Lake Tekapo and the Astro Cafe

I get up early and take a stroll around the village of Lake Tekapo. It is completely tourist oriented. There’s no other reason for its existence. Even at this hour Japanese tourists are out taking comic group photos among the lupins by the lake. A more serious snapper has a tripod set up at the Church of the Good Shepherd. This is the iconic little kirk on the lakeside with the bronze statue of a sheepdog close by which features in all of Tekapo’s publicity.

The morning is fine and sunny. The lake and mountains look too good to be true. We decide to walk up the Mount John walkway to the observatory on top of Mount John which is about 340 metres high.
The road takes us past the lupins and California poppies by the lakeside and past the spa. It is up and doing with muzak merrily accompanying the people taking what seems to be an outdoor escalator to the top of a small artificial ski run. It takes all sorts.

The path runs up through the pinewoods. It is a well made earth track with some fairly steep bits but quite easy walking. This is not the trig walk on Kapiti Island.
In the pines it is cool and ideal for walking. We are hailed cheerfully by quite a few walkers already on their way down. Many are Japanese. There’s one block of accommodation in Tekapo I’ve already christened ‘LittleTokyo’. We take a few breaks on the way up and sit briefly taking in the view over the village.

We emerge from the pines onto open coarse tussock grass with a fine views back to town and the hills beyond. We climb a set of wood-framed steps and catch our first view of the observatory domes. Further climbing brings us out on a summit. It is rocky and stony and very reminiscent, says Alison, of the English Lake District peaks. But the view isn’t.

We now have a panoramic, three sixty view of the mountains and it is truly stunning. The air is beautifully fresh so that the peaks can be seen in exquisite detail. The colours are sublime. The whole scene is just impossibly perfect. As we walk about we keep stopping, looking up and saying ‘Oh, wow!’ and other similarly profound things.
Really there’s not much you can say about this. Just shut up and look.

We can see the observatory clearly on another, slightly higher peak a few hundred yards away. We make our way over there by a track. There is a stile over the wire fencing of the observatory. We wait for a Japanese party to pass in the obligatory red, pink and other brightly coloured jackets.

We go over the stile up a steep track and onto the road. Yes, you can actually drive up here. The car park is quite full. There are a lot of people on top but there’s plenty of space for them. We walk through the gate of the observatory, part of the University of Canterbury’s physics and astronomy department. ‘No smoking. No dogs’ say the signs and a comic addition ‘No Aliens’ with a blobby sci-fi alien in the barred circle. You’d have thought they’d be welcome. ‘Well, it is New Zealand’ says Alison. They’re not keen on introduced species.’

On to the Astro Cafe. This is just brilliant. You have to go there. Yes, it’s twelve thousand miles then a steep climb but believe me it’s worth it. It is made mainly of glass to take full advantage of the unbelievable view. They do have music, but it’s sort of astro-chill stuff. Not too beaty and cooly discrete. The young folk serving there are quietly spoken and courteous. It occurs to me that they may be fledgling astrophysicists working their passage. The coffee is excellent and the choc brownies with cream in which we indulged ourselves truly sensational. It’s the cafe at the end of he universe ( well, this end anyway). It’s the cafe on top if the world (OK, the Bottom of the World if you’re Northern Hemisphere oriented). It’s just dead good.

We sit outside afterwards on the veranda at a big, serviceable table along with a very cosmopolitan crowd who are there to soak up more of the view. There’s a toposcope which shows us where Aoraki, Mount Cook is, demurely situated among other more brash and extrovert peaks. It is well back from them and doesn’t grab the attention immediately. Above us and all around is the vast sweep of the sky.

Yet another group of young Japanese arrive. They are chattering and laughing and all wielding their cameras energetically. There are two motorcyclists speaking at their camera in Spanish. A video blog. I pick up the name ‘Peter Jackson’ and not much else. We ask a lady to take a photo of the two of us. I think she’s Russian. She is very obliging.

We make our way down by a longer, less steep route. It takes us, in the brilliant sunshine, over a very English moorland track through the tussock grass. There are small blue butterflies and brown butterflies. A young couple with a dog have steamed ahead of us. We let them go, we’re not in race mode.

