In 2012 I retired again and we are traveling in Europe. In 2009 Ron and I retired and we volunteered at Quaker Meeting House in Wellington, New Zealand for a year.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

South Island week three

It dawned bright and clear, so we were very optimistic about our trip to Mt Cook National Park. We had many good views of snowy mountain ranges as we drove north alongside Lake Pukaki, a dam-made lake from the rivers draining the glaciers, and therefore a striking pale blue from all the rock dust suspended in the water. There is a big lodge and village at the base of the Park, but it was built in the 50s and is not an imposing edifice like the lodge at Yosemite. Maybe it will seem so in one hundred years. The old lodge, which was fairly ramshackle anyway, was swept away in a flood. The new one is on higher ground. There is a whole center there devoted to Sir Edmund Hillary, but we contented ourselves with a picture with his statue.

For the morning, we took a hike up the Hooker Valley. The first stop is at an Alpine Memorial with the names of all the climbers who have died in the Park from 1882 to the present. It was surprisingly moving in its simplicity and the love expressed in many of the plaques. The path then proceeded on an easy grade and over some moraines to a view of Mueller Lake, created by the run-off from the smallish Mueller glacier. Then the path became rougher, although the grade was still comfortable, and we rounded a corner of a small mountain and there was Mt Cook, very striking and clear before us. Now the path was following the Hooker River, very loud and tumultuous. We crossed two swinging bridges. The river and the mountains made the hike very exhilarating. Is it the ions in the air? We stopped after the second bridge where there was a good view of the Hooker glacier, but it was still another 30-45 minutes to the lake behind the final moraine. Including the return half, we walked for 1.5 - 2 hours.

We then drove around to the valley on the other side of Mt Cook, where we had our picnic lunch along a little creek at the base of the next hike. This was a much steeper but shorter hike up the moraine that creates Lake Tasman at the foot of the Tasman glacier, the largest in the Park. It is a good sized lake. It looks like the far end is just a rock cliff, with the blue-white glacier rather high above it. But in fact the cliff is the leading edge of the glacier. It is so packed with rocks and boulders that you can barely see the ice. This is because the glacier has been receding. A hundred years earlier, the glacier was covering the spot where we were standing by over one hundred feet. I have always read that glaciers carve out their huge valleys by virtue of the rocks in the ice they contain - this view made that point very vividly. There were also icebergs floating in the lake. This hike was only about one - 1.5 hours total.

We had decided that it was too cold to camp in the park, so we drove on out past Lake Pukaki and then Lake Tekapo, a natural lake, and down Burke's Pass to the small but pleasant town of Fairlee. It definitely felt like we were out of the mountains and into warmer farm country. Fairlee is called the gateway to the Mackenzie Country, which is the high sheep grazing country above the pass. James Mackenzie was a sheep rustler who in 1855 caught the imagination of the NZers because he and his dog stole about a thousand sheep in one night from a rich station owner and then disappeared into the high country. He was, however, captured fairly soon, although he also escaped and was recaptured a couple of times. After two years of this he was deported back to Scotland and never heard of again. There is a statue to him and his dog in Fairlee. Sort of like Ned Kelly in Australia, except that he never killed anyone.

We had a leisurely morning in the Fairlee campground, partly because they were the first and only place with free internet. Finally, off we headed on a longish drive to Hanmer Springs, in the mountains north of Christchurch, on the road to Lewis Pass and the West Coast, or north to Nelson. On the way, we stopped at Peel Forest, a reserve of native trees, especially Totara. It was about a 30 minute walk to their Big Tree and back to a picnic lunch. Most of the day's drive was along the Inland Scenic Route, right at the base of the foothills above the Canterbury Plain. Sometimes the road was straight, sometimes windy through hills, and occasionally it would plunge down into a river gorge. Most of NZ highways, except the most major ones, still have one lane bridges across both big and little rivers. There is a sign telling you who has right of way. Some of these bridges were long enough that there was a passing bay in the middle in case two cars started across from different directions. Eventually, the highway came all the way back down to the ocean at Ashburton, north of Christchurch, and then headed back inland to the Lewis Pass. We went through a narrow river gorge, and then the land opened up into a wide valley, where we took a side road over the river to Hanmer Springs. That bridge had a platform for bungy jumping into the canyon, but no one was using it at the time. It was late enough when we arrived that we decided not to use the springs that evening (they closed at nine) but just to walk around and eat. Being clear, and at a bit of altitude, the stars were pretty bright, and it was nice to see the new moon back in the sky.

