Sunday, 14 July 2019

A Fairlie Cold Place- Part 2


Contined on from Part 1

While at Fairlie we did a day trip to Timaru to visit, of all places, Super Cheap Auto & Briscoes. David needed a new heavier duty jack, he'd bent the head of the last one awhile ago and it had been a problem when we'd had the blow-out and we also needed a new electric heater, our old one had been dropped and made an annoying whirring noise and then it blew blue smoke (there's a theme going on here....)

After visiting the shops, we drove down to Caroline Bay, apparently the most popular beach in the South Island (it's lovely but I think there must have been some parochial voting going on). It looks nice & sunny in these photos but boy was it bitterly cold.  

And as if to rub salt into the wound, I heard a whole lot of noise coming from a group of people near the container wharf in the far corner of the bay.

The mid winter Polar Plunge was about to happen....brrrrr....

...and just as I zoomed in on the people the countdown started and then a roar went up to go as a small group of people clad in a varying array of costumes and swimsuits raced for the water. After a quick dunk under the water most exited it just as fast. Some very brave people indeed!

We did a loop on our way home, taking some of the back roads behind Pleasant Point looking for a couple of places of interest (as highlighted in one of my map books); Hanging Rock Bridge was a non event. But it wasn't until I got home that I realised it wasn't the bridge that was of interest it was the nearby 'Hanging Rock', a huge lump of limestone overhanging the riverbed (which of course I didn't see). Duh! 

But in my defence, the map book did say 'Bridge', if it had left that out I'd have looked further for the Hanging Rock.

I did love the sign that was nearby. Some wag has hung a rock (in it's own little string bag) off the road sign. 

The other place of interest was the Kakahu Kiln...

... a huge lime kiln that's sitting in the middle of farmland and bush out in the middle of nowhere. This kiln was built in 1876 and was used until about 1900. Lime from the surrounding area was burnt- using coal from the area too- in the kiln. The burnt lime was used for agriculture & in the building industry.

Click on the photo to read more about this fascinating industry and why it didn't last.

There is a 3 hour, 8km part-loop track up behind the kiln, it follows part of the old tramway which brought the limestone chip down to the kiln, passes Balancing Rock (they like naming their rocks around here) and finishes at the Pinnacle Lookout. I walked up the track to check the top of the kiln where I could see a small tree growing out of the centre, along with some long grass. I hope they clear the tree before it does any damage.

We decided the 20 minute Escarpment Walk just down the road would be far enough for us today.

We followed the sheep track across the paddock, dodging piles of poo as we went, to the escarpment where huge boulders are scattered like giant's marbles around the base.

Up close the large boulders are mushroom shaped and eroded around their base, apparently this happened thousands of years ago (and I thought it was the sheep). The area is of great spiritual significance to local Maori. I had a quick look for Maori paintings, similar to the ones we were shown at a secret site when we stayed at nearby Albury Station, but didn't find any. There could possibly be some up in the rocks and caves further up the slope but the ground was very boggy so I didn't explore further.

From Kakahu we continued on along the gravel road until we popped back out onto the main road not far north of Geraldine. And then it was a smooth ride home back along the highway with a quick stop at the viewpoint high above the Fairlie valley. The township is behind those trees, centre right.

Lake Opuha, a man-made irrigation reservoir is just 12km from Fairlie, it's very popular during the summer for water sports and fishing and there are also three freedom camping areas, one we stayed at the last time we visited this area (again in the middle of winter). We drove up to the dam face, we hadn't actually visited here the last time. The water was silky smooth.

Below the dam a narrow gorge channeled the water down to a small pond. We watched a car head down the narrow track over the top of the spillway and then diagonally down the face of the dam and along a dirt road to the pond, it returned soon afterwards. I wondered if there was a picnic, swimming area there. We didn't check it out.

We drove back around to the Bennetts Road boat ramp/camping & picnic area and had afternoon tea just as the sun was about to disappear behind Two Thumb Range.

While we were there two locals arrived and unloaded their jet skies. Our peace & tranquility were shattered as they blasted their way around the lake.

Several days later I drove the loop back out to Lake Opuha hoping to shoot some reflection photos in the late afternoon sun, and also find some rolling farmland before the sun went down. Some of you may recall my reflection photos from our last visit, here's one from the latest visit; pretty similar if you check that link. It's a great spot to visit.

On the way home I stopped on the road beside a newly sown paddock that I'd spotted while driving past with David a few days earlier. I loved the rolling landscape and the shadows cast by the setting sun. 

This one is of the farm buildings, how I would have loved to have actually got into the paddock and found a spot where the composition in both photos could have been better.

I did head around to a side road to see if I could get some better shots but unfortunately the sun had disappeared off the front paddock.  Time to head home...

...although I couldn't help stopping for one last photo at the lookout again, just as the sun disappeared behind the mountains.

