Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Devil's Punchbowl Falls

Devil's Punchbowl Falls, New Zealand (May 31, 2008)

When we arrived at the Arthur's pass village it was raining. After parking next to the visitor center (which was closed), we found refuge in the Wobbly Kea Cafe & Bar, where we got some food and something warm to drink. If you search on the internet you will find some reviews of the cafe (even though, mind you, this is a small saloon at the end of -Middle- Earth... power of the internet) complaining about the dismal service. We actually didn’t have any issue. Sure the service maybe wasn’t the fastest but really, who cares? We were in a holiday, right? Plus, it was wet outside.

The Falls
name of the place is a good excuse to talk about the eponymous bird, the kea, that apparently is quite common at the pass. I say apparently because I am not sure we met any, even though we saw some large birds flying along the road that may fit the description. On the other hand it was raining, and keas are all but stupid and were probably hiding in some dry place. Keas, in fact, are quite smart, to the point of being annoying. They fear nothing (and humans even less), so they are commonly seen stealing whatever it pleases them from tourists backpacks. Closing the zippers does not help, they know how to open them with their beaks. They are large green parrots, and when not hunting tourists they like to steal the rubber parts from parked cars, like the wipers and the seals around the windows. Due to its character the kea has been persecuted in the past, and it is a vulnerable species. Fortunately is now protected, even though the New Zealand government had to promise compensation and relocation of troublesome birds to appease the people living in the areas where the parrots are common.

The Falls
When we finished our lunch we went for a short walk to the Devil's Punchbowl Falls, which are at the end of a 15 minutes trail. The trail crosses the river at the center of a glacial valley, and then climbs on a dense rainforest where everything is completely covered by mosses and ferns. It is not difficult to see why the fern is the cultural icon of New Zealand: it grows everywhere in the island's forests. At that point it was only drizzling, and the thick canopy above the trail was enough to prevent us from getting wet. The fall is shown in the background of the photo above. What I really liked of the place, more than the fall, was a huge tree in front of it, with a complicated fractal structure. The part shown in the photo is just one of the branches. It reminded me of the trees in Japanese gardens. You can see more of the majestic tree in the little photos above and on the left.

It soon started to rain again, so we went back to the car to complete our daily drive. Originally the plan was to arrive as far as Haast, almost 350 km further down the road from Arthur’s pass along the West coast. That was clearly too much, so we stopped at the Fox Glacier village. When we arrived there it was pouring, and dark. And I was dead tired for all the driving, so all we could do was to find a motel where to spend the night, and a place still serving fish & chips at that late hour.

Approaching Devil's Punchbowl Falls, New Zealand (May 31, 2008)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Arthur's Pass

Arthur's Pass, New Zealand (May 31, 2008)

When Mayli finally finished her Neutrino 2008 conference, we left Christchurch for Arthur's pass. We drove for a few hours up Route 73, until we reached the pass, crossing the Southern Alps from the east to the west side of the island. As you can see in the photo above, the weather was very cloudy. Still, as we were approaching the pass, we could see spectacular mountains flanking the road. 

Hiking trailheads
Arthur's pass is named after the surveyor Arthur Dudley Dobson, who found his way across in 1864. While a scenic road now allows to leisurely cross the pass, at Dobson's time the many gorges on the western side of the passage made the crossing not so easy: to cross the Otira Gorge he actually had to leave his horse at the top, and lower his dog with a rope.
The passage was of course well known to Maori's hunting parties, that used it regularly to cross from one side to the other of the island. The pass is at the center of a natural park, that include many peaks over 2,000 meters, the highest of which is Mount Murchison at 2,400 meters. The area is hiking (tramping!) paradise, with many trails crossing the U-shaped valley, directed towards the snow-capped mountains. in a beautiful landscape.

