Birds Canterbury Cook Strait flowers Kaikoura Lakes Landscapes Rivers

October 31, 2014 … and fair as these green foreign hills may be*

Home is best.

Rakaia Gorge
The road coming down towards the bridge is SH72 from Methven. In the foreground, where the car lights can be seen, is the same highway heading towards Christchurch, Oxford, Rangiora and Amberley

Of course I loved every moment of the visit to the South Island and the precious time with family. All five of our children were there to celebrate Andrew’s 40th birthday, and I like to think it says something that they all came. But that was last week, and now it was time for the journey home. I decided that the inland scenic route (SH72) from Windwhistle to Amberley, and then up SH1 through Kaikoura to Picton was the best way to get to the ferry for a mid-day check-in time. So for the second time in recent weeks, I rediscovered 6 am.  We were staying at the Mt Hutt Lodge in Windwhistle, and it is beautifully situated overlooking the Rakaia Gorge. The snow was even more spectacular against the flawless sky at dawn.

Rakaia River
Looking down the Rakaia River from the Mt Hutt Lodge

Looking downstream for one last shot before we got on the road, first light on the bluffs across the river was worth recording. Then it was on the road driving straight into the blinding light of the new day.

South Canterbury panorama – near Sheffield

About half an hour later, a little North West of Sheffield, the landscape demanded a serious attempt at a panorama. Click to enlarge (as for all of the images I post).

Shoveler duck near Cheviot

A little North of Cheviot, Mary said “there’s a wetland, do you want to go in?”. I dithered, she was driving, we went in. The first bird I saw was a New Zealand Shoveler. I have a real soft spot for these ducks with their seemingly disproportionate beaks. They have real character.

St Anne’s Lagoon and Wildlife refuge, near Cheviot

The lagoon itself is a thing of exquisite beauty though we didn’t have enough time to linger, so a few shots of the reflections, and we were off again.

Rampant broom near the Kaikoura coast

Coming down the long hill beside the Conway River towards the Kaikoura coast, I was struck by the prolific and vivid flowing of broom over the steep hills.  We paused for morning tea at the excellent Albatross discovery cafe in Kaikoura, and then I resumed driving duties.

Tapuae-o-Uenuku towers above the South end of Clifford Bay

By now I was getting anxious about getting to the ferry before check-ins closed, so I passed up opportunities on the magnificent Kaikoura coast, and we did in fact get there with about 40 minutes to spare. The marshalling yard is a dull place, so my final shot of our “overseas adventure” is a nostalgic look back towards Kaikoura from the upper deck of the Kaitaki as it emerged from the Tory Channel into the Cook Strait.

And now we are home.

*A Scottish Soldier by A Murray “and fair as these green foreign hills may be, they are not the hills of home”




Canterbury Lakes Landscapes Light mountains Queenstown Seasons

October 30, 2014 … homeward bound

Our booking to cross the strait is for today, so yesterday we drove from Queenstown to Windwhistle.

From the Gibbston Valley into the Kawarau Gorge, this is more like winter than early summer

As we pulled out of Queenstown in drifting drizzling rain, we caught glimpses of the Remarkables and they clearly had a fresh coat of snow. We went though the Kawarau Gorge early enough that we seemed to be the only vehicle on the road.

Near Tarras, heading North

From Cromwell, we drove along the Eastern shore of lake Dunstan to Tarras and then began the long climb towards the Lindis Pass. The higher we got the more glimpses we had of solid white snow over sharp black rock.

Lindis Pass Summit in unseasonal snow

And then we were at the summit of the pass. The snow was not deep, but it was spectacularly beautiful. We stopped and took a few shots and were pulling out just as a bus load of overjoyed visitors from China pulled in. Down the hill to Omarama, and on to Twizel for some hot coffee and tea to offset the chill. I have to say that the Lindis Pass is one of my favourite pieces of road anywhere.

Mighty mountain
Mt Cook and companions behind lake Pukaki

Beside Lake Pukaki., I paused for the traditional shot of Aoraki/Mt Cook which was hiding in the clouds.

Yellow crop and white snow near Fairlie

My last shot from yesterday was taken as we climbed the hill out of Fairlie bound for Geraldine. My alpine geography is shaky at best, but I suspect we are looking towards Mt Dobson. The wonderful yellow of the rapeseed crop in the foreground is really the photo, though. And so to the magically named Windwhistle.

More tomorrow.


Birds Children Family Landscapes Maritime mountains Queenstown Weather

October 29, 2014 … wait a minute, it will change

I swear that all of the photos in today’s edition were made on the same day.

ducklings – Paradise Shelduck

As they say, if you don’t like the climate, hang around a little and it will all change. I began the day on a solo exploration on the still waters of Lake Hayes, where I found some more of those paradise shelduck ducklings. The day started still and damp, though not actually raining.

Wet jet
The Shotover Jet, seeming skimming the rocks, just before it did a sudden 360 degree spin.

