Day 10: No time no place to talk about the weather

Day 10: No time no place to talk about the weather
Te Anau, New Zealand

Te Anau, New Zealand


Everything was go for our trip to Milford Sound this morning. We’d been checking the weather for this day ever since we’d arrived and it was going to be the only day with decent weather for at least three days either side. We’d confirmed with the tour guide and were getting picked up at 8.05.

We woke up at 6.00 to get ready in time and were getting excited. This was going to be one of the highlights of our trip and everything was working out.

Only at 7.00 our phone rang. It was the motel owner telling us that the Milford Sound road was closed – not because of the weather, but because of trees on the road after yesterday’s winds. He said he could try and get us onto a Doubtful Sound tour, which would be a bigger group (45 compared to 8 on the Milford tour), would cost more, and would involve a short bus ride, an hour boat ride, an hour bus ride and then a 3-hour cruise on Doubtful Sound. We didn’t know what else to do at such short notice, so told him to go ahead.

We had an extra hour to wait, as this tour didn’t leave until 9.00. The bus took us to Lake Manapouri, and we had about an hour trip across it to where the power station is. Apparently it can produce enough power for the whole of the South Island, so it must be huge. According to the brochure there had been plans to raise the level for the power station, but the fledgling New Zealand environment movement saved the area form damming in the 1970s.

It’s a massive lake, and very very deep – over 400 metres.

Once we got to the other end, we hopped onto another bus for a 22 km trip along the Wilmot Pass Road, which had been built in the 1960s for the power station. This took an hour, rising to 671 metres above sea level. There were some spectacular views. On the way down the gradient is 1:1.5, which is seriously steep. Our bus driver reassured us that the bus’s brakes were checked every six months and that they were due for a check “tomorrow”.

Finally, we arrived at Deep Cove, the start of the Doubtful Sound cruise. We were lucky with the weather, and had great views all the way. We travelled almost out to the coast where the Tasman Sea meets the coastline of New Zealand. If we’d kept going we would have hit the Australian coast somewhere south of Sydney.

I’d like to say I had a wonderful time, but today has taught me I’m not good on small-ish boats on choppy waters, and I spent a lot of the time on the boat wishing I was anywhere but there. So… yes I’m glad I got the opportunity to see this wild area – it was really beautiful – but I really didn’t enjoy it.

I also learned the reason we’ve seen hardly any road kill in New Zealand – this is something that I noticed on our second day heading out of Christchurch, in complete contrast to Tasmania. This is because they don’t have any roadkill targets. The only mammal native to New Zealand is the bat – hardly a target on the roads – so the animals that are going to get squashed on the roads are the introduced species like possums, and there are so many of them here, eating all the vegetation that their native birds need, that running over them is encouraged. (Slabs bought a t-shirt the other day with the slogan “Possums: New Zealand’s little speed humps” and now I understand it.)

I’m glad we did it, but this isn’t an experience I’m in any rush to repeat. I’m keeping both feet on solid ground for the rest of the trip.

Day 2: Christchurch

Day 2: Christchurch
Christchurch, New Zealand

Christchurch, New Zealand


Day 2 began where Day 1 left off – on a plane!

We got into Christchurch just after midnight. From there it was a fairly simple matter of getting through Customs, explaining what all the “yes” boxes were that we’d ticked on our arrival card, having our bags xrayed and sniffed by the sniffer dogs, and finally we were free to go. Our motel runs a shuttle service until 2 am, so all we had to do was call and by the time we got to the meeting place, they were already there.

Another couple had called before we had, but hadn’t managed to work out where they had to go, so after putting our bags in the bag, the driver disappeared back into the terminal to look for them. When we got to the motel, she asked if the airline had told us that daylight saving began in New Zealand today.

Uh, no. So you mean it’s not 1 am, it’s 2 am?

We went to bed pretty much as soon as we got into the room (after telling Kramstable that no, just because there were three pillows in the bed, it didn’t mean it was a three-person bed, and no he wasn’t going to sleep with us).

We’d only booked this motel one night, because it was close to the airport, and were transferring to another one closer to the city centre for our second night, but in hindsight it would have been better to have stayed where we were.

Never mind.