As I mentioned in the previous blog, we were due to leave Fairlie on Wednesday afternoon, after the last two tyres had arrived from the North Island and been fitted. Unfortunately there was a hiccup with the delivery and they weren't now going to arrive until Friday morning. One whole week from when we arrived in Fairlie.

Which wouldn't have been a problem had word not got to me that due to the severe cold temperatures and a few days of pea soup fog, a hoar frost was building up in Twizel. Darn! Darn! Double Darn!

Just 100km stood between me and my bucket list photo. For four winters over the last seven years I have hoped for a hoar frost, I've captured a few mini frosts but never the big one, the money shot; bright blue sky and white frosted trees dripping in icicles. They have happened but always where we've not been at the time. And because the roads are usually treacherous to drive during the frost you need to be Johnny-on-the spot to be in with a chance.

As we headed out late Friday morning past Mt Dobson (tyres arrived and fitted), I wondered if I was going to be in time.

Friday, 12 July 2019

A Fairlie Big Bang- Part 1


We left Weedons, south of Christchurch, and headed west towards Darfield, we'd decided to take the scenic route to MacKenzie Country. SH77 runs along the foot of the mountains that form the backdrop to the vast Canterbury Plains. 

We've spent quite a bit of time exploring along this road previously, today we just enjoyed the open road with very little traffic. Mt Hutt, with very little snow for this time of the year, filled the view ahead of us for quite some distance as we passed through Glentunnel, Windwhistle and dropped down into the Rakaia Gorge before popping back up onto the straight roads past Methven, Staveley, Mt Somers & Mayfield.

Just past Staveley we stopped for lunch at a very wet Bowyers Stream rest area...

.... this is also a free camping area but it's often boggy or flooded during winter. 

Back on the road and there we were crusin' along at 90kph on a gloriously sunny day without a care in the world when there was an almighty huge boom followed by 'whack, whack, whack', the rig wobbled a bit and a large cloud of blue smoke poured out behind us. David quickly brought the rig to a halt, I jumped out to check and saw that we'd had a blow-out on the back left hand side of the 5th-wheeler. 

There was nowhere to pull off the road on our side of the road but luckily there was a wide grass berm on the other side. David carefully drove the rig over to it. 

Yes, that's definitely a blow out, there'll be no repairing that tyre! Our first (and hopefully last) blow-out to add to the two punctures on the ute & one on the van in over 88,000kms and 7 years on the road. The ground underneath was soft and it took several stages to jack it up, block, release, jack, add another block, release, jack.... Eventually there were enough blocks under the axle to get the wheel off and the spare back on. And in case you're wondering these aren't retreads, they were new tyres 3.5 years ago.

At least 100 vehicles passed us while we were changing the wheel,  many of them work vehicles and farm utes with burly young men in them, yet not one person stopped to offer help or check that we were ok. It didn't matter because David had it under control (with some help from yours truly) and if we had needed help I would have flagged someone down but it did surprise me that not one person stopped. I know any motorhomer passing would have checked on us but unusually not one of the vehicles passing was a motorhome. 

Ninety minutes and a few nasty scratches from the protruding wire later and David had it changed and we were back on the road. 

We were very pleased to see Carters Tyre Service as we rolled into Fairlie township just before dusk on a Friday afternoon. David popped over to see them Saturday morning and they were able to order a replacement tyre and would have it for us on Tuesday morning which we were very pleased about. As it happened, we were intending to stop in Fairlie- the gateway to MacKenzie Country- for a night or two anyway, a couple more nights wasn't going to be a problem.

Fairlie Holiday Park is part of the NZMCA (NZ Motor Caravan Association) new CampSaver winter camping initiative where members can stay at participating campgrounds for $20 a night, this includes power. This has to be a win/win situation; members get cheaper camping sites and in return camping grounds get some winter turnover. Hopefully camping grounds will find that it's worth their while being involved, I know that during our week long stay at Fairlie there were two to four other members staying each night that usually wouldn't have come to a campground.

We thoroughly enjoyed our extended stay, we had a relatively sunny spot in an area that didn't see many other campers; most preferring to park on the hard on the otherside of the small stream that ran through the campground. 

With heavy frosts every day, temperatures at -5c to -8c overnight and hovering around zero for most of the day, with the occasional morning of fog, and bitterly cold temperatures all day, everyday, we began to wonder if we'd made the right decision to come south again for winter. 

We wondered if we were getting soft in our old age; 18 months has passed since we were last down here. Or maybe we'd acclimatized to the brilliant 6 months of warm sunshine we'd had up north over the long hot summer. All I can say is thank God for out diesel heaters, they certainly earnt their keep keeping us toasty warm inside, and also for the luxury of being plugged into the grid. The electric blanket kept the chill away overnight.