It is difficult to convey the beauty of the colours here. They are exquisitely subtle. But they make the gaudy versions you’d get on a postcard look dowdy. The blue of the sky gradually changes from the palest turquoise just over the mountains to a deep ultramarine overhead. Wonderful swathes of light cloud are drawn across it in a supremely confident calligraphy.

We have a great view of the lake now. Lake Tekapo is famed for its colour. It is due to the presence of ‘glacial flour’, extremely fine sediment produced over millennia by the action of glaciers. Its colour is best described as aquamarine squared or indeed, cubed. It is a greenish-blue so intense you can’t believe it’s natural. I’m still to be convinced that the Tekapo Tourist Board doesn’t come out every night and tip a few tons of fluorescent paint into the water.

We’re now making our way back towards town. A Japanese lad wants a picture of himself In front of the lake. Rather unusually he is on his own. I have some trouble with the unfamiliar camera but am eventually able to oblige. We stop and have lunch wearing our coats over our heads as there is not much shade at this point.
We carry on towards town meeting the pines again, and the beautiful lupins and poppies. An athletic, tanned girl backpacker passes us striding it out. She has a woolly rabbit sticking out of her rucksack.

We have dinner back at base. The night is very clear and the stars and the Milky Way look terrific. I take in the southern constellations which are now looking much more familiar to me but no less wonderful. I’m thrilled that I’ve seen them.
The next morning, with genuine sorrow I read that Patrick Moore has died, probably as we walked to the Astro Cafe.


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Driving to the MacKenzie Country

Picked up another Pegasus car out near Christchurch airport. Christine was the lady in charge and very helpful she was too.

Out on to highway 1. Nice open roads with very little traffic. We took the 73 out to Darfield. Stopped for a salmon scone(!), very nice, the kiwis are very inventive with their scones.
On to 77. As we drive the landscape gradually changes from the flat plains around the city to the hilly and then the mountainous. We stop at the Rakaia Gorge where high snow-covered mountains tower over the jet skiing place on the wide river.

On to the 72 and another stop at Geraldine. It is now a hot afternoon with a big, New Zealand-type sky. A smartly dressed accordionist is entertaining an empty street.

On to the 79 and a stop for afternoon tea at the splendid Farm Barn Cafe above Fairlie. Super first view of the MacKenzie area’s mountains.

Then on towards Lake Tekapo. We stopped on the high tussock grass plain above the town to admire the sweeping view of the mountains and the roadside lupins.

Arrived at the house in Walter Black place after picking up supplies in the small but lively centre of the tourist oriented town.

The view here is simply stunning. The intense blue of the lake sets off the distant, rugged, snowy mountains exquisitely. The house itself is on the top a hill above the town and could not be better placed. The houses here are well spread out so we have a large personal space.

It’s a very modern place, light and well appointed. It has light coloured wooden floors which are good for skating on if you’re wearing the right socks. A dream place. It has windows down to the floor which are great with just one proviso. We both walk into them under the impression that they are not windows but open doors. This is not a good thing to do.

We have a decking on the south side, ie not the sunward side! The north view is the fabulous one over the lake.


An English Rose

Our last day in Christchurch and was it ever wet!
Didn’t do much more than look out at the dripping rose garden thinking how very English it looked. Had we been suffering from homesickness this would have cured it.


Alison did us proud with a Farewell to Christchurch salmon meal.



We take a coach trip to Akaroa. This place is on the Banks Peninsula , south of Christchurch. The bus picks us up at our holiday home. We’re waiting for quite a while. This is because the driver was waiting at number 150 while we were waiting at number 115. Oh well.
It takes a while to pick everyone else up. There are som Italian, German and American backpackers from different locations, including the ‘Jailhouse’ which was indeed at one time the city jail. There is also an Aussie lady who we seem to have interrupted at her breakfast. She appears, rather flustered, from her hotel with a coffee in her hand. I can’t help thinking of Alice’s half-shod Mad Hatter with his cup of tea and half-eaten sandwich.
Eventually we’re off. It’s a bit of a grey day. The driver is a friendly and helpful kiwi. He keeps up a running commentary all the way which is informative and entertaining. The jokes are, no doubt, oft-rehearsed, but the delivery is droll and well timed. We are amused.

