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NZ trip - part 7 of 7

Well, this should be the last chapter of this! As always, click on my "travel" tag or look at the list at right for previous parts...

Getting up early in Amberley, with a relatively short drive to get to Kaikoura in time for a 12:45pm whale-watch trip, we decided to take the scenic inland route northwards (more views of mountains than the coastal route). We stopped briefly in the town of Waiau, next to the river of the same name, which is where I took this shot illustrating the wide, flat, stony nature of NZ riverbeds (what you're looking at there is only half of the river's width, too), with the Puketeraki Range in the background.

This was the bridge I walked out on to get the picture above -- another of those lovely one-lane NZ bridges (the wider areas are for you to pull over into so that you can let someone pass, if you don't have the right of way; who has the right of way is posted on a sign whenever you come to one of these bridges). You can see how it goes on and on and on, to a vanishing-point, with an SUV in the distance, pulled over for an oncoming vehicle, for scale. (The signs that say 100 are of course speed limit signs; it's in kph, though.) I believe a sign, or something else we read, tried to claim that this was the longest span of single-lane bridge in NZ, which was another reason for taking the pic -- but some googling since has cast that claim into doubt.

At any rate, one of the attractions of the Scenic Route was that it climbed up into the foothills of some of the mountains -- and we passed up into the snowline. Although it was "winter" in NZ, most of the trip didn't really feel wintry to someone from Boston; it felt like March, really, or April. But this -- this is winter:

The above two pics show Mt. Malingson on the left and Mt. Tinline on the right. Farther to the left of these mountains (i.e. to the west) lie the ski resorts of Mt. Lyford and Hamner Springs, and from these shots I think you can see why. While I made Tam pull over to enable me to get the first shot in that group, the bottom two I had all the time in the world to take, because of:

Being stopped for more stock-moving in the road. This time, Hereford bulls. In the bottom shot you can see a couple deciding to pause and be stroppy with each other. (Which you much prefer they do, as opposed to deciding to be stroppy at the car.)

Not long after that, we came back down out of the mountains and reached Kaikoura, with its dramatic, mountain-backed setting. (I like how you can clearly see exactly where the snowline starts in the range in the background.)


Kaikoura was originally a whaling town that is now best-known for whale-watch tourism. In particular, I think it's the best place in the world where you can actually see sperm whales. The reason for this is that only a couple of miles off the coast, the ocean floor plummets down into the Hikurangi Trench -- you're going along and suddenly, the depth below you is 1500 meters (and apparently, within 80km of the shore, the depth reaches 3000+ meters). Not only do the ocean currents come up against the walls of the trench and create an upswelling of nutrients that attracts all kinds of sea-life, but those depths are Architeuthis-type depths, and where there are Giant Squid, there's going to be sperm whales trying to eat them.

Since it was winter, what we mainly had to view were "mid-size" younger male sperm-whales; the females and the bigger males were off where-ever it is they go for breeding. Still, even a mid-sized sperm-whale is nothing to sneeze at. (No orca, sadly! They come around in summer, too -- to try to nab sperm whales sometimes, as well as other whale and dolphin species.)

(The three pics I've got from the whale-watch are courtesy of Stephen's steady hand and better camera. I did get a couple of pics of them "spouting", odd that I didn't think to upload one. Oh well!)

So, what the whale-watch people do is, they load everybody on an 18-meter catamaran, and they zoom out over the trench, and start looking for sperm whales resting on the surface. The whales will generally do this for something like 20 minutes, I think, loading up their blood-oxygen and so on, before they dive again for what tends to be a minimum of 40 minutes, sometimes longer, lookin' for squid.

Here is what I would like to say about the whale-watch: it was totally neat. Even if all you could see of the whales was this greyish-brown lump, I still felt really cognizant of being so close to something so big and so rare. And it's totally cool when their backs start arching and you know they're about to dive, and then the tail raises in the air and is the last thing you see before they're gone.

The whale-watch people tell you that they hope to find 2 whales for you to see (they'll refund you if you can't find *any*). As it turned out -- we saw *5*, a pretty astounding number.

As a bonus -- I got TOTALLY seasick! Oh yes. You always wonder what will happen when you go out on the open ocean for the first time, and... yeah.

Here's the thing: photos tend to flatten things, and the ocean is no exception, and yes, there was a lot of chop out there, and not-insignificant swells. (We had on of those lovely southerlies coming off of Antarctica that day, too.) The catamaran was not the hugest boat in the world, and it tended to take the swells by bouncing violently from one to the other. In retrospect, I think I had three problems that came together to create Not Goodness where my stomach was concerned.

One: this is no denigration of Tam's driving, just an observation, but, taking the inland Scenic Route that morning had resulted in a whole lot of the usual NZ car-riding experience of twists and turns and twists and turns and whipping around little curves, and... yeah, I was feeling a little car-sickish by the time we got to Kaikoura. Where, two: I had lunch, and yet foolishly did not avail myself of any of the seasickness-prevention remedies being sold by the whale-watch tour prior to embarkation. Finally, three (and this I think I blame the most): the tour had a policy that when the boat was in motion, all of the passengers had to be seated. This was no doubt a wise policy, because boy did we bounce! And you don't want passengers being flung around. When the boat would find a whale, it would slow down and then approach the whale carefully, and stop, and *then* you could stand up and go outside.