But we did have frozen water pipes three days running which didn't defrost until early afternoon. I think we've only had frozen pipes for 3 days in total over the whole of winter previously. We always turn the water off and open the taps at night so no damage is done but it's frustrating when you don't have water when you want it. And even colder when you've got to visit the campground showers instead of your own one in a warm van.

We were a bit perplexed about how cold is was until we read about a very unusual weather system at play. The severe cold temps were caused by very high air pressure which went as high as 1036hpa, this was well above the average for June and nearly a record. If it had been summer it would have been a very hot week. The highest air pressure ever recorded in New Zealand was 1045.9 in Wellington in 1889. Since then the closest near record was 1040hpa recorded in 2010. Little did I know it but this weather system was also hard at work mixing up a hoar frost in Twizel. A hoar frost that I am determined to photograph this winter and one of the main reasons we are in the South Island.

Over the weekend David decided that we really should replace all four tyres on the 5th-wheeler; the remaining three had a fair bit of tread on them but he wanted to keep the tyres uniform & consistent. So on Monday morning he called over to Carters again and ordered the other three tyres. Unfortunately two of them had to come down from the North Island and wouldn't be here until Wednesday morning (which actually wasn't too bad a service) That was ok by us, we were happy to wait. We had power. And we had pies to sample! 

Fairlie Bakehouse is well known for it's tasty pies, 'Bakers not Manufacturers' is their tag line. Ask on-line where the best pie is in New Zealand and you're not only bound to start a riot but everyone thinks they know who bakes the best. Fairlie Bakehouse is consistently up there at the top of the list with one or two others. And especially their signature pie (actually they have a few)- Pork Belly with Apple Sauce & Crackling. And yes, that is a piece of crunchy crackling on top of the pastry. 

In summary, let's just say the Pork Belly wasn't our favourite, it came a close third behind the Venison & Cranberry and the Salmon & Bacon Pie (an odd combination but it works). Although the traditional mince & cheese was pretty tasty too....then again, the butter chicken or creamy free range chicken.....

Suffice to say we were all 'pie-ed' out by the time we left Fairlie. And I don't even like pies!! 

While in Fairlie we spent most of our time in doors keeping warm, catching up on computer work (and sampling pies!) We did try to walk some of them off by taking the riverside track beside the camping ground but found it to be rather muddy and not too inspiring with bare willows, overgrown blackberry and old mans beard covering everything in sight. The walk was over 6kms long to the end and then you could walk back along the main road to the town. 

After a couple of kilometres we turned around and walked back the way we came although we did loop through the Domain on the other side of the campground and found a frozen ice skating rink which doesn't look like it's been very well loved in recent years.

In fact the last time the ice was thick enough to skate on was 2015 and that was three years after the previous time.  The rink needs a constant -10c to keep a solid base, which, with the temperatures we'd been having, explains why it was quite firm at the moment. The stuff you can see on the surface is  weeds of some sort that were growing in the base of the pond and are now stuck in the ice. 

To be continued... Part 2

Monday, 1 July 2019

We're Back in the South Island- Kaikoura; Part 2

Continued on from Part 1

The Ohau Point seal colony, north of Kaikoura, has always been a regular place for us to stop on our way up or down the main highway and I was keen to see how it had fared after sustaining extensive damage during the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake.

It was a pleasant surprise to see that as a result of the 'quake the colony now has a large rocky platform to rest on, most of it having been pushed up out of the ocean. The platform also contains numerous small pools, a perfect nursery playground for the seal pups to play in while they wait for their mothers to return from the sea.

There's also a new landscaped parking bay and viewing area along the edge of the colony's rocky platform. 

This was the old parking area, look how close the sea was before the 'quake. The seabed has been pushed up quite a height, it now finishes at the back of the seal colony's platform.  

The world famous Ohau Stream Waterfall pool was destroyed in the 'quake. This was where the seal pups from the colony used to travel 500mtrs up the stream to the pool seeking shelter, safety and to play in the fresh water pool. It's also where they entertained hundreds of tourists.

I'm very grateful that we were able to visit the pool a number of times in the past, it was a very special place and especially if you were the only one there being entertained by curious seal pups. Although towards the end it was getting a bit out of hand with dozens of people descending on the pool daily, many of them disturbing the pups by swimming with them, touching them and trying to get selfies. I was due to do a month at the pool as a volunteer ranger when the 'quake happened. These photos are from one of our previous visits.

Now with several pools on the platform, the pups can play and are safe from crashing waves, marauding males and overpowering people... they wait for Mum to return from the sea. And when she does arrive there's no way this pup is letting go.

The road north of Kaikoura was lifted by over 4 metres in places and although the road has been reopened for over 18 months, there's still a lot of road repairs, rail line embankments and rock face work going on, along with stop & go people and lights (with helpful countdown).

They certainly have done a lot of work though and it's actually quite hard to see where old sections of the road finish & new ones start.

