother’s milk.

Sadly for us the last of the pups have weaned and left the stream to join the colony back on the coast. I knew we would be lucky to see them as it is getting on into early summer now but there have in the past been reports of pups in the pool into December. This will be one place we’ll need to come back to during winter.

We enjoyed watching the antics of some of the seals as they lolled in the sun on the warm rocks.
You can see the bite marks across the back of this big guy.


Males can weight up to 200kgs while the females are considerably smaller at 40-50kgs, we could also see some of the newly weaned pups in amongst the herd. At this time of the year the males are vying for position and establishing their harem. 

This particular guy “owned” the rock pool he was in and he charged & chased any males that approached it. He launch himself off the rocks into the swirling white water time & time again chasing after any seal that even looked like it was going to climb up onto the surrounding rocks. He’d be gone a few minutes and cruise back in on incoming wave & throw himself back up and into the pool again laying on his back waving his flipper in triumphant success and do a few victory rolls while he was at it.
That was until this smaller guy cautiously approached & peered over the edge.

I don’t know why he thought he could succeed where others had failed but he slithered over the top and it was game on!

They battled for well over ten  minutes, whacking heads as they tried to grab each other’s jaw, locking teeth sometimes, taking bites across the back & doing death rolls. At one stage the big guy rolled on & held the other one under water for a time. In the end the little guy gingerly heaved himself out and slithered away. The big guy climbed along the edge & seem to be checking that all his girls were still there, & more importantly, had seen the battle. Most snoozed on in indifference.

Just along from one of the seal colony lookouts was a rookery of Spotted Shags(Parekareka)  & their nearly fully grown chicks. The nests were in some impossible positions, especially the ones down on the recesses of the cliff face & I wonder how the chicks manage to hold on and not slip over the side into the ocean below, especially when they were small. I also wonder how they manage when a storm blows in.

After leaving the seals we made our way south and then inland for 6kms alongside a wide braided river valley full of shingle & boulders washed down from the mountain range that rises steeply off the coast in the area.

The river was low & icy blue indicating that it was coming from the snow melt further inland & probably off Mt Alexander which still had snow on its upper reaches. We were heading to the DOC camp at PuhiPuhi Reserve, a small clearing beside a bush reserve at the junction of two rivers, the PuhiPuhi & the Parapara.

We were the first to arrive at this isolated camp site & I wondered how many, if any, would arrive later in the afternoon & evening. In fact by night fall there were four of us settled in for & then another two vehicles arrived sometime in the night.

With rain threatening & the odd shower passing over we went for an explore up the stony river bed which was very hard going on my tender feet, especially when we crossed the ice cold ‘river’ to check out the narrow opening through the rock face. In a flood the water must roar through this point & I’d hate the thought of getting caught in it.

A steady rain started in the night and continued on into this morning. This is the first rain we have had since leaving Tauranga over six weeks ago & it was especially welcome to wash the dust of the ute & fifth-wheeler, even though David had cleaned it back in Blenheim at the Top10 park. It also gave David a chance to test out his water catching methods & fill our tank & drink containers although we had only just topped up the tank a couple of days ago. Our motto; “Never miss an opportunity to fill, pump or dump”  :)

Sunday 24 November 2013

Pink Ponds & the Salt Shaker

We didn’t move too far south after leaving Blenheim, just 45 kms down the road and passing through the fast expanding vineyards of the Awatere Valley on the way. No matter which direction  you looked on the road out of Blenheim it is evident that grapes are providing the Marlborough district with a very profitable income, there are many grand wineries & homes along the way. We will no doubt spend a bit more time in the area checking the wineries, their cellar doors & restaurants out when we are back this way later in the year.

In the end we had three nights at the Blenheim’s Top10 Holiday Park, each morning deciding to stay one more night. We’ve met quite a few people who spend time on the road & sing the virtues of  freedom camping; about the minimal costs associated with it, the excitement of finding the next overnight “spot” etc, and even though our membership with the NZMCA gives us access to hundreds of “park over properties” & “low cost parking” options we fully intend to take regular advantage of the many camping grounds & holiday parks dotted around New Zealand. Aside from the fact that many are in great locations with superb grounds & facilities we want to be able to hook up to the power, access the internet, have a shower without keeping track of our water use, do the laundry, wash the ute & do other chores, or even to just chill for a couple of days. We’ve a long time on the road ahead of us & this will also give us more of a balance in our new lifestyle.

