Sunday, 27 February 2011

Paloma Gardens Feb 26th – 27th

Paloma Gardens     This was a fabulous experience and to think I wasn’t originally very keen to come. We stayed in what Rich had been calling ‘The Red Shed’, but which was in fact a beautiful little chalet set in the garden itself, with its own entrance and terrace with enough room for 2 chairs for sundowners. The 4 poster bed was another lovely surprise!
We spent the evening walking around the main garden area and the swimming pool, surrounded by plants but with just a few lilies one end. Clive is a real plantsman and has collections of plants from all over the world. The bamboo is amazing, such thickets of huge plants with paths running through them, and sculptures swimming overhead. He also has lots of agave and cactus, palms huge lobelia and some unusual lilies and all set around lawns and scambling paths up hill and down dale, making a really amazing garden, rather than a catalogue. He is very knowledgeable and loves to talk about the plants and where they come from and the conditions they need, but he also has a great sense of humour which is displayed in quotes and quirky objects and a real love of sculpture, large and small, which again become part of the garden.
It really is a must see if you are ever in New Zealand and have an interest in gardens. What you see here is only a tiny part of it. Clive and Nicky are now expanding across several old sheep pastures converting them into an Arboretum with a sculpture park and maze. Also Clive is in the process of creating a G.O.D (Garden of death) and already has several skulls and other bones in place as sculptures.
We had coffee with them in the morning before we set off and he was thrilled to hear there is someone else in NZ who is a bamboo enthusiast, Pete, and you are invited to visit!
Photos here.
We move on today (Monday 28th) from New Plymouth to a Farm Stay near Lake Taupo.  I doubt there will be any Internet access there as we will be in another "chalet in a field" type of accommodation. We have much posting to catch up on but will do so from Rotorua if and when we get the chance.

Napier to Whanganui Feb 26th

What a long day! Pete and Nadine took us out of Napier to get us on the right road and we said our goodbyes and thankyous and started on our way. It was a very good, if winding road, up via Taihape, up over the Ruahine range of mountains to see the fantastic scenery. We did get a few bits of gravel road, but not much. Back on the main road we came across a military museum in the middle of nowhere advertising their VERY CLEAN TOILETS AND BRILLIANT CAFÉ, in large letters so we stopped for tea and scones and a very quick look round.
There were 2 possible roads for the final stage of our journey, and guess which Rich chose, the winding gravel track, along the Whanganui river road from Raetihi via Jerusalem, London and Athens, would you believe. All these also have Maori names. Following the river gorge was spectacular, if scary, especially when we wanted to pull over for a photo and something came the other way. We were surprised just how many other idiots were doing the same route and all commenting on the amazing views.
I was surprised to see the swathes of verbena bonariensis growing wild all along the roadside. We decided to go on to find our B&B in Paloma Gardens before we did anything else and what a reward we got. We had supper sitting in the sun surveying the most amazing garden outside the little red house/shed which was our home for the night. See tomorrow for the next instalment……!
Photos here.

Paraparaumu to Napier Feb 24th & 25th

It has been really great to be able to spend some family time this trip, catching up with Pete, Nadine and Ruben. Firstly to see them at home and have a place where we can always picture them, and to see their beach and their pets and the place where Pete works and to meet some of their friends. We had a lazy day there catching up with the washing, re-sorting the suitcases halfway round the world, and, most important, chatting. They had invited friends round to join us for a party in the late afternoon, evening, so we got food ready, then had a nice sociable time.
The next day we were setting off with them to a cottage they had booked us in Napier, on the beach by Hawkes bay. As we travelled they showed us some of the sights, like the heritage village of Onga Onga, and we passed a huge all girl cycle race, which was a surprise. The cottage was great but the weather vile, so, as Joy had sent some money for us to go out for a nice meal, we did and we really enjoyed it. Thanks a lot for being so thoughtful and generous Joy.
The next day we had a great time being shown round the sights of Napier, the Art Deco town. It had to include a few of the town’s gardens, including a very impressive man made waterfall. The buildings are incredible and it makes it even more interesting to know the history and reason why it came about. Perhaps Christchurch could adopt a new post earthquake style. It continues to upset us to see how badly affected it is. We heard from the lovely old couple we stayed with there and they are lucky to be alive. Neither was at home when it happened but their house and the street it is on has been destroyed. The brewery has also been wiped out but they are all well and living in the B& B next door, where we were, which is OK, though they still have no power or water.
We also explored the wineries around and bought some great wine and port, then saw the surrounding countryside. There was a fabulous viewpoint at Te Mata from which you could see the most beautiful scenery for miles all around you. It was popular with paragliders too, being so high in the midst of a wide plain. As you can see the weather was great and we had a lovely barbeque sitting round the fire pit on the beach, with Ruben loving trying out his Ray Mears fire starting techniques! He has really grown up a lot and can explain everything you need to know about various fishing techniques. I learnt a whole new vocabulary!
Photos here.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

NZ Numberplates

What is it about NZ  Number plates?
Today in Napier there were hundreds of "personal" number plates. Some of which I managed to photograph.  Others over the past few days have included.....
GO SWIM           CUPOFT         TAXGUY          MADGE         IM POSH      COKE 1 (Cola Lorry)
BITCH       MY CAR      OUR BMW     4 MR D   IMHAPY

All the numberplate photos were shot today.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Feb 22nd report other than Earthquake.