The mighty peaks
We stopped briefly at the pass to take some pictures. While I was taking my photos I was called by the occupants of a car stopped along the road, just in front of us. It turned out that the people calling me were a nice couple of retired New Zealanders from Christchurch, driving through Arthur’s pass on a photographic expedition (they were particularly attracted by the mighty peaks on the side of the road (in the photo on the left). They had Nikons (a D100, a D300 and a D1) and were very happy to see that I also had a Nikon. They were really nice guys and we had a very pleasant conversation. Among the various tips they gave us, they insisted that we should add to our destination a cove not far along the route, where we could have a chance to see penguins... but this is a story for another post. Mayli after some time got bored of waiting, and took a picture of me talking with them (I had it on a previous iteration of this blog, but it was lost when the computer hosting it suddenly died).

Despite the bad weather, there were a lot of people leaving the cars and going for a hike. A lot of people were walking in the direction of the weird rock formation you can see on the left side of the panorama below, made of a line of boulders standing like sentinels watching the pass.

Arthur's Pass, New Zealand (May 31, 2008)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Leisure Drive

Route 77, New Zealand (May 30, 2008)

While New Zealand cars are the same as in any other country (apart for the steering-wheel on right side), I met there an unordinary number of cute old cars. The day I was touring the Inland Scenic Route 72 (which is actually passing by route 77 and 73 also) I met a procession of these restored jewels leisurely driving around. Well, not a real procession: I found them in separate places, seemingly driving in random directions. I counted at least 20 of them, all driven by ladies and gentlemen with a costume matching the same epoch of the car. On my way back to Christchurch I found them again on an open stretch of road, with the superb snow capped Southern Alps as background.

A red beauty
Writing about old cars reminded me of the New Zealand roads. I was quite impressed by them, and by the amount of maintenance that is continuously done to keep them in prefect shape. In our 3,000 km of driving we found work crews everywhere, patching the pavements, enlarging the width of the roads, repairing their sides. Even though the South island is sparsely populated, it has a huge touristic traffic in summer and during the skiing season, when the pavement suffers from the ice and snow of severe winters. Despite all this abuse all the roads I saw were really well maintained, without the continuous litany of potholes and cracks so typical in the US (and Italy... and Venezuela, just to mention the countries I know best). The only perplexing thing is that most of these roads, whenever they had to cross a body of water, be a large river or a minuscule stream, have narrow bridges where only one car can pass at one time. You have to stop, check that nobody is coming from the other side, and then cross. These one-way bridges are also along main roads, which I assume in summer must have quite a lot of traffic. Still, driving on those roads was a real pleasure and great fun (as long as one remembers that “left is good”).

Olive green
Leisurely driving along these roads was probably the best part of our New Zealand vacation. We really didn’t plan the trip. We decided beforehand which parts of the Island we wanted to see, and we drew a rough itinerary based on the number of days available. But we allowed ourselves to change the program any time we liked, based on how much we wanted to drive. We never reserved in advance. True, it was low tourist season, but we never had any problem in finding the bed & breakfast or motel where to sleep, even arriving past dinner time. So we just drove at our leisure, stopping all the time I wanted to take a picture, spending time sitting in cozy coffee places we found along the way, making last minute deviations just because “the road looked nice”. I generally drove quite slowly enjoying the landscape, which generally didn’t drive the locals crazy as they were also going around without any hurry. Arriving late often meant reduced dining choices, as restaurants generally closed their kitchen quite early. Pubs were however serving fish & chips until late, and this was our main food for the entire trip (and the beer was very decent too).

Route 77, New Zealand (May 30, 2008)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Making Friends

Rakaia River Valley, New Zealand (May 30, 2008)

As much as I liked Route 72, at some point during my drive I started to long for something less “domesticated” that the gentle countryside of New Zealand Pacific coast. My intention was to turn into the Coleridge road just before Rakaia Gorge, to get to Lake Coleridge. Obviously that’s not what I did, as I never arrived to any lake. I instead ended up on a road getting soon unpaved (“unsealed” as a New Zealander would say), which was going through a beautiful glacial valley. Now that I look at the map, it is clear that I got the Blackford Road, that then became the Double Hill Run Road, which climbs the shoulder of the Rakaia river on the opposite side of Lake Coleridge.