We had (a very expensive) breakfast in a cafe down the road, and checked out at 10 am. Our rental car company had a shuttle service that picked us up from our hotel and took us back to their terminal at the airport (yay!) After sorting out the paperwork (and arranging to get a new registration label for the car during the week!) we were on our way.

Only we had no idea where we were going, so we just asked the guy at the rental agency how to get out of the airport. After a brief detour we made our way into the city with no real idea of what to do.

We decided a tour on the Christchurch tram would be interesting, to give us a feel for the place. Our tram was a 1920 tram, which had originally been a two-driver tram but later modified to a one-driver tram. It does a couple of circuits around the city, going past the main interest spots over 17 stops. You can get off and on at any of the stops on the day you buy your ticket.

The thing that strikes you most about Christchurch is the devastation from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. The 2010 quake was the strongest, but the bulk of the damage was done by the 2011 quake. It’s hard to describe what it’s like, and difficult to see what’s changed because I wasn’t familiar with the city and what it looked like before, but it was sad to see the broken and boarded up buildings, empty blocks and remains of what had once stood.

I felt a bit guilty about travelling round and looking at it all – but I got the feeling that the city is recovering and rebuilding and they don’t want you to feel sad, but to share in what seems to be an optimism for the city’s future. We saw things riding from the rubble – the Re-Start mall built out of brightly coloured shipping containers, the public art installations and paintings on some of the empty walls, and the exhibition about future Christchurch.

There’s a lot of activity, and I couldn’t help wondering if every crane and digger in New Zealand was in Christchurch. I felt especially sorry for the cathedral. It was one of Christchurch’s iconic buildings and was so badly damaged that apparently there has been a decision to demolish it, but no real plan on how to replace it. There is opposition to this, and I can understand this. I imagine it would be like if Sydney lost the Opera House. Still Cathedral Square is a hub of activity for the city, and one of the new features is an installation called Planted Wheare, “affirming life and existence, alongside the acknowledgement of loss”.

The last leg of the tram route is through New Regent Street, which our driver Ian described as the best shopping in Christchurch, and we just happened to see the Wizard of Christchurch and a couple of his apprentices at a coffee shop.

After lunch we found our new motel just out of the city centre, It’s the first motel that I’ve ever been to with emergency advice for what to do in an earthquake in the motel directory. Slabs and Kramstable had a rest and I went for a walk to get a bit closer to some of the things we’d seen from the tram.

I love walking through new cities and exploring and seeing the little random things you’d never see from a car, bus or tram.

In the evening we headed out to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve for an introduction to New Zealand’s birdlife and Maori culture. First up was a tour of the birdlife in the park. This included a stop-off with the slimy eels and an up-close encounter with New Zealand’s most annoying bird, the kea. The kea at the park are very fond of people and will just land on your shoulder and start to chew your jacket, scarf or finger (if you’re stupid enough to put your hand anywhere near their beak lalalalala).

The main focus of this part of the night was the kiwi, which we saw in the nocturnal house. We learned that there is more than one type of kiwi, their eggs are massive (see picture – this is a kiwi egg compared to a chicken egg – when the mama kiwis lay an egg it’s so big it’s equivalent to a human giving birth to a 3 year old child – and they do this three times a year!) A baby kiwi’s chance of survival in the wild before they reach 6 months is about five per cent, so a lot of the eggs are brought to the park and incubated and raised to a size where they have a better chance of survival before being put back into their habitat, which has apparently helped to maintain the population. They are threatened by all manner of introduced species including stoats (introduced to kill the introduced rabbits, but kiwi are easier to catch and kill), possums, cats and dogs, and wild pigs.

The second part of the night was the Ko Tane Maori experience, where we learned about the Ngai Tahu Maori people, which is the tribe of the South Island. We received a traditional welcome to the South Island and learned about how the people lived in the area. Then we had a performance of some of their cultural songs and dances, which included a chance for the women to learn a poi dance (this is not a skill I possess) and the men to learn a haka. It was fascinating introduction to the culture of this country and something I’m really glad we did.

