Sunday, June 25, 2017

To The Catlins

Pastoral and idyllic, the Catlins is one area of NZ we made multiple attempts to visit in 2015. Beat back by snow and ice to our campsite in Balclutha to the north, we never did get in to explore it.

People have lived in the area since around 1350 AD. Prior to European settlement, the region was sparsely inhabited by nomadic groups of Māori, most of whom lived close to river mouths. In the early days of European settlement the area was frequented by whalers and sealers, and saw milling became a major local industry from the mid-19th century until the 1930s. Ecotourism has become of growing importance in the Catlins economy, which otherwise relies heavily on dairy farming and fishing.
Mouth of the Mataura River

A rugged, sparsely populated area, the Catlins features a scenic coastal landscape and dense temperate rainforest, both of which harbour many endangered species of birds, most notably the rare yellow-eyed penguin. The coast attracts numerous marine mammals, among them New Zealand fur seals and Hooker's sea lions. In general terms the area enjoys a maritime temperate climate. Its exposed location leads to its frequently wild weather and heavy ocean swells, which are an attraction to big-wave surfers, and have also caused numerous shipwrecks.

Map by James Dignan


The Catlins covers roughly 730 square miles and is home to just 1200 people. It's a safe guess there are more sheep than humans.

Today we drove partway from Invercargill, stopping in Chaslands, where work will arrive in the morning and then we'll do some exploring. Note the ocean to the south is the South Pacific (if reading in email, click here to view map).
 
Its rolling hills give it the sense of a storybook land. We felt lucky to be driving on a vivid sunny day.

A tumbledown house, the brick chimney all that remains. Wouldn't you love to know the stories told around that fire?

Saturday, June 24, 2017

It Happens Every 12 Years: Long-Awaited Rugby Series Set to Begin

Via the NYT, here's a story about the rugby everyone in NZ seems obsessed with. Happily, good friend Jane sent me the link below so I didn't have to do too much research on exactly how it all works. Or how rugby itself is played.

Most great sports events come around once each year; others, like the Olympics and World Cup, a bit less often. But those who enjoy one of the classic rugby matchups must wait 12 years. Good news: This is the year. The British and Irish Lions face off against New Zealand beginning Saturday.

The Lions were first formed in 1888, a superteam consisting of the best players from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Every few years, the team would take the long journey to the Southern Hemisphere to take on Australia, New Zealand or South Africa.
More here

Next, turn up your audio and check out the NZ haka, always a dramatic opening to rugby--and my favorite part--this one from 2011 (click here to view video if reading in email).

The haka is a type of ancient Māori war dance traditionally used on the battlefield, as well as when groups came together in peace. Haka are a fierce display of a tribe's pride, strength and unity. Actions include violent foot-stamping, tongue protrusions and rhythmic body slapping to accompany a loud chant. The words of a haka often poetically describe ancestors and events in the tribe's history.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

NZ Second Most Peaceful Nation in 2017 + Albatross Cam

I could write something snarky like discovering the president of your country is a pathological liar might easily disturb the peace.

The U.S. declined the most in an annual study of global peace that cites political turbulence, deteriorating press freedom, a public perception of increasing crime and corruption, and less acceptance of minorities.

...“Contrary to what it may appear, there has been an increase in peace,” Killelea said. “There are some truly disturbing pockets, but the outlook is not all negative.”

I suppose that depends on where you're living.

More here...
 
We drove to Invercargill today to set ourselves up for future travel, camping in what we call a Harold and Maude campground right in the middle of the city. The sun is setting, and it seems...pretty peaceful.


Here's a NZ baby albatross cam (adults have a nine-foot wingspan)...
Welcome to Royal cam - streaming live from our northern royal albatross colony at Taiaroa Head near Dunedin. A young albatross is currently on the nest, with its parents returning every so often to feed the chick. Look for the parents colour bands - the male bird has blue-black (BK) colour bands and the female has red-blue-black (RBK).


A Walk Along Lake Manapouri

A couple of days ago we walked the local shoreline of this deep blue lake, starting the trek in a magical forest on the edge of our campground.

Called Roto-au (the rainy lake) by early Maori and then Moturau (many islands), Lake Manapouri is the second deepest in NZ at 1456 feet. It has 33 small islands within its meandering shores.



Frasiers Beach is a sandy, rock-strewn expanse, most pleasant on that near-60F day.


Just a powdered-sugar touch of snow up there.

After the beach we turned onto a grassy track toward what we thought was the road, but instead we slogged through mud and ultimately into a well-fenced farm with a lot of friendly goats. (See Art down there checking his phone for location assistance?)

Reminds me of the Bucky Fuller quote: How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else. Luckily, I had an orange in my pocket, and this guy got the peels.

Look at that face

We made our way back to the road and the tiny Manapouri township, home to 300 souls.

There are two cafes, this one connected to a pub, and we're more than ready for our flat whites. 

