Archive for October 2019

And The Rain It Raineth

October 3, 2019

Also, snoweth and haileth. The day was a hot mess, or a frigid mess, from moment to moment, depending.

It was pretty much pissing down rain as eight of us were driven from the port of Lyttelton towards Akaroa by our guide Brent, who used to drive an ambulance, and now also drives a taxi, and a good thing too, since the roads were windy, narrow, and slick.

Whenever it wasn’t raining we paused momentarily and I hopped out for a photo. See how New Zealand is unrelentingly beautiful, even when it’s under the weather?

We stopped in Little River at a store where local people sold their excess produce out front and there were lots of nice handmade crafts within.

On our way out of town we passed what might be the coolest motel ever, made entirely out of recycled silos. I would absolutely stay there if I were to pass that way again.

But we didn’t tarry because, you know, it was pissing down rain, and we were on our way to Barry’s Bay cheese shop, to see cheese made the old-fashioned way, taste their wares, and buy some to bring back to the ship.

Amazingly, they make a cheese called Maasdam, which is the name of our ship. Of course I had to buy some, but later I decided to send it as a little gift to our Captain instead of eating it myself. He hasn’t sent a thank you note, so maybe it wasn’t as good an idea as it seemed at the time, or maybe the cheese wasn’t up to Dutch standards, but there you have it.

Akaroa turned out to be a really cute and fun-for-tourists town, but the weather was somber and we didn’t linger.

While the others went into a fudge boutique, I ducked across the street and into the butcher shop. We saw a proper butcher in just about every town, but I had heard that despite the fact that New Zealand has 5 million humans and 60 million sheep, Kiwis don’t eat a lot of lamb, because the export market has driven the prices up so much that it’s considered a special-occasion treat. This slice of lamb leg was $32.95 a kilo in NZ dollars, which works out to about $10 a pound in U.S. dollars. To me that seems like a normal price, but here it’s seen as unaffordable.

Next we drove to Christchurch, where our first stop was at the Al Noor mosque, scene of the recent horrific shootings. This shrine in memoriam was out front, and I saw some of our ship’s crew members there. At least half the crew are from Indonesia, and they’re Muslims. They could have been there on that day, but luckily they weren’t.

The next part of our tour was called “punting on the Avon.” It turned out to be pretty extraordinary, thanks to the weather.

See how we’re sitting on the bottom of a flat boat, with our legs stretched out straight in front of us? I wish I could provide you with the soundtrack, but suffice it to say that many of us were pretty sure that we’d never be able to get back out of the boat again and would spend the rest of our lives punting on the Avon. Also, note the blankets, and note that they don’t look waterproof.

About three minutes into our journey downriver it began to sprinkle, then drizzle heavily. Our punter, a strapping young trainee, turned the boat around and went back to the dock, by which time it was pouring, and from which they pitched us some waterproof blankets and umbrellas.

No sooner did we set forth again then it actually began to hail. I tried to get a good shot of the hailstones on our blanket, but a) I was trying to keep the camera dry, and b) we were all laughing semi-hysterically and my hands were shaking. I have to say, though, that we all vaulted ourselves out of the punt lickety-split a few minutes later, the hail making us forget our fears about being stuck in there for eternity.

Although much of downtown Christchurch has been rebuilt since the 2011 earthquake, a lot of it hasn’t. You see lots of shipping containers full of concrete that are being used to prop up crumbling facades and prevent debris from falling into the streets. Seeing these buildings really brought home for us the magnitude of the devastation here.

This steel sculpture survived the quake, and stands near

this installation protesting the use of precious water resources for bottled water. I particularly like the last line of the inscription.

This lovely piece of street art seems to be watching over the downtown, which has seen far more than its fair share of suffering. 185 lives were lost in that earthquake, another 51 at the mosque. And we were complaining about the weather.

Not without reason, as it turned out. Because although we were supposed to depart for Kaikoura at 5:00 p.m., in reality the port authorities wouldn’t clear us to depart until 5:30 a.m this morning, and so we missed our stop at Kaikoura altogether. I was supposed to go on a dolphin watching boat, which I was sad to miss, but that’s life at sea. So now we’re tied up in Wellington but can’t leave the ship until morning, when, happily, it is not supposed to rain. Or snow, or hail. Earthquakes and mass shootings aren’t in the forecast either, but then, they never are.

Super Natural Dunedin

October 2, 2019

As we sailed out of Eden on our way to Dunedin I was hanging over the rail and managed to capture this portent of things to come. I had signed up for a tour based on the area’s nature and local Maori lore, and I was really looking forward to it.

I can’t decide whether I’m a blessing or a curse to local tour operators, but once again I was the only person on the tour. In these cases I know they’re losing money on me, but I can’t help but love having a local person all to myself to answer my endless barrage of questions.