I would like to refer back to the Doubtful Sound tour for a moment, here. The boat we were on there was somewhere between half and a third the size of the whale-watch boat. That was a very stormy day. There was a point in the tour where we got almost all the way out to the Tasman Sea, before the bad conditions made us turn back. At that point, I had gone out of the boat's cabin and was standing on the back platform, so that I could get some clear pictures. I couldn't see ahead of us. And when we hit the waves coming in from the Tasman Sea? WHOA! Talk about *bouncing*. That was a bucking-bronco ride. I was, literally, afraid to let go of the stanchion I was clutching, to try to walk the 3 steps to the door inside, because I couldn't see the next wave coming and I felt that if I let go and tried to move at the wrong time, I would be tumbled off the back of the boat (which didn't have a very high railing).

But? The thing is, I did not feel any seasickness discomfort on the Doubtful Sound trip; not for a moment, not even at *that* moment, no matter how much we bounced. I happily ate sandwiches and cookies and so on. And despite being kind of scared of falling off, otherwise I found the bouncing-over-the-waves part really *fun*. So my conclusion about literally losing my lunch on the whale-watch tour is: I think I would have been okay out on the open ocean, if I could have stood up and rode out the waves and the bouncing on my feet. I think that having to remain seated screwed up my inner ear. Not everybody's inner ear, obviously (though I wasn't the only sickie on board); mine definitely, though.

So anyway, I lasted for about an hour or so, and then had to throw up, and then I felt a bit better, although never actually *great*. I was lucky that the tour did manage to find so many whales, because I confess I missed a couple in the middle there. Still -- great experience! Totally worth rushing to get there in order to do it.

Due to the state of my stomach afterwards, although we did have dinner in Kaikoura, we did not go here:

I include this, of course, for everyone who remembers the film version of "Watership Down" and the freaky, freaky images of the Black Rabbit of Inle, the rabbit version of Death.


And so we bid a fond farewell to Kaikoura, with the sunset still touching the snowy peaks of the Kaikoura Range with pink and orange:

And we drove north, overnighting in Blenheim before getting up the next morning to get to Picton. There, we had lunch at the Flying Haggis, which served up some absolutely delicious homemade haggis, neeps and tatties. (The place is for sale, should you keenly desire to run a Scottish bar on the South Island of New Zealand.) And then we got back on the ferry for Wellington and home. (Unlike our very calm ride down, there were swells out in the Cook Strait big enough to cause the ferry to have a noticeable roll -- which, again, didn't really bother me, although I had to note that while it still looked pretty calm out there, anything that could get a ship *that* big and heavy rolling was pretty impressive.)

And that's really it for the scenic pictures! We got home, we did lots of laundry, and I had a day to recover before flying home.

What I have left to share are some final pics of Tam and Stephen's farm, plus their cats, who in their various ways made the trip that much more memorable. Plus, there are folks reading this account who have known some of these cats, and will no doubt be pleased to see them.

Entrance to the farm from the road, showing the two mares, Molly and, um... crud, I'm sure Tam or Stephen will remind me of the other mare's name. As I related in an earlier part, they board some horses for someone local; the six boys tend to hang out in the back on the big hill, but the girls tend to hang out in the front, road-side pasture, on the driveway up to the house, and in the garden around the house. It is not unusual to be sitting there in the living room or standing in the kitchen, or laying in bed, and have a horse go clip-clop right by the window. Or, to stick her head in the sliding glass door for a treat of bread, or carrots.

The cattle-grate in the foreground is also a bridge over the Takapu stream that runs through the valley, and through their front pasture.

Lambs!!! This is a pasture belonging to one of their neighbors, right beside their entrance. It was just starting to be lambing season while I was there. This is to the left of where the above entrance pic was taken.

Pukekos! In the front pasture, to the right of the entrance, with the Takapu stream.

Slowtop, now the grand old man of the household (he's, what? 16?). This pic doesn't emphasize how gaunt and rangy he's become (we used to refer to him as "meat cat"). He's big, but no longer as enormous as he used to be. He spends a lot of time lying in sunbeams or in front of the fire.

Rasputin. (Or, "Puddin'", as he is frequently called.) Somehow I didn't manage to get a non-blurry pic of him. He's just as weirdly enigmatic as ever, and inclined to perch in High Places. The lights are on, but nobody's home.

Azami, the Little Golden Princess. Tam will have to remind me what particular breed she is. Don't let the sight of her curled up cutely on my bed fool you -- she's still a bitchy little thing.

Amaya, the kitten acquired when she walked up to Stephen on the farm. She's a real sweetheart, and on a couple of nights, she slept in with me -- lying down with her body under the covers, head on the pillow tucked under my chin, purring herself to sleep.

Jake -- who actually belongs to somebody who lives 6km away south over the hills, but a couple of years ago some switch went off in his brain and he decided he wanted to be a Tough Outdoor Cat. When he first showed up on the farm, they couldn't pet him without him biting and hissing. Now he's a total love-muffin. But he still values roaming and he's apparently decided he likes this house better than his old one, despite, or perhaps because of, the four other cats and shifting power-dynamics that go along with that. He's been taken back to his original owner several times, and he still wears a tag with her phone number, but he keeps coming back. He *also* slept with me one night, under the covers with his COLD NOSE and COLD FOOTPADS shoved against my legs. Geez.

Well, thanks for sticking with me through all of this! Hope you've enjoyed it all! And hey, if you ever want to go to New Zealand (which I highly recommend, obviously), I know this farm that you can probably stay on...


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 27th, 2007 09:35 pm (UTC)
As always these are fabulous. The winter shots especially fine. *hugs*

Oh, and I love how the cats are looking right back at you.
Sep. 27th, 2007 10:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, that wintry set of pictures really reminds me of Washington. Sniffle.

I include this, of course, for everyone who remembers the film version of "Watership Down" and the freaky, freaky images of the Black Rabbit of Inle, the rabbit version of Death.

Okay, seriously: These people used a replica of the One Ring as their wedding ring, didn't they?
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )