Harbour Street in Oamau, after years of decline, has become a magnet for tourists and locals because of its transformation in recent times. To provide some context, a bit of history about Oamaru and its old port area might be useful.
In European historical terms New Zealand is a very young country, being settled well after North America, Southern Africa and Australia. New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, some 50 years after the first European settlent in Australa. The first European to settle in the Oamaru district arrived some time in the late 1840s. In 1859 the town of Oamaru was first surveyed, and the Otago Provincial government declared “hundreds” there on 30 November 1860. The town grew as a regional service-centre for the agricultural/pastoral hinterland and rapidly became a major port. As pastoral farming developed, so too did the frozen meat industry which had its historical origins in this part of New Zealand. Oamaru flourished during this period and many of the significant buildings in the town were built using the locally plentiful limestone (Oamaru stone), which lent itself to carving. As a result Oamaru has a distinctive and “solid” feel to it which reflects it importance in the historical development of the surrounding Waitaki District . According to Wikipedia, By the time of the depression of the 1880s Oamaru had become the “best built and most mortgaged town in Australasia”.
When the New Zealand economy stalled in the 1970s the port was closed and Oamaru found itself hard hit. In response it started to re-invent itself to become one of the first New Zealand towns to realise that its built heritage was an asset. in 1987 the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust was formed, and work began restoring the historic precinct beside the port to become one of the most atmospheric urban areas in New Zealand.
On the weekends the old harbour area of the town comes alive as tourists and local visitors fill the area and explore the old warehouse buildings that now house craft workshops, cafes, small museums, curio shops, and the “Slightly Foxed Bookshop” dealing in quality secondhand books on exploration and other topics near the Harbour Street Market and Birdlands Wine Company. During our visit in February we spent time exploring the nooks and crannies along the street.
Fly Me to the Moon …
… Let me swing among those stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars
In other words …
These words from the 1954 Bart Howard song made famous by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and many others came to mind when I watched this parapenter seem to soar towards the moon at Kennedy Park on Auckland’s North Shore last week.
I first saw another parapenter riding the thermal air currents off the cliffs with Rangitoto Island, the major landmark at the entry to Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour, in the background. Minutes later he joined the moon flyer to circle and swoop above the cliffs.
Hoodoos at a Mini-Bryce
About 15 minutes drive from Omarama, south of Lake Tekapo on New Zealand’s South Island, are the large sharp pinnacles of an area known as the Clay Cliffs, Between the pinacles are ridges with deep, narrow ravines separating them. Created about 1-2 million years ago, the Clay Cliffs are made of layers of gravel and silt deposited by rivers flowing from ancient glaciers . This area is geologically very young and quite different from the nearby mountains of the Southern Alps, which are some 250 million years old. The gravel and silt layers show as sloping bands as the strata have been slowly tilted over time. In the late afternoon sun the pinnacles and ravines show in stark relief . The area reminds me of photographs I have seen of the Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, Utah where we plan to visit later this year.
Climate Change, Global Warming, or What…?
Forty five years ago Valerie and I visited what was then the Mt Cook National Park for the first time together, while on our honeymoon. Since then the park has been renamed to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park to recognise the original Maori name for New Zealand’s highest mountain, and the pre-European history and mythology connected to it. In 1968 we drove our small English Morris 1100 car up the Tasman Valley towards the face of the Tasman Glacier that flows down from Mt Cook and nearby Mt Tasman, from which it takes it’s name. The road in those days was known as the Ball Hut Road and was no more than a rough bulldozed single-track affair full of potholes and fords across streams joining the Tasman River. The part of the road that was navigable by car ended at the side of the terminal moraine of the Tasman Glacier, from which one scrambled up the rocky slope of the moraine to view the glacier. Rental cars were not insured if taken on the road at that time.
Today the road is still unsealed but is well formed, with a bridge across the Tasman River. It ends at a visitor shelter and carpark from which tracks lead to the the top of the moraine and the shore of the Tasman Glacier Terminal Lake. Part way to the top the track passes the first of the Blue Lakes (looks green because of reflections of the vegetation on the nearby slopes).
Reaching the top of the moraine rewards you with magnificent views of the terminal lake, glacier, and the towering mountains that surround the valley.
Our immediate impression was how far the glacier has receded in the past 45 years. From about the same viewing point in 1968 we looked over the rock-covered ice of the glacier below at approximately half the distance to the surface of the present lake. The glacier face was about at a point to the right of the right-most tourist boat shown in the previous image. We know from visits to other glaciers in the Southern Alps that all of them have receded some 2-3 kilometres during our lifetime, but to see the change on this, one of New Zealand’s iconic glaciers, came as a bit of a shock. It is clear evidence that the world is a warmer place than it was even 45 years ago.
