New Zealand 2023 - Part 1

January 26, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

After some chaos at the check-in, we make it to Christchurch almost on time. The flight was extremely bumpy—to the degree that we could not read anymore, and the crew stopped serving food. Strangely, there were clouds outside at the cruising altitude of our plane, which I had never seen.

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In Christchurch, we see a passenger being asked to put on a jacket and walk with it through security at the airport. The biosecurity dog then finds an apple in her jacket pocket. The dog gets a treat. We picked up our car at the airport and drove to the Wyndham Garden Christchurch Kilmore Street. We do a small excursion in the city, admiring the large murals, the historic tram, the Weeping Willows of Christchurch, and the artsy elephants, and we have dinner at a wine bar.

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On the 28th, we drive to the Akaroa Marine Reserve with our rental car—a 1.5-hour drive from Christchurch “Shore Excursion Guided Sea Kayaking through Akaroa Marine Reserve”. After arriving in Akaroa, we look around in the little town and then meet with our guide, who operates out of a van with a trailer full of "safe stable NZ-made sea kayak(s)”. 

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We have “a spectacular tour through an untouched marine reserve which now exists in a flooded volcanic crater from millions of years ago. The geology and scenery will blow your mind during this intimate sea-kayaking safari. Paddle along through the clear turqouise waters of the pacific, you get the feeling you are in a postcard! Your guide will keep watch for sightings of native New Zealand marine and bird life” We do not see the famous Hector Dolphins, white-flippered penguins and the NZ fur seals, but a lot of kelp and mussels. It was nice that there were only 8 people in our group. John, our guide, originally from Vancouver Island, tells us about the geology of the waterway we are kayaking: The 9 million-year-old volcano is 50 m deep in some places. He also shares marine biology facts about the importance of kelp and that a single mussel filters 50 litres of water per day. The Dolphins are hunting with echo and therefore don’t mind the cloudy water, while the sharks don’t come in as they need clear water to see their prey. We find giant big black mussels, twice the size as what we buy at the fish market. We also venture into a 10-metre-long cave accessible only from the water with our kayaks.

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After two hours of paddling 3.6 NM, we have lunch at Bully Hayes, eating Battered Chatham Cod and a Chowder.

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The town was first a French settlement which is still reflected in the French culture and cuisine. Later, the British arrived and took over the administration, allowing the French settlers to stay. We also see remnants of the long whaling history that has shaped the early stages of the settlement.

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We take the scenic route, called the tourist route, back to Christchurch, from which we can see the entrance to the bay. The fields are full of sheep and cows (and we saw rabbits). We also note a lot of patches of Scandinavian pines which grow faster here than in Scandinavian countries, but they mess up the environment as their needles create acidity which kills runoff the marine life.

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Next to the roads, we see a lot of Fingerhut and Lupinen—the latter also a pest in NZ. On our way back, we stop at Little River where we walk around at the Silo Stay (https://www.tripadvisor.co.nz/HotelHighlight-s1-g1600810-d6353495-Reviews-SiloStay-Little_River_Canterbury_Region_South_Island.html) which I think would be ideal for international students in Sydney. We also look at galleries but cannot go into them as they all close at 5 pm. 

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On Friday (29th), we visit the Antarctica New Zealand Centre in the morning ($69 per person). Christchurch is one of the main gateways to Antartica. From the early 1900s, British expeditions used the port of Lyttelton on their way to Antartica. In 1995, Christchurch became the base for the US Antartica Program known as Operation Deep Freeze. “New Zealand is a key international player in Antarctica. Scott Base was built in 1957 but Christchurch's Antarctic heritage dates back more than 100 years. Scott Base is Antarctica New Zealand's research station and the hub for science activities in Antarctica year-round. Up to 86 people can sleep at Scott Base at any one time but more than 350 people visit each year. Antarctica New Zealand is the government agency which supports science and peace within the Ross Sea region of Antarctica.“

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We learn about the legacy of adventure “A century ago Antarctica was in the grip of the 'heroic-age' of exploration. The early expeditions typified leadership, courage, passion, sacrifice and sometimes tragedy. Led by explorers including Ernest Shackleton, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Ronald Amundsen, their legends were writ large in the Antarctic continent. From their simple wooden bases, they set out to explore the continent. A century on the expedition huts still stand, crammed full of supplies and equipment. They have been described as the most evocative heritage buildings in the world. The Antarctic Heritage Trust cares for this extraordinary legacy on behalf of the international community to benefit both current and future generations.” We go shortly into a -8C climate chamber and watch (from the outside) a -18C windshield storm.

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We then watched the feeding of the Blue Penguins, which are only 30cm high and weigh 1 kg.  “The breeding season starts around August and September. The female Little Blue penguin lays two white eggs, which will take about 20 days to form inside her. Males and females share incubation equally in 1-12 day shifts. While one of the couple stays with the egg, the other parent is at sea. The changeover of nest duties between the adults occurs at night when the parent at sea returns to the nest. The incubation of the Little Blue penguin chick lasts on average 37 days.”

