Thursday, April 26, 2012

Super dooper secret places on the way to Christchurch

March 11th – 15th
 Darrell, Vera and I enjoyed a nice morning with Chris and then said our goodbyes and headed north. Our first stop was a “secret” place revealed in Scott Cook’s NZ Frenzy guide. The explicit directions delivered us to an almost hidden trail. It was raining and we literally slid to the coast, but oh the rewards!

Vera at the Mermaid's Bath!
It would have been so awesome if it was hot and sunny as the rocks, exposed at low tide, were Mermaid’s baths!

Birthplace of the concretions!
Another egg being hatched!
Some of these 70-million year old concretions yielded important fossils including this plesiosaur that I later took a photo of at the Otago Museum.

Plesiosaur from Kapiti Beach formation
We may not have seen any plesiosaurs when we were there, but you can imagine some of the concretions could hold large fossils - or mermaids...

Another awesome tide pool bathtub!
We continued along this road to Kapiti Point where there was a bird blind so you could watch the resident Yellow-eyed penguins. There were penguins there even during the day but were far away and required binoculars to see well from the blind. Once again though, NZ Frenzy told us what trail to take to get an up-close-and-personal view of the penguins. A couple that lived here had taken in some injured penguins and really improved the habitat including building penguin “nests”. There is now a fairly large population, somewhat used to people, that make this area their home. Amazing!

Yellow-eyed penguin!
There were also seals and sea lions and lots of shags (cormorants). Great spot!

It rained off and on all day and was raining when we camped at Trotter’s Gorge, a DOC site nearby. Vera and Darrell had the brilliant idea of setting up the tent inside of the van so we could put it up dry. I could not imagine this as the van is NOT that big, but it actually worked! We even had the fly over the tent before we set it up outside.

The next morning we saw the sun again so Vera and I walked up the slippery mud trail and did a circle tour of the gorge area. Then we headed to Moeraki Boulders just a bit farther north on the coast and part of the same formation as the Mermaid’s Pools we had seen the day before.  These boulders are well known though and draw many tourists.

Darrell and Vera watching the turtles, aka Moeraki Boulders
The boulders have happy mussels at high tide and
 happy people at low tide!
After a brief walking tour of the historic town of Oamaru, complete with women wearing clothes from the 1800’s, we continued on to a fishermen’s campground at Rakaia Huts along the coast. It was loaded with men and fishing poles, since it was at the mouth of a large river. It was our last night camping with just the three of us…

The next morning we drove to the Banks Peninsula, named by Captain James Cook for his naturalist Joseph Banks in 1770. This peninsula formed from two volcanic eruptions and there are numerous harbors in the steeply incised coast.

I just discovered an image of the Banks Peninsula taken from the Space Station!

Christchurch is to the right, Akaroa is in the center of the peninsula
Akaroa, the main town, is on the largest harbor and has a Mediterranean feel. Cruise ship passengers wander the once-French town and even Vera and I got in the shopping spirit here. We also took a hike up to a peak, getting great views of the area.

Pretty garden and cottage in lovely Akaroa
Akaroa beach and harbor
The Banks Peninsula is just southeast of Christchurch so we arrived at Matt and Margaret’s house in time for Mutton Stew and the accompanying great dinner conversation! Vera and Matt are long-time colleagues and had lots to catch up on. The next day, Matt took Vera and I back up Arthur’s Pass into the mountains. Matt wanted to refamiliarize Vera with some of the NZ plants so he took us to a variety of habitats. Vera has done a lot of work in Chile and Argentina so some of the plants are the same or similar, but New Zealand has an ENORMOUS number of endemic species. According to the Wellington Botanic Garden, roughly 85% of NZ’s 2,300 species of “higher plants” (who needs mosses anyway?) are endemic!

Vera and Matt looking out over Arthur's Pass
The next day, March 15th, was Vera’s last day in New Zealand. We took the bus downtown and then walked through the Christchurch Botanic Garden and back to Matt’s and Margaret’s to gather her bags. It was lonely saying goodbye to Vera after our 3 great weeks together. And then we skyped with Lindsey, for her 20th birthday, and I got even more homesick. It didn’t help that it was gray and cloudy...

So I don’t end on a down note - it did get sunny the next day, and we settled ourselves back at South Brighton Beach Holiday Park and slowly got back in the groove of just the two of us. We even saw Maria, our wandering friend from Spain, and she made us brownies. Sunshine, chocolate and friends are all good ways to beat the blues!

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