We got off early from Blenheim and arrived at Picton by 9.45 for a 12.10 checkin time for a 1.10 ferry. Obviously we had time to spare, but our look around Picton was not on as it was seriously wet. The options were either the Aquarium or a scenic drive around the Queen Charlotte Sound. (the other side to last night) With that much time on our hands we chose the scenic drive. We managed to take a few shots of the earlier ferry and some secret bay scenes as well as a river of tree ferns tumbling down the hillside. After about half an hour or so the road turned to gravel and we considered turning round, but no, we had plenty of time and surely by now we were in a position where it would be closer to go on than turn back. After another hour or so we were still on gravel (rally style driving by now) up hill and down dale, across bays and up into the hills again. Panic started to set in….. it was way past the point of turning back and we had no idea where we were as we had not come across any of the towns marked on our rather pathetic map. We had just an hour to travel on… to goodness knows where…. before we could find the Picton to Blenheim road again.  At last we found a village and it was the first of five that we should have passed through. We had 25 minutes left and now at least had tarmac and a white line. Blindly we sped on (140 km at times….. 80 limit roads) along an unknown/unmapped road when at last we met the B to P road. It was 18 km to Picton and we had 20 minutes to beat the 12.10 deadline.  We got to the check in gate at 12. 18, but were amongst a good sized queue of other ferry vehicles and at last I could relax. It was at this time that we took the picture of “Little Miss Lucy” Campervan as mentioned in the previous posting. On the deck of the ferry we were parked so closely that it was difficult to open the doors. Between news bulletins I got out on deck and took some shots of us leaving the Sound and arriving at Wellington. (at the same time as a plane came in).  We drove to Pete’s at Paraparaumu and settled down for a nice glass of wine and a meal out.  In the morning we all went for a walk along the beach with the dogs, paddled in the waves and then returned to watch the news again. Current update 75 dead and 300 missing. ChCh citizens being advised not to flush their toilets…….
Photos here.

22nd Feb ChCh Earthquake

We had driven to Picton to catch the ferry to Wellington (more on this in another posting, but will limit this posting to the earthquake issues). Sat on the quay we saw the VW Camper “Little Miss Lucy” that we had overtaken a couple of weeks back. I noticed that it had very nice alloy wheels and took a photo for Corin to see as otherwise the vehicle was identical to their camper. As I lowered the camera back down to see the image on the back screen the car swayed and I thought that it may be an after shock. Up to then they had reported 4,500 aftershocks after the September 4th quake 7.1 magnitude. I looked up to the floodlights that light the quayside. These are quite high and slender and I was convinced that I would see them swaying, but no. So I dismissed the thought of earthquake and attributed the sway to probably a passing lorry. As soon as we settled in the lounge (on the ferry) the news came on the TV and there was breaking news of a huge quake (6.3) in Christchurch. Over the next few hours we witnessed the event as it unfolded with live (unedited) footage being broadcast direct from camera to TV. At first it was announced that the Hospital was being evacuated, but later this was soon reversed and they soon filled it with casualties. The city ran out of ambulances and very soon started commandeering 4x4s to take the injured down streets littered with rubble to the hospitals and red cross stations. The airport was closed down except for medical evacuations to Wellington and Auckland. We watched as aftershock after aftershock took more toll on the city’s buildings, with some crumbling “on camera”. By now the Cathedral had suffered major damage with the spire down and all over the square in front of it. A huge rock, the size of a big bus at least, fell off the Redcliffs at Sumner where we had stayed Feb 17th. This landed fair square onto a building below. Cars and petrol tankers came to a stop when boulders littered the road around them.
This morning we woke to the sound of many helicopters going to the south island, presumably to assist with the rescues. At this point in time (noon 23rd) they are still trying to get people out of the debris and they have a confirmed death toll in the 60s with an estimated 100 missing persons, yet to be located. The phones are just about functioning and people being urged to text rather than call to save resources. 80% of the city is without water and some fires continue. People are being urged to create makeshift latrines at the bottom of their gardens as the sewage system is not functioning in many parts of the city. They are setting up emergency funds for people to access, as the banks have shut down and all ATMs are out of action. All the good work that has been done since Sept 4th quake has been undone and overall the damage has been greater. Any unsafe building that we witnessed shored up, awaiting repair, are now most likely down. People are leaving the city as best they can to spend time with friends in outlying suburbs and other towns. At least they will have basic facilities there. I will post the rest of the events of yesterday and today later.
Photos here.

Earthquake update 22nd Feb

Hi Blog Followers,
We are well and now in North Island at Ann's Brother's place. I felt the shake while we were sat on the quay waiting for the ferry. While on board we got live TV coverage and I will post more info later. Suffice it to say there is much activity here with helicopters going to and from ChCh.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Blenheim Day 2 Feb 21st