I heard this man in the cafe speaking and couldn't quite place his accent. In NZ you meet people from all over the world--working, living, and traveling. The register at our campground here listed Paris, Germany, Eastern Europe, China, India, and the US, among others. Campgrounds are a regular United Nations.

I asked where he'd been born and he said North Carolina (his soft lilt now more apparent), but that he'd married a woman from Ireland, they'd moved to Dublin, and now they're here on work visas, hoping to stay longer than the year they've already spent. Much longer, if I understood. 

"Do they really dye the river green there for St Paddy's?" he asked.

The cafe looks right out onto the lake and the light is sublime.

Boo hoo. The Queen of Flat Whites could drink another.

In the deep blue mid-afternoon, we walked back to camp.









Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Winter Solstice Steak and Blue Cod Redux

It's the winter solstice here in the Southern Hemisphere, though the temps are 55F. We celebrated with a tender, juicy ribeye, grilled up on Art's homemade charcoal grill. Served with a saute of beets and blueberries.

This morning we looked at the blue cod fillets we brought back from Doubtful Sound. Enough for two meals! For breakfast, then, a cabbage stir fry with onion, garlic, hot peppers, and ginger topped with chunks of luscious blue cod. Delectable start to the day.

 Any day in NZ wouldn't be complete without...

Monday, June 19, 2017

Day 2, Doubtful Sound

Our watery berth for the overnight, at the very end of an arm in Doubtful Sound, itself on the edge of the world.


Art shows where on the map.

Everyone slept deeply. We convened in the morning for coffee, fruit, and cereals.

Followed mid-morning by a full (English) breakfast: eggs, mushrooms, toast, bangers, bacon, and potatoes.

It's a misty, rainy day, but there are advantages. Look at the waterfalls (click here if reading in email to view vid).

Doubtful Sound (like many of the fiords in the area) is unusual in that it contains two distinct layers of water that scarcely mix. Depending on rainfall the night before, the top 2–10 metres (5–35 ft) is fresh water, fed from the high inflows from the surrounding mountains, and stained brown with tannins from the forest. Below this and partially insulated by the fresh water above is a layer of warmer, heavy, saline water from the sea. 

 There's a powerful solitude here in back and white.

At 421 meters deep (nearly 1400 feet), Doubtful Sound is larger and deeper than Milford Sound.


Here's a quick view from the upper deck (click here if reading in email to view vid).

Doubtful Sound was named 'Doubtful Harbour' in 1770 by Captain Cook, who did not enter the inlet as he was uncertain whether it was navigable under sail.[2] It was later renamed Doubtful Sound by whalers and sealers, although it is not technically a sound but a fiord.

Captain Dave.

A Spanish scientific expedition commanded by Alessandro Malaspina visited Doubtful Sound in February 1793 to conduct experiments measuring the force of gravity using a pendulum, a part of the effort to establish a new metric system.[3] The officers of the expedition, which included Felipe Bauzá y Cañas, a cartographer,[4] also made the first chart of the entrance and lower parts of the Sound, naming features of it. Today these form a unique cluster of the only Spanish names on the map of New Zealand: Febrero Point, Bauza Island and the Nee Islets, Pendulo Reach, and Malaspina Reach.


191 meters, or about 600 feet. Compelling to view the boat's progress and note the depth of the seabed.






Do we look like we need to eat again? Fresh scones with whipped cream and jams were laid before us about an hour before we docked. We were also given bundles of frozen blue cod fillets.
 Unforgettable



Doubtful Sound via Fiordland Expeditions

Friends, this was a singular experience. Fiordland is quite challenging to access without a helicopter, fixed-wing craft, or boat. Yes you can walk (and we have!) and you can even walk 300 miles worth of trails within Fiordland if you can mange it. But, oh, being on a small craft brings remarkable access, and the crew could not have made our journey through Doubtful Sound one iota better.

But let's back up, because first we boarded a boat in Manapouri, on the edge of the lake of the same name. This is a beautiful journey in itself. Here's that boat, which we shared with many others.

They were out for a day cruise, arriving from Manapouri here (just below) with us to board a bus that moves overland to Doubtful Sound, where they board a second boat, cruise a bit, and then repeat the process in reverse.

Art and I disembarked and got into a van with two other passengers for our overnight tour, along with Skipper Dave and Crewmember Jackie. After the drive and a brief look at the hydro-run power plant (more about that later), we all hopped on to this little cruiser, our home for the next two days.

Heard enough about boats? Well, then, let's get to it, because what's outside definitely counts more than the inside for this trip.

In fact, we found it challenging to be in, with views like this surrounding us and changing virtually every minute. There was awe. Gratitude. And a deep feeling of calm.

Still, Jackie's popping the cork on a NZ sparkling wine in the galley and somehow we're magically drawn back in.

How about a look at the accommodations? Here's our bedroom, with private bathroom attached. Space for two on the double bed below, definitely roomier than Amtrak.

We're pulling out into the sound on a perfect day--sun, clouds, and looming landforms.