When New Zealand’s famous mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay made the first successful ascent of Mt Everest on 29 May 1953, and thus unlocked the gateway for hundreds of others since, Hillary could attribute a large part of his success to many days climbing the peaks of the Southern Alps that form the backbone of the South Island. A bronze statue of Hillary gazing towards a distant Mt Cook, to commemorate his many achievements, is found at the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre attached to the Hermitage Hotel at Mt Cook Village.
Alpinists of the 1950s were in some ways a different breed from their modern counterparts. Their clothing and equipment were very basic when compared with that in use today. Under garments were made of either wool or silk, outer garments, socks, hats and gloves also of wool, rain and windproof jackets, over-trousers and outer mittens of oiled Japara cotton. Climbing packs were not of the highly technical designs seen today, but were made of canvas with steel or wooden frames, leather straps with metal buckles and corded cotton adjustment cords. Keeping the contents dry was a major problem. Climbing boots often had leather soles with hob-nails and metal cleats, and canvas gaiters or cotton-knit “puttees” kept the stones or snow from getting inside. Finally, climbing ropes were made of hemp and tents of light cotton canvas with wooden poles. The statue of Sir Edmund Hillary shows him holding a wooden-shafted ice axe. It was with clothing such as this that I first ventured into the mountains in the 1960s as a high school student. What a change there has been in the intervening fifty years.
On the way to the summit of Mt Cook Hillary would have over-nighted in huts similar to the old Empress Hut that is displayed in the precinct of the Department of Conservation Information Centre in the Mt Cook Village. These corrugated iron shelters were often placed in the mountains by volunteers from mountain clubs and provided basic bedspace, cooking space and, maybe, an emergency radio for picking up weather information or reporting emergencies.
Thus it was that successive generations of New Zealand mountaineers ventured into the mountains of the Southern Alps to learn their craft and prepare for other cold remote areas such as the Himalayas or the South Pole.
Nor the Moon by Day
Observing sunrise is the mountains is a special experience. The mornings are cool and, if you are lucky, the sky is clear. Often the mountain tops show signs of the rising sun even before it appears. This was the case on our second morning in the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. At least 30 minutes before the sun rose above the Liebig Range on the eastern side of the Tasman Valley its golden yellow light could be seen creeping down the eastern face of Mt Sefton and over the upper reaches of the Mueller Glacier. Further up the Hooker Valley Aoraki Mt Cook was getting its first light of the day while the moon still hung high in the sky from the night before (I know that’s not technically correct, but that is how it looked). Finally the the sun peeked over the Liebig Range and the Hooker Valley slowly filled with light: shadows softened and colours emerged.
Heading a play on the words of Psalm 121:6 – “The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.”
Pilot Run – Hooker Valley, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park
Six months after Valerie broke her leg skiing we had made our way to Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Mt Cook had been one of the stops we made during our honeymoon 45 years ago and we had only visited the Mt Cook Village once in the intervening years. Part of our plan to “complete” the holiday that was interrupted by weeks in hospital and months of recovery was to stay for two nights in the village on our way to Wanaka.
We had never before walked in the Hooker Valley that leads from the Mt Cook Village to the terminal moraine and glacier lake at the foot of Aoraki Mt Cook, so we decided to (in Kiwi parlance) “give it a go”. It is not a difficult walk, but we had an encumbrance – Val was still walking with a limp and had only been off crutches for a month. Being a very determined person, she wanted to do the whole walk. Although it starts from the village, a shorter version starts at the Department of Conservation camping ground that reduces the posted return time by 1 1/2 hours. This is what we did, a pilot run for things to come.
The DOC camping ground provides a magnificent view Mt Sefton and La Perouse with their ice fields tumbling down the granite walls into the Hooker Valley. This makes a great place to start the walk, the most popular in the area. A short 15 minute stroll up the valley brings you to the Alpine Memorial. Aoraki Mt Cook is a technically difficult climb. More than 200 climbers have lost their lives over the years attempting the ascent since the mountain was first climbed in 1894.
The view of the Hooker Valley from the memorial is stunning.
There are two swing bridges to cross during the walk, and the first one comes shortly after the memorial. The hill above the bridge provides a view of the Mueller Glacier Lake at the base of Mt Sefton.
The walk continues on up the Hooker Valley beside the river, with the occasional stretch of boardwalk …
… finally reaching the Hooker Glacier Lake at the end of the terminal moraine.
The walk is described as being of easy to moderate difficulty, and most people complete the round trip from the DOC Camp in two and a half to 3 hours. We took 5 hours, but had a very happy lady at the end – tired, hot, a bit sore, but very satisfied.
Peter’s Lookout to Aoraki Mt Cook
One of the best views of Aoraki Mt Cook that is available along the road from Tekapo to the Mt Cook Village is from a layby on the side of the road called Peter’s Lookout. For such a prominently signposted viewpoint it is a disappointment to drive onto a rough gravel car park with no information boards to explain the surrounding scenery, especially the mountains at the end of the lake. In the foreground is a newly cut pine plantation littered with the remains of the forestry operation. However, if you can overlook the immediate negative impressions, you are presented with this magnificent vista which features New Zealand’s highest mountain which towers to 3,754 metres (12,316 ft).