What a full day we had today! We started by exploring the town of Blenheim, although that didn’t take too long. It really is an area dedicated to wine production and little else. We visited a very pretty church and an Art gallery that had an exhibition of the work of some young illustrators of children’s books. There was also a pretty little park, using chard in its beds and making a lovely bed of different coloured allysum, so cheap and easy, but it worked.
From there we visited an exhibition of Aviation Heritage, well Rich did. We had been to the library and I had bought a new book in their sale, so I stayed outside and read a bit. The museum was mostly filled with WW1 bi-planes and mostly German planes at that. There was one exhibit where it explained that an allied pilot having collided mid air with another pilot of his flight was caught in a spin.  He decided to climb out onto the wing ready to jump off at the last moment (no parachute in those days).  However his off centre weight corrected the balance of the plane and he flew it to the ground with one hand on the controls and standing on the wing to adjust the trim. On landing, he hitched a ride back to the airfield and flew off in another plane! There was also a display of the demise of the Red Baron who was shot down after he had shot down 80 allied planes. He landed badly in a ploughed field and died there and then. The ANZAC troops pounced on the plane and stripped it of souvenirs within minutes. Most of these souvenirs have now found there way back to this exhibit, almost a century later. 
We had a garden visit set up for midday at Upton Oaks  and were welcomed by Sue. Again her husband Dave does the construction and she does the planting. They have developed the garden from scratch, just having 2 trees when they arrived. Sue worked around the house at first and here has no straight lines, lots of romantic soft planting in pinks and greys. Then she began the knot garden, which is a delight, with many of the beds filled with one plant or one colour and one side much more dramatic oranges, reds and bronzy foliage and the other softer blues and purples. She too uses chard as a foliage plant. She uses a lot of dahlias, often singles, at this time of year, and they flower for a long time she says. Lots of white accents too.
We moved through an olive grove to a little pool garden, with Lutchens bench an expanse of grass and wide perennial borders, beautifully full still with flowers. Some lovely combinations here too, and much more subtly mixed rather than separated by box, although they do have a nice edging on the approach, holding the agapanthus that shine even in the shade. Box grows really quickly here, as does the hornbeam also used for hedging and Sue is quickly able to separate and edge the next area for gardening.
There it is again in the parterre formalising the vegetables and fruit along with beautiful oak obelisks. Everything was burgeoning and dripping with fruit.
The next project is to repair and place an old wooden house into the garden, with a view of a wonderful blue and white garden with central metal gazebo, to be used for weddings! We returned through the swimming pool area and the little courtyard outside the back door, to appreciate the soft lines of the paths and stachys spilling over the edges.
We were straffed by a huge plane while at the garden and again at the first vineyard we visited, maybe having an air force base so near has its disadvantages.  The wineries we visited were Highfield and Villa Maria. Both recommended by Joe Ferraby from the Barewood garden we visited yesterday. Highfield had some stunning views from the Tuscany style tower they have built recently. In both places we tried some new wines and we bought white, rose and red wines to take with us to the North Island to drink with her brother, Peter.  We took a scenic route back to Blenheim, via Havelock, Queen Charlotte Sound, and Picton. On our journey we were looking for somewhere to swim, but the tide was out and the shoreline was nearly always mud. We came across some shags nesting in a dead tree and they did not seem to mind me getting up close to photograph them. Also, while out on the road we came across this fence of shoes. We had seen this before lower down this island but this was the only chance I had to photograph them. Any ideas what this is all about...... answers in an email please. In the port of Picton was this huge logging dock. We had seen logs going north on road trains for days now and it seem they are all here. Tomorrow we catch this ferry to go to Wellington and the first 50km of the sailing is along this Sound, so more photos then. However I’m not sure how good Peter’s Internet is, so it may be a day or two before you get another posting. Hasta pronto. Photos here.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Blenheim Day 1

We had seen a lovely river with people swimming it, at Pelorus, as we drove along this way, en route to Nelson, and Rich remembered and so we stopped for a look. It was beautiful, a stony clear deep river, but with excellent swimming holes with no current and even a place to jump in for those brave or daft enough. I had a long lovely swim while Rich took photos up and down the riverbank.
We arrived at our motel, very spacious and comfy, got settled and had lunch. Then we phoned to see if we could visit Barewood , the garden of Carolyn and Joe Ferraby, near Seddon. We were invited up this afternoon, so set off to see another of the lovely gardens recommended by the RHS.
As you arrive between an avenue of trees, you see a lovely, dramatic but simple fountain set in a circle of stone. The garden is surrounded by some 100 year old oaks and other native trees, some planted by Joe’s mother, others in Carolyn’s time. They garden on clay in a very dry area, which sometimes gives problems. The wide beds around the house are mainly mixed perennials with lots of roses, jasmine and wisteria cloaking the front veranda. Like us in Menorca, they live a lot in their outside space in summer and there is an emphasis on avenues of hawthorns, or malus, giving lots of lovely shady cool areas this time of year, but full of blossom in spring and autumn colour later, and leading you on to a new area. We walked to the pavilion where roses were having their second flowering and mixed perennials give all year interest. Carolyn uses a lot of David Austin roses for their repeat flowering, their perfume and their old fashioned cabbage shape. There is a lovely pond with a big weeping willow and a boardwalk surrounding it. The planting here is of Hostas and other broad leaved natives, in the dappled shade, but with maples adding another colour palette. 
Carolyn has a potager, formally laid out with some box hedging around beds and lots of interest added by fruit tree arches and obelisks with unusual varieties of beans growing on them. Like me, she prefers to grow fruit and veg not normally available and to experiment!
Across the wide green lawn Joe has made a ha-ha this year so the sheep can’t get in but the view across the fields is not stopped by fences. He has also diverted the drive so it doesn’t cut the garden in two. A good team. The perfect end to the visit was a fragrant glass of prize-winning Villa Maria chardonnay with them on the veranda. Thank you both so much for making us feel so welcome.
On our way back to Blenheim we caught sight of this wonderful mountain range in the rear-view mirror and just had to stop to capture the moment.
Photos here.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Day trip to Collingwood Feb 19th