The next day we got senior tickets into the water park for $12 with one free return courtesy of our campground, which I thought was very reasonable. The park had about 12 pools of varying heat levels from 35 to 41 degrees centigrade, plus a swimming pool and water slide pool. So we spent a nice hour and a half moving between pools and swimming. It was clear but kind of cool, and my only complaint was that I got too cold in the changing room afterwards, which was totally unheated. But that was because I was trying to shampoo my hair and do all kinds of other things that it was not designed for. We had a nice Thai lunch and walked around one of the town trails up a creek. We went back to the hot springs for an hour before dinner, and felt that we had had a very relaxing day, but no photos.

The next day we drove back into Christchurch. We extended our camper van rental, deciding that it was easier to stay in the van for our whole journey than to switch over to a hostel. With a little bit of difficulty we maneuvered through the city traffic over to the botanical gardens. Since it was a Saturday, we could park all day for free. We ate our picnic lunch there and then walked through the gardens towards the town center, stopping at the conservatories to view some stunning begonias and orchids. The street from the Gardens to Cathedral Square in the city center is lined with museums and galleries, Saturday markets and buskers. The Square also had its own market. We went into the Cathedral first, which had many memorial plaques, some interesting windows and a side chapel with a peacock at the center top of the wood altar carvings, which seemed quite unusual. Ron collects images of peacocks, so eventually we got a photo, but that day we were without a camera. Sustained by a food cart which made soft ice cream with frozen fruit, we walked back to the museum and spent about an hour on the first floor. They have a lot of moa bones and replicas, and a pretty good exhibit on the early Maoris, although with lots of dioramas, which always bother me a little, because I think it is difficult to know how the people really looked. Particularly fun was the Paua House, a reconstruction of a house in Bluff at the south end of the South Island where Fred and Myrtle Flutey in their later years decorated their parlor and hallway with paua shells on all the walls and everywhere else. There was a marvelous video about them which is available on You Tube. They are real NZ characters, taking a hobby (polishing paua shells) and making the most of it, until they became world famous in New Zealand.

Sunday we went to Meeting for Worship in Christchurch and met the Resident Friends there, a couple about our age from England. At Meeting we only knew one person, but people were friendly and chatty. However, it made me miss my friends in Wellington. There is an easy-to-use bus route just outside the camper van park, so we don't have to drive into the city. We went to the new and modern art gallery, which had a nice range of exhibits. One interesting one was both a history of art collecting in NZ and a contrast of the way Pakeha and Maori experienced and portrayed each other. Another exhibit chronicled the portrayal of the nude in art, again particularly in New Zealand. Among the observations was that NZers particularly like to portray nude bathers. Then we went back to the Christchurch Museum to look at their Antarctica exhibit. It particularly focused on the various early explorations, many of which were launched from NZ, but it also had information about the animals and geology. All in all, Christchurch was more interesting and enjoyable than we first gave it credit for.

Our final destination in NZ turned out to be one of the prettiest - Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. Banks is a big bump on the East Coast of NZ created by three volcanoes millions of years ago. The calderas have eroded into 2 big harbors and many small bays. First we drove south through Christchurch and through a tunnel to the town of Littleton, the working port for Christchurch and one of the two large harbors. This town turned out not to be as interesting as I hoped and very loud with truck traffic, so we drove on out around the harbor and eventually over a ridge to the far south side of the Peninsula. Then we drove around until we could drive over more hills, ridges and winding roads to finally arrive at Akaroa harbor and town in time for lunch. I think the only campground with a prettier view was in Milford Sound. It is a five minute walk from the campground into town and a fifteen minute aerobic walk back. We walked around the bay of the town to the lighthouse at the far end, which was moved there after its useful life at the headland of the harbor expired. It was built in 1879 and moved in 1980. A little bit further and we arrived at the Britomart Monument commemorating the planting of the British flag and the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi by the local chiefs. Britomart, by the way, is not a department store but the name of the ship.

Akaroa's claim to fame is that it was settled by the French. About 1838, a French whaler thought it looked like an excellent harbor, so he bought some land from the local Maori. He returned to France and got funding to start a land company and gathered a group of settlers. The British got wind of this French venture and hurried down to Akaroa to lay their claim first. So when the French arrived, only three weeks later, they found the British flag already there. None the less, most of the settlers decided to stay, and the modern town exploits the French connection as best it can.