There are a few places along the way, on this journey south to Invercargill, that I have earmarked for a visit. We will be back this way in time but possibly in a different season & some of the phenomenon’s only happen at certain times of the year & the rather alien looking salt flats at Lake Grassmere is one of them. This is where the bulk of NZ’s salt comes from, last summer over 88,000 tonnes of salt was harvested. The seawater is pumped into deep holding pens & then into the shallow crystallisation ponds & allowed to evaporate leaving great expanses of salt behind to be gathered & processed. At the end of the lake are the gorgeous coloured crystallisation ponds, the colour is caused by green algae bloom that changes to pink in the high salt concentration and the colour is usually very intense in spring & early summer.

Initially after stopping on the main highway I could see that I couldn’t get up close to the ponds from the road and while you could see the terraces of pink, I wanted to get right up beside them. So this morning I parked up beside the main rail line and walked down the rail line and over a bridge to the ponds. Being a Sunday there was no one around and I managed to shoot quite a few photos. Quite a few, now that’s an understatement if ever I heard one. Way, way too many to process. I keep saying it, I just need to learn to shoot less otherwise I’m going to be spending an awful lot of time indoors! But the setting was fantastic and the ponds really quite fascinating and one click lead to another and another and……….you get the picture. Well actually you get a few! You don't think I'm going to go to all that effort & let you get away with just a couple do you? :)

Beside Lake Grassmere and overlooking Clifford Bay are Marfells Beach & the DOC campground which is where we are now staying. There’s something about the seaside that gets your senses singing & it’s been a few months now since we’ve heard the waves crashing just below our bedroom window & smelt the sea in the air (I don’t count Mt Maunganui in this as we were set back off the beach a little & the waves you could only hear during the storm(s) or in the small hours after the city noise had died down). This place reminds us of Port Jackson, way up there at the top of the Coromandel. Beautiful curved crescent of white sand & blue water & nobody about (well nearly).

At the approach of low tide a steady convoy of wet-suited people on noisy quad bikes made their way past our campsite along the beach and under the white limestone bluffs of Clifford Bay & around the point and further on. We walked to the point, aptly named Mussel Point as it turns out, & that was as far as my feet would take me which was just as well as we would have missed this spectacular view of the Cape Campbell Lighthouse. 


The bikes and their occupants disappeared into the haze heading for the reef just off the cape where by the look of their bins and bags on their return they got enough paua (NZ abalone) & crayfish(lobster) to feed themselves & an army. David failed to work his charm this time, the people he did speak too were quite secretive & wary of giving too much information away. I would think that poaching is very much alive & well in all parts of NZ.

The foreign couple in a van staying next door to us walked to the lighthouse and were rewarded with two large paua by one of the divers. They weren’t too sure what to do with them so I gave them some tips & when I next looked out they were beating the hell out of the poor things. Later one of them said to me, we didn’t know when to stop, the centre is still tough! They sliced it thinly & stir-fried it quickly in butter & were quite impressed that it didn’t taste like leather.

At the point we were also rewarded. As the tide dropped away the exposed rocks revealed a bounty of huge green lip mussels which David gathered and we had for dinner cooked using my “world famous in NZ” recipe. We passed some onto the couple to have with their paua; I think they were more impressed with the broth that came with them (garlic, ginger, sweet chilli, lemon zest, spring onions & wine) which they added the paua too as well.

                                                                                                              "Just don't collect any mussels on the left there David"
David found this swarm of flies that were settled in a shady recess in the rock, the weren't your usual flies as you can see from the close up. We wondered what they are doing and why they're doing it there, when we disturbed them they stirred and flew in a big mass only to resettle when we moved back. I need to Google or ask my bug man photographer friend or perhaps some one out there can solve the mystery.... ETA- mystery solved by my Dad, they are Brine Flies, they live most of their life under water hatching out when the water warms in early summer but only lasting a few days as flies, just long enough to mate & lay eggs on the water surface. I guess the saltiness of lake Grassmere is an ideal habitat for them.

There are some beautiful rock formations at the base of the limestone cliffs on the way around the bay.

The tracks are from the quad bikes

We could also see some of the scars from the recent earthquake. On August 16th this year (it’s now Nov 24th) a magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck the region with the epicentre being directly under Lake Grassmere, several severe aftershocks struck during the next few hours. There was major damage in and around Seddon and out here at Marfells Beach where some of the limestone cliffs collapsed. The campground was closed as the only road into it was blocked by slips and cracks opening in the road. The quake was also one of the strongest to hit Wellington city, directly across Cook Strait from here, in recent time & shut the city down for a couple of days. 

The road in the middle was tarseal before the quake & is the last tight bend before reaching the beach & the campground.

And to celebrate this, my 100th blog post I'm going to leave you with some fluffy ducklings that were in the stream beside the Top10 campground back in Blenheim.