What a day of contrasts again. We travelled through a wonderfully fertile valley growing organic fruit and veg, beer and wine and all being offered for sale by the roadside. We supplemented our supplies on the way home. Then we began a climb up through the Abel Tasmen area round precipitous winding roads, made more difficult by numerous road works, resurfacing and repairing land falls. There were rewards though, with several stops for amazing views and some strange rock formations.
When we got to East Takaka, down a gravel road again, and found the 2 gardens we came to see. The first was a garden within a farm, (Matuka Farms Garden) and it was bizarre to keep coming to the edge of the garden and seeing bare pasture beyond, after the lush planting inside.
It was an inspiring garden though, of national repute, and, after 40 years there, Betty and Robin can be really proud of their achievements. We started at the little wattle and daub cottage Robin had recently built and that contained information about the garden, its history and articles in which it appears. There are a variety of areas with different kinds of planting and mood. I especially liked the way leaf forms and colours were combined. It didn’t always have to be rare plants, quite ordinary plants can become extraordinary when placed together with skill and an artistic eye. There were also plenty of quiet spots, designed to sit in, surrounded by sweet scents, of roses, jasmine and honeysuckle. The formal borders, bounded by box hedges, were of statuesque proportions, and nothing flopped, all seemed to support one another. One was mostly pinks and the other more blues and purples. There were nice accent points too, some quite simple ideas, but things that would draw the eye on and keep you moving through the garden. It had a shady rainforest garden too, with lots of ferns and hostas amid the trees.
The second garden suffered by being seen after the farm, but it too had its qualities, with lots of weathered wood being used and some wonderful lilies and roses.
We stopped for lunch and a swim at Pohara, where it took forever to get up to your waist.
Collingwood town (formerly Gibbstown) took the name of Collingwood when it was fashionable to name your town after famous people. Other examples such as Nelson, just down the road, Port Elizabeth, Georgetown, Wellington, and Victoria Falls were all named around that period. There is no evidence here that the Vice Admiral ever sailed these seas. Today the town has about 130 pupils in its school of all ages … yrs 1 to 13…. From the town and surrounding area. So you can see it is not a big place, but in the 19th Century was proposed as the capital for the whole of NZ, if Wikipedia is to be believed. What I found particularly interesting is that the community chose Saint Cuthbert’s as the name for the church. Maybe as a further reference to Cuthbert Collingwood or perhaps by coincidence, we will never know. The local museum has some exhibits relating to the Vice Admiral or as seen on one…. “Baron Collingwood”.
Photos here.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Nelson Feb 18th

As yesterday was a day of driving, today we set off for the beach to have a bit of relaxing. Our landlady suggested “Rabbit Island” a few Kms up the road. When we got there the place was deserted and all we had as company was this pyramid of logs that someone had put up the night before. I added a few more to help the structure along, as Ann went in the sea for her first dip.  The high tide was expected at 11am and it was now about 10.30.  As the tide came in, gradually the wood was disturbed until the structure slowly collapsed back to driftwood on the beach. (of which there are vast amounts). I joined Ann on her second swim, but as I had no costume, I decided to skinny dip……… no photos there then! On the way back to Nelson we passed this crazy car plant pot…. At least you slow down and maybe spot the B&B sign near it.
We then went into Nelson to visit the WoW museum. That stands for World of Wearable Art (and classic car) Museum. We were not allowed to take photos in the Wearable Art side of the museum, but in the car side it was OK. Many of the exhibits also had Wearable Art manikins between the cars so I took photos of those to give you an idea of what was on offer. This was wacky and at the same time so much skill had gone into making the costumes to be most impressive. The bizarre bra collection had examples called “Honey… suckle on these”… flowers and humming birds. Also “freshly squeezed”… which you can see in the photos has a lemon squeezer and fruit. Ann thought it would be better to be called “Squeeze me”. There was also a version that had two cranes perched on each shoulder and ensuring the perfect “Uplifting” experience….. etc etc. Has to be seen to be believed.  WoW Museum
Later we went through the car part of the exhibition and although many cars were American, there were enough English and European cars to bring back many memories. The whole display was well thought out and superbly executed with good backdrops to support the theme of the cars. Out the back was another section of about 150 classic cars and a restoration garage where they sort them out. I have included in the photos the cars that most impressed me or brought back fond memories from my youth. The car I first learnt to drive in (Ford Escort)….. The Rover coupe that Dad had….. The Austin A40 Farina we owned for two weeks… it lost 2nd and 3rd gear going between London and Southampton… it went back! And the best of all the Jag Mk9 that they were in the process of restoring. Dad had one of these in Birmingham before we went south to Hampshire.  The visit ended in me sitting in a DeLorean and setting the camera for delayed exposure. Just had to be done!
We then drove into town /city to see the Cathedral and other sights. Just to prove a point a rather classic car drove past as we were approaching the Cathedral. Great architecture and quite new being only about 50 years since the last refurb.
Nelson has many links with Nelson himself and the city roads are named after his battles, colleagues and ships. To round off the day we returned to the local beach but it was too windy to swim and it was low tide. So Ann settled down in the sand dunes and I took photos of the kite surfers.  Photos here.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Sumner to Nelson Feb 17th

For those of us counting the years, today is 44 years since Rich and I met! We have just celebrated with a lovely piece of salmon and veg and a nice bottle of wine we bought on our travels today.

It was a long journey (435 Kms), 9.30 to 6.30 but through some interesting landscapes, along side the sea for quite a time and up and down mountains between. The sea at Kaikoura was incredible, layers of milky blue at the edge, caused by the mixing of the silty edge with the sea, then the clear blue of the shallow water and then a sharp line where the ocean floor drops away suddenly and the sea becomes deep dark blue. This is where the whales come in to breed. We still find it hard to believe the amount of driftwood on many sea shores and that no-one seems to use or value it. Imagine what it would fetch, all that bleached beautiful wood, in England. Shame we can’t bring any home.
We travelled through a lot of vineyards too, and seeing the patterns they make on the hillsides we were reminded of the olive groves in Spain. We have also kept seeing a large eagle, we think, but bird of prey definitely, but have so far been unable to catch it on film. Still not as close as we’d like, but we saw so many today we had to have a try.  Sorry only a few Photos but most of the time I was driving. Click here for photos.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Banks Peninsula Feb 16th