We stop for a break at Little River, a minor tourist trap selling rather overpriced paintings and greetings cards. There are some steampunk models of animals in copper and zinc but you’d need a big place or they’d just be intrusive. Not quite my style anyway. This leaves no time for a coffee so we head back to the bus.
On we go again. Ruggeder and ruggeder. We climb steeply on winding roads through greenery and rocks. Shades of the Forgotten World Highway except I’m not driving this time. Our laid-back driver keeps up the commentary regardless of the terrain. Eventually we go over a final rise and are met by a spectacular view of the bay.
The peninsula is the result of two volcanic eruptions in the distant past. The result is a mound with two enormous craters which became large bays. When we see the size of the bay we are now approaching it is clear that the eruptions must have been immense. They would, I think, have made Krakatoa or Tamboura look like an infants school model of a volcano.

Soon we reach the main settlement of Akaroa. This is the village which, in all the brochures, prides itself on being French. It certainly has a superficially French appearance. The names have a Gallic flavour. There are La thises and Le thats all over the place. There are painted, chalked and etched tricolores here, there and everywhere. Even a gendarmerie instead of a police station.

The truth of the matter is somewhat different and becomes apparent when we visit the Britmart monument. When I heard the name ‘Britmart Monument’ at first I thought it was a memorial to an early pioneer of supermarkets a la WalMart. In fact it was the name of the English corvette which turned up here some time in the eighteenth century and declared this a British colony. A short time later a boat turns up loaded with French wannabe settlers only to find the Union Jack flying high over the bay. Yar boo sucks, Froggie! But in fact the British allowed the French to set up their new homes in the bay in acknowledgement of the privations they’d suffered on their long journey. Pretty bloody decent of our chaps if you ask me.
Anyway within a few years the place had been swamped by Brits and precious little remained of the original French culture anyway. Not that that has stopped generations of locals from using their assumed cultural eccentricity to get their hooks into the tourists’ wallets.

There is a very deep harbour here which means the big cruise liners can anchor here. No doubt this has the locals rubbing their hands in glee in the manner of the Cornish wreckers of yore. So the place is well heeled and, it must be said, well kept and pleasant. There are fine modern dwellings hidden in delightful gardens. There are lovely big trees, some familiar including some splendid pines, some less familiar. There are many small boats in the harbour. There is a lovely wooden lighthouse standing on a pine bluff overlooking the harbour. It is painted in such a jolly red and cream strip that you can imagine it whiling away its lonely hours by playing lively jigs on a concertina. We took our frugal lunch here while watching goldfinches squabbling. We also spotted one of the beefy local kingfishers perched on a wire.

We waited for the bus back to Christchurch in what was by now a distinctly chill breeze. A party of kids boarded a marine mammal-spotting boat trip. A noisy family celebration of some kind was in full swing on the pavement tables of the cafe opposite.
Clouds rolled over the lip of the ancient crater. The weather made the landscape appear rather dark and brooding, but it suited it. The local postcards are, as usual, designed to make the place look trés Jolie and this is certainly the effect aimed at by the twee Frenchification of the local shopkeepers. But it was not the impression I left with.
To me it seemed that the ragged, lowering, tor-strewn skyline of the place was a silent but ever-present echo of its violent birth.


Christchurch Views

We spent quite a bit of time just walking around in Christchurch. The rest of the time we just slobbed around. It was cool.

It’s called the Garden City and it certainly lives up to its name. Not just in the gardens of the suburbs like Merivale where. We stayed but in the parks and public gardens. Along with the wide streets this makes it a great place to walk through.

There is, of course, the earthquake or quakes. The effect of these has been and continues to be massive. The centre is still pretty well closed to traffic. There are many, many vacant ‘sections’ or plots where big buildings have been demolished. Others still wait to be knocked down. So many were badly damaged that they are still working on demolition two years after the first quake.

