Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Cloud Has Lifted

Finally, after 40 days and 40 nights we woke to a brilliant blue sky. I knew it was going to be so when I opened the door around 4am this morning and the air was so crisp and clear, it felt like I could reach up and grab the twinkling stars that were spread out across the sky above us.

I spoke too soon in the last post re ‘wallowing in mega gigabytes’, the internet went down yesterday afternoon and we were unable to re-connect before we left. Talk about frustrated! And we’d only just bought another $5/10gb worth. But we're back on the road and have mobile internet tonight.

I know I’m jumping the queue again, but I wanted to show you where we’re parked up for the night- at the DOC camp at Arthurs Pass village. I don’t know how much sleep we’re going to get, what with the main highway on one side and the rail line on the other, I’m sure it’s going to be an interesting (interrupted) night. But still, we wanted to overnight in the village so we can do some of the walks tomorrow, and we used to have a rail line at the bottom of our garden, so it should bring back a few memories. In fact it already has, the last two trains past have been coal trains exactly the same as travelled past our garden on their way back and forward to Tauranga Port.

That’s the historic Arthurs Pass rail turntable just behind us and out of picture, to the left, is the beginning of the 8.5km rail tunnel through the Main Divide.

It was too difficult to stop at most of the carparks with ‘Out There’ on the back but we did manage to fit into the Death’s Corner lookout carpark high above the Otira Viaduct.

Where we were greeted by, not a pesky weka, but a pesky kea, who promptly set about removing the tow ball cover!

We stopped at Arthurs Pass Village for lunch, we hadn’t quite decided where we were going to stay at that stage, but as it’s turned out, is was just across the bridge in front of us & only a few metres down the road. Just as we were about to leave the ute to walk to the cafe a guy approached David and introduced himself- I was in the van and didn’t see him arrive.

It was a wonderful surprise to meet a fellow photographer who follows me on Flickr. Francis also takes great photos of the South Island and he regularly favs and comments on my photos. We both post our historic photos to the same groups so it felt like I was meeting an old friend. Francis told us he saw the rig (he was in the village doing some work) and recognised it but was still a little unsure if it was going to be me until he saw me cross the road to take a photo of the Arthurs Pass Chapel- that sealed it. He knew it was FlyingKiwiGirl, my screen name on Flickr.

It was a great pleasure to meet you Francis, may our paths cross again. And thanks for all the tips on what to see and where to go locally.

I’ll post more on Arthurs Pass later, in the right timeline.

'Red sky at night'......... fingers crossed

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

West Coast Sunset

A good West Coast sunset is a sight to behold.

The West Coast is famous for it’s stunning, fiery sunsets and one of the best places to watch the brilliant golden globe sink into the Tasman Sea is on the beach at Hokitika. They even have a special place for visitors to gather and watch; Sunset Point is on the beach beside the Hokitika River mouth. There’s a lookout platform which you can climb to get a better vantage point. I could see across the river to Sunset Point from the van and every night as sunset approached, dozens of cars and motorhomes arrived and the platform filled with people jockeying for a good view.

I didn’t need to mix it with the plebs though, I had my own light show out our backdoor (the only door) parked at the NZMCA Park on the south bank of the river.

The best sunsets are when there is cloud in the sky, the beautiful colours are reflected off them.

The extraordinary sunsets though, are when there’s a thin layer of cloud across the sky similar to the cloud in this photo I took as I crossed the bridge into town.

Unfortunately on that day, having walked into town and back again I decided not to return to catch the sunset behind the ‘Hokitika’ driftwood sign- bad move Shellie, it was the best sunset we had seen since being on the Coast. Instead I stood on the deck of the NZMCA clubroom and shot it from there. David had driven into town to pick up supplies and raced home to tell me what an awesome sight it was as he crossed the bridge, the colours were reflected off the river as well as the cloud. Another opportunity missed.

It seemed that by the time I decided I must get into town to get the sunset & the sign before we left Hokitika, I’d missed out altogether, the sunsets were nowhere near as beautiful as the ones I’d seen from the Park.

Photography rules suggest that you should have something of interest in your sunset shot, something that acts as a silhouette against the sunset. I say bugger the rules, I only had a few distant trees on the beach front to play with.

The real show starts once the sun disappears below the horizon, this is when the fiery golds and reds come out to play.

And finally, a last one taken as I prepared dinner, looking out the kitchen window through the hedge behind the van. What a view and what stunning colours!

Well, as you’ve probably gathered we’ve still got internet access. We're wallowing in gigabytes.

We’re holed up at Jacksons (how many know where that is?) where we’ve had torrential rain for over 24hrs- in fact we've now had rain for 4 days solid. We're parked up at Jacksons Retreat, a holiday park where we have power, laundry, a luxury amenity block and the internet, all in beautiful surroundings. IKS (Internet Kiosk Specialist) supply wifi internet at the park and for $5 I have 10gb to use within 24hrs, which might not sound like much to you out there who have a landline and mega gigabytes but for me who pays $49 for 3gb it like winning the jackpot. The trouble is I still have to sleep at some stage too!