Today we decided to go exploring around the Banks peninsula. Our hostess had told us the garden we most wanted to see was actually closed due to earthquake damage. They still felt it quite badly out here. We went that way and could peep through the trees and see the tarpaulin over it and a little of the garden which wound down to the sea. Just a few yards farther on was a nursery with an open garden, so we stopped, only to find that they too had suffered extensive damage. Part of the house was having its roof replaced and the older part, built with no cement in the mortar joints, has to be completely dismantled, brick by brick, all labelled, then put up again with modern mortar. They also lost the water from their clay pond. The garden showed signs of neglect but was an interesting layout, using the water that runs through it, and lots of quite unusual plants and trees. They are Hosta specialists, so they featured heavily along the shady waterways.
We decided to explore right across to the furthest little town, Akaroa, which has an interesting past. The peninsula was formed by three small volcanos and has the peaks, and hills and lots of pretty little bays. The French discovered it and thought they had bought it, but while they were back in France collecting settlers who wanted to go there, the English had signed the Treaty of Waitangi and the whole of New Zealand had become an English colony! In Akaroa there are still lots of signs of French influence, in street and place names and it is what makes it unique. The tricolor flies from many flagpoles and the cafes have French music playing.
We had our picnic on the beach there and I was able to go for a really lovely swim too. We had a little wander and found an amazing garden full of mosaic sculptures. I spent the whole time with a big grin on my face, it is all so wacky, but also very beautiful. The planting was not really to my taste, but again echoed the odd taste of its artist owner. She had lots of topiary birds and box hedges, but also whole beds of black grass or swarzkopf succulents. There were lots of very vibrant colours too, as in lots of gardens here, enormous sunflowers and lots of soft roses around the house. But the impact came from the mosaics, the pools and the ballerina table, and the huge figures many modelled on friends and family. Some very unexpected moments, like looking up, in a loo covered in guest comments, to see a ceiling covered in tiny shoes!
We returned on the Tourist path that winds right around the tops of the volcano craters.
Photos here.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Up to Mount Cook and on to Sumner (ChCh) Feb 15th

Just when you think you can’t be impressed any more by scenery, you encounter Mount Cook and the Southern Alps…Wow! Just the other side of the hill from Fox Glacier, so to speak. We just kept stopping time and time again to take photos as we would round another bend and there would be another amazing view of the mountains. We were very lucky that it was a lovely sunny, clear day so we got to see Mount Cook and the snow and glacial ice as it should be seen, with just a few shreds of cloud for atmosphere. We got as far as we were allowed by car, then went walking for a while to get even closer, but, to be honest, the best views are actually from a bit further away.
We headed off towards Christchurch where we were staying on the edge of the Banks Peninsula, so we could see some gardens we’d earmarked on that side of the city. The sea was in and in Sumner, where we are, there is a wide sweeping bay, so I had to go swimming, of course. There were far more surfers than swimmers, and to be truthful, to say I swam isn’t very accurate. I played and dodged between the big waves. Great fun! Richard just spent some time photographing the surfers.
Photos here.

Dunedin to Omarama Feb 14th

After a stormy thundery night, with heavy rain, this morning it has all blown over leaving a lovely clear blue sky and sunshine. We had booked a tour of the Cadbury factory first thing and it was great fun. There is practically nothing that isn’t done by machinery these days, and all the chocolate is tightly sealed in containers or pipes so they have to make a chocolate waterfall at the end of the tour, so you don’t feel disappointed. We were surprised how many strange flavours they make for the Australasian market, which we don’t ever see. We had to try a few… well what did you expect!
We set off along the coast from Dunedin, determined to see more of the sea, and perhaps some more seals and penguins and aiming for Moeraki to see another crazy geological phenomenon, the Moeraki Boulders ; huge round stone boulders on the edge of the sea. The journey was exciting, getting a bit lost and going down quite a lot of gravel tracks again, and the sight of the boulders on the beach was breath taking. The tide was coming in so some were getting slowly submerged as we watched and just appearing through the surf.
Equally impressive, in quite a different way was Oamaru, where they had access to limestone, and the buildings are beautifully grand and ornate, and still amazingly white. No industrial revolution to dirty it all. We also visited a fantastic museum, which emphasised man’s role in the surrounding area, social history and all really interesting and well presented.
Really crazy were the strange objects in the street outside the Art gallery, called Steam Punk, where a train and a couple of motor bikes were constructed from all sorts of odds and ends.
We then went inland, again driving through some stunning scenery including Lake Waitaki, Lake Aviemore and Lake Benmore. These were all a strange light blue colour as if a milk lorry had emptied its load into the water………… something to do with the melting glacier water. Some really good use was being made of all this water for hydroelectric power, creating some waterfalls and cascades that were beautiful in their own right. We were staying at Omarama, which only seemed to be in existence for a tourist pit stop. Our hotel had some individuals staying and 3 coach loads of Asians!
Photos here.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Dunedin Feb 13th …. Day 41 Over half way……..

This morning dawned a little better than yesterday; still looking threatening with dark clouds and mist on the horizon, but we set off optimistically to look at Dunedin. It is the place where the buildings look recognisably English, or Scottish, with lots of stone and brick and some veritable mansions in parts of the city. We went to see the famous Railway station first, a very grand impressive building indeed, and Rich was very tempted to take off on another train journey, but eventually settled for a bus tour of the city when one arrived outside the station. It took us to all parts of Dunedin with a funny and informative commentary from our driver. The links with Edinburgh, in terms of the situation as well as the architecture, are clear. We then explored on foot until after lunch, when we had decided to go out to the Otago peninsula and Larnach Castle, to see the famous gardens there.
We were not disappointed; it really is a fabulous spot and incredible work has been done with structures, levels and garden rooms reflecting different parts of the world, different eras or different styles of gardening. I was particularly impressed with the plant combinations and the plant choices, some quite unusual and dramatic. The only other time we have seen Echium of this stature was in Ireland. They have an Alice in Wonderland theme running through the garden too, hence the huge throne I am sitting on.
From there we wound through precipitous little lanes on the Otago peninsula seeing the sea from every side. Dunedin probably has more coastline per linear mile than anywhere! We saw lots of sea birds, culminating in the Albatross colony on the cliffs right at the end. They are so huge and soar so effortlessly it is an amazing sight. They have a body about the size of a swan and a 3-metre wingspan. They never flap their wings except at take off, and glide effortlessly. We also saw seals again, but they refuse to be photogenic. 
On the drive home Rich spotted some very photogenic old boatsheds and some old Dunedin trams, and lastly what appeared to be Nogin the Nog’s boat! I wonder how many of you remember him?
Photos here.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Invercargill to Dunedin. Feb 12th