There is also the effect on the underground infrastructure. There are miles of roadworks where water and gas and electrical supplies are being repaired. It is really quite a distressing sight.

But the kiwis are getting there. One nice touch is the Container Mall right in the city centre. With many of the main stores gone they’ve brought in freight containers and fitted them out, very smartly, as shops, cafes and restaurants. There is a very lively scene there during the day. We spent and hour or so strolling around, buying a few gifts and joining the people hanging out in the cafes. There’s a very positive vibe there.

Good on yer, Christchurch.

Church under reconstruction, city centre.


Damaged Queen Victoria Jubilee clock. The base is heavily shored up.


The Container Mall.


Hanging and texting in the container Mall.


Cool dude chilling in the Mall. Note the Christmas trees.


Into the Botanic Gardens.


Ice creams, from a container kiosk.


Weather for the shade……


…..and the Aussie hat.


Merivale, house in hiding.


Mona Vale, a city centre house and its gardens open to the public. This place is just delightful.


Rose garden a la Alice in Wonderland, Monarch Vale. Pass me my flamingo and my hedgehog…


Water lilies, Mona Vale.






…and more roses……


….all in Mona Vale.


Riccarton House is an old house by New Zealand reckoning. It is usually open to the public but closed for repairs at the moment, presumably of damage due to the quake. It is approached by a magnificent park of huge trees, some of the largest in the island.


The other main feature is the Riccarton Bush. This is a conserved area of native bush right inside the city. It is surrounded by an anti-predator fence. It’s an extraordinary place. When you walk into it the atmosphere changes abruptly. We noticed this in the bush up near Jenny’s place.


Outside the fence the main birdsong is blackbirds, thrushes etc. Inside the first thing we heard was a tui, which is not a bird we’ve heard much in Christchurch. There are more magnificent trees in here, like the huge and extremely graceful white pine. As usual in this country there are well presented, informative boards telling you all about them.


It was a farsighted action on the part of Riccarton’s nineteenth century owners to set this piece of bush aside from agricultural development. It is an unusual and valuable part of the heritage of the Garden City and enhances it. it is also a perfect place for quiet contemplation.

To Christchurch

From Kaikoura we continue with the second leg of our Coastal Pacific journey.
It is a beautifully sunny afternoon all the way down.
Past rocks dotted with seals.

Through tunnels and past promontories…..

….past high rugged hills and forests made benign by the sunshine…..

…..past braided rivers……

……warm distant mountains……

….to flatter places. Landscapes like hyper-England. Brighter sun. Greener, lusher grass, more and fatter cows.

Landscapes more like the med. Past vineyards.

All in a state of glorious sunbaked contentment. On the road. In comfort.

To Christchurch. Into a taxi.
Now past huge parks with big, English-looking trees and, as it later transpires ominously, lots of works in progress on the roads.
To Merivale. A green and gardened suburb. Where we have booked Red Door Cottage. It is delightful. Spacious, comfortable and set in a garden which is simply suburban England at is rose-garnished best.

The evening is warm with a deliciously fresh breeze and a scent of roses. Blackbirds sing. If you want a better end to a journey than this then you’re just fussy.

Next morning we have the perfect upmarket suburban spot for coffee.
Good morning Christchurch!


Whaleless in Kaikoura

Outside the train station we admire the alpine setting.
We decide to lug our luggage to the Motel. Who needs taxis?
The road is a long one. It’s still pretty warm. And when we get to the motel I realise my battered but comfortable old fleece is no longer with us. Maybe we needed a taxi.
The motel is fine. Does what it says on the tin. We have a decent sized room with all mod cons. And a view of the very tops of the mountains with their snow.
Take showers, test telly, briefly rest on the comfortable bed. Off back to town for dinner. We’ll seek the missing jacket on the way. No joy. The wind is getting up. My eye is constantly drawn back to the mountains. Striking cloud shapes move and change at great speed.
I’m feeling it a bit chilly by the time we get to what is probably the town centre. This is one of the very few occasions on the trip so far that I could have done with the fleece. Typical.
The town appears to be closing up for the night. It is about eight thirty and still very light.
Where to eat? We decide on a backpackery called the Adelphi. They serve us a very adequate meal at reasonable cost. Country music plays as we eat and mountains peer at us over the wild west street view opposite. I ask the waitress if it is always this quiet. She is from Spain. ‘Pretty much’ is her reply. ‘Back home we would only be thinking of going out now’. I muse on the idea of opening a club for the gilded backpacking youth of Europe gapyearing in kiwiland. Too noisy. Rejected, but someone’s missing out.
We stroll back to the motel. The wind is now very strong, the sky is an intense orange-pink with streaks of deep turquoise. Clouds stream above the mountains. The effect is dramatic and beautiful.

