Tag Archives: invercargill

Rakiura

In mid-December, we went on a family adventure and tramped (hiked) across New Zealand along with several of our crazy friends here. Yes, I know that that sounds very impressive, especially something to be accomplished over a weekend with two children in tow, but I’m making it out to be more than it was. Yes, we did hike “across” New Zealand, but it was one of the narrowest possible spots, and it also involved a water taxi taking us from the end of our hike to the nearest town…

 

 

Just a few kilometers south of Invercargill is the town of Bluff, and then south of Bluff is… The Southern Ocean. The first stop in the Southern Ocean south of Bluff is Stewart Island – or, Rakiura, the Maori name for the island. The wikipedia article to which I’ve linked provides a nice writeup about the Maori mythology surrounding Rakiura and the two main New Zealand islands. I believe that Rakiura owes its existence to volcanoes and near volcanoes pushing up the earth’s surface in that area. On a clear day, we can see the mountains of Rakiura from our house in Invercargill. It looks so close and inviting, but there’s the issue of the Foveaux Strait with which to contend. Now, some crazy person or people have actually swam the thirty kilometers or so from Rakiura to Bluff, but that wasn’t our style. We flew out of the Invercargill airport on a puddle jumper and landed on the beach at Mason Bay on the west side of Rakiura. It was a beautiful, clear morning for a flight and the views of the ocean and Rakiura were spectacular. Landing on the beach was breathtaking, too!  When most every other flight that you’ve taken involves taking off and landing at a proper airport, it’s pretty interesting to land on the firm, but softer, sand of the beach with the waves crashing not too far away.

 

 

Flight path from Invercargill to Mason Bay Beach
Flight path from Invercargill to Mason Bay Beach

 

 

As a bit of an aside, the beach at Mason Bay is very long and it’s an excellent place to walk and explore – which we did. One of the more remarkable aspects about Mason Beach is how far up the sides of the hills that the sand extends – a couple of hundred meters up the side of the hills and several hundred meters inland. When we were flying in, I noticed this and was struck by how high and far back the sand extends from the beach and shore. I later learned that there’s a very good explanation for why the sand extends so far inland – a meteorite! Actually, earth scientists believe it was a comet – the Mahuika comet. The comet struck just west of Stewart Island in about 1443 AD and caused a tsunami that was ten times larger than the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. This comet strike and the resulting tsunami wave pushed the sands way up and into Stewart Island. More importantly, there are reasonable hypotheses that the tsunami may have wiped out a significant portion of the low-lying Maori settlements all over New Zealand (which would have been most of them), and a very large tsunami would also help to explain why there is so little evidence of Maori settlement in New Zealand prior to about the 16th century.

 

 

The weather was warm, windy and pleasant on the beach at Mason Bay and we had most of the first day available to explore it. We walked up and down the beach and found many treasures. The most interesting treasures were several pilot whale skulls that we found toward the south end of the beach, and then a minke whale skull at the north end of the beach.  When you lift one of these skulls (or, try to lift) and find out how heavy they are, you realize why it’s better for a whale to enjoy the buoyancy of saltwater.  We also saw our one (and only?) kiwi while near Mason Bay!  It just sort of appeared on the track to the hut in mid-morning, which is unusual since kiwis tend to be nocturnal.

 

 

After a long day of walking, exploring and swimming, we spent a pleasant night camped near the hut and enjoyed a large meal with our local friends as well as the local wildlife – a.k.a., “sandflies.” Sandflies are one thing that we won’t miss at all about New Zealand!

 

 

Hiking path from Mason Bay Hut to Freshwater Landing, and then the water taxi route to Oban
Hiking path from Mason Bay Hut to Freshwater Landing, and then the water taxi route to Oban

The next morning, we got up at a decent time and slowly started to meander the fourteen kilometers from the Mason Bay Hut to the Freshwater Landing Hut. The track wasn’t particularly difficult.  It was relatively flat and level, with several hundred meters crossing swamps on elevated boardwalks that are basically wide enough for one person. Every so often, there’s a slightly wider portion so that trampers walking in the opposite direction can pass. The weather was quite warm and the winds that we enjoyed on the beach weren’t quite reaching inland.  So, this long of a hike, with backpacks and whining (or, as they say in New Zealand “wingeing” [(Australia, New Zealand, UK, slang) To complain whiningly])  kids, warm/hot weather, a beating sun and not enough drinking water was not exceedingly pleasant. The kids dropped their tiny backpacks early and dad carried them most of the way, at his own pace, leaving mom to enjoy those wingeing kids.