We set off after a good breakfast on the “Scenic” route to Dunedin…. Or so we thought. We soon found ourselves however on the main road however (SH1) and had to do some serious cross-country to get back on the coastal road. This road degraded to a gravel path at times, but rewarded us with some spectacular views of the sea and coastline. At one point we were directed to the “Fossil Forest”, where thousands of years ago a volcano ash flow engulfed a forest and turned its trees to stone and then deposited them on the shore line. These can still be seen today, though fossil hunters have taken large chunks of “Trunk” away in the past. We also saw cormorants drying off after a hunting swim and vast seaweed kelp beds swishing around in the ebb and flow of the waves.  Not a lot of photos today as we were driving in fairly constant rain, but tomorrow (weather permitting) we intend to sight see in Dunedin. (NZ's Edinburgh) Photos here

Invercargill. Feb 11th

Our landlady suggested that as part of our walk around Invercargill we should visit the local hardware shop. Inside which we found a good selection of old motorbikes. This was a sort of hardware shop / motorcycle museum. The prize exhibit being the actual “fastest Indian” built by Burt Munro here in Invercargill. Those who have seen the film will know that this bike was shipped to the Bonneville Salt flats in the USA where it achieved the world record for its time. There were also parts that had been made specially for the film on display. In all there were probably about 50 bikes in this hardware store.  We crossed the road and walked up Yarrow Street….. it had to be done. On our way back we walked through  the park and into the museum where we met Henry…. The 120 year old Tuatara, a kind of reptile that has been on earth for millions of years.
In search of a swimming beach we visited both Bluff and Riverton where we spotted the backside of a penguin sticking out of some rocks. Several phone calls later, the penguin rescue service came and pulled it out of its “between a rock and a hard place” and were going to tag it and release it later tonight in calm seas. Our good deed for today.  If not for my experiments with B&W photos of the pier, we would not have noticed it. Ann never actually got to swim, but had a good paddle instead.  Photos here.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Milford Sound 10th Feb

We were hoping for good weather today as it had been lovely and sunny yesterday and the predictions were good. In fact it was quite cloudy and very misty and ‘atmospheric’ and began raining, real Welsh rain, as we approached Milford. We had got up early to avoid the rush and it was a good idea. We decided on a small boat to get up close to the famous sights, but we could hardly see a thing as we sailed out. It was too wet to contemplate taking the big camera out on the boat, so the little Sony Cybershot was called into action. However it did start to lift as we continued and we were able to see the range of fantastic waterfalls, called things like ‘the four sisters’, really well and the huge sheer walls of stone towering over us in the fiords. We saw the results of what they call ‘tree avalanches’, where the trees kind of unpeel from the rock face when the stress is too great, as they are only really rooted in lichen and mosses, and there is no real soil. It was all quite spectacular, seeing the scale of the tiny boats against the cliffs.
On the journey back, in better weather, we were able to appreciate the stunning views all the way to Te Anau. You pass through rainforest environments with huge trees with lichen literally dripping from their branches, and ferns of every description. Then near the tunnel there is Philadelphus and Hebe blooming on craggy boulder strewn mountains. Unfortunately they were working on the already narrow and treacherous road so no photos possible here. When we got to the Mirror Lakes there was a bit of a breeze but it was still possible to see their effect even with the ripples.  At one of the car parks we came across a couple of Kea birds feeding on picnic scraps. Very bold and almost tame these birds are the size of ravens and have lovely plumage and a harsh “keeeaa” call. After a quick late lunch back at Te Anau we drove on down the scenic route to Invercargill. We passed some very tortured pines on our way. The strong salt laden south westerly winds have distorted the trees that are the first obstacle they encounter from the South Pole. 
Photos  here.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Te Anau and Manapouri Feb 9th

We decided last night not to rush the journey from Queenstown to Milford Sound and back to Te Anau to our B&B as the road between there and the Sound is one of the most dramatic and beautiful in New Zealand. The new plan being to drive directly to Te Anau, get settled in then explore this area and the 2 lakes, Te Anau itself and Manapouri today.
We arrived here, having driven through some stunning softly green mountains, and got caught in a sheep drive being conducted quite chaotically around the considerable traffic. We saw lots of herds of deer, as this is the main area for venison production. We also stopped to look at the Kingston Flyer (Steam train), which sadly no longer flies anywhere. Rich enjoyed looking around though and took some nice photos.
Our B&B is called Shakespeare House and we are in Henry the 5th  room, next-door to Romeo and Juliet! We went off to Manapouri for a picnic and walk by the lake. On our way back we called in at the most fantastic nursery. They would make a fortune in Menorca: everything well looked after, lots of choice of several varieties of each plant type, and lovely helpful knowledgeable staff! Just my daily ‘fix’ of looking at plants! After emailing and blogging we will be off for a walk along Te Anau lake, then out for dinner. Hopefully venison again!
Tomorrow we will be up with the lark…. “Once more unto the breech dear friends”…and off by 8 to try to avoid all the coaches at Milford Sound.
Photos for the 9th ...  here.

Queenstown. Feb 8th

This morning we decided to catch a few photos of the local Primary School which had obviously been recently designed and built. It takes the place of several smaller local schools and has fantastic views over the lake towards Queenstown from Frankton. With its green roof, outdoor amphitheatre, astro turf and timber cladding it blends well into the environment and is a fantastic centre for learning. The kids had to wear hats when outside for sun protection. We “signed in” as visitors and had permission to take a few photos as “our son is a schools’ architect”. Hope you like the shots Corin. More to see when we get home.

