Aotearoa, Land of the Long White Cloud: Yes or No?

Trip Start Oct 01, 2008
Trip End ??? ??, 2009

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, January 16, 2009

I took this picture in the plane flying back from Christchurch. Aotearoa - the Maori name for New Zealand means Land of the Long White Cloud, although some people think it relates to the snow capped mountains of the Southern Alps seen from the sea rather than the clouds. Probably neither is true as Aotearoa only referred to the North Island until the 20th century. Anyway, I think it is very impressive. Travelling internally by plane is a joy and is as easy and quick as going by bus or train in the UK.

 East Coast

It was Lyn's birthday on the 2nd and after flying to Christchurch drove to Kaikora on the north east coast via the Waipara wineries (excellent Rieslings) for a birthday lunch in the sun. It was a bit like being on holiday as there were other people on the roads and cafe's were quite busy! Very unusual, but then it is summer holidays here. It is like the UK in the 50s with families going to the same places each year and meeting up with friends and families. Often it is to a bach or camping, which is really popular here. Camping usually means the sort of camping where there are very few, if any, facilities. Just set up your tent, dig your loo and sit back and relax. Kaikora is a pleasant seaside resort with wonderful views - and, of course, more seals. You can go whale watching from there and are virtually guaranteed to see them as they have a resident pod. There are also pods of dolphins - each of which has between 100 and a 1000 dolphins. That must be some sight and will be another visit in the NZ autumn, when you also see the migrating whales. One of the highlights for Lyn was seeing lots of Pohutakawa trees (NZ own Christmas tree - see previous blogs) with their brilliant red flowers.
Driving back to Christchurch over the mountains we caught a 'front' coming from the West Coast (not good!) but managed to outrun the rain and it treated us to a splendid view of a double rainbow. The Canterbury Plains weren't so lucky - they had hailstones the size of golf balls which destroyed a lot of the crops and dented cars! They do have an amazing climate in this country and you really do have to be prepared for all eventualities.

NZ Train Experience
The next day we went across to Greymouth on the Trans-Alpine train, over Arthur's Pass. PHOTO_ID_L=arthurxs-pass.jpg]A great way to spend the day - 4/5 hrs each way with a an amusing and informative commentary and a reasonable buffet where as well as a good cup of coffee and a bite to eat you can enjoy the repartee of the attendants. Lots of viaducts and tunnels including one which took 10 years to dig and another 5 years for the first train to go through. There are doors which close once the train is in so that air can be pushed through to cool the engines and stop a vacuum being created. Lyn was very excited when she saw at least 5 Pukekos! NZ once had a quite an extensive rail system but, as in the UK, it was privatised and then asset stripped, no investment and fell into disrepair. It was renationalised in 2002 but most of the traffic is now freight with only 4 long distance routes. In it's heyday in the 50s and 60s it carried 25 million passengers a year - p retty impressive in a country with only 4 million people!! A great shame as it would be fantastic way to see the country.

Homestay Hospitality
We had booked to stay in a Homestay - which is a bit like a B&B but you stay in the family home and are often able to eat with the owners, which is what we did. Alison the owner, met us at the station as the house was bout 3 km away. We had a splendid room en suite, with TV, tea and coffee facilities and a patio door to a deck overlooking the Tasman Sea. They had a lovely garden with lots of these ferns, which is used as the emblem of a national institution - do yo know which one? We shared a meal with Alison and her husband Glen (who was working his way through a 28,000 piece jigsaw - honestly, 28,000 and with a lot of pieces that seemed to be just green) and learned a lot about Greymouth life. We then sat with them in their lounge and watched a DVD of Andre Rieu (look him up!) whilst carrying on chatting. At breakfast we met a German couple (who were discussing whether to go running or walking that day!) and a young Australian couple who were also staying there. A great way to get into the life and culture of NZ.

West Coast Wonders
Whilst in Greymouth we travelled up the coast on a tour (only one other couple on it) driven and narrated by Linda, another local resident who was so enthusiastic about the area she would suddenly turn off the road to show us one of her favorite sites. The Tasman Sea is pretty rough with 4 meter swells and up to 4 meters of rain a year - luckily although the sea was rough the weather was kind and so we had great views of the Pancake rocks in Punakaiki. There is plenty of native bush and temperate rainforest with the ubiquitous Rata adding a splash of red, tree ferns adding touch of light green and tall Piau palms reaching for the sky - these are the southernmost palms and virtually stop growing just south of Greymouth. The West Coast is certainly impressive and we plan to go back drive down to the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers and Mount Cook. The West Coast Drive is in the World's Top Ten Scenic drives. There is a lot of history here with Europeans digging for gold and coal (hence the trains), building sawmills and fishing. The Maori came to the West Coast for Pounamu - Greenstone or Jade- which held great spiritual significance to them. It was used both as jewelery and to produce tools and weapons as it is extremely hard, yet beautiful.

More Sheep Shearing! 
This weekend was the Winton A&P Show (Agriculture and Produce Show for you townies).  Saw the professionals shearing lambs - bit quicker than me! It is very competitive- as well as marks for time, they are judged for technique, closeness of shearing, number and degree of cuts and nicks. I timed one and it took 1min 11 secs! As well as the shearers, there were several wool sorters who put the wool into different pies depending on it cleanliness and quality. Helen O'Meara (on whose farm I did my shearing) told me this week that they were 'dagging' 2000 lambs - it's a bit like a short, back and sides but not at the head end! If the wool is too long there it gets covered in urine and faeces (nice) and then the blowflies settle in and lay their eggs (even nicer) which then turn into maggots - time to change the subject!! There was a great raffle - for firewood. Decided not to buy a ticket for that! Also a vintage hay-baling machine - which seemed to come from a hay-baling club. Something else to join. The cattle family judging competition (seemed to be a minimum of 3 related cattle) was tense and close. We felt the family who came second were robbed - especially as the judge commented on how feminine the female was. The bulls were MASSIVE and I would not like to meet them in a field. We particularly liked the Belted Galloways. Lots of horsey things going on including a rather strange competition where ladies, elegantly dressed and wearing Ascot type hats would lead a horse round and run and then get a prize - or not. Unfortunately, only one horse in the fancy dress competition. Usual show jumping and trotting etc..There was also the 'big dig' where prizes were hidden in huge mounts of sawdust/wood chippings but unfortunately there wasn't pile marked '55 yrs and above' so we couldn't enter. There was also a 'Judges for the Future' competition but I thought I was too old for that although I could have specialised in the donkey judging I suppose. It was a great day out and I think the mission statement of the show -to promote excellence in agribusiness, bring the country to town, and to exceed expectations. - was met as far as I was concerned and not a candy floss stall in sight (but there were, of course, sausage sizzlers).
Slideshow Report as Spam
Where I stayed
Alison & Glen's Homestay
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