Finally it was time for dinner. Four courses, including dips, kumara soup (“one of the best soups I have ever had,” said Kramstable – and I agree), a huge banquet of meat and vegetables cooked in a pit of hot rocks, and dessert. Somewhere in the middle of all this food, the kids went out to feed the deer, which Kramstable enjoyed immensely. By this time we’d definitely made up for last night’s dinner on the plane (not sure how long I can drag this one out as an excuse for overeating!), and it was time to head back to our motel for (we hoped) more sleep than we got last night.

P365 – Day 285 – excursion (12/10/2011)

Juniordwarf’s class went on its first excursion today.  A bus trip to a nearby wildlife sanctuary, Bonorong Park.

The school asked for parents to go along and help out, and I decided to volunteer.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from a day with 40 or so kids, other than that there would most likely be a fair amount of noise, and a lot of coordination would be required to make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be!

It was a lot of fun. The kids were very well behaved, and they had a great time.

I’m glad I went. I enjoyed the chance to talk to some of Juniordwarf’s classmates and to share their excitement at seeing all the animals. It was the first time I’d been there, and I’d like to go back another day to show Juniordwarf the areas that we didn’t get to see today.

Our tour guide and the wombat

Wombat

Banjo the koala

Koala mum and baby (hidden by leaves, but it is there!)

Koala on the move

Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian Devil and feeding babies

Juniordwarf feeding a kangaroo

Juniordwarf feeding a kangaroo

‘Kanga Country’

‘Kanga Country’

Blue tongue lizards

One of the highlights of the trip – the peacock

P365 – Day 78 my little piece of paradise

Regular visitors to pastpresentfuture might remember my post about the jungle down the side of Slabs’ shed.

To recap, our back yard has a fenced off section behind Slabs’ home brew shed that is ‘mine’. I have my own tin shed, a sort of paved area out the front and a small garden space at the back between the shed and the neighbour’s back fence.


My original plan for the area was to have a culinary herb garden in front of the shed, a walkway between the shed and the fence lined with different varieties of thyme leading to another herb garden behind the shed.

This is what the area in front of the shed looks like today.

What you can see is: my shed, Juniordwarf standing in front of what was supposed to be the container mint garden, but has been taken over by the lemon balm.
Lemon balm is also the plant you see in amongst the pots and the green bucket. 
A rather large lemon verbena plant to the right. It has taken over what was the ‘culinary’ herb garden and is huge. I keep expecting it to die completely in the winter, because I thought it wasn’t frost tolerant, but it has just gotten bigger and bigger. It has the most glorious lemon smell.
Unfortunately it has started to be taken over by this insidious creeping vine thing, that I believe is called ‘morning glory’. It sends out runners underground, crops up everywhere and twists around plants that it climbs up, strangling the life out of them.

Ugly, horrible stuff. It’s everywhere around here. 

Moving right along, as I said before, the gap between the shed and the fence was to be lined with thyme. I used to call it the ‘thyme line’, and I originally planted several different varieties along the fence, about five or six years ago.



Only the original thyme has survived, but it’s gotten very old and woody now, with new bits sprouting out here and there.

The other side of the thyme line (the shed side) was supposed to be a chamomile lawn, with some honeysuckle climbing over the shed. The chamomile has gone and the honeysuckle has become a ground creeper.

Another part of the plan was a climbing ‘Black Boy’ rose to be planted at the back of the shed and intended to climb over the shed’s roof. Unfortunately I had no idea about how one would get a climbing rose to climb a tin shed and everything I tried failed. 

Then the garden got somewhat neglected due to other priorities (aka Juniordwarf) and the rose went in completely wrong direction, away from the shed and over the neighbour’s fence.


So my first task, after hacking my way through what had been the thyme line, was to try (again) to train the Black Boy over the shed. 


It required considerable effort, and there is some more fixing work to be done, but at least I could get into what was supposed to be my relaxation garden. 

I expected it to be overgrown, but was shattered to find that the whole area had been overtaken by stickyweed, which had died. So there was just masses and masses of this dead brown sticky, seedy evil plant.


As I started to pull it out, I got more and more covered in the foul little seeds to the extent that I decided I had to keep going and get it all out, so I’d only had to de-seed my clothes once.