We’re waiting for a clear day before we cross Arthurs Pass (it sounds like we're about to make an ascent on a mountain) but I'd like to at least see some of the scenery on the way. And especially now that I've spotted snow on the mountains nearby- which wasn't there yesterday. The temperature is dropping fast. And it's still raining off and on.....mainly on.

Monday, 27 April 2015

A Cool Little Town- Hokitika

I stole the slogan for Hokitika because, well, it is a cool little town! We both have taken a liking to Hokitika, it a lovely place with plenty to see and do in town and the surrounding area.

Our next stop after Lake Kaniere was at the Shining Star Beachfront Accommodation at the northern end of Hokitika, this was so I could do a whole heap of laundry (there was no way I was going back to THAT laundromat) and dry things out after all the rain we had had at the lake. Shining Star is a combined campground with cabins and motel units set in spacious grounds with a small animal park and access to the beach. The sites were rather small but we managed to squeeze into one at the end of a row. It was a busy place, not only were all cabins & motels full every night, most of the powered sites were taken too- a lot of hire vans just in for the night.

Right outside our door was a flowering bottlebrush which a Bellbird/Korimako visited frequently- he was a little hesitant at feeding on the van side of the bush but I managed to grab a couple of good shots of him before he departed. I'm sure he is in his 'happy place' in the first shot.

Across the main road from the campground, up a short gravel track and tucked into a damp dark cliff face is the Glow-worm Dell, a free and popular attraction that has been there for many years. During the day it’s a dark alcove with a beaten up fence, moss and creeper covered walls & a small waterfall. But come night fall, the surrounding walls came alive with thousands of tiny lights from the glow-worms; it looked like a sparkly Milky-Way (yes, really. Look hard). I failed in my attempt to shoot the glow-worm lights, just a few faint sparkles.

Unfortunately I left it too late, it was far too dark and there were too many people arriving to try for a longer exposure. In such a small place I was worried my tripod was going to get bumped and people were waving their torches all over the show which turned the glow-worm lights off. I thought I might try again the next evening but guess what? It rained! And the next night too. So I’ll have to wait until the next ‘Dell’ we come across to try again.

We stayed at Shining Star until the rain stopped and then re-located to the south end of town, to the NZMCA Hokitika South Bank Park which is located funnily enough on the south bank of the very wide Hokitika River. Out in the countryside but still very handy to town. This was also a new record for moving sites, just 2kms down the road!

It’s just a long walk across the bridge and you’re in town. That’s the Park on the right at the end of the bridge. The ‘kiwi’ was located in a shingle pile beside the gate- someone with a sense of humour and a little vision- I thought it was a shoe cleaning brush from a distance! The old cow shed is in the paddock behind the Park and makes a lovely silhouette as the sun sets.

I had some family business to do in Hokitika; my father’s maternal aunty and her husband lived in Hokitika all their adult lives (before they passed on) and I wanted to visit Dad’s first cousin who still lives nearby in Ruatapu. I remember from my childhood Dad telling us about his auntie's house at the end of the Hokitika road-rail bridge and watching a 1960's home movie of cars waiting for a train to pass through. The old Hokitika Bridge was replaced in 1991 by this bridge- it followed the same course- and after talking to Roger (Dad’s cousin), the NZMCA Park is just up the road from where the house was located- the house was destroyed in a fire a number of years ago.

Roger told us of a trick he and his mate used to play at night. They would cycle into town over the bridge- I think he said it was nearly a mile long- they would cycle beside each other with their lights on and the people in the cars at the other end, who had to give way on the one way bridge, would think it was a car crossing and they’d wonder why it was taking so long until the boys got within sight when a lot of cursing and fist waving went on.

It certainly is a long bridge, with expansive views of the river down to the mouth and across to Sunset Point. I walked into town to take some photos of the beach and historic buildings.

The iconic HOKITIKA driftwood sign appears at the end of the walkway, from the main street to the beach. It appears on all the promotional material for Hokitika and usually with the brilliant colours of a stunning sunset behind it. I’ll have to see if I can replicate it later in the week.

On the beach in front of the sign are the remnants of the annual driftwood sculpture competition which was held about 6 weeks ago. Only the sturdier works-of-art have survived the battering of a west coast beach. A memorial concrete ‘comfy’ chair sits nearby- visiting tourists use it as a prop as they take photos of the sign and beach.

The ‘Before I Die’ bucket list is a worldwide art initiative that encourages people to contribute the things they want to achieve before they depart this world. I like the wag who contributed the second to last entry on the board- Before I die I want a rain poncho-  they were obviously here the same time as us! One of the other entries said they wanted to buy waterproof shoes.