From there I went to Arthur’s Point where I watched the Shotover Jet doing its thing. I recommend that you do this ride at least once in your life. You will get wet, and maybe even scared, but it is a real thrill.

Lake Hayes
Lake Hayes in all its glory

And suddenly, the sun was shining. Mary and I chose to go to Arrowtown, just to wander and have lunch in the park. This took us past Lake Hayes again, and it was now a magic mirror.

Otis scooting along

We were planning to have dinner at Andrew and Abbey’s restaurant, Sombreros in Queenstown, so Mary decided she would spend some time with grandson Otis while I grabbed some shots and then did other things, Otis is like his father at the same age, a fearless imp  and without the benefit of brakes or pedals scooted around a track in the local playground.

The murky South

I went into town and caught the view from a hillside suburb looking across Kelvin Heights and Southward down the lake in the direction of Kingston. As you can see the weather had changed again and the Southern end of the Remarkables are fading into the rain.  Never mind, it is good to be with family, no matter what the weather.

That’s all for today.

Birds Lakes Landscapes Light mountains Queenstown Uncategorized

October 28, 2014 … amid the mountains

Back to Glenorchy yesterday.

I am hoping someone can name this shrouded peak to the West of Glenorchy

As the rest of the country seemed to suffer wind and rain, the Southern Lakes seemed to bask in a patch of bright sun and calm. We arrived before the clouds around the nearby peaks had dispersed.

Fantail eating

The Glenorchy walkway, though short, is a thing of wonder. Wooden walkways and well formed paths allow walkers to walk dry-footed through the wetlands.The trees were in their spring glory and were full of happy birdsong. I surmise that there was plentiful insect life and thus food for the birds. This little fantail has an insect in his beak.

Clear peak

We walked for over an hour enjoying all there was to be seen  and were delighted when the peaks came into clear view.

Mallard and its duckling

In the evening, with the water still calm, I went back to Lake Hayes and enjoyed the sight of a backlit duck and one of her ducklings.

Tomorrow we are homeward bound.

Birds Lakes Machinery Queenstown

October 27, 2014 … in the back country

Well, I found the grebes.

Old house
One of many old houses in the area slowly decaying

Sadly they were in Queenstown town basin and I didn’t have my long lens with me so no useful photos were made. Never mind, later in the afternoon, with two of my sons who had been here for their brother’s birthday, I went out to Glenorchy. It’s  a rustic little town 48 km down the lake to the West from Queenstown. Like many old communities it has many old buildings slowly merging into the landscape.

Old vehicles
Where old vehicles come to die

Likewise, when vehicles are past the stage of economical repair, they simply begin to corrode and merge into the landscape.

Song thrush

I don’t mean to imply that the area is a rubbish dump, far from it. This is a wild and magnificent landscape, though yesterday it was a bit flat and grey. Nevertheless, the birds came close like this song thrush .


There were fantails too, flitting about to catch the insects we disturbed as we walked.

That’s all for now.

Birds Queenstown Uncategorized

26 October, 2014 … getting the bird

Most people come to Queenstown for adventure.

Scaup, officially described as looking like a bath toy

I tend to enjoy the scenery and birds that I can’t find nearer to home. Yesterday I hoped to find crested grebes, but was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, around Lake Hayes I found New Zealand scaup (Aythya novaeseelandiae)  or papango.


Further round the lake, I found some ducklings. A little different to the mallard ducklings I have seen elsewhere. Then I saw the mother and realised that they were paradise shelducks (Tadorna variegata).

Waves as big as the bird

The lake was not its usual mirror-like self and there was a distinct chop causing waves to slop on the shore. The little ducklings seemed undeterred by the “surf” and launched themselves onto the lake.

That’s all for today.

Birds Canterbury Family Food Lakes Landscapes Light Queenstown

October 25, 2014 … a stranger in a strange land

On the road again, this time we were driving from Rolleston to Queenstown.

Landscape near Fairlie

It’s a wonderful landscape all the way, though the necessity to be somewhere at a certain time is the enemy of any landscape enthusiast. I passed a million opportunities knowing that it was just impossible to do that kind of thing while in purposeful transit. My first serious shot was on the hill descending towards Fairlie on the road from Geraldine. In the distance, the stunning gold of fields of rapeseed or canola caught my eye.

Rapeseed crop at Fairlie

On the way from Fairlie to Tekapo I stopped for a closer look.

Lake Pukaki

After a coffee break at Tekapo, I paused again on the shores of lake Pukaki, peering up the turquoise lake towards the place where Aoraki/Mt Cook was lurking in the clouds.

Chickens, recently deceased

In the afternoon, we called in at our son’s house. There were lots of people there and food was being prepared. I couldn’t resist a shot of one pan that emerged from the oven, only to be mocked by someone who said they were unaware I would even photograph dead birds.

Queenstown landscape

Driving back to our motel at Frankton, I paused for this shot of the misty hills behind Queenstown

And that’s enough for one day.