My new friends
The road goes on forever, on the shoulder of the valley, where ribbons of glacial water are braided in front of the usual majestic mountains. My Ford Focus was still going great, so I just kept climbing the dirt road. Now and then I stopped, because the valley was really beautiful. You can see it in the top photo, and in the panoramic at the end of this article. And I was basically alone the whole time, with the exception of a pickup truck of some farmer that passed me midway, a hiker (sorry “tramper” because in New Zealand you don’t hike, you go “tramping”), and some other friends I met along the way (pictured at the left). These cows were at the far end of their pasture, While I was taking photos of the gorgeous scenery during one of my stops. They noticed, and moved closer and closer, until I had trouble fitting all of them in the frame. I guess they were feeling alone and wanted some company. I stayed there for a little while, then we said goodbye and I went driving up the valley again.

New Zealand is certainly a country with a lot of farm animals. Until not too many years ago there were over 70 million sheep; now the sheep are less than 40 million, still about 12 sheep every human inhabitant. The decrease in number of sheep is due to competition with other types of farm animals, including my cow friends, but also deers, ostriches, llamas and other exotic species. I can assure you that finding a llama or an ostrich in the hill country of New Zealand can be a quite unexpected encounter, but it did happen to us. There are about 10 million cattle in NZ (equally divided between beef and dairy cattle), which still makes for a respectable 3 cattle each human. One can only hope that all these animals will not go the Orwellian way (how many pigs are there in NZ?).

Rakaia River Valley, New Zealand (May 30, 2008)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Inland Scenic Route 72

Route 72, New Zealand (May 30, 2008)

The second day with the car but still without Mayli (busy she was at her conference) I went driving along the Inland Scenic Route 72. The route goes South from Christchurch, passing at the feet of the Southern Alps until it reaches a (very) small town called Geraldine. From there one can go back towards the coast (on the ugly Route 1), to return to Christchurch just in time for dinner.

Country Road
Between the two small towns of Kirwee and Darfield, Route 72 is parallel to the railway that crosses the Southern Alps to reach the Tasmanian sea through Arthur’s pass. That’s where I stopped to take this picture: the scenery was reminding me so much of Switzerland that I couldn’t resist taking this shot! The drive was nice and enjoyable, and was worth doing. This was the second day driving on the left, so I was already more comfortable, even though each time I stopped to take a picture, or any time I saw a car coming towards me on the right, I had to force myself to think that it was ok... I was on the correct side of the road. In fact I developed this mantra subconscious mumbling, now and then without prompt, “left is good... left is good... and right is bad”. For once, I wasn't even making a political statement. I found it useful to keep myself alert and avoid drifting on the other side, even though in the days to come it would drive crazy a very worried Mayli (which for the rest of the trip would keep closing her eyes each time we were crossing another car).

Route 70, New Zealand (May 30, 2008)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Alpine Pacific Triangle

Route 70, New Zealand (May 29, 2008)

Do you remember the green meadows crowned by white mountains in the Lord of the Rings Movie? Well, it is no mystery that the movie was shot in New Zealand, fueling a renewed touristic industry of movie fans wanting to see Middle Earth with their own eyes. What I wasn’t fully prepared at, however, was to discover that the kind of landscapes immortalized in the movie are actually real. New Zealand is breathtakingly beautiful as depicted in the Jacksonian visual epic (or equivalently in the watercolors by Alan Lee and John Howe). Being there at the beginning of winter helped. Not just because there were not many tourists around (too late for the warm summer but still to early for the skiing season), but also because fresh snow on top of these mountains gives them a whole different dimension.

Gorge around Route 70
I took this picture while driving on Route 70, between Waipara and Kaikoura. The route is part of the Alpine Pacific Triangle
, a wine region north of Christchurch at the feet of the Southern Alps, facing the open Pacific. The area is a known touristic destination, not just for its wineries, but also because of thermal springs, and many opportunities for gentle hiking and marine mammals (whales and dolphins) sightseeing. One can follow Route 70 up to Kaikoura, and then come back to Christchurch along the coast, on Route 1. Route 70 must be full of cars in Summer, but as I was driving on it on the eve of winter, it was an almost uninterrupted empty road, with very little other cars interrupting the illusion of really driving in the land of the Hobbits, and Elves. Route 1, on the other end, was pretty trafficked, and annoying. If I had known I would have probably driven on Route 70 also on the way back, but Route 1 was however faster, and allowed me to get back to Christchurch before the early sunset, in time for Mayli's conference dinner.

Route 70, New Zealand (May 29, 2008)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Renting a Car in New Zealand

Route 70, New Zealand (May 29, 2008)

The day after Akaroa I rented the car that we would keep for the next week. Before leaving Boston we found a local Christchurch rental car company, that turned out to be quite good. Sometimes choosing blindly from the internet has its own risk: you never know what is really on the other side of your internet connection. This time instead we got the real thing.

Route 70

First of all, in New Zealand you don’t rent a car. You hire it. So, if you search on google for new zealand car hire, one of the first links you get is the Apex car rental company. It is local (they say... the kiwi way), but big enough to have different locations in both islands. The first thing we liked was that one can chose the car to rent (sorry, I mean hire). Not just the model, but the car itself, with the mileage on it. We chose a Ford Focus automatic. I am usually for manual shifts, but given the added complication of driving on the left, I thought an automatic shift was not a bad idea. Fortunately the Focus had one of those semi-automatic shifts where you can directly select the gear, which turned out to be a quite useful feature (decent compromise for the lack of control of automatic shifts) when later on in the trip I had to drive through mountains and unpaved roads. The people at the rental agency were very nice (as most New Zealanders, I should add), and helpful. Somehow our request for a GPS unit (remember this trip was in 2008, before GPS was ubiquitous on smartphones) and snow chains was forgotten in our internet registration, but the guy at the agency went out of his way to find a unit for me. I even got a travel guide for free (you can actually download it from the web site). And for the environment conscious among us, the company plants a number of acres of new trees every year, to try to offset the CO2 emissions generated by their cars (at least they did that at the time, I can't find a mention of it on their current web site)!

The trip to Akaroa was just a pause in Mayli conference, which had two more days to go. So I went alone to rent the car, and spent the next couple of days driving around Christchurch, in the beautiful hills and plains at the feet of the Southern Alps. Farmland (and a lot of sheep), with one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. But that’s a new story for next time...

Route 70, New Zealand (May 29, 2008)

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

We spent the afternoon is absolute calm, walking on the shore of the calm harbor, reading the street posts with french names, sitting by the sea and watching the anchored boats and the far hills losing their shape in the mist on the opposite side of the harbor. The most peaceful sight.

The same pier
Maybe it was indeed an abnormally high tide, rather than an abnormally low pier. This is the same pier that before our boat trip was partially submerged, with a heron happily walking on the line between wet and dry. Upon our return it was perfectly dry, as if it was never touched by the swell. As the sun was getting low (and the sun was setting quite early while we were there, given that it was the beginning of winter), the harbor was getting a golden tint. After a day of fishing, the cormorant in the photo below was spreading its wing, while the lazy seagulls were taking a nap. Apparently cormorants are among the few sea birds that don’t have impermeable wings, and need to dry by spreading them in the sun. We saw several cormorants in this position during the day. It seems that the permeability of their feathers allows them to sink faster when they are fishing, because it avoids air bubbles from being trapped in their wet plumage. Some cormorants can dive as much as 45 meters deep. When I was a kid I remember reading about cormorant fishing in the adventure books of Emilio Salgari (author of Sandokan, the Black Corsair and other exotic heroes). Cormorant fishing has been done for 1,300 years along the Nagara river in China (but also in Japan and Macedonia) by tying a snare at the base of the bird’s neck. As the bird dives to catch a fish, the snare prevents it from swallowing, and the fish is recovered by the bird’s owner when the cormorant returns to the boat. Emilio Salgari was writing of these fantastic tales of pirates and adventurers from the apartment in Torino (the city where I was born), he never left, inspired only by looking at postcards of the exotic locations where he set his fantastic tales.

Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

I have been fascinated by the albatross since I read a poem by Baudelaire when I was in high school:

Souvent, pour s’amuser, les hommes d’équipage
Prennent des albatros, vastes oiseaux des mers,
Qui suivent, indolents compagnons de voyage,
Le navire glissant sur les gouffres amers.

À peine les ont-ils déposés sur les planches,
Que ces rois de l’azur, maladroits et honteux,
Laissent piteusement leurs grandes ailes blanches
Comme des avirons traîner à côté d’eux.

Ce voyageur ailé, comme il est gauche et veule!
Lui, naguère si beau, qu’il est comique et laid!
L’un agace son bec avec un brûle-gueule,
L’autre mime, en boitant, l’infirme qui volait!

Le Poète est semblable au prince des nuées
Qui hante la tempête et se rit de l’archer;
Exilé sur le sol au milieu des huées,
Ses ailes de géant l’empêchent de marcher.

(see english translation here)

I am fascinated by how the poet was comparing himself with the prince of the sky, so majestic when high in the sky, hindered by its own large wings to live effectively on the ground. So I imagined this large soaring bird many times, but I had never seen one. Until Akaroa, that is, where several of them were flying next to our boat. The guy of the tour said that these were one of the smallest subspecies of albatrosses... they still looked pretty big to me!

Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Meet the Hector Dolphin

Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

Just at the entrance of the Akaroa Harbor we say a dolphin approaching the boat. It was a Hector's dolphin. With an adult size of 1.4 meters (about half the size of the other dolphins), it is one of the smallest cetaceans. They are very recognizable for the rounded fin, and the characteristic hump near the blowhole. It is also one of the rarest, with less than 3,000 breeding couples in the all of New Zealand, which is the only place in the world where the Hector’s dolphin lives. The Hector's dolphin is a critically endangered species. The Maui dolphin, which is a subspecies of the hector's dolphin living exclusively in the New Zealand North Island, has only 110 individuals, 25 of which are breeding females, and is the most endangered subspecies of all marine mammals.

Hector dolphin
Hector’s dolphins are very sociable. In fact we knew of the chance of seeing one because the Akaroa boat tour we did was advertising it, and even the possibility of swimming with them. There is at least one company in Akaroa that brings wetsuit-clad tourists in the part of the Harbour where the dolphins live. The dolphins are so used to people that they often approach the swimmers, and play around them. That seems fantastic but it does not surprise me too much, as something similar happened to us in Hawaii. We were kayaking in Maui when a group of dolphins approached and started to swim along. There was even a mother with the calf, and they came really close to us. I still get goose-bumps when I think about it, because being close to dolphins is really a unique experience. It was nice that this Hector dolphin in Akaroa was kind enough to approach the boat and let me take this photo of him.

Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Seals on the Rocks

Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

After having seen the penguin, we passed next to a shadowed cliff. We didn’t notice anything particular until we started to hear some weird sounds coming from the rocks. Sounds like somebody was crying... kind of eery. It wasn’t until we covered our eyes from the bright sun and got accustomed watching the darker areas that we saw them. The rocks were full of large, noisy seals that were lazing out the hottest hours of the day (not very hot, actually, it was winter after all) resting at the base of the cliffs. The photo was difficult to take. The cliffs were in the shadow, and I was limited in how much I could expose because the boat was moving quite a lot. Even after opening everything I could, most of the photos still came out blurred. In the end I think this one works, and the one at the bottom, even though I am quite surprised by the color of the rocks in the background. They weren’t looking so red; I am wondering if it is a question of color correction, or this is their natural color...