The next day was our main one for exploring Akaroa. We walked down different streets to the far end of town and the park above the lighthouse, which is also the location of the Anglican Cemetery at one end and the Roman Catholic and Dissenters at the other end. "Dissenters" apparently means Presbyterians, because those are the three churches in town. We enjoy looking at gravestones. After coffee and muffin - the town does NZ baking, not French - we went to the little Akaroa Museum. I think I have said elsewhere that even small NZ museums are surprisingly good. This one emphasized Maori history more than I expected. There was an attack on the local tribe by one of the northern tribes with Muskets in the 1830s which was aided by a British whaler. The reaction to this was partly responsible for the Treaty of Waitangi, which the Maori hoped would mean that the crown would start regulating its citizens better. Unfortunately, the settlers didn't want to be better regulated all that much. There was also an exhibit about Frank Worsley, born in Akaroa, who became the captain of Shackleton's ship on the ill-fated 1914 expedition, which became trapped in the sea ice. Thanks to Worsley's navigational skills, a small boat was able to make it over 800 miles of open sea to a whaling island where a ship was able to return to rescue the rest of the crew. After lunch, we visited all three small churches, all built between 1863 and 1886, and the site of the old French cemetery. There is a monument there with about thirty names, but the wooden gravestones disappeared long ago.

For our last full day in New Zealand, we drove back to Christchurch. We felt leisurely enough that we took the bus back into town for the afternoon and mostly just walked the streets, listened to buskers, and did a little souvenir shopping. What used to be the University of Canterbury, with pretty Gothic buildings, has been turned into an arts center with studios and galleries and shops. Among the few rooms devoted to the old University are some commemorating Lord Rutherford, one of their most famous students, a Nobel prize winner in physics for his work on the atom. Much to our surprise, graduation parties and picture taking were going on in the courtyards and restaurants.

The last day was all devoted to packing, returning the car, and waiting around in airports. We flew out of Christchurch at 5:30 with a lovely sunset with Venus shining in the sky. It stayed light enough that we could just make out the Abel Tasman Peninsula, Golden Bay, and Farewell Spit as we left the South Island.

Our year in New Zealand was definitely one of the best things that we have done!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

South Island week two

Although Invercargill has some interesting old buildings, the whole point of coming here is to go to Stewart Island. We had some rain overnight and the morning was quite chill, but the forecast wasn't too gloomy, so we got up early to catch the 9:30 ferry. I think maybe I had been envisioning a boat like the Inter Islander ferry, but this was a smallish passenger boat (maybe 70 people?). Luckily, we just hadn't been hungry when we got up, so we didn't eat breakfast. There were 10 foot sea swells coming from the cold south, so it was an uncomfortable one hour crossing. I was pretty gloomy about our Stewart Island experience when we arrived. However, coffee and scones in the South Sea Hotel perked us up, and we set out for some of the walks that lead out of town. First we went over hills through typical rain forest type NZ forest with ferns and moss and tree fuchsia, which can grow to 12 meters high. We climbed to the top of a lookout hill, then went down to a trail which lead around the coast line of the island. Eventually we stopped for a picnic lunch near a memorial for an early German missionary couple. Interestingly, the Maori had mostly lived on a much smaller nearby island, probably because it was more defensible. The missionary monument looked out over the straight to that island. We walked back around to the town and hung out around the exhibits at the Conservation Center until the afternoon ferry left at 5. The ride back was much easier since we were going with the wind and waves. I felt much better about Stewart Island by the end of the day. It helped that we stopped for a nice Thai dinner in Invercargill.

The next morning, after a brief look around the Invercargill botanical gardens, we went to the Anderson Park Art Gallery near our campground. It is a Georgian Style mansion built by a rich business man in the 1920s and now converted into a gallery. It seemed much more livable than Larnach Castle and did not have its tragic history. Apparently what makes it Georgian is that the entrance is on the side and the main hall runs along the back of the building, so all the main rooms look to the front. It had a nice display of New Zealand art works, ceramics and sculpture. The docent was chatty and friendly. Some of the furniture was very nice too. Then we were back onto the Southern Scenic Highway, which had brought us down to Invercargill and which ends at Milford Sound. We had a very nice picnic lunch in Riverton, overlooking the Strait to Stewart Island. Our last stop before we left the coast was Colac Bay, which has a statue of a giant surfer riding a wave. We cruised past Lake Manapouri, the first (or southernmost) of the great alpine lakes. There is a huge hydropower plant there, which was the site of much political protest 25 years ago when it was first conceived. The eventual compromise was that they built the power plant in such a way that the water level of two lakes - Manapouri and Te Anau - did not have to be changed. It did steal a lot of water from the outflow river, up whose valley we had been driving, but eventually they figured out a way to restore its flow to a more sustainable level also. Let us hope that the NZ public continues to fight for their environment. The current government wants to start mining in various national parks. It is hard to tell at the moment whether the opposition will be strong enough. We reached Te Anau town, on the south end of Te Anau Lake in the late afternoon. All of these lakes are huge, nested at the eastern feet of the Southern Alps. You cannot see one end from the other because they curl around hills and have many branches. We enjoyed walking along the lakeshore and exploring the unpretentious tourist town.

