Monday, January 1, 2007 9:58 PM
There was a conference in New Zealand. Ling-Li and I arrived a week before, in order to tour the south island. We stayed with Nick and Jessica at their amazing house which is at the top of a cliff overlooking the bay. Nick cooks extremely well, and Friday's dinner was salmon with asparagus. Cheesecake for dessert. Mmm... :-)
The next day Nick and Jessica took us to see some of the sights near their place. We started at the arts centre, which is located where a university used to be, so the buildings are old and the walls are sandstone blocks. Then it was on to a port town whose name I don't remember (I should take better notes) which was like a small village. Nick drove along the headland and showed us some of the bays along the coast. When we got back to their place, we went for a walk along the cliff near Taylor's Mistake. His mistake was thinking it was the entrance to Lyttelton Harbour and running aground; our mistake was going at that time of year. Great view, though, and another great dinner afterwards: chicken, broccoli, and carrots. Chocolate fondue for dessert.
On the following day, we began our driving expedition. The destination was Dunedin, about 360 kilometres away, but there were places to visit on the way. We stopped to look at the Moeraki boulders. The boulders are large and spherical, some partially embedded in the cliff, some standing alone on the beach. Most of them are between one and two metres in height. They are essentially mud in a calcite shell, exposed by erosion. No-one knows exactly how they are created, but there are a number of theories. It was raining when we got there, but we walked around anyway. It stopped raining as we were leaving, but we had to reach Dunedin by a certain time, so we couldn't stay.
Our first stop in Dunedin was the yellow-eyed penguin sanctuary. We were told that it was "in" Dunedin, and the map showed a short, more or less straight road from Dunedin to the sanctuary, so we thought that we'd have plenty of time to reach it. In fact, it's not even in Dunedin. It's actually about 25 kilometres outside, along a windy road full of blind corners. There's a cliff wall on one side and no barrier on the other. That brings me to an interesting point about New Zealand road signs. There are signs that show the recommended maximum speed for the nearby corner. In both Australia and the USA, it quickly becomes clear that, despite the difference in units, the number on the sign is 15 units (kilometres or miles) lower than a still- comfortable speed for driving around that corner. In New Zealand, as Nick informed me before we left, the numbers are *exact*. That became clear immediately on the first corner - I slowed down to that number and it was just enough. The second and third corners were the same. After that, I just trusted the signs everywhere, just in case. That brings me to another interesting point about New Zealand road signs. Who places a 35 kilometre-per-hour corner sign on the far side of a crest in a 100 kilometre-per-hour zone?
Anyway, we reached the penguin sanctuary in one piece with only minutes to spare. Literally. The guide was planning to leave early because there were no customers for the last tour of the day because it was raining. She was standing next to her car when we arrived, and the person who sells the tickets was about to lock the office door. Lucky for us, we had bought the tickets already, so we just needed to redeem them for tour passes.
Since it was raining and no-one else was around, we had a private guided tour, which was great. The sanctuary contains many covered walkways, which allow one to get very close to the penguins without disturbing them. Yellow-eyed penguins are endangered, with few places available to view them, so we took advantage of the opportunity.
It stopped raining as we were leaving, an event that we came to expect during the rest of the trip. In New Zealand at that time of year, as with Iceland in general, the weather is highly variable: wind, rain, hail, snow, sun. Repeat every ten minutes. We learned that if it is raining when one arrives, one has to simply wait for a while and it will clear. No need to wander about in the rain. Despite this, we saw very few New Zealanders carrying an umbrella.
More next time.
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