 

 

It only took maybe four hours to make it to Freshwater Landing, but it was a long four hours. The good news is that there’s a nice dock there and it was EXCELLENT and REFRESHING to jump off the dock and into river! After about an hour’s rest at Freshwater Landing, our water taxi picked us up and we made our way to the landing on the south side of Oban. After one last little hike over the hill from the south side to the main part of Oban and finding the ferry terminal, we made a merry retreat to the local pub and enjoyed the incoming rain and libations from the confines there. And, from Oban, we enjoyed the hour-long ferry ride back to Bluff, and then a bus ride back to Invercargill.

 

 

For those of you who might be wondering, would I recommend a trip to Stewart Island/Rakiura?  YES!  🙂

 

 

Enjoy the gallery!

46 S EnZed signing off…

 

 

Posted in hike, New Zealand, Rakiura, Stewart Island, tramp, whale Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Invercargill

Looking west across Invercargill; Fiordland National Park's mountains are in the background; the Water Tower is on the left side.

I’ve been wanting to write this post for several months.  But, being the photographer, I also wanted some nice photos to go along with my story. Which brings me to the first piece of the story – Invercargill’s weather.

 

 

I do have to write that the weather the past six weeks or so has been marvelous.  It’s wonderful to enjoy the long, warm days here while reading about blizzards, snow storms and cold weather back in the States.  Yes!, we do miss our “normal” seasons, but not so much so that we’re going to deprive ourselves of enjoying life here.  During the austral spring, the weather here was fine, especially if you’re a duck.  Seriously, it rains more than back in Madison.  And, the wind blows quite a bit harder than there, too. But, the nice thing about the rain here is that there will be a pleasant (or hard) shower for just a few minutes, and then it’s over for a few hours, and the sun will break through the clouds.  People here tend to not get too worked up by the rain – it’s a part of life.  Some people will be wearing rain gear, while others are just grinning and bearing it in their “normal” clothing.  Also, it’s our understanding that if it doesn’t rain for three days in a row, then they consider it a drought.  The weather in the Invercargill area should be pretty pleasant through February.  It’s certainly not at all hot, but it is nice to run around in shorts & t-shirts, and to then occasionally put on your warmer clothes.  And, it’s still not so warm that I’ve brought myself to swim too much in the cool southern Pacific waters, although Aras & Julija have certainly taken advantage of the opportunities.  But, the common grey periods did keep me from getting out and collecting a nice gallery of local photographs in a more timely manner.

 

 

Invercargill reminds me of many midwestern towns/cities.  It’s one of the major cities in New Zealand and the largest in the southern part of the country, south of Dunedin (which is a very beautiful city!!).   Invercargill is primarily an agricultural center for the region’s sheep and dairy farms, and row crops.  In this way, it sort of reminds me of Platteville, Wisconsin and Dubuque, Iowa.  There’s a large aluminum smelter, Tiwai, just to the south of Invercargill that is a major regional employer, and Tiwai consumes about 85% of the electricity produced by the Manapouri Hydropower Plant. Invercargill sits on the coastal plain and it’s pretty flat, and there are a lot of stream/drainage channels around town because of rain and the flat topography.   And, with all of the flat topography, on a clear day, you can see the snow on the mountains in Fiordland National Park in the west, as well as all of the mountains to the north.

 

 

Invercargill also feels like a safe place to live. Asta’s been walking a kilometer to and from work without any complaints other than the occasional rain. And, we don’t miss the gun violence of the US – ugh! In fact, US gun violence is one of the most common things that locals bring up with us. I’ve left the garage door open while we’re away from the house more times than I’m willing to admit and we’ve not had an intruder – whew!

 

 

Our home, like most homes, is small relative to American standards, but it’s also very pleasant and tight having been built in the past couple of years. Most houses in Invercargill are single story; I’m not certain why, but it might have something to do with the strong winds, the possibility of earthquakes, heating or just culture.  Speaking of heating, most homes here are heated with either a small heat pump or a wood- or coal-fired stove.  In most cases, the heat pump or stove resides in or near the living room.  In colder weather, you hope that the heat migrates to your bedroom!  Electricity is relatively expensive, compared to the States, as is LPG (liquid propane gas).  Our home uses LPG to heat our water, and we’ll have to replace about a bottle a month. Now, with the expense of heating and understanding how windy it is here, it also is very interesting how many people will have windows opened in their homes, even on some of the coldest days, just to let fresh air circulate!  I’ve asked a couple of people why and they don’t know why – it’s just a custom.  And, they do think twice when I ask them about leaving the windows open and the cost of heating.  But, it is a nice custom because the air in our Fitchburg home does get kind of stale during the winter!