We headed out early the next day to Milford Sound to avoid the tour buses, although tourism right now is certainly less than in the summer. We went about half way up Lake Te Anau and then turned to go around a hill and up a different valley. The famous Milford Track starts where we turned off. You have to take a boat across the lake and then end up going down one of the feeder rivers to the sound. This follows the old Maori track for gathering greenstone. But they decided that the road could follow a different track. It goes over the lowest pass in the Southern Alps, except for the fact that to actually make it work, they had to blast a 1.2 K tunnel (the Homer tunnel) through an inconvenient ridge. They are very good at tunnels on these mountainous islands! We made one stop on the other side of the tunnel to hike up to the Cleddau River Chasm. This is not a deep chasm, but very narrow, where the river has carved tunnels and spun rocks around until they create holes and bowls in the boulders. The path went through green, moss covered forest.

Milford Sound is as spectacular as you have always heard. The visitor end looks out at Mitre Peak and up a couple of river valleys as well as the Sound. We had decided to camp there overnight to have better luck on catching clear weather. The afternoon looked good, so we booked onto the last cruise of the day, leaving us time to do a little walking around on the shore. There were 13 other people on our cruise, which left at 3:30, and we had very good views, although the captain assured us we would have had even more spectacular waterfalls if it had been a typical rainy day. There were a couple of points where we saw baby seals napping, waiting for their mothers to return. Just as we turned back into the Sound from the ocean, a couple of the other tourists spotted some dolphins playing in our wake. We had nice sunset colors over Mitre Peak when we returned back to the Lodge.

It was amazing to wake up the next morning and get out of the van to a view of high cliffs just getting touched by pink morning sunshine, a small crescent moon in the sky, and the sound of the rushing river. The morning was even clearer than the previous day. We took another walk around the flat area and then headed on out. On the other side of the Homer tunnel we took a nature walk at Lake Gunn through a black beech forest. It was one of those places that is totally green - moss and fern on the ground and up onto the tree trunks until you get the green of the leaves. These Southern Hemisphere beeches resemble Northern Hemisphere ones, but are not related. They are related to the beeches we saw on the top of a mountain in New South Wales, and to fossil beeches from Antarctica, so the family dates back to Gondwanaland. We also walked around little Mistletoe Lake in the dry hills away from the tall mountains. Back in Te Anau for a second night we saw a very good film about Fiordland National Park. It was conceived by one of the helicopter pilots who fly tourists into the Park, so it has lots of those views where suddenly the floor of the valley drops away over a thousand foot cliff. It showed us lots of parts of the park that we will not see. One of its best effects was showing the valleys filled with fog and likening that to when they were filled with glaciers.

The drive from Te Anau to Queenstown goes through high country pasture like much of the intermountain region of the US. By the time we got to the south end of Lake Wakatipu, it was just scrub. The lake is shaped kind of like this: '-, with Queenstown in the central portion. We never got to the northern half. We ate our picnic lunch in the main park in Queenstown, but avoided the rest of it because of its excessive tourist reputation. We drove onto Arrowtown, which was just too cute as a restored mining town, so we continued on to the scenic route to Lake Wanaka. This turned out to proceed up a huge number of tight switch backs over a high dividing range with some great views and scary precipices. Lake Wanaka is another large alpine lake at the bottom of Mount Aspiring National Park, which was hidden by clouds from a storm that was hitting the West Coast. All we got were high winds and an occasional drizzle. We took a nice 2K walk along the lake into town and back. Mt Aspiring is the second highest peak in New Zealand, after Mt Cook.