The one on the left is probably my favorite photo from Akaroa. The sea was rather calm in the harbor, and also in the Pacific Ocean outside. However, these rocks were right at the mouth of the harbor and the currents were playing some weird game creating these huge sprays. So I just waited a little until I got this single shot before the boat was moving out of range. I guess I got lucky, but I like how the veil of water at the bottom of the wave is so dark and thick that hides the sea and the rocks behind, providing a strong contrast with the crown of clear white spray. I just like how the blues and the whites mix well... and how the spray is so sharp (there was enough light around that I could really use a very short exposure). This was just when we were moving out of the harbor to sea the high volcanic cliffs (Akaroa was formed by the collapsed crater of a huge ancient volcano), and just before we got another surprise... but I will let this for the next post...

Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Yellow Eyed Penguin

Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

I wish I remember the name of the operators that organized the boat tour in Akaroa Harbor. Because they were good. The people on the boat knew well the area, and brought us in the right place to see the local fauna, without being too pushy, and knowing what species to look for, and where.

Yellow-eyed penguin
This is how we got to see the yellow-eyed penguin. We first approached the part of shoreline where the penguins nest (keeping the right distance) but of course there was none there, because during the day they are out at sea to fish. But while we were getting back at the center of the harbour we saw this little guy (fairly large actually, maybe half meter or more) swimming around. Even though we were relatively far (don’t be fooled by the 200mm lens and the cropped photo, most people with compact cameras just got a few pixels of penguin) he/she wasn’t very happy to see us. From time to time the poor penguin was turning the head around to check what those pesky humans-paparazzi were doing.

The yellow-eyed penguin (Maori name Hoiho) turns out to be quite rare and endangered, with an estimated population of only 4,000, all living in New Zealand. The individual in the photo is a juvenile, lacking the yellow band connecting the eyes on the back. We saw more of these penguins later on in the trip, down in the Catlins.

Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Heron on a Semi-Submerged Pier

Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

As we were waiting for the boat tour, we walked on the shorefront towards a semi-submerged pier populated by birds. Seagulls mostly, but then this nice heron, that didn’t seem at all disturbed by me walking around to take pictures. It was just wading around, right on the water line. When we returned after the boat tour the heron was gone. And the water had disappeared from the pier too... with the low tide the pier was completely dry as if the water had never been there.

Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Akaroa Harbor

Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

Mayli’s meeting had different options for the conference excursion. One of them was a visit to Akaroa harbor, which we choose compelled by the description of natural beauty, and the chance of seeing some interesting wildlife.

A boat in Akaroa Harbor
And beautiful it was. Akaroa (“long harbor” in Maori) is set between volcanic hills in the Banks peninsula, South of Christchurch. The main settlement was once called “Port Louise-Philippe”, betraying its french origins. The first settlers were in fact french, which had reached the South Island in 1840. The british, however, were already in New Zealand with their bigger gun-boats, so the french settlers were given the choice of leaving, or staying there and become british subjects. France was a long way away, so they remained, and all is left now of these origins are the french names of the streets. In Akaroa we got on a boat tour of the harbor, which was really worth it, as we saw some quite unique wildlife (more on this in the next few posts), and we didn’t even get wet (you’ll understand this when I will get to tell about Milford Sound many posts ahead). Once back we shared some fish and chips with the local cats, and then got some coffee in the nearby Café. There we met a lovely waitress that turned out to be american. We asked her what she was doing there, and she said that she was hiking through New Zealand but once she got in Akaroa she liked the place so much that she decided there was no point in keep traveling, and she just decided to stay there. And by looking at the calm waters and the peaceful air, that really seemed the reasonable thing to do. Who really would want to leave?