Lyndon, my guide, first drove me through downtown Dunedin. This is the famous railway station, opened in 1906, and made out of locally quarried basalt and limestone. I wish we’d had time to go inside, as it’s supposed to have quite a splendid interior as well.

On our way out of town we also passed this gate to the Chinese Garden. Dunedin, mainly known for its Scottish ancestry, has also been home to a significant Chinese population since its gold rush period, beginning in the 1860s. But really, pretty as these baubles are, they are nothing compared to the absolutely gobsmacking gorgeousness of the surrounding countryside. Here’s some eye candy for you, from our drive on the Otago Peninsula.

That pretty yellow plant covering parts of the hillside is gorse, an introduced and invasive species that is the bane of local folks’ existence, however attractive.

We went down on this pristine beach looking for New Zealand sea lions, considered to be perhaps the world’s rarest sea lion, of which there are only about 200 in the area. Lyndon was interested to hear that we generally consider sea lions to be pests, stealing the salmon from the orcas as they do.

We didn’t find sea lions, but did see a couple of fur seals, hoisted up on the sharp, volcanic rocks, and blending in so perfectly that my camera couldn’t see them at all. I tried barking my quasi-sea lion bark at them, to see if they’d wake up, but I’m afraid they didn’t understand my accent.

Evidence of the area’s volcanic origins is everywhere.

Next we stopped by the Otakou marae. Marae is the Maori word for meeting place, and today this one is used for ceremonial functions like funerals. We weren’t able to go in, but it was a peaceful spot that hummed with history and power.

Part of the tour was a boat trip out around Taiaroa Head to see an albatross colony. Although the Monarch can take 50 passengers, we had her all to ourselves.

It’s hard to imaging a more stunning spot. We were looking specifically for the Northern Royal Albatross, which has an astounding 10-foot wingspan and is the world’s largest sea bird. There had been 12 chicks hatched in the colony this year, and 11 of them had already flown away from the nest. Just one chick was left, occasionally flapping his wings and looking like he was going to fly at any moment. Alas, we didn’t get to see that, but I hope that by now he’s found his way into the air.

We did see lots of Buller’s albatross, soaring gracefully, still impressive with their six foot wingspan, as well as petrels. I’m not a birder, but seeing them was really special.

This part of the trip was watched over by the Taiaroa Head lighthouse, which I was sorry to hear is now fully automated. If ever there were a place I’d want to be a lighthouse keeper, this would be it.

Oysters In Eden

October 1, 2019

In the tiny town of Eden, Australia I went on an oyster farming tour. Since we’ve tried our hand at growing oysters at home on the island I was eager to see how it’s done in this part of the world.

A group of us from the ship got on this oyster punt with a guy who calls himself Captain Sponge. Despite the goofy name, he’s as knowledgeable and articulate an oyster farmer as you could ever hope to meet, and he regaled us for several hours with fun oyster facts as we motored gently around Lake Pambula.

He farms about seven acres of Sydney rock oysters, a process that begins with catching the spat of these wild oysters that hug the shore and sequestering it for his annual production of about million oysters a year.

He uses a floating bag system to raise the oysters

in a relatively shallow environment. He wades in amongst the silt and eel grass to tend his bags, avoiding the occasional shark.

Here he pulls out some of his crop to show us their various sizes and attributes. Then he feeds a couple of platefuls to us, and happy slurping sounds can be heard running quietly through the group.

Back in town I visit the Killer Whale Museum, which is dedicated to a most peculiar bit of whaling history. Between 1843 and 1934 local orcas helped the resident humans hunt other species of migrating whales by herding them into Twofold Bay and trapping them there, until humans could dispatch them. As a reward the orcas were given their favorite bits of the butchered whales, the lips and tongues, and so the cycle continued. Honestly, I couldn’t make this up.

The centerpiece of the museum is the skeleton of Old Tom, the orca who is said to have been the chief Hunter’s Helper. This might be the only museum ever to have been dedicated to an individual marine mammal, and I found it fascinating.

After my visit, walking back down a long and winding hill road to the ship, and keeping a sharp eye out for snakes, I saw instead these parrots grazing contentedly on someone’s lawn.

Not having had lunch myself, grazing seemed in order. I stopped at a restaurant near the ship where I had heard they had good mussels. Alas, the restaurant was upstairs, and my sore knee didn’t feel up to the climb. However, this charming lady, a friend of the restaurant owner, was determined that I should have lunch, and brought me a chair to sit on the sidewalk, where she told me to wait while she fetched a table. A fellow passenger walked past and stopped when she saw me sitting essentially in the middle of the road. I invited her to dine with me, and so a stool was produced so that she too could sit.

Next thing you know mussels, oysters, and wine appeared in front of us, and I like to think that our impromptu and very much al fresco meal was the envy of all the passengers streaming past our sidewalk picnic on their way back to the ship. I can only conclude that Australians are amazing.