Our next overnight stop is at an old favourite of ours, Donegal House, an Irish Hotel on the outskirts of Kaikoura. 

Donegal House also has a campervan park; there are two large areas for RVs to park. Power is available on one side of the Park at $20 per van, if you don't need power then it is free to park. Of course it would be courteous to partake in happy hour or a meal at the pub though. And especially when it's a cold winter's night and the fire is roaring away inside.

We parked in the smaller area this time, backed up to a paddock with a small pond. Last time we were here there was a lonely (& rare) white swan on the pond, he was missing this time so I hope he's been packed off  to find a mate.

We stopped at the South Bay Marina on our way to the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway which we'd decided to walk. The snow covered Seaward Kaikoura Range made a great backdrop to the hauled out fishing fleet.

The last time we stopped at the marina, it was in atrocious weather but we'd wanted to see how the rebuilding of the harbour was going after the seabed was pushed up by the 'quake making it very difficult for the commercial boats to enter & exit the harbour on anything but a full high tide.

The tourist tour boats now have their own jetties at the new South Bay Marina and there's also a separate jetty for cruise boat tenders to disembark passengers.

I've walked the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway previously, this time David decided to walk in from the Point Kean end and meet me half way. He dropped me at the South Bay entrance and then drove back into town and out to Point Kean at the end of the peninsula. I love this view back over South Bay as I climb the walkway to the top of the sea cliffs.

From the lookout above South Bay the track crosses farmland until it reaches the edge of the cliffs on the ocean side of the peninsula. There are magnificent views out over the sea and down to the papa rock reefs below. A large seal colony rests in the sun on the rocks here with some snoozing the day away stretched out in amongst the overgrown grass above the beach. Some of the people walking along the track around the shoreline cross through the grass without realising that there are seals there. They move pretty quickly when a large brown 'slug' lifts it's head nearby.

I meet David about two thirds of the way along the top and we then retraced my steps for a short distance and descended the steep stairway down onto the beach below and walk back around the rocks, David crossing the same grassy seal track but being very cautious he doesn't stumble over one of those hidden seals. It is actually quite hard to see them down at ground level.

I walked around the edge of the rocks taking photos of the snoozing seals tucked into nooks and crannies and lolling over  the edge of the rocks close to the beach. They seemed totally oblivious to people passing by although I did see the odd eye open, scan & then shut again.

The only movement in the colony were these two young seals play-fighting and a wary guy watching from behind.

There was once a large colony of seals at Point Kean, they used to be everywhere, on the rocks, over the road, up the stairways, under the bushes and on the boardwalk but once again the 'quake has raised the seabed here and it seems that they have moved further south and joined up with the colony we've just passed.  Some have moved out to the edge of the reef at Point Kean and there are still three or four seals loyal to the carpark but nothing like it used to be when most of the car parks were taken up by seals.

But the saddest sight of all was the old nursery pond alongside the boardwalk. This was once teeming with seal pups, now it's an overgrown stagnant duck pond.

From Kaikoura we headed south aiming for Christchurch but only making it to Parnassus. Why the hurry we said.

The main road south of Kaikoura is also still under repair although they have done one heck of a lot of work since we last came through, when we did a loop from Hanmer Springs to check on progress. I bet not many people would be able to say they drove through one of the Raramai Tunnels the wrong way. The photo on the bottom right was from that loop trip, it looks like they have increased the height from 4.38 metres  to 4.6 metres and widen the mouth (it's still pretty tight though).

As we were driving through the Hunderlee Hills, I spotted a familiar looking rig, complete with bright coloured kayak on the roof, approaching us through a thicket of bare poplar trees. There was a lot of mad waving from both sides as we passed.  

We've often been in a similar area but usually one of us is leaving as the other is arriving. We did manage to meet at Omakau a long time ago & at Warbirds a little later on. Then there was the time we didn't realise we were together at Napier's Ericksen Road Park until one of us was pulling out the gate. A friendship made over the internet through a love of RVing and belonging to the same motorhoming forums and Facebook pages. After some frantic texting the bus turned around and that is how we found ourselves having a coffee and then happy hour at NZMCA Parnassus in the company of John & Lorraine. It was lovely that they turned around and great to catch up with them because it could be another 4 years before we see them again!

Sunset- Parnassus NZMCA Park
From Parnassus we headed straight through to NZMCA Weedons Park which is not far south of Christchurch city. We have stayed at Weedons on a regular basis over the years and it felt quite comforting arriving back there, a bit like coming home.

It's a pity the weather didn't get the memo we'd be arriving though (and we'd need some sun to ease us into a South Island winter).

I think we had one blue sky day (and that was on the day we were leaving) during the week we were there. And then one of our diesel heaters spat the dummy and had to be serviced which was probably just as well going by the extreme frosts we've been having since we left Christchurch.