HEI_3428HEI_3428 We watch a 4D movie about the Antarctic station with moving chairs and water spray getting onto our faces during the voyage over the ocean. We also learn that at its deepest, the Antarctic ice is 4.5 km thick.  At the end, we watch a guide showing his 5 Huskies who can wrap their long, bushy tails around their faces for extra warmth while they sleep. 

Later in the afternoon, we went to the Christchurch Bonatic Garden, passing on our way by a building of Canterbury College where Ernest Lord Rutherford , father of nuclear physics, studied.

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On Saturday, (30th) at 6:45 am, we walked to the bus interchange for a 20-minute drive to the railway station, passing our hotel (no pickup from our hotel available). We board the train with assigned seats. The departure time is between 8 and 8:30 (not exactly determined). 

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The train commentary tells us that there are 360,000 residents in Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. Located in the Canterbury region which stretches to the Southern Alps—mostly processing agricultural products. The Arthur Pass is 900 metres high.

Passing through the plains, we see a lot of agricultural supply shops where one can buy tractors and plows. The landscape is “on the move,” geologically speaking. Some plains are 400 metres higher than others, shaped by earthquakes, erosion and volcanoes. Some birds, which lived here before their extinction by humans 700 years ago, stood 3.5 metres high. Now, dairy farming is the big business here. We see the biggest milk processing plant for milk powder, which can process 600 million litres of milk per day.

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Sheep farming in the Highlands is still done by Stochmen on horses with dogs. Mostly, Merino sheep are raised here in harsh conditions at high altitudes. Some of the meandering rivers run underground. The olive-green alpine parrots, the Kea, can sometimes be seen at the station. The 40 cm bird is among the most intelligent animals on earth, able to solve sequential tasks.

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The Arthur’s Pass National Park is a 90.000 hectares alpine park founded in 1920. The Forrest is made up of Mountain and Silver Beech, which can live up to 400 years. 

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We do a 45 min walk to the Devil’s Punchbowl with 450 steps on the way. The driver tells us that the Keas will come to parking cars to eat the windshield wipers and other rubber as the rubber includes Zink which tastes sweet on their palates. We see a lot of lichens and moss in this temperate rainforest. 

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Afterwards, we have lunch in the village: beef pie and quesadillas. During the lunch break, the driver tells me that the train killed 10-15 sheep which were grazing on the tracks while we were going towards Arthur’s Pass. We also manage to take some pictures of the Keas which try to steal food from the tourists.

We stop at Lake Pearson in the afternoon. Another stop is at Stockhill where the Disney movie Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was in part filmed (Battle scene).

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We learn more about the underground rivers: “Beneath your feet, a mountain-fed stream runs underground. Take time out from your journey to see why this spectacular limestone landscape has inspired generations of other travellers.”

On our way back we stopped for 50-minutes at Kura Tawhiti Conservation Area “The majestic limestone formations of Kura Tawhiti are of outstanding cultural and ecological importance. This area has special significance to Ngãi Tahu, with ties that stretch unbroken from distant ancestors to present generations  (authority) over the lands and waterways of this area is still held by Ngãi Tuahuriri, who are the descendants of Ngãi Tahu ancestor Tuahuriri. Kura Tawhiti has Topuni status (a symbolic cloak of protection), which is a legal recognition of the site's importance to Ngãi Tahu.” The basalt rocks are amazing in size and arrangement—as placed there on purpose.

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We read about extinguishing species: “The first iwi (tribes) to hunt moa in this area also had to contend with the threat from pouakai (Haast's eagle) - the largest eagle known to have existed. Fully grown pouakai weighed up to 15 kg with a wingspan of up to 3m and had talons that could pierce the skin of a moa and sever its spinal column. When moa numbers began to decline, pouäkai also targeted humans as prey, attacking and killing both children and adults. To escape this threat, iwi learned how to snare pouäkai and kill it.“

On our way back, we hear again about the importance of dairy farming for the region and seed and grain production for NZ. Farmers grow hedges to break the wind as the plains lack surface features.

In the morning, we leave for Mt Cook—a 4-hour drive of 330 km. We stopped at a few sightseeing spots, like Geraldine (skipping Fairlie) and then Lake Tekapo.  We had lunch at Lake Pukaki, which was very windy. The terrain is officially protected as an International Dark Sky Reserve—the world's largest Gold Status International Dark Sky Reserve. “At 4367 sq km, the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve lies in the heart of the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.”

We stop at Lake Tekapo and have lunch while the wind blows like crazy.

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Continue to Part 2.


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This is a photographic diary of our adventures in Australia with emphasis on Sydney and its surroundings.
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