I did come back for sunset but missed the best night of all when the sky was a blaze of fiery reds and golds- I’ll save them for another post. And I even missed the boat on this shot, arriving seconds after the golden ball disappeared below the horizon. The trick is to catch it in the centre of the 'o'.

The Whitebaiter’s Walk is located on a grass reserve at the entrance to the town, it's a visual history of whitebait.

There are 26 large boards with whitebait facts, figures, sayings and photos of the tiny little delicacy known as ‘white gold’.

I expected there to be a big whitebait mounted on a stone pile; a bit like the big salmon or big carrot in other towns. After all, Hokitika is the home of the whitebait but then again it’s the home of jade (greenstone or ponamu), home of the Wildfood Festival & home of the Driftwood Sculpture so it would probably get a little crowded with all those vying for attention at the entrance to the town. The best way to celebrate whitebait is to walk across the road from the Walk and buy yourself a whitebait fritter from the fish ‘n chip shop.

The right hand photo on the second row shows registered whitebait stands on Mokihinui River, not necessarily current). That's a very short stretch of river, the road on the right bank is the one we traveled down when we stayed at the Gentle Annie campground on our way to the top of the West Coast. This was just one of the rivers shown on the board, others were just as crowded.

I've posted this board separate so you can read the impressive size of the catch back in 1944. It's a wonder there are any whitebait left (click to enlarge).

Hokitika’s Memorial Clock Tower takes centre stage in the town. The clock tower also serves as the South African War Memorial and was unveiled in 1903. Hokitika celebrated its 150th birthday back in December.

Some of Hokitika’s historic buildings- three former banks and a movie theatre.

From left to right- the art deco Regent Theatre, former Government & Courthouse Building with a statue of Sir Richard Seddon (NZ Prime Minister 1893-1906), former Custom House on the banks of the Hokitika River, the museum is housed in the historic Carnegie Library Building, opened in 1908 and funded by US steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. And the precious little Revell Street Cottage.

Another wit in town- this was across the road from the All Saints Anglican Church I was photographing.

And once again I say, this will likely be the last post for a few days. We're moving on into Arthurs Pass later today.....if the rain stops! 

Friday, 24 April 2015

Kaniere Canaries

In this, the last post from Lake Kaniere, I wanted to share with you a few of the lovely bird shots I took. Our birds might not sing like canaries but they all have their own special tunes.

Of course my favourite little bird is first. This tiny adorable male South Island Tomtit (Maori name Miromiro) was full of spunk, he wasn’t afraid to let you know you were intruding in his patch. Just because he’d chosen part of the DOC campground as his territory didn’t mean he was going to vacate it when it became overrun with campers, dogs, cars, boats & caravans. He just had more things to hang from or use as vantage points in his hunt for bugs and intruders. Often I saw him sitting on the very top point of a gazebo or tent, on boat rod holders, camp tables and even the satellite dish on a bus.

I’d hear his sweet little song as he rested in the bush near our van and then his high pitched alarm call rang out when I stepped outside- this was good because I could then get a fix on him and follow him from spot to spot as he flew the circuit of his territory. He caught a number of caterpillars in this tree, bashing them on a branch to soften them up before swallowing them whole.

He kept up the attack on his reflection in any car mirror or shiny window as he had done on the day we arrived. Every day he would spend five minutes or so flapping at the reflection before giving up and moving on. Until his next circuit.

It must be a thing with Tomtits because you might remember we first saw it happen when a female Tomtit attacked the ute mirror when we were driving up the Arrow River to Macetown.

After all the rain we had, you would have thought that a tiny little bird would have had enough of water. Not this little guy, he had a ball (bath) in this muddy puddle for at least 5 minutes.

And here is his mate- well actually it’s not, but it is a female South Island Tomtit, they are much less confiding than their male counterparts. This one was very cautious and even though she came in close she made sure she always had a branch between me and her.

The camp was full of Bellbirds/Korimako feeding on the berries of the many sub-alpine trees that grew around camp. Usually the bellbird has a very melodious song but going by the weird squawking we quite often heard, the juveniles have a lot of trouble learning to sing in tune. They do practice alot though which helps me locate them in the thick branches. This juvenile wasn’t too worried about me standing underneath him, I think he was glad of the audience. In between trying to perfect his singing ability he was filling his belly with mingimingi berries.

There were also a number of large Mahoe (aka Whiteywood) bushes, they were usually full of noise as the Bellbirds, Tuis, Silvereyes, along with a few introduced bird such as Blackbirds had a feast feeding on the plentiful supply of small purple berries.

There were about ten weka around camp- although two died while we were there- we’re not too sure how, they could have been ill or it could have been one of the 15 or so dogs that were in camp over Easter. Once again the sign said ‘no dogs allowed’ and once again nobody took a blind bit of notice.