Aoraki Mt Cook is head and shoulders higher than the surrounding peaks. It is a technically difficult mountain to climb and a favourite challenge for the climbing fraternity. The first European ascent was on 25 December 1894. New Zealand’s famous mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary made his first ascent in January 1948. On 29 May 1953 he and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first people to successfully climb Mt Everest.
Dog and Church
I have somewhat irreverently called this post “Dog and Church”. It sounds like a British pub, but its not. On the shores of Lake Tekapo in the area known as “Mackenzie Country” in South Canterbury are two key attractions on every tourist coach journey through the South Island of New Zealand. Apart from early morning and late afternoon there is a steady stream to tour coaches, campervans, rental cars and other miscellaneous vehicles which arrive at the lake shore to visit the Church of the Good Shepherd and a bronze statue of a sheepdog. If one arrives during the tourist period in the day it is almost impossible to capture images of the church, especially, without people filing into and out of the building and wandering around it’s perimeter.
In this image there is only one coach. When we arrived there were three others and twice as many cars.
The little stone church is a gem. Some twenty five years ago we had the privilege of attending a Christmas Day service there with our three boys while on a camping holiday in the South Island. It was a very local service, with families from the town and surrounding farming community gathering together to celebrate the Christmas story. There were tourists and tour coaches then also, but not in the numbers you see today. One of the unique features of the church is the window behind the alter that gives a view of Aoraki Mt Cook in the distance at the farthest end of Lake Tekapo. Despite the many thousands of travelers who visit the church every year, it is still used for active worship and is a focal point for the Mackenzie Country families.
Outside the church is a bronze statue of a border collie sheepdog. Quoting from the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, “In the 19th century, Scottish shepherds came to work on the pastoral runs of the eastern South Island. The high country could not have been farmed successfully without the border collies they brought with them. To honour these ‘canine Scots’, a statue of a collie has been raised at Lake Tekapo.” The statue is a much loved attraction, and many a honeymooner and visitor has a photograph of themselves with the dog.
The Mackenzie Basin was named in the 1850s by and after James Mackenzie (or in his native Scottish Gaelic: Seumas MacCoinneach), a shepherd and sheep thief of Scottish origin, who herded his stolen flocks in what was then an area almost totally empty of any human habitation, though Māori previously lived there intermittently. After his capture, the area was soon divided up amongst new sheep pasture stations in 1857 (Wikipedia). The Mackenzie story is one that captured the imagination of many a young school child when I was small and we were closer to the living history of European settlement than we are today.
I saw it as we turned into the driveway. I’m a sucker for old things and just had to go and have a look. One thing lead to another and the next think was that I had to have a photograph (or two…). The object of my attention is just past the hay bales in my previous post at the Opihi Vineyard, which was our lunch destination on the way to Aoraki Mt Cook. This old truck is similar to that driven by Jed Clampett in the 1960s TV series “The Beverley Hillbillies”, and in a similar state of dilapidation. Its quite a trek to get to the vineyard from Christchurch and is definitely not on the main route to Mt Cook, but it was worth the detour. Not only was the lunch delicious, but I got to meet Oakland!
Rolled and Ready
Its mid summer here in New Zealand and one of the driest we have had for some years. The ground is so dry that fields without irrigation are parched brown. This scene in the South Canterbury region of the South Island shows newly baled hay waiting to be collected for winter storage. The baling had finished just before we arrived so everything was freshly cut and rolled.
Further down the road and around the corner we were greeted by this scene of contrasting colors. The field in the foreground has been re-grassed and is being made ready to provide fresh feed to fatten the spring lambs for market. Below the treeline in mid-ground is more of the freshly baled hay shown above. The high clouds in the blue sky helped to make an interesting photograph.
Recently Trey Ratcliffe of Stuck in Customs posted an image with the title “DAILY PHOTO – WHAT DOES THE ROAD LOOK LIKE ON THE WAY TO MOUNT COOK?”. This week my wife and I have been in the South Island completing our holiday that was interrupted by a skiing accident last August. One of the places we wanted to visit was Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest mountain. We last visited Aoraki Mt Cook (cloud piercer) some thirty years ago, and before that on our honeymoon. As we approached the mountain I remembered the image that was posted by Trey and found the the place on the road where it was taken. Unfortunately, unlike Trey, I didn’t have as large a telephoto lens to capture my version.
This is a mountain that both gives and takes. Many a visitor has come to pay homage but has been rewarded with nothing but clouds and grey skies. On a clear day however, (we were rewarded with two in a row) the mountain is spectacular. As we watched the sun set and the colours change, so too did the mood of the mountain. Just as we thought the show was over we were presented with a final encore of “alpenglow”.