Lamenting the loss of my fleece I retire. There is a Japanese student in the room above who seems to take several showers and rearrange the furniture in his room before he too retires.
I am woken a couple of times in the night by trains passing and once by a sheep. In the morning it is apparent that there is a field of them about ten yards from our door.

The mountains fairly gleam in the bright morning sunshine. By the time we’ve taken a frugal breakfast clouds are moiling around them and rapidly thicken as the wind rises again.
We are booked for a whalewatching trip at ten this morning. We make our way to the Whalewatch office, next to the station. The staff are uniformed, courteous, efficient young women most of whom look to be Maori. There is a screen with updated whale trip info on the wall. It’s all very well organised. In fact the train station is just a sideline of the whale watching business. It is doubtful that they will sail this morning, the wind is too strong. We have to wait until closer to sailing time to find out. We admire the Maori decor and the Maori signs on the toilets, fortunately backed up with the usual internationally recognised infographics.

The trip is cancelled. No whales for us today. We are whaleless in Kaikoura to paraphrase Milton. They will put on another trip at twelve. But this will get back too late for our train to Christchurch in the afternoon.
Stiff upper lip and all that. We’ll walk out to the seal colony on the peninsula beyond the town. We’ll see marine mammals by hook or by crook.
We pass through a long avenue of Norfolk pines past backpackers’ hostels by the dozen. The mountains have disappeared in thick cloud but it is breaking up on this side of town. There are tripots as mementos of the bad old whaling days. There are some weatherbeaten and evocative wooden sculptures beside the road. There is a heartrending memorial to a man who died saving a whale.

Now there are exotic red flowers on the cliffs which rise around us but the street names display distinct symptoms of homesickness. Yarmouth, Brighton, Ramsgate, Margate, Torquay. There’s an aquarium and a seafood processing plant in uneasy juxtaposition. There are rose gardens and a whaler’s cottage. The sun is now shining brightly. We sit beside some extraordinary layered rocks while gulls squabble over some unidentifiable part of some unidentifiable sea beast. We walk on past guillemot-type birds trying out different poses on rocky plinths.

There is a remote, windswept look to the headland as we walk further past a small picnic area. It is serviced by a hot dog van powered by a generator run off the proprietor’s car. On to a wooden boardwalk and finally we reach the seal colony out on a big rocky point.
A number of tourists are already there. Children are admonished by parents. Seals are wild animals that bite say the warning signs. There is a decidedly doggy smell about the place. We immediately encounter a large and self satisfied seal lazing on a slab of rock. Tourists gingerly circle him with busy cameras. He doesn’t care. He snorts quietly and carries on lazing. This is surely the fault of the welfare state. He’ll lounge here all day and never turn a hand to honest labour. Others of his kind dot the rocks. All are idling slackers. They demonstrate the australasian philosophy of ‘no worries’ taken to its logical conclusion.

We return to the car park and climb a steep concrete path to the top of the headland. It is the site of a Maori pa, an earthwork fort. Te Rauparaha and his mob came here and caused bovver back in the eighteen forties. This information is well presented on a slickly produced display, a visitor service which New Zealand does particularly well. There is a delightful miniature yellow lighthouse nearby. I do like a lighthouse.
We return along the sea front. It is now hot and sunny. We eat breakfast bars looking out to sea while gulls suggest we throw some their way. They have red feet, red beaks and even red rings round their eyes. They must know something about the night life on Kaikoura that nobody else does. I find them rakishly handsome. Alison, in an uncharacteristic display of savagery says they should be murdered.
We haven’t seen whales but we’ve seen something of Kaikoura. We sit in the sun and wind looking out over the Pacific. I imagine fantastically tattooed people sailing over its perilous windy vastness in frail boats to colonise this place at the end of the world.
We wait sunbaked, windswept and content for the 3.28 to Christchurch.




