The long white cloud

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Icebergs to earthquakes

Spent a few hours at the Antartic centre at Christchurch, pretty standard stuff , and much as you would expect , but the "Antartic storm" is worth a mention. Basically it meant standing in a room wearing artic clothing ( thoughtfully provided) while the room gets very cold and windy for about 60 seconds (temp drops to about -20). Brrrrilliant. Also did the Christchurch to Greymouth Transalpine express (return), allegedly one of the top 10 train trips of all time. It was admittedly very scenic, but - if I may don my best curmudgeonly trousers for a moment - as the trip is 4 hours each way , I would recommend catching a plane back from Greymouth rather than do the same train journey again. For train aficionados - of which there were many on this trip - the return journey was just as good and apparently fascinating as the identical outward one.

From Christchurch up to Kaikoura. A beautiful drive and the weather is glorious again. Kaikoura is a very scenic coastal town, framed by the impressive Seaward Kaikoura range (nb not to be confused with the imaginatively named "Inward Kaikoura" range, which lies behind this range , and is more inland and less sea-facing). The town is famous for its aquatic wildlife, which due to the unique geography of the area, exists in abundance. The beach slopes out gradually to ameters0 metres and then fairly quickly drops off to an impressive 800+ meters. This mixing of warm and cold waters means an abundance of nutrients, and the inevitable food chain that starts with krill and ends with whales. The town is very famous for whales, seals, dolphins etc and the whole tourist industry is geared around viewing them and in some cases getting in the water with these creatures.

Scoffed some of the famous kaikoura crayfish, which although tasty (where's me curmudgeonly trousers gone ?), I would still recommend crab, which has a similar flavour but is much cheaper (in season the crayfish can be nearly $100 per kg)

Visited the Seal colony, and had the usual photo opportunities (see piccies link). There is an outside chance of seeing whales from the shore here, in fact the last time we were here (Jan 2000) we saw a school of orca attack a bunch of seals and one was successfully taken ( the screams that day were really quite unpleasant)

Drove up to Blenheim, which resides in the heart of the Marloborough wine region. The gaffer twisted my arm to take her on a wine tour (suggested fishing, but to no avail..), and so we spent a few hours ambling around the wineries (there are over 50 to choose from). During the first few tastings, I listened in on conversations involving wine people who were obviously in-the-know, in order to try and understand the wines a little better. I gave up after a while. With airy hand gestures they each described the wine, and to the untrained ear, the constant stream of incongruous adjectives appeared to be like a strange version of "Mornington Crescent".

Today is the last full day on the South Island, tomorrow we catch the ferry from Picton back to windy Wellington.

From Wellington and up to Hastings and Napier. These two towns are currently commemorating the 75 anniversary of the earthquake that struck in 1931. The earthquake decimated the towns and left hundreds dead, however a stunning architectural legacy grew from the ashes. Both towns were quickly reconstructed in the fashionable style of the day, Art Deco. This has resulted in two of the finest Art Deco styled towns in the world, and everywhere you look there are beautiful examples of this style, ranging from public toilets up to large banks and municipal buildings.

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