Last night as we returned from Glenorchy…(pronounced Glenorki) we spotted this garden/tea place and decided this morning that it would be the right place to have tea and cake. What a crazy place. Obviously run by artists, the garden was full of sculptures and statements on the human race, and how we are overpopulating the planet, abound. There is much use of driftwood, taken off the lake beach only yards away, to provide interest in the garden and insulation to the house. Yes, the house is clad in driftwood. The planting in the garden is fabulously exuberant and one comes across naturalised swimming pools and chicken sheds by accident, here and there. Much use is made of the natural streams that tumble down the hillside. There are mostly Tiger lilies and Roses, but mixed with delphiniums, fennel, Echinacea, bergamot, rosemary, phormium and interspersed with different trees, including eucalyptus and Norfolk pine.  The tea and cookies were delicious and supplied along with insect repellent as the sand flies here are very persistent. The garden made me smile throughout my exploration, a real joy not knowing what was round the next corner!

The afternoon saw us in a much more formal garden. Ann had found this place in a RHS magazine (2005) and phoned to see if we could visit. Janet Blair was more than pleased to show us around and explain how over the past 40 years her garden has developed. She started with just a handful of trees, mostly elderberries and most still surviving and looking good with their canopies lifted to show the planting beneath. She made a good mixed shelter belt mixing pines and deciduous trees for autumn colour. Then began work on one garden  ‘room’ or area in turn. She has made good use of box, cornus, beech and hornbeam hedges for divisions, and plants long drifts of lavender or roses. She has several long perennial borders of deliberately decorative rather than native plants, and favours white blue and soft pinks and mauve flowers. There were lots we could recognise and used in England. Still “work in progress” Janet tends to plant groups of trees nowadays, choosing them for some pleasing characteristic, often white spring flowers. One day she’d like to sub divide the 4 acre garden and build a new house in half, when it all gets too much for her. We estimated that she was in her early 70s and still spending most of every day in the garden, doing nearly all the work herself. We had apparently interrupted her trimming the top of her 8-foot high cornus hedge (50 foot long at least)

In the evening we returned to Arrowtown where we found some locals “recreationally panning for gold” …. No luck so far! We later dined on Venison pie in the pub and then went to the quaint 42 seat cinema to see “The King’s Speech”. It was a b-b-b-brilliant f-f-f-f-film, but sadly cut in half badly…. so that the cinema could supply its customers with a cheese, biscuits and wine intermission. Those who arrived late and when already full had a beanbag to sit on in the aisles. 
Photos for the 8th ...  here.


Monday, 7 February 2011

Wanaka to Queenstown Feb 7th

We had heavy rain last night and woke to a grey day with all the mountains shrouded in clouds and mist again. As we drove we kept getting tantalising glimpses through the clouds. We passed through a tiny ex-mining village, Cardrona, with a ‘heritage’ wooden church with stained glass windows. It seems so incongruous but it is how it is here!
We drove through softly rounded grassy hills until we got closer to Arrowtown where we could see more of the craggy peaks of the Alps and snow covered mountains with their glaciers. Here there were lots of wild lupins along the roadside, verbascum of both types, yarrow and Elderberry, Rowan and Hawthorn full of berries. A softer landscape but still with precipitous twists and turns. Arrowtown is a very cultured town as opposed to brash Queentown. It has lovely galleries, up market shops and artisan bakeries. It also has an unusual cinema and we booked to see ‘The King’s Speech’ tomorrow night.
Queenstown is more commercial with the usual suspects, MacDonalds, Kentucky fried chicken etc, but its situation is idyllic on the edge of huge Lake Wakatipu and it does also boast a ‘Smiggles’ the stationery shop. We drove along the lake to Glenorchy and saw a paraglider against the clouds in front of the mountains…Wow, what a way to see them. I had a lovely but cold swim in the lake of course, before returning for a late dinner and a quiet night in blogging.  Photos here

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Fox Glacier To Wanaka Feb 6th

We started off hopefully this morning, with a grey cloudy sky but not actually raining. Our hostess said, ‘Oh it looks quite reasonable’, as I was thinking, ‘Oh it looks as if it’s about to pee down.’ I was right! It started as we got to the local lake and didn’t stop until we got to Wanaka. It was still a stunning journey, with waterfalls and rivers gushing at every turn, and of course, to make waterfalls you do need rain, so we couldn’t complain. There were again banks of ferns too, with tree ferns poking out of the top. So many varieties too, I didn’t know so many existed : some very familiar and others quite unknown. Sometimes the clouds and mist made the scene even more evocative but a lot of the time they did simply obscure the view. We’ll have to return some time!
We also saw herds of deer, as they are farmed around this area and I am looking forward to sampling some venison. The house being built was interesting because, to us, it seems so odd to have only all these wooden shack-like buildings, even on big ranch spreads, but look how easy it is to build and rebuild.
As we came down the other side of the mountains the weather started to clear and we got really good views of the two lakes, Wanaka and Hawea, which almost touch at one point, and are quite fabulous, huge and really blue, unlike a lot of the grey rivers that run off the Alps and the glaciers. It was sunny as we arrived here and people were complaining of the heat! I look forward to swimming in one of the lakes tomorrow. We walked along their very informative time line of the last 2 millennia path which runs along the edge of the lake, then retired for a glass of Merlot and to cook our own dinner in our first real self catering apartment.  
Photos here.

From Cape Foulwind to Reefton Feb 4th.