The next day the mountains were still overcast, so we drove down to a trail along the Clutha River which drains Lake Wanaka. The river is wide and swift and cuts a little gorge through the dry valley. It was lined with willow trees, which looked very natural, but I think must be introduced, because I couldn't find anything like them in my NZ tree book. We turned around after 1-2 K when we came unexpectedly to a gold panning area, because basically the terrain wasn't that interesting and wasn't going to change. We then drove to the neighboring Lake Hawea. The two lakes were probably part of the same glacier, but are separated by a high enough ridge that when the glacier melted, it formed two lakes. We drove as far as that ridge and looked over at the top half of Lake Wanaka. The road continues on to the Haast Pass and the West Coast, where it still looked very dark and wet. We ate lunch at a different park at the south end of Wanaka and hiked along that shore for awhile. Finally, late in the afternoon, it looked liked the weather was clearing enough that were drove up towards Mt. Aspiring and got a couple of peeks and pics of the peak.

We drove the next day to Omarama, gateway to Mt. Cook National Park. The weather was still not favorable for the mountains, so we drove down the highway towards the coast as far as Duntroon, which turned out to be really interesting. Nearby is an area called Elephant Rocks. These are an exposed part of the underlying limestone of the area which has been eroded into large and interesting shapes. It was used as one of the sets for the first Narnia movie. Between Elephant Rocks and Duntroon, there is also a limestone cave - more like an overhang - that has Maori drawings in it that are still well preserved and legible, including a picture of a European sailing ship. The town itself has a pleasant geological museum. Geologists and paleontologists from Canterbury come up frequently because the area is rich in fossils, so the town folk started up this museum. It features dolphin and penguin fossils, boulders full of sea shells, and "rattling rocks," which are mudstone which had pebbles inside which hollowed out big enough spaces before the rock solidified that they can rattle when you shake them. So Duntroon was an unexpectedly satisfying side trip at the end of our second week on the road in the South Island.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

South Island week one

March 31 we headed out of Wellington on the ferry. Alan P. was kind enough to drive us to the terminal at 7:15 am, which apparently is also part of the Kiwi farewelling tradition. We took the train to Christchurch, which was a lovely way to travel there. We went through hilly farm country at first and then past a big salt flat where they make a lot of the NZ salt. Mostly the train goes right along the coast, and we occasionally saw seals. The Kaikoura mountains come down close to the sea. These are the mountains we had been surprised to see the year before from the south coast near Wellington. No snow on them yet. Then the train headed back inland and we went through the dry and California-like Canterbury plains.

We picked up our camper van the next morning and headed down the coast to Oamaru, which turned out to be a great place. The camp ground was very nice, and right next to the city park and an easy walk into town. We decided to book the penguin tour that left from the campground around 6:30 pm, and it turned out to be really good value. The bus went through town with the driver explaining about a lot of the buildings. Oamaru was a very prosperous early town and has a very nice cream-colored limestone that is quarried nearby. Since trees are very scarce, most of the old town is therefore built in stone, which they decorated with lots of Corinthian pillars and such like. Eventually the economy faltered, shipping went elsewhere, and the buildings just sat there until the town started to remake itself as a tourist center.

The next stop on the tour was a colony of yellow eyed penguins, so called because of yellow feathers in a band around their heads. They are quite rare, but this group was quite comfortable, practically underfoot along the viewing platforms. They build nests in burrows high up the cliffs to avoid sea lions. The chicks have left the nest now and the adults are entering their moulting season when they lose all their feathers and have to stay on land for a month.

Then the bus took us around to the blue penguin center. These are the smallest type of penguin, sometimes called fairy penguins. Oamaru has built up a big nesting site for them in an old quarry right off the ocean, building them nesting box burrows, which they really like. The colony can number two hundred. There is a big grandstand where all the tourists get to sit at sunset, and the beach is lit with orange lights. As far as the penguins are concerned, we can see them but they cannot see us. At first small groups, called a raft, came ashore, and then eventually a group of about twenty. Each group would hesitate as it came to the top of the ramp and had to cross an open area to get to the nesting area. Finally one or two would venture across and then the whole group would rush over, since nobody wanted to be last either. Meanwhile, the rangers are telling us all about the penguins and the work that is being done there with them to increase their numbers. I don't know of any other locale doing such a good job of helping the penguins and making them accessible to people. We couldn't take photos there as flashbulbs seriously freak them out, but we could photograph the yellow penguins, because they come to their burrows earlier in the evening.

The next day we took some of the walking tours of Oamaru. Its other claim to fame is as a childhood dwelling place for Janet Frame, and we got to see her house, and had a good conversation with the docent there. Frame lived there during the thirties and early forties, so she is a slightly later generation than Katherine Mansfield. She was nominated for, but did not receive, a Nobel prize. I mostly know of her from a Jane Campion film version of her autobiography called "An Angel at My Table". A lot of her other writings relate to her childhood in Oamaru. The house did a good job of relating the work to the place, much like Katherine Mansfield's birth house in Wellington.