 

 

All of the coal and wood heating does produce an interesting issue here that you don’t find much any more in the States – localized air pollution.  There are many cool, quiet mornings when you can wake up and smell the smoke and sulfur in the air.  I’ll end up sneazing a time or two most mornings, usually because of something in the coal smoke.  Fortunately, the wind picks up and it’s not a major issue through the rest of the day.   But, it is a significant enough issue that air quality is measured and reported here in Invercargill by Environment Southland.

 

 

In Invercargill, we’re easily able to find everything that we need for a comfortable life.  Now, “everything” might be slightly different from what we know in the States, but it’s still here.  And, if it’s not here, then we don’t need it.  If you’re interested in visiting Invercargill, we have a McDonald’s and Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway sandwiches, television, radio and internet (off course we have internet or you wouldn’t be reading this!).  Just because we’re at the end of the earth doesn’t mean it’s not civilized!  I’ve found the national classical music station, but do miss my Wisconsin Public Radio fix! The local cuisine is nice and pleasant, and might also be described as “understated.” 🙂 We’ve come to enjoy our times of eating at Little India restaurant and have learned to order our food’s “spicieness” as “Indian medium to hot” rather than “Kiwi hot” (which is mild to medium, according to our palates).

 

 

Invercargill also seems to be a very sports-minded town, but that’s probably true for most Kiwi cities.  Muir played at Queen’s Park golf course when he was here, which is in the biggest park in town, where you can also find cricket fields and lawn bowling (gotta remember that English heritage!).  The Southland Stags rugby team are an important part of the local scene and we’re looking forward to taking in a match or two during the upcoming season.  One of our favorite places is the Splash Palace, a beautiful indoor pool/aquatic center where the kids took lessons through school in October and November.  We also have access to the ocean via Oreti Beach, which is about a twenty-minute drive west of town.

 

 

Bicycling is also a very important past time for many people in Southland. You’ll see quite a few bicyclists out enjoying the open country on any given day.  The major local bicycle club is Cycling Southland and Invercargill is home to it’s own velodrome.  More importantly, Invercargill and Southland are the home for several London 2012 Olympic and Para-Olympic cyclists. While visiting her parent’s Niagara Fall’s Cafe in Waikawa a few days ago, we were very fortunate to be able to gently hold Laura Thompson‘s gold, silver and bronze medals that she won in tandem cycling this past August.

 

 

And, Invercargill is home to Southland Hospital and the Southern District Health Board, Asta’s place of employment:

Health wise, Invercargill seems to be “typical” to me, but you should talk with Asta.  What I can tell you is that there are fewer morbidly obese people in Invercargill when compared to Wisconsin!

 

 

Finally, here’s a gallery of photographs so that you might briefly appreciate Invercargill like we do!

 

 

If you’d like to enjoy your own little piece of Invercargill, I’d encourage you to watch the movie “Two Little Boys.”  It was filmed in and around Invercargill. You’ll particularly enjoy this movie if you like dark, childish comedies…  But, don’t blame me if you don’t like it (although, I enjoyed it!)…

 

 

Again, thank you for reading and viewing!

 

 

46 S. EnZed signing off…

Posted in Invercargill, New Zealand Also tagged , , |

Down on the farm…

OK, WAY down on the farm, down here towards the bottom of the world.  Or, so it seems sometimes.  Actually, we’re only about as far south as northern Wisconsin is north, but since there’s nothing but ocean and ice to the south of us, and only a few roads to the north, it sometimes feels like the bottom of the world.

 

 

 

 

On Saturday afternoon, September 1st, we were privileged to be the guests of Sharyon & Andrew Ralph on their dairy farm, about 20 kms ENE of Invercargill.  Sharyon (“Mrs. Ralph”) is Aras’ Year 3/4 teacher at Waverley Park School.  We had a great time and learned quite a bit!