Coastal Pacific to Kaikoura

Into Picton to drop off the car at Pegasus. Stop en route to get a shot of huge numbers of cows on very green grass beneath a very steep hill. An archetypal image of New Zealand, along with the sight of a very large number of cows being walked along tracks beside the roads. Cow walking appears to be the laid back kiwi version of bull running.
At Pegasus they are spending their day painting their office.
The car has done well and survived a last minute suicide attack by a local hotshot driving at speed round a blind bend and nearly meeting us on our side of the road.
We drop the bags in the railway station next door, it’s the one with large posters outside advertising air travel.
The lady at the desk is most obliging in sorting our luggage and insists I take a coat with me because of the ‘chilly wind’. Who said kiwis were tough?
Last coffee and lunch on the Picton seafront park. Paradise ducks with small chicks in a puddle get all the tourists’ cameras busy. Gulls violate local begging ordnances.
The Interislander, our old travelling companion, pulls into the harbour. Ignored from our viewpoint by a slightly manic looking Donald Duck.

Kids from the ferry are irresistibly drawn to the big pirate ship on the playground. Ropes, tyres, logs, planks to swing on, jump off, climb over, be young on.
Time to pick up our boarding passes applied for twelve thousand miles away.
The train has very big windows. This makes the whole carriage light and airy, the key phrase in this country. The seats give you plenty of space. It is cool inside. This should be pleasant
We move off at a leisurely New Zealand sort of a pace. Soon we are up to a gentle trot. The train does not say ‘over-the-points, over-the-points’ like an English train. It says ‘no-worries-mate, no-worries-mate’ without a hint of agitation or hurry.
The hills of the Marlborough Sounds drop away and it is rather overcast as we pass through the now familiar vineyards of Blenheim. Then past vaster vineyards with the wide sea far beyond. Now hills close in. These are almost ugly, like reclaimed industrial spoil.
To Grasmere. But this is an enormous salt plant. Huge artificial lagoons, some pink with algae lie waiting for the sun to do the honours and remove the water. A disappointing landscape. You don’t see this on the brochures.
The landscape becomes more lowering still. Now with the odd rocky crag and the eagley birds you see all over the place and which we haven’t identified yet.
I go for ice creams. The carriages are very modern and spacious. The doors open automatically, at a leisurely pace, of course. The decor is chic. The staff friendly and courteous.
The ice cream has the brand name Kapiti and the tub has a picture of the island on it. It is very chocolately. Recommended.

But now the hills have changed again. They’re much more rugged, more rocky, more, well more like real hills. And beyond them yer snow capped peaks! Just as well, I was on the point of demanding a refund. Tantalising glimpses of the heights of the Kaikoura-Seward range. We stop.
I make my way forward to the observation carriage. This is open, though it has a roof and very stout handrails on the side. We’ve already been warned to take care as ‘the trees are very near the line. Don’t lean out.’
We have stopped in a sea of yellow lupin-like flowers with a very powerful, sweet smell. I see that we have stopped by what appears to be a large dog kennel. But it has an unpronounceable name. It’s a station! There are no people at all. Perhaps a bunch of the yellow flowers are boarding the train to seek fresh fields and pastures new.
We’re off again. The train picks up speed. Between lines of pine trees the snowy mountains can be seen. There are big patches of a beautiful blue sky above them. Now the view on the other side shows us huge sweeps of ocean. Crashing waves. Rocks. Sweeping bays. Long promontories appear on the horizon.