The next day, as we drove down the coast, we stopped at a bizarre and perhaps unique Kiwi icon, the Moeraki rocks. These are a collection of round, meter-wide boulders in the surf which are apparently (via Wikipedia) accretions around calcite crystals in the mudstone, sort of like mud pearls. I found the most interesting ones to be the ones that had split open along veins, called septeria, of purer calcite. The morning fog added its own mystery to the setting.

We arrived in Dunedin about noon, and walked the 2 kilometers from the campground into town after lunch. The center of Dunedin is an octagon shaped park with a statue of Robert Burns occupying a prominent position. His great-nephew Thomas Burns was the first Presbyterian clergyman in town. We took a historic walking tour around town, with a major stop at the Otago Settlers Museum. Its most interesting feature was a room filled floor to ceiling with portraits - paintings, drawings, and photos - of early settlers.

Sunday morning we went to Meeting for Worship, and saw several people that we know from their visits to Wellington. In particular, we were pleased to receive an invitation to dinner from Elizabeth T. and Elizabeth D., whom we have had many interesting conversations with. We passed the afternoon in the Otago Museum. I particularly enjoyed the Victorian Attic, which is filled with natural history exhibits - skeletons and stuffed animal and insects. We also enjoyed their butterfly environment - a 3 story tropical rain forest. When we got to the Elizabeths', our most fun activity was that they took us out to a glow worm area they had heard about but never been to either. It was about a ten minute drive and a ten minute walk up a trail along a stream and then we were in an area with steep muddy banks on both sides with lots of glow worms. It was probably a good thing that there had been a good drizzle the night before. The worms, actually the larval stage of an insect, are about the size of a pin and have a blue pin point of light at their rear end. They suspend little ropes of sticky stuff from their bodies and capture and eat insects that are attracted to the light. It had also changed into a clear and starlit night, so there were white points of light peeking through the trees and blue points of light all around. Quite magical.

The next day we drove out onto the Otago Peninsula. Our first stop was the Larnach Castle, built by a rich banker/politician about 1871. He called it "The Camp." It is really a beautifully made building, not too big, about four rooms per floor with a wide glassed-in verandah around the first two floors. The workmanship in wood and plaster around the ceilings and walls are marvelous. There is a high tower above the third floor with a panoramic view. We also enjoyed walking around the extensive gardens. The story of the first owner ends tragically. He had five children, one of whom died around age twenty. His first wife also died fairly young and he married her sister "to be a good mother for the children." After she died, he married a younger French woman. There were then rumors that she and his oldest son were having an affair, and he shot himself at the Pariliament building in Wellington. The Castle stood mostly unused for a long time, and then a young couple bought it in the early Sixties. The wife did a lot of the restoration herself until she could afford to hire help. She stills lives there and her kids run the business.

After the castle, we drove out to the tip end of the peninsula where there is an Albatross Center. We enjoyed the displays there, especially about recent efforts to work with fishermen to limit the inadvertent killing of seabirds during long-line fishing. We were too cheap to pay for the tour out to the nesting sites, so we walked along the public cliffs and did get to see one albatross that was soaring around for a short time.

The next day we drove to Invercargill via the Southern Scenic Route, which goes along the coast through an area called the Catlins. Lots of forest and rugged coast and sheep farms. Rain threatened on and off all day, so we picked our scenic stops based on whether it was actually raining at the time. After a surprisingly nice lunch in Owaka at the Lumberjack Café (shades of Vernonia), our first stop was a short hike to Purokaunui Falls through old forest. The second was a board walk out into an estuary and seeing several new birds (finally saw some Bellbirds) on the walk back. Finally we stopped at Curio Cove where the ocean has exposed a petrified forest. There are several large blown over trees and many stumps. The trees were covered by a large mudslide of volcanic ash 160 million years ago. The tide was out, which made it easy to walk out onto the large mudstone ledge. The waves were very big, crashing onto the rocks and making large clumps of kelp sway most enticingly in the coves.

Thus ends our first week on the South Island. It turned very cold (overnight lows in the thirties) towards the end of the week with occasional rain, but none the less we saw lots of good stuff. We love our camper van, especially with the extra duvet and hot water bottle that we were sensible enough to order for this fall camping. More to come!