I know a lot of people think weka are pesky buggers (and they are) but I’m quite fond of them; they have a heap of character to go with their inquisitive nature. A solid beak (that they often poke where it’s not wanted) and strong legs (to carry them off faster than the shoe that whistles past their head).

One day after Easter and after the camp ground had cleared out, I happened to look out the back window and there down near the bottom of the road was a small black ball of fluff snuffling about on the grass verge. I couldn’t believe my eyes, surely not, not another possum out in daylight (you’ll remember we saw a possum on our walk at Cave Creek).

I grabbed my camera and crept down the edge hiding behind some rocks on the way. He didn’t move until I got within a couple of metres of him, when he got a bit of a fright and stumbled off into the undergrowth. He then tried to climb up the flax. Of course that didn’t work, he just shredded the leaves with his massive claws and slid back to the bottom where he just sat there staring at me.

I left him alone thinking he must be ill and would probably die in the next day or two. Especially after the torrential rain we had for the next two days, but no, the next day at about the same time I saw him out on the verge again. Then he slowly made his way up the road casually grazing along the way. He spent alot of time stripping the leaves off a large dock plant before moving on and then making his way down another path.

On the third day, he was starting to look like a drowned rat and he had lost the little bit of fear he had, not even bothering to stop eating as we approached. I gave David a piece of banana to feed him and he scoffed it, checking around for more as soon as it was gone. Ok, Ok, I know, don’t shout at me. But how could I not feel sorry for this cute little fellow even though I know he is one of the most destructive imported pests in New Zealand.

By the fourth day, he was following me up the road. And not stopping when I got down low to take a photo! Perhaps he had been someone’s pet? Although I think unlikely, his ears had a few war wounds so maybe he was just old and being nocturnal, his eyesight would have been impaired by the light.

We were leaving on the fifth day so I checked around by the flax bush where he had appeared each afternoon to see if I could see where he was asleep. I felt rather sad for him, he was curled up in a ball at the base of the flax, out in the open with the rain falling on him. He hadn’t even tucked himself in under the bush in the dark. At first I thought he was dead but he stirred when he heard me and then went back to sleep. So maybe he was sick……or it was too early to get up. We certainly don’t get bored on this journey, there’s always something unusual happening around us.

There are a number of short walks around the lake including the Canoe Cove Rimu Forest Walk which ended on a small beach with a sheltered cove tucked around the corner.

It was a thrill to find quite a number of Sky-Blue Mushrooms or Blue Pinkgill (Entoloma hochstetteri) alongside the track. While not rare they are more frequently found in the Coromandel (North Island) and West Coast (South Island) areas of New Zealand. A blue mushroom is quite rare in the world though, New Zealand, and of all places, India are the only countries that have this bright blue fungi.

With a conical shape it does look like something out of a fairy tale and the lush green backdrop of the moss simply adds to the expectation that a fairy or elf is about to emerge from behind one.

And while hunting for more Sky-Blues we found other fungi, not in such a brilliant colour though but interesting all the same. In the bottom left is the birds nest fungus- a tiny fungi no bigger than my little fingernail, the small brown dots are the spores(‘pills’) that have been splashed out of the ‘nest’ by rain once the top has fallen free. The white helmet fungus on the top right is also very small, & delicate. I have no idea about the weird coral looking fungus in the top left and in the bottom right the fungi were whiter than white, almost opaque.

Another short walk was the Kahikatea Forest Walk through virgin kahikatea forest. Kahikatea like having wet feet so some of the track is along a boardwalk over swampy land. Once the track leaves the boardwalk and moves deeper into the dark and damp forest, the trees are literally dripping in moss.

Towards the end the forest opens up again and we can see why, once again we see the destruction that has been caused by Cyclone Ita. Rather than the Beech trees we’ve seen elsewhere, it’s huge rimu trees that have been ripped out of the ground here. Back at the carpark we talk to a guy who is working at preparing the rimu to be lifted out by helicopter- it’s taken a year for consent to be granted to remove this valuable wood from conservation land and if they don’t start lifting it out soon it will spoil. He heads off into the bush with his chainsaw and we can hear another one off in the distance.

And a few days later and the night before we were due to leave, DOC arrived with a van load of road cones to block off our area of the camp. An Iroquois helicopter was going to start lifting out the logs the next day and it was going to be landing at the camp to refuel. As we were due to leave anyway, we stayed in our spot overnight and moved the cones into place the next morning for them.

We might have been tempted to shift the van over to another site and stay and watch but the weather was still not that great; David had to pack the boat up in the pouring rain. We decided it was time to move on. We both loved Lake Kaniere, is was one of the prettiest lakes we’ve visited, it was just a pity the weather wasn’t a little better given the two weeks we spent there.