The boat has two levels, handy for scampering up and down with multiple cameras. Here's the top deck. There are bunks and a bathroom inside that small enclosure, space for larger groups. We feel lucky we're sharing our time aboard with the loveliest fellow passengers, Jackie and Charles, Durban, South Africa natives but for 18 years Kiwis who have run their veterinary practice in the Bay of Islands (on NZ North Island).
 

Time to return to the dining room, just off the galley, where Jackie's concocted a most delicious fish pasta in cream sauce.

Before long we're all back outside along the rail, feasting on scenes like these.

Sounds or fiords? According to our literature: Fiordland's west coast is deeply indented by 14 fiords, spanning 215 km of coastline. Early Europeans exploring the southern coast bestowed the name "sounds" onto these dramatic valleys. However, a true sound is a river valley that has been flooded due to the land sinking below sea level. Fiords are created by glacial action that produces U-shaped valleys with steep cliffs.


It's time for Skipper Dave to go diving for dinner. Jackie lowers the skiff off the top deck as we all watch.


What? You mean she's going too, leaving us alone on the boat in Doubtful Sound? We ruminate about this for a while. Actually, Jackie is a spearfisher and is only sorry she's not the one diving for crays (NZ lobster).

Off they go. Way off.

We ruminate some more on how we'd ever get back without them, but 25 minutes later they're approaching. Let's hope Dave was lucky.
And he was! It's just beginning to occur to us that this will not be the run-of-the-mill buffet-type cruise. We're all imagining a meal tonight from these beautiful creatures. It's now illegal in NZ to toss crays into boiling water--they do make a sort of scream--and so they're placed in a bucket of fresh water, where their demise will arrive without fear. Charles the vet confirms this is good practice, but Art wonders if it isn't just a slower death.

We motor on to a new spot for fishing. Fishing! That sounds like fun. We're going to catch yet another part of our evening meal. Art gets set up with a baited rod and doesn't he look happy? 

Dave has positioned us in a spot near a ledge with a sandy bottom (which blue cod prefer, he says). Lines are baited and drop (I think) about 60 feet down. And the action begins. Art reels in the first gorgeous blue cod.
Look who's cruising around our lines. It's a Buller's mollymawk, smaller relative of the enormous albatross. We're told when reeling in to keep the fish well clear of the water by yanking up quickly or these birds will have our dinner for lunch.

Buller’s mollymawks are one of the more abundant small albatrosses occurring around coastal areas of New Zealand, particularly from Cook Strait south. Their striking black-and-golden-yellow bill and smart black-and-white plumage make them readily identifiable as they scavenges close to fishing vessels.
This is just a beautiful bird, built like a tank with stylish white legs and webs.

Fish on! Jackie and Charles are pulling them in too, Jackie a tarakihi, which later we'll enjoy as sashimi.
Dave and crewmember Jackie do the honors.

Each fish is carefully measured against the ruler for appropriate size. We tossed back just one that was too small.

Meantime, Art reels in another before my hook even gets baited, and soon we're out of bait. Salami to the rescue...until Charles catches a beautiful small pink fish that's so quickly dispatched with the fillet knife for bait that I miss the photo.

Charles pulls in a nice blue cod, salami intact.

And yes, I finally got baited up and pulled in a big blue cod. We're having a good time now!

Before long, we're heading out to look at fur seals, and for this Dave takes us to the very edge of Doubtful Sound, where it meets the Tasman Sea, which has quite a different temperament.


Here's a partial map showing where the sound meets the sea and some of the different arms of the sound we cruised up and down (click here if viewing in email to see map).

It's rougher out here, but, looking back, we have a rainbow connection.


Breathtakingly raw.

Approaching seal rock.


This is the very edge of Fiordland where it breaks into the wild Tasman Sea. Dave is inching us closer to the enormous rock filled with NZ fur seals and telling us how they were nearly wiped out by European explorers who valued the seals for their fur and oil, which ran lamps. Turn up your audio and listen with this video as Dave narrates (click here if viewing in email to see the vid).

Whew! We head back into the far calmer fiords and some on board are grateful for that. Also, it's time for snacks.

And then dinner. Oh my goodness it was delicious and likely some of the freshest fish we've ever eaten (acknowledging that Chris and Rich were pretty fast with the filet knife at Willow Lake).

Fellow passenger Jackie's tarakihi sashimi

Cooked and chilled crays with wasabi mayo

You mean there's more?

Blue cod in beurre blanc sauce with potatoes and greens

By the time the pudding arrived and the whipped cream was passed I was probably too full to pick up my camera, but it too was delectable. All praise to chef Jackie, who prepared every morsel. We sat and talked over tea, listening to the New Zealanders discuss rugby and the NZ team's great showing in the America's Cup.

Even though evening's rolling in and we're excited to think about sleeping aboard, we can't stay inside. Will you permit a few more pictures, mostly shot off the back of the boat, first level.






Happy, campers, so happy
 
 

We pull into the very end of one of those smaller Doubtful Sound arms for the night. Look how calm the water.

And sleep like babies for ten hours.