Christchurch Greymouth Lakes Landscapes Light mountains Railway

October 24, 2014 … from one coast to the other

Yesterday I ticked a long outstanding box.

Tranz Alpine
Bright clean carriages on the Tranz Alpine train

Mary and I did a return train trip on the Tranz Alpine from Rolleston (near Christchurch) to Greymouth. Hauled by two big DXC class locomotives, it rumbled into the station on time. The train manager stepped out and called our names, and saw us to out very nice seats in the bright clean carriage. With scarcely a sound, despite the combined 6,000 hp  (4,480 kW) up front. The Dunedin built coaches are superbly insulated from external noise, and ride very well.

Looking down on the Waimakiriri River

We travelled briskly across the Canterbury plains until we stopped at Springfield, after which we began the long climb up to Arthur’s Pass.  The higher we went the better the views became.

Arthur's Pass
At Arthur’s pass with an Eastbound coal train waiting to use the single track section down to Springfield

This is by no means an express train. There are people for who it is the preferred means of transport between the East and West coasts, but for the most part, the passengers are tourists going across for the sheer joy of the thing. Just as well really, because the scheduled four and a half hour journey stretch to almost five and a half due to track work , and having to slot in with the many coal and freight trains coming the other way.  At Arthur’s Pass, many of the passengers left the train for a stay at local accommodation, and the coal train that had waited for our arrival could begin its descent towards Christchurch.

A sparkling specimen in Greymouth

In Greymouth, at last, we wandered the streets and admired the latest forms of transport (kidding).

Wetland near Greymouth

Arguably, the homeward journey is simply the same in reverse, but I find I see different things going the other way. I spent a lot of time in the open sided observation car and got quite close to the bush as it whizzed past.

Lake Brunner
Strange vegetation at Lake Brunner

In places the landscape is downright mysterious, and I wondered what it would be like at different times of year. Several people suggested it was most spectacular in winter after new snow. I took several hundred shots and am certain I have not selected the best, nor been able to spend the time editing that I would at home.

Sunset at Rolleston

We arrived back in Rolleston a good hour latter than scheduled, but well satisfied with the day. A striking sunset hinted at another good day to follow.

Cook Strait Maritime Picton Wellington

October 23, 2014 … speed bonnie boat*

The adventure on the other island begins.

Waiting to board
I am always amazed by the sheer number of large trucks and cars that get swallowed up by a single sailing of one of the interisland ferries

At seven am we were waiting for the gates to open to admit us to the marshalling yard to board the Interislander. Unfortunately, there was some sort of tangle in the yard which required a whole lot of shuffling of trucks and trailers before domestic passengers and their vehicles could commence loading. We got off to a slow start.

Crossing in Tory Channel
As we emerge into Queen Charlotte Sound, we met the Aratere coming the other way.

However, the strait was almost flat calm and the voyage on the Kaitaki was uneventful. As we reached the end of Tory Channel, we passed Aratere coming out of the sound into the channel.

The old one-lane road/rail bridge at Seddon. The trains still go over the top, but the one-way road bed has been lifted.

I got a subway for lunch in Blenheim which allowed the initial conglomeration of traffic from the ferry to disperse a bit more. We went to the disused  road/rail bridge at Seddon and sat on the banks of the Awatere River to eat.

Mighty mountain behind Kaikoura

From there the trip to Christchurch where we were to stay with my brother- and sister-in-law at Rolleston, was without incident. A pause for coffee at Kaikoura allowed me a shot at the snow-capped peak of Tapuae-o-Uenuku which I usually see from Wellington.

More adventures tomorrow.

*Skye boat song  (trad)

Cars Hutt River Maritime Petone Weather Wellington

October 22, 2014 … on the Esplanade

A new windshield was being fitted to my car, so I found myself filling in time on the Petone foreshore while they waited for the adhesive to cure.

Whitebaiting requires more patience than I have

I began at the Hikoikoi end of the beach and from the boat shed, saw a whitebaiter lurking upstream of the Waione Street Bridge.

Kaitaki inbound past Petone Wharf

I wandered slowly Westward towards my supplier, only to get a call to say that the car ahead of mine in line did not go well and mine would be an hour later. Grrr.  At Petone wharf, I spotted the Kaitaki coming into port. We travel to Picton on her today.  The fishing rods on the end of the wharf caught my eye.

A hefty cast

Having an hour to fill, I went along the wharf and saw this man casting his line.

I imagine these will make a good meal

His efforts were obviously rewarded since he was happy to show off the two kahawai he had already caught.

Walking the dogs
Getting them to go in the same direction was a challenge.

I wandered back towards the beach, and enjoyed the backlit view of this lady trying to get her dogs to cooperate.  From there I wandered to a McCafe and enjoyed a surprisingly good coffee, and then back to the autoglass shop where my car was ready for its South Island adventure starting now.

A change of scene is about to occur.