This is what my clothes looked like at the end of the session:
The seeds were everywhere: in my hair, my hat, all over my clothes, underneath my clothes, in my shoes . . .  it was gross. And my arms looked like this.
But even though it really hurts and I don’t know how I’m going to get my clothes clean, I keep reminding myself that it’s all gone, so next time I’m in there I can get to the real job of pruning everything back, pulling out old plants and putting in new ones if I have to.
I want to reclaim my space. I started it almost six years ago and now I want to finish it.
Oh and as a total distraction, I spend a few minutes watching this little guy.
I’ve never watched one closely before, and found it quite fascinating to watch him breathe and see how alert he was, how bright his eyes were, and how at one point he had both his front and back legs pointing backwards, instead of actually standing on them. 
It was a very relaxing break in the middle of a hard afternoon’s work.

P365 – Day 45 – lemon tree

We planted our lemon tree in December 2009. Slabs, Juniordwarf and I spent the best part of an afternoon transferring soil into a huge planter box from the ute in the driveway.
Today while Juniordwarf and I were out in the garden, I noticed some tiny green fruit on the tree!

It was the first fruit it had ever grown, so that was pretty exciting.
Only I remembered that I’d seen Peter Cundall say many years ago that it was best to remove all the fruit from a lemon tree for the first couple of years, so that it could put its energy into growing a strong root system and a strong structure. He said something along the lines of however much it breaks your heart (he probably actually said ‘bloomin’ heart’) to cut off the fruit you’re actually trying to grow, it’s best for the long term health of the tree and for future crops.
A tiny lemon

Lemon flower
So with some regret, that’s just what I did. I felt terrible, but I kept reminding myself it would be worth it in a couple of years when we have a magnificent lemon tree.
And in other gardening news . . .
This morning Juniordwarf and I went outside to do some gardening, which to me means pulling out weeds and so on, and to him means putting his little gardening tools into the back of his Tonka dump truck and parking it somewhere in the backyard.
Then he found another snail, which absolutely thrilled him. He spent the best past of half an hour walking around with his snail, showing me, showing the dog, putting it down in various places to see what it did. He was very taken with it.

It’s a snail, Mum!
I’m quite pleased with his new-found interest in all things buggy. It seems like something all little kids should be into.
In the mean time, I decided to take another step towards getting the garden organised. This time I ventured into my shed and pulled out the mouse-eaten box of seeds that had been sitting round for far too long.
From this . . .
I had this grand idea for a kind of seed filing system, where there would be a divider card for each month that listed on it all the seeds I could sow that month, whether to sow them direct or in punnets, when to plant out and when a harvest might be expected (if the snails hadn’t got them). This could all be added to my calendar/diary as each type of seed was sown.
Organised huh!
Well I didn’t quite get that far. I tossed out all the obviously out of date seeds and the ones that the mice had got to. The rest I sorted by vegetable type and then put them either into the ‘sow now or in the next four months’ container or the ‘sow in spring or thereabouts’ container. (These containers are great – they are from those terrible recipe card series that I always sign up to for the free/cheap two or three months and the free card holder and then cancel.)
So basically the seeds are stored behind the February, June, September or October dividers. Now, the theory goes, when I’m looking for something to plant, I can just go to the current month’s divider and grab something. Once I’ve planted something for that month, it goes into the next month that it can be sown in – either the next month, or sometime later in the year.
. . . to this
The other thing I did was set up a potting station and a sort of greenhouse thing for seed punnets. I’m not sure it’s in the best position, because it gets some of that really hot late afternoon sun, so I might have to restructure a bit.
This is on a stand that holds 8 trays & is all covered by a plastic cover.
But because it’s close to the back door, I’m hoping it will make seed sowing a more accessible activity for Juniordwarf and me.
Time will tell if it will make the garden more productive.

P365 – Day 25 a little guy

Today juniordwarf and I went to a friend’s house for a mothers group get-together.

All the other kids were inside dressing up and juniordwarf was checking out his friend’s play area. He asked me to come over to him. When I got there I noticed this little guy hanging out near the slide.

It was the smallest lizard I’d ever seen. (It would’ve helped to put a 20c piece next to him to show how small he was!) 
At first I wondered if he was actually alive because he didn’t move for ages. Just stood there. Terrified probably. But he was fine, and juniordwarf got a good look at him before he scuttled off under the play equipment.