We set off to drive through some beautiful scenery, through the Buller Gorge until we saw some boys in strange costume hitching. Curiosity got the better of us and we picked them up. They were two German carpenters doing the obligatory 3 years of practice away from home that comes after their apprenticeship. They had travelled all over the world and really enjoyed the process of learning from other craftsmen and being in such different places as Scotland, France, Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand. They were now on their way home.
We continued on towards Reefton, where we were due to meet Ros and Mac. They were staying in a camper van just opposite our B&B. This one has to be the worst we have stayed at so far, but it was just for one night, and most of that we spent out with Ros and Mac. First we went to the local swimming spot and had a great swim in the river. Then later we went out for dinner, drank rather too much and decided to meet up for coffee the next morning. Ros and Rich spent much of the time reminiscing about past events and people at Ellesmere and catching up with the latest gossip.

Reefton to Fox Glacier     Feb 5th
We found out that this Saturday was the Reefton show so we got up, had coffee as arranged, then went our separate ways. We will meet up again later on the tour. We really enjoyed the little village show, seeing the sheep shearing was great and Rich was blown away by the axe man competition and really amazed to see so many Jags in New Zealand: the Christchurch Jaguar club, all with great number plates. We weren’t so impressed by the Art and photography but there was plenty to do and see.
From there we headed off through Greymouth , and then into the rainforest again winding our way towards the Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers. Such amazing sights to see, with all the tree ferns again on our way and then the huge expanses of ice in the middle of the mountains. They have to be seen to be believed.  There are a remarkable number of old cars about, mostly rotting by the side of the road and some even used as gate posts.  We also found the Puke pub, but it was closed. In the café over the road the Possum pie was off the menu as they had not caught any possums recently. That is genuine…….. read the menu.
Photos here.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

TransAlpine Railway to Greymouth - Feb 3rd

A very early start today to catch the train, but well worth it for the fantastic scenery en route! The train line goes up through the Alps and alongside rivers that change character at every turn. There was no snow, or only very small patches viewed in the distance, but there was a very chilly wind especially on the top. There was an open viewing carriage, for the hardy photographers among us, but others preferred to view the scenery from the warmth of our seats. Hardly anyone lives at these heights now, and only coal miners, gold prospectors and loggers in the past, but there is an entire village for sale near the top if you have a million NZ dollars to spare.
In Greymouth we collected our car, had lunch and set off up country to Cape Foulwind, just west of Westport. On the journey we again saw some stunning craggy scenery and stopped for a half hour walk round the Pancake rock viewing area. Isn’t nature just brilliant, the way these bizarre geological phenomenon occur.
Ros and Mac were only just off Fox Gacier and too far away to meet up today but we are meeting tomorrow at Reefton.
Our B&B (The Steeples) is beautiful, right on the edge of the cliff tops and has a brilliant garden with views out over the sea and rocks beyond. We walked up to the lighthouse from where you could see the coast all around and the seal colony in the distance. Supper in the local pub owned and run by the sister of our hostess, really friendly welcoming people all, and we met a couple from Madrid!
Have been very struck by the ‘wild’ plants here, where tree ferns and phormium grow like weeds everywhere and hydrangeas, crocosmia and agapanthus are almost as rampant and you get patches of wild lilies in the most unexpected places. Almost everything is very familiar, lots of yarrow and clover, self heal and alyssum. Very lovely it is too.   Photos here.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

NZ here we come. 1st and 2nd Feb

As we flew into Christchurch yesterday, we could see that it could be cold as there was snow on the hills. That night was quite a shock after Australia and the temp was down to about 15 degrees. This did not stop us from strolling around the city a bit and we discovered the Cathedral Square.  There are many buildings here still showing the effects of the earthquake (7.1 Richter scale) back in September of last year. Depending on who you speak to there have been between 2,500 to over 4,000 aftershocks since then and those regularly in the 3-4 scale of magnitude. The Lake in Hagley Park is half the size it was, as it sprung a leak and the water just ran away. One guy got a 3m extension to his garden overnight and many are still awaiting insurance claims to be settled. There is also a problem with building permissions as many plots of land have now been declared unsafe to build on, or rather re-build on. Whilst the insurance money covers rebuild costs, it does not include new plot costs, and from what we can see there is no rhyme nor reason why one house still stands and the next one on the street is condemned.
One old public school building is being used as an interesting Arts centre and the other still exists and you often see boys in short trousers and gowns in the town.
We spent the morning of 2nd Feb looking around the Botanical garden and again used the transport to ensure that we covered the entire garden. This time it was called “the caterpillar” which is a little more appropriate for a garden tour.  The drivers were very well informed and gave a full and accurate commentary. We stopped off at the Rose garden to see the many varieties in full bloom, in the centre of which was a sun dial that declared we were 11,800 miles from London. We also spent some time in the conservatory and saw a few orchids and tropical plants such as bananas and palms. It has been incredible here and in Australia to see the huge size trees grow to. There are some fabulous examples in this garden from all over the world. Strolling back and forth along the river you also see some fabulous trees, bridges and lots of ducks not to mention the punts and gondolas.
Many years ago they wanted to get a fountain for the entrance area and the foundry at Colebrookdale (Ironbridge, Shropshire) was awarded the contract. Now that is some distance to ship a load of iron…… but worth it, as it looks magnificent and is beautifully painted.
On our way back to Pomeroy’s B&B we stopped off at “The Twisted Hop” a hostelry that came highly recommended by Steve Pomeroy. They were playing Dylan, had real ale brewed on the premises (by an Englishman) and had pork pies and Branston Pickle as a lunchtime snack……….. perfect!
We passed a bit of earthquake shoring up that had been turned into a work of art, which was very refreshing and showed a sense of humour against adversity. Also we spotted a car, which proved you can get any number plate you like ………. The mighty AYPHID. ….. A little bug of a car.
Tonight the pub “Pomeroy’s” (next door to the B&B) has a “Seismic Night” when the band will shake the building (ouch) and they have brewed a special 7.1% ale for the night. Perhaps only a half tonight, as in the morning we have a taxi booked for 7ish to take us to the “Trans Alpine Railway Station” for our 4 hour trip to Greymouth, over the backbone of the Southern Island.
Photos here.