This is more like it. Only one thing gets in the way of our enjoyment. I and a number of others in the carriage are sneezing and rubbing our eyes like mad. A chemical attack by the local flora. We suspect the yellow flowers. Through streaming eyes I try to absorb the magnificent landscape as it tears past.
Then, quite suddenly we pull into a dead typical strip of standard NZ issue one street township. Low buildings loads of brash signs, ugly power lines a la USA. But this time with an alpine backdrop.
We’ve arrived at Kaikoura.


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Nelson and Blenheim

A brief comparison of the two towns visited on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
The drive into Nelson is quite long. Seems longer because of the winding, hilly route.
Blenheim is much easier to get to. A pleasant, flat run that takes you through the Marlborough wine country.
Both greet you with some spectacular mountain scenery complete with snow. In the case of Nelson the peaks are viewed across an enormous, spectacular bay. Near Blenheim the mountains form a backdrop for the extensive vineyards.

The appearance of the town centres (not CBDs, too small I guess) is remarkably similar. The same low buildings and absence of brick and stone construction. We’re getting to be familiar with the local chain stores with names like ‘Cotton On’. There is the open airiness about both places which we now take for granted in NZ towns.
The church in Blenheim is quite striking. Looks to be made of wood and plastic. Pink and cream with a tall, slim spire it is appealing and wouldn’t look out of place on a big cake. Nelson has a disconcertingly stern, grey openwork tower on top of a hill commanding the city centre. Only when you reach the top do you realise that there is a complete cathedral there. It is surrounded by huge trees and has a flight of steps leading up to it on which suntanned young persons, presumably students and backpackers, happily socialise.
What is noticeable in both towns is what we’ve experienced throughout the trip. Anyone we speak to is forthcoming and friendly and direct. There are no airs and graces with the kiwis. No posturing. No brusque surliness.

We missed out on the interior of the cathedral which apparently has excellent stained glass windows. This is because we’d left the New Zealand guide book behind. Silly. For the same reason we missed out on the Suter art gallery which is highly rated. The gallery we did see was less impressive. It was admittedly in an unprepossessing situation. The current show was entitled ‘Day of the Dead’. It had a number of works on the theme of death, most rather obscurely allusive. There was one disturbing piece constructed of actual birds’ wings ‘escaping’ from picture frames. But by and large little use had been made of the space which we felt did have possibilities. Many of the works were quite small and were lost on the large, white walls. As a whole it didn’t work. It did not move you. It was just dismal.
By contrast, on the way back from Blenheim we stopped at the aviation museum at Omaka. This is excellent. It concerns itself with First World War planes. It displays superbly restored aircraft, large scale models and dioramas. That may sound dull, old fashioned museum stuff but it works brilliantly. The space is a large one. The light is very subdued. The figures well made. The staging imaginative. Peter Jackson, he of ‘The Hobbit’, was involved.

We see a workshop where carpenters work on wooden propellers. Having recently flown here in ultra high-tech machines like the A380 it is difficult to believe that these wood and canvas, wire operated contraptions actually flew. And flew to deadly effect. There is a scene where a French flyer’s plane has been brought down and hangs in a tree in the snow. He is chivalrously greeted by his German conqueror while infantrymen look on. The death of the Red Baron after he was shot by an Australian riflemen is depicted. His body lies beside his legendary red triplane. Aussie soldiers are taking his fancy fur boots as trophies. They are cutting the insignia from his plane as souvenirs. One of these actual pieces of fabric is displayed on the wall beside the tableau. Also displayed are the cups that von Richtoffen had made by silversmiths to celebrate his victories. There are more of his belongings and photos of the dashing air ace. There are uniforms and memorabilia. Contemporary photos, posters and diaries. . There is historical, biographical and technical Information in abundance. Movies from the era are shown on the walls. Songs of the time play quietly in the background. The whole era is brought to life.
Ironic, as this display is more starkly and realistically about death than the anaemic show in Nelson.


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We take a trip out to Havelock for the last time.
We drive out on the Moetapu Road.
We photograph the evening view from the lookouts.

There is something special about the skies of New Zealand.
There is a sweep to them you don’t get elsewhere.
They seem to echo the vastness of the Pacific.

Land of the Long Cloud.

Yes, that sums it up.





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