Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Bathrooms, er, Toilets

Did I mention that sheep are big business in New Zealand, with 4 million people and 40 million sheep? And, that Kiwis have a good sense of humor!

The Glaciers -- Fox and Franz Josef

Geology on a massive scale! Imagine the power that carved these steep glacial valleys.
And, on a more detailed level, the glacial ice carved the rounded, intricately patterns rocks that litter the valley floors.

Mike and Madeline scampered right up to the base of the now retreating Fox Glacier.
While at Franz Joseph, the current glacier is a fair trek up the valley. We lacked the time necessary to fully explore this one.
Justine and Karen enjoyed the walk
as did Shirley.
We were left with a sense of awe and insignificance at the power of ice.

Donna Stewart, The Wool Patch

At Harihari, we visited Donna Stewart and her husband in their home, a tea with outstanding scones, and more surprises.
Donna works exclusively in wool, and had a small basket of hand-dyed wool for sale. Her business, the Wool Patch, will be undergoing changes soon. Donna is pursuing her dream, and after eight years of trading and meeting some wonderful people, she will be studying art and design full time at Christchurch Polytech. Donna's work is unique and all of her quilts are wool. This one features many of New Zealand's rarest birds.
While this quilt is more traditional.
Everyone, especially Jane, really enjoyed the show and tell, but the biggest surprise was ahead - -


PUPPIES! Their Jack Russell terriers had produced six little pups one month earlier.
Justine holds up one of the pups so it can get a smooch from our driver, John.
Betty was instantly in love. I suspect there will be a puppy in her near future.
It's a good thing that we would all have to get on a trans-Pacific flight. Otherwise, we might have had to scrap over who got to take one home. Here, Judy bonds with another pup.
While we were acting like besotted fools, Mama Dog just took it all in stride. Thank you, Donna, for sharing your home with us.
At Hokitika, on the west coast, a storm was brewing on the Tasman Sea. The west coast of New Zealand is rugged with mountains that plunge down to the sea. Consequently, there is an abundance of driftwood on the black sand beaches.
This coast captures the flavor of wild nature as these huge trees, or remainder of what had once been, rolled onto the beach.
Some of the logs were massive.
Storm on the Tasman. It was a privilege to be there.

Autumn in New Zealand

As our group moved into the mountains of South Island, fall colors were evident. At Wanaka, we experienced the first snowfall of the year.
Crossing over the pass to Westland, colors were stunning.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Kaikoura: Albatross Encounters

But, the primary reason that I wanted to be in Kaikoura was to go out on a pelagic birding trip with Albatross Encounters. It is, without a doubt, the best pelagic in the world, if the weather cooperates. This was my third trip with Captain Gary and it was every bit as wonderful as I had hoped.
The continental shelf drops abruptly to the ocean floor about 2 miles offshore here, creating a nutrient rich upwelling of water and huge numbers of oceanic species, like Royal, Shy, and Wandering Albatross, as well as Giant Petrels, Cape Pigeons, Gannets, and more. The birds are so close that you could almost reach out and touch them, although doing so would definitely risk the loss of digits.
We were 9 strong on this outing, more than half of the tour participants came out with me. Betty loved the close-up views of the birds. This Southern Giant Petrel, below, posed for the camera while waiting for a turn at the chum basket.



I think our group must have taken hundreds of photos. Notice the calmness of the ocean on this day.
Our captain told us that this Northern Royal Albatross was a very old bird, possibly 50 years old. Apparently, albatross plumage becomes paler with age. The peach coloring is a remnant of breeding plumage. Upon our return to shore, we were greeted by this shag and gulls. A wonderful trip, not to be missed if you are in New Zealand.
Next Stop -- Kaikoura, where we had a bit of tea and cookies at Patch Of Country Quilt Shop. Here, Justine found a new-to-us "kiwiana" print that featured native New Zealand birds.
Dave and Betty enjoyed the brilliant sunshine on this warm day as our snacks were set up outdoors. Quite a charming little shop.

Blenheim, South Island

Blenheim, locating in the heart of wine country, is a working town, with a path along the river. Imagine my surprise when, during a solo evening walk, I came upon this delightful mural that stretched for a good distance.




Fall was definitely in the air!
And, sunrise the next morning was positively brilliant.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wine Country - Gibson Bridge

The Marlborough region is renowned for its fine wines. Some of the very best are never exported. We picked up a winery map at the local quilt shop, the Quilt Barn, and I asked what they recommended of the many that were in the area. Gibson Bridge, in Renwick, had won numerous awards, including Marlborough's Best Cellar Door 2010. It was settled and we were off to find them in our rather large bus.

Well, we didn't realize the size of the winery we were about to visit. They had never before had a large bus stop in front of their tiny showroom. Owned by Howard and Julie Simmond, their 6 acres of grapes are mostly Pinot Gris with quantities of Syrah, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Gew├╝rtztraminer. It didn't take Howard long to collect his thoughts and then treat us to one of the most remarkable wine tastings I have ever experienced.

The 6 acres of grapes are hand picked and pressed. Only the best for the Gibson Bridge grapes. Two bottles went home with me that day, with special packing to pad them in my now seriously overweight suitcase. It's so worth it for something this special. Another suitcase and an extra bag charge, but two precious bottles now reside in New Mexico waiting for that special occasion to arise. I already know how good it will taste!

Good-bye Wellington, Hello South Island

What a dramatic view from the ferry that would take our group to Picton on South Island.
Mary, who hails from Dallas, TX thought the ferry was terrific.
Marci and Ina, from Albuquerque, were busy taking photos.
And Shirley and Judy, from Prescott, AZ, just relaxed and watched the scenery. It was on this ferry ride that we saw Blue Penguins as we motored through the Marlborough Sounds. And, a King Shag!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Zealandia

We learned much about the threats faced by New Zealand's native birds when it comes to introduced predatory mammals, rats, cats, stoats, and possums. The NZ Department of Conservation spends millions of dollars each year, trying to control their populations. There are several predators free preserves on off-shore islands, but Zealandia is one of the first predator-free, ecological preserves on the mainland. With a predator-proof fence that keeps the mammals out, the birds are free to come and go. The difference is immediately apparent on approach to Zealandia. Riotous bid song fills the air. The cacophony is much like what must have greeted the earliest settlers to the unspoiled island. Kaka are plentiful at Zealandia, boisterous and confident.
A pair of Takahe had been recently introduced to Zealandia. Takahe were thought to be extinct until a small population was discovered in the Murchison Mountains on South Island in New Zealand.
Looking up toward the top of the valley.
Zealandia also boasts a breeding population of Tuatara, ancient reptiles native to New Zealand. Tuatara can live 100 years or longer.
We saw many native species that were impossible to catch with the lens of the camera, Stitchbird, Saddleback, Tomtit, New Zealand Scaup and, of course, the inimitable Tui. A pair of New Zealand Falcons has a nesting territory in the park, but they were not evident during our visit. Zealandia - a must see location when you nest visit New Zealand!!!