Tuesday, December 25, 2007 5:38 PM
part 5

We had dinner at a restaurant, but their options for dessert were not attractive to us, so we went across the street to another place. That place had some nice looking cakes, but since we weren't that hungry, we decided to order just one slice of one cake. For some reason, the staff had trouble with the concept. No drink, no meal, just one slice of cake. Eventually they got the idea. They brought a slice of the wrong cake, though. It wasn't bad cake for that, and they didn't charge us for it, either, so that was a bonus.

The next day, we visited the Pancake Rocks. The Pancake Rocks are made of layers of limestone that have been eroded by sea water, particularly where there are blowholes that are active during the high tide. The first thing that one sees upon arriving there is a small collection of columns out to sea, and tall grasses all over the immediate area. At first (since we didn't do our research), we thought that that was all there was, and we didn't understand the attraction. However, we followed one of the paths through the grasses and reached another site. Just beyond the fence were huge columns of the pancake rocks, and raging surf below. We followed all of the paths, and saw many many pancake rocks. It was a very impressive sight. We also happened to be there at high tide, so we got to see the blowholes in action. Water races through the caves below, then shoots metres into the air, with a roar of rushing air and a spray that covers the nearby tourists. It was great. The minor inconvenience was that the wind blew the spray in the opposite direction to the sunlight, which made it very hard for Ling-Li to take photographs without risking the destruction of the camera lens.

Ling-Li wanted to visit Lake Brunner, if it was convenient, and on the way back to Christchurch. We saw a sign that pointed to it, though the distance was not shown, so we headed in that direction. After a few kilometres, the sealed road ended, and all we could see was a single-lane dirt road. We took it anyway, thinking that it wouldn't be for very long. After about half an hour, Ling-Li was starting to worry, since we hadn't seen anyone else in that time. I wasn't concerned because being on vacation made it all somehow okay, so we kept going. It took nearly an hour and a half, up and down, and round and round, but eventually we turned a corner and saw a sparkling blue lake. Trees grow inside the lake, which is something that we had never seen before. It was well worth the trip.

To get back again, we continued on the same road instead of turning around. We'd come in by the south way, which is the longer one, but the view of the lake is much better. The north way is much shorter, and then we were back on the road, heading for Christchurch, a 380 kilometres drive.

Along the way is the Otira Gorge viaduct. The viaduct is a bridge over the spectacular view that is Otira Gorge. One problem that faced early users of the road to cross the gorge was the large waterfalls that damaged the road. This problem was eventually solved by an amazing feat of engineering - an aqueduct was built beside and above the road, to divert the waterfall beyond the other side of the road and into the gorge directly. I don't know of any other place where one can drive *under* a waterfall.

There's a lookout a short distance past the aqueduct, and we stopped for a better view. A green parrot - a Kakapo - lives in the area. It lands on any cars that stop at the lookout, and it expects to be fed. That's not a good idea for several reasons. Apart from the fact that the food might not be healthy for the bird anyway, there's also the fact that the bird is wild, it weighs several kilograms, and it has a beak that looks like it could bend steel bars. "Do not feed bird with remaining fingers".

Finally, it was back to Nick and Jessica's place. Our nearly 2000 kilometres odyssey over six days was a bit rushed, but we were short on time. Dinner was pasta in walnut and cheese pesto cream sauce, with portobello mushrooms. Dessert was an icecream cake, with Oreo cookies, "cookies and cream" icecream, marshmallow, and Maraschino cherries - so bad for us but it tasted so good. Jessica and I demolished our share, while Nick and Ling-Li struggled with theirs. The sugar-rush headache afterwards was completely worth it.

Then it was on to the north island for the actual conference.

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