Sunday, July 31, 2016

Surfing and Fishing

Muriwai Beach, New Zealand (Jun 6, 2008)

Not us, of course. We didn’t go surfing or fishing at Muriwai beach. We rather walked along the path with our friends watching the surfers and the people fishing on the shore down the cliffs. 

Extreme Rock Fishing
Sports are quite an extreme activity in new Zealand, and this holds true for surfing (the waves are quite strong here, and the cliffs menacing), but even for fishing. It is called “extreme rock fishing” and seems to be very popular at Muriwai beach. The activity consists in fly fishing from rocks battered by the surf. This allows to reach deeper waters (and thus more fish) but entails the risks of being swept away by the waves. Apparently this is the fate of a good number of extreme fishers every year, swallowed by the surf, never to be found again (ok, maybe I am exaggerating, but people do drown this way). We did see some close misses with gigantic waves (the weather was quite stormy as we were there) almost getting some fishers off the flat exposed rocks in the photo on the left. 

When it finally started raining we went back to our friends house (actually to Kendra’s parent house) where we were treated with dinner, and we watched a true kiwi event: a rugby match with the all blacks playing (with the haka and all). The match was against Ireland, and I think they won (we had to leave before the end of the game). I have actually checked on the all blacks official web site and the game was on Jun 7: if true then all dates of this travel diary may be off by one day... oops...

Muriwai Beach, New Zealand (Jun 6, 2008)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Muriwai Beach

Muriwai Beach, New Zealand (Jun 6, 2008)

Before returning to the US, we made a stop in Auckland, were some friend of us live. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to spend there before getting back, but we were able at least to spend a weekend at their place. It was nice, after many years since we last saw each other.

Kendra, Lenya and Greg
We arrived at about dinner time, and we met at the cooperative pre-school where their kids are going (event hough, since we left, the oldest has started primary school). The occasion for meeting there was the celebration of Matariki, the Maori new year, announced by the apparition of the Pleiades in the northern sky. The exact day of the celebration depends on the iwi, but it is in general between June and July. To celebrate, we ate hangi food, cooked to reproduce the traditional Maori way of cooking by hot stones and vapor in a covered pit. The next day we went to Muriwai beach. Despite the very uncertain weather, the place was quite spectacular. The photo above shows weird cliffs with a strange polygonal pattern on top: the little geometrically disposed mounds are gannet nests, now abandoned until the next nesting season. The little photo on the left has our friends Kendra and Greg, with little Lenya carried by her mom (while Tycho and Halen were probably playing on a very vertical sand dune with their grandparents - which are really great people and adopted us while we were there).

Muriwai Beach, New Zealand (Jun 6, 2008)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Back in Christchurch

Christchurch, New Zealand (May 27, 2008)

This photo (as well as the small one below) is out of order, because the last day spent in the South Island I didn’t shoot a single frame. We arrived in Oamaru late the night before. Our first option was to stop in Dunedin, but we quickly realized that it was too busy a city to easily find an accommodation without reservation. So we continued driving until we reached the smaller town of Oamaru. After checkin-in in a motel we went to search for food. We went back and forth in the Victorian historic district, all built in the famous “Oamaru limestone” without finding anything remotely open. After some searching, and indications from two kids smoking in front of a closed pub, we finally find the bar of a fancy hotel, serving... guess what... our daily fix of fish and chips.

The next day we found the best breakfast place of New Zealand. The Woolstore cafe, located in the restored Woolstore Complex, offers gourmet food in a spacious room with high ceilings. It is the perfect place to sit and read, and the food is really excellent. If you pass through Oamaru it is definitely worth the stop. We found the cafe by chance, on our way to Oamaru’s blue penguins colony touristic center. The center was closed, and in fact there were no penguins on the beach (of course, during the day the penguins are busy fishing). The place, however, looked a little sad, with a huge concrete tribune facing the beach for easy penguin watching. The place is equipped with floodlights to allow seeing the penguins after sunset, when the little birds are resting (trying to?). Difficult to judge, as when we were there the center was closed, but my feeling is that the penguin watch in places like Nugget point, where the humans are hidden in a way the least intrusive on the wildlife, is more rewarding.

After the breakfast we were on the road again, for the last drive on Route 1 to Christchurch. We left the car at the airport and took the airplane for our last New Zealand stop: Auckland.