 

 

 

 

Andrew Ralph has about 600 milking cows on his property.  He employs several people to help him with his day-LONG chores (and, I do mean LONG days!).  The cows have to be milked twice a day.  One very interesting thing that I learned is that NZ cows are smaller than Wisconsin cows.  This is because in NZ, there’s a lot more rain and the ground can get quite boggy, particularly at this time of the year.  The bigger the cows are, the easier it is for them to get stuck in the boggy ground.  And, I’m guessing that it’s no easy chore to extricate a 600 kg cow from the mud, let alone a larger American cow, they also have other animals like pigs, sheep and dogs that help with the work, since they’re pretty well educated, they use calming treats for dogs amazon for this, so they are relax most of the time.

 

 

 

 

One of the other things that I learned is that the weather here has been relatively dry this winter/spring (remember, our seasons are reversed here).  While most everyday is partly cloudy and pleasantly cool/warm with high humidity, and we have had a bit of rain, it has been quite a bit less rain than a normal year.  So, in some ways, they’re having a drought here, too, but it’s a relatively green drought by midwestern standards.  But, it has been so dry that the Ralphs (and many others) have had to call out the water trucks to come and fill their cisterns/water tanks.  (Most [?] rural homes rely on the collection of rainwater for their household water needs, not a well.)  From what I’ve heard about the spring-time weather here, we should be experiencing some hail as well as horizontal rain – which we have yet to see.

 

 

 

 

The highlight of the afternoon was seeing a newly born calf!  It was born about 15 minutes before we arrived.  I’ve seen a lot of other animals being born – cats, dogs, chicks, humans – but not really a cow.  When the calf tried to stand, I think that all of the parents there – at least me! – wanted to try to help it up and keep it from falling, but this was a time not to mess with Nature, particularly with the mother cow nervously standing nearby.  After we left the calf, it’s mother came over and licked it, and tried to nudge it to find her udder.


We also got to try FRESH milk for the first time in my life.  Very similar to 2% milk, but a wee bit thicker.  🙂  I don’t think that Julija particularly enjoyed it.

 

 

 

 

Not much else to report about the afternoon other than it was a great pleasure to get out of town and, if only briefly, to be a part of someone else’s life down here and to better understand their lives.  Frankly, there’s not that much that’s different about the life of a dairy farmer here in the Southland when compared (based on very little personal experience) to Wisconsin dairy farmer.  It’s a lot of long, dirty, dangerous work owning a dairy farm…

 

 

 

46 S EnZed signing off…

Posted in New Zealand Also tagged , , , , , , , |

The Weather…

It seems that one of the most common ways to start a letter to a loved one is to tell them about the weather.  Heaven forbid that we might discuss something meaningful…

 

 

Anyway, the weather here is meaningful.  Actually, it’s quite pleasant, compared with the heat wave that we experienced in Madison and are not now missing.  When we performed our research on Invercargill, we knew that we’d be arriving in winter, and that the weather here is generally cooler and wetter than our Midwestern weather.  However, I have been very pleasantly surprised with the weather!

 

 

If we were in winter in Wisconsin, then “now” would be about mid-February weather – cold, likely a foot or so of snow on the ground, ice all over and about three grey, gloomy days for every sunny day (or, am I being generous?).  The temp would likely be below freezing most, if not all, of the time.  The trees would be bare and brownish-grey.  The Wisconsin winter world is generally a mixture of white & grayish-brown.  Oh, and there’s “snirt” everywhere – you know, that dirty snow mixture.

 

 

In our week in Invercargill, the weather has been very pleasant!  Everything is relative of course – the Invercargillians/Invercargillites/locals may not agree.  The grass and bushes are generally green.  Spring flowers are coming up!  I’ve seen daffodils!  Trees are starting to bud.  We’ve had a couple of rainy, sorta gloomy days, but we’ve also had at least three mostly sunny days.  When it is cloudy, it seems that there are patches of thick, grey clouds interspersed with blue sky – not the sullen, grey blanket that covers Wisconsin so much of winter.  The temps are in the 40F-55F (3C-11C) range, and the humidity is high.  We’ve only had frost a couple of times and it’s “soft.”

 

 

And, people here dress “appropriately” for the weather, if you will.  You can see people all bundled up in their woolies and down, while someone else walking down the street might be in shorts, flip-flops and even barefoot!  Personally, we tend to be a bit over-prepared for the weather, wearing several layers and adding/subtracting as needed.

 

 

OK, this is the first installment of 46 S EnZed.  If you have questions about our experiences here, please feel free to write and ask – I’m always thinking about the next topic…

Posted in New Zealand Also tagged , , , |