Akaroa Harbor, NZ (May 28, 2008)

Monday, October 19, 2015


Christchurch, NZ (May 27, 2008)

I mentioned it before, Christchurch is full of students. Surprisingly enough for an Italian living in US like me, these students were all wearing uniforms. I know that this is true in several other english-speaking countries (and not only, Japanese schools also require uniforms), but I still find it interesting.

When I was a kid I had to wear uniforms only in primary school: an over-all designed to protect the regular clothes and keep them clean. From middle and high school there were no uniforms. Apparently now the uniforms are not even required in primary schools, even though there are talks to re-introduce them. The reason given for the re-introduction is that if uniforms are required, everybody would wear the same, regardless of the spending power of the families. I guess that would appeal to many parents of high school teenagers caught in the peer-pressure fashion arms-race. Enforcing the same uniform is certainly more democratic.

A chess game in Christchurch, NZ (May 27, 2008)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lyttelton Harbor

Lyttelton, NZ (May 27, 2008)

This is the view from Bridle path. The Bridle path, as I described yesterday, intersects at the highest point the Summit road, that runs along the Crater rim walkway. This walkway crosses the Port Hills between Christchurch and Lyttleton, which are part of the extinct Lyttleton volcano. From the walkway one can see Christchurch on one side (see my previous post), and on the other the Lyttleton harbor. The photo above shows the inner portion of the harbor (Lyttleton would be to the left of the photograph). The Pacific ocean can be seen peeking behind the hills on the horizon.

The port of Lyttelton
The Lyttelton harbor had been the home of Māori for centuries when it was discovered by Europeans in 1770 during the first voyage of James Cook's HMS Endeavour to New Zealand.  It was settled by the Canterbury association in 1848, the first colony of the Church of England in New Zealand. Lyttelton was hit very hard by the February 22, 2011 and its subsequent aftershocks. There was widespread destruction due to the proximity and shallowness of the epicenter to the city. Extensive damage lead to the demolition of high-profile heritage buildings such as the Harbour Light Theatre, the Empire Hotel and the Timeball Station. Reconstruction was deemed too expensive and as such much of the architectural heritage of the city was lost, including Canterbury's oldest stone church, the Holy Trinity.

One thing impressive about New Zealand is how well its government works. Being Italian, living in the US and being married with a Venezuelan this seems quite shocking. Roads, for example, are really well maintained. All road, even the small walking paths like the Bridle path. Need proofs? Look at the public documents of the Christchurch City Council concerning the maintenance of Bridle path...

Lyttelton, NZ (May 27, 2008)

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Bridle Path

The Christchurch gondola, New Zealand (May 27, 2008)

My first full day in Christchurch I was all by myself, as Mayli was busy with her meeting. I still didn’t have a car, so I decided to go somewhere in the vicinity of the city, reachable by public transportation. After conferring with a few of Mayli’s friends and a lady at the office of tourism, I decided to do the bridle path (called "bridal path" in this cute schoolchildren page).

Hiking and Biking
The path links Christchurch to the port of Lyttleton, where the boats from England were arriving in the late 19th century. The path was made in 1849 to shorten the route of the new settlers coming to the city. The name derives by the fact that the path was so steep that pack horses carrying the settlers luggage needed to be led by the bridle. The bridle path starts at the base of the gondola station, which can be reached by bus (no. 28 to Lyttleton) from the city Bus Exchange. Then it is an hour or so to walk (or you can take the gondola) to reach the Summit Road at the top of the Heathcote valley. From there there is a beautiful view of Christchurch on one side (see photo), and of the Lyttleton harbor on the other side (that is for the next post). It was quite a warm and sunny day, so I spent some time at the top visiting the gondola arrival station (you can get food and drinks there), and then hiking a little on the Summit Road (and enjoying the view). Then I followed the path all the way to Lyttleton, and I got the bus 28 to Christchurch.

At the start of the bridle path, Christchurch, New Zealand (May 27, 2008)