Nugget Point, New Zealand (Jun 4, 2008)

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Penguins at Nugget point

Nugget Point, New Zealand (Jun 4, 2008)

We arrived at Nugget Point that was getting dark. The main feature of this rocky headland is the white lighthouse (photos below), which is accessed from the main Catlins “highway” through an unpaved road closely following the coastline. The last part of this road is narrow and steep, in some points impressively so. Our rented Ford Focus seemed capable to negotiate the slope quite well, so we drove to the end (even though I was a little apprehensive at the idea of having to drive back in the dark). 

Nugget Point lighthouse
Just before the last curve we saw a sign about an “observatory” for the local colony of penguins. We stopped the car and walked on a narrow path leading to a wooden hut hanging to the cliffs. From the windows of the hut there was a good view of the beach and the grassy slope below. At first we didn’t see anything. Then, we saw a pair of yellow-eye penguins pruning, on a platform mid-slope. After a little while, we started seeing one, two, many penguins slowly and clumsily walking out of the water. One would expect penguins to be well adept in getting in and out of the water. Well, that’s not the case. These penguins seemed to do a huge effort to get on dry land, as for every two steps they were negotiating with the swell, the next wave would push them back one step. In the end a dozen or so congregated around the few boulders shown in the photo above. The individuals we saw were all adults, as shown by the yellow band circling around their neck (compare to the photo of the juvenile we saw at Akaroa Harbor). After spending the day at sea they were retreating on terra firma to rest for the night.

As we were watching them, it got dark to the point that making photos was getting impossible. We walked to the lighthouse and then back to the car, aware that we needed to drive 230 km more to get to Oamaru, were we intended to spend our last night in the South Island.

Nugget Point, New Zealand (Jun 4, 2008)

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Curio Bay and the Niagara Falls Cafe

Curio Bay, New Zealand (Jun 4, 2008)

The unpaved road ended at Curio Bay, home of a petrified jurassic forest, a Hector's Dolphin pod, and a yellow eyed penguin colony. We didn’t see any of the above. The sea was so rough that I am quite sure the dolphins were resting in some quieter waters and the penguins were getting their fix of fishes far from the crashing waves. What about the forest? Well, the forest is in the photo above... just submerged. It is best visible at low tide, and we clearly didn’t time it right. The view of the bay was however quite spectacular and worth the stop, with some of the most amazing surf I have ever seen (and heard, the thunder of the waves breaking on the rocks is quite deafening). The spray can get very high, as you can see in the photo below, taken from the top of the cliffs. Below the cliffs there is a beach, were occasionally sea lions can be found (nope, we didn’t see them either). The place was in fact completely empty, I imagine because of the low season and the foul sea. The shores of the Catlins are famous for their numerous ship wrecks: with these waves it is not difficult to understand why.

Curio Bay
In the middle of the Catlins there are diminutive falls that somebody with sense of humor called “Niagara Falls”. We didn’t see the falls, nor the town with the same name, but we did stop in the neighborhood. It was already past lunch time and the town of Niagara was the first settlement we had passed in several hours. We stopped at a nice wooden construction along the Niagara-Waikawa road, with a large “Niagara Falls Cafe and Art Gallery” sign in the front. The entrance is through the art gallery, which we didn’t have much time to explore. The cafe proper is in a luminous room facing a large patio which was closed, due to the cold weather. In the large garden, a goat with a stick stuck on her horns (to prevent her to stick her head in the fence, which apparently she had enjoyed one too many times). On the wall there was a newspaper cutout with the story of the cafe. The owner was a nice New Zealand-born lady that until a few years before was a high level manager of some company in Australia. She got sick of the rat-race, came back home, found an old run-down school building in the middle of the Catlins and converted it into a cafe. The location may seem a little isolated (it was the only place we found in hours of driving), but that same isolation, along a road that is traveled by massive amount of tourists in summer, must be a boon for the business. Deserved business that is, as the sandwiches we got were quite good, the cafe was excellent, and the cake topped with ice cream was even better. 

Restored, we left the cafe directed to our last Catlins stop: Nugget point and its penguin colony. But that is a story for the next post.

Curio Bay, New Zealand (Jun 4, 2008)