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Roaring Girl
The adventures of the yacht Roaring Girl wandering the seas.
Spiffy new art gallery
13/01/2008, Christchurch

On Sunday morning we paid a visit to Christchurch's gallery of contemporary art. As you can see, it's a stunning building, and very big. There are several touring exhibitions, including an interesting installation from one of the Antarctic Artists in Residence, a funny display contemplating the colour red and work by recent graduates from the 125 year old Fine Arts School. The gallery also has a good collection of contemporary NZ work, older NZ artists and a surprising amount of earlier European work.
There is a wit and playfulness in a lot of the Kiwi work that seems born from a confidence that allows jokes to propel insight and challenge. It was fascinating to see so much of it together.
After this we hit the road for the Banks Peninsula and the little town of Akaroa, an area famous for beauty and rare dolphins.

Places and people
Pedantry and peacocks
13/01/2008, Christchurch Botanical Garden

Opposite the old University buildings is the Botanical Garden, home to the Peacock Fountain. Lou showed us this with pride, and Sarah, absolutely true to form, took one look and said 'those aren't peacocks, they're herons'.
A hunt for a plaque showed the fountain was named after a nineteenth century worthy called Peacock, but Lou and Pip both felt that a little pedantry goes a long way.

Places and people
Lots of goodies
12/01/2008, Christchurch arts market

We went with Lou to the Arts Market held every weekend in central Christchurch. It is in the old buildings of Christchurch University, which are very 19th century gothic and Scottish, with quadrangles and pointed windows. The courtyard on the main street is a mass of stalls offering food and craft type goods, and buskers. (It's the World Busking Festival in Christchurch next week but sadly we're going to miss it.)
Inside the buildings is a warren of shops and studios. The bit of kit in the picture is a jump-ring maker which Pip was shown by a silversmith in a small co-operatively run studio and gallery. It was really exciting to meet and talk with them.
It is amazing to see this many creative professionals working across a wide range of mediums in both traditional (Maori and Pakeha) and contemporary ways. More astonishing is the size of the market. Obviously there were a lot of tourists, but this weekend market is one of the biggest we've ever seen, probably with as much retail space as London's Camden Lock. These artists are not surviving on tourists alone; clearly Kiwis are avid buyers as well.

Places and people
11/01/2008, The Antarctic (ish)

Christchurch claims the title 'Gateway to the Antarctic' and is home to several Antarctic missions, including the Americans and the Italians. The International Antarctic Centre is the check-in for flights to the continent.
It also houses a big exhibition, which kept us enthralled for over four hours. And that's without the ride on a Haggelund (a huge snowmobile) or any of the backstage tours. All those cost extra and we decided not to go ahead.
One included highlight is the feeding of these Little Blue Penguins. The Centre is home to 17 rescued penguins, all of which have been damaged by boats, toxins, nets or other predators. They're the smallest penguin species and very sweet.
You also get to go through an 'Antarctic blizzard'. Overshoes are required, because you're standing on real snow and ice; we also donned long trousers but lots of hardy souls stayed in their shorts. The room is kept at -8 degrees Celsius and then they blow wind through it so it goes down to -17! The strange thing was that they only go up to 40km/hour winds, or about 25 knots, which actually isn't very much. We've certainly felt as cold sailing at night in the Thames Estuary in January.
It's a great centre and well worth a trip. We felt they could do the penguins better (again reflecting on the success of Lisbon aquarium), and we really would have liked more up-to-date commentary on the re-negotiation of the Antarctic Treaty. This is due for renewal next year and it is very important that the continent is maintained as a centre for scientific research held in trust for the planet and the future.
Sadly and somewhat spookily, Sir Edmund Hillary died the morning we were there. In addition to being the first man up Everest he also led major exhibitions to the ice, including the first machine-based arrival at the South Pole. New Zealand, of course, was plunged into mourning, with flags flying at half mast. Where today can we find the modest adventurers, who give so very much back to the planet and people as Hillary and Sir Peter Blake?

Places and people
Hot and getting hotter
11/01/2008, Christchurch

In Christchurch we parked in the drive of Pip's old friend Lou. They worked together many years ago, but haven't seen so much of each other since Pip left for the UK in 1996. Lou herself lived in the UK for a while but that was even earlier.
It was great to leave the bed made up, have ready access to a shower and kitchen, and enjoy Lou's wonderful cooking! We stayed three nights. Many thanks to Louise for her hospitality and great company.

Places and people
Bars and beaches
10/01/2008, Hurunui River mouth

The Hurunui creates a shingle bar, maybe a mile long, as it runs parallel to the sea. The actual entrance, shown here at low tide, is a tiny gap in the shingle, with fearsome breakers at all times. It makes the entrance to Suffolk's River Ore look like a piece of cake.
Behind the shingle is a beautiful lagoon, which is obviously very popular with anglers. Not only humans; mollyhawks and gulls screamed up and down into the water all through our stay here.
The river then curves away from the sea, and runs through braided shingle inland. We did see dinghies on the river, but nothing of any size; it's shallow and fast running. We crossed the pretty swing bridge and continued our journey through Blythe Valley and Happy Valley.
This area, like much of the Canterbury Plains is seeing an increase in cattle; in these foothills they are stocky, chunky little beasts, though further out into the flatter areas, there are Fresians. This is a controversial policy, for cattle need much more water than sheep and environmentalists fear habitat destruction through using the rivers, and a permanent drop in the water table. It is also an issue for Christchurch, which relies on the water aquifers stored beneath the gravel and silt of this glacial plain.

Places and people
Birds, grass, river, sea
10/01/2008, Hurunui River mouth

Wednesday afternoon saw us heading south. A friend of a friend had recommended Gore Bay as a lovely spot, but when we got there overnight parking was heavily restricted and the grounds were already pretty full. So we pressed on, through exquisite woods and country south of Cheviot, following the gravelled roads towards the mouth of the river Hurunui. Here we parked on the cliff overlooking this amazing river entrance, our side door opening straight out onto the sea.

Places and people
The guardian

Soon afterwards Jason found us another whale. This is Tiaki, which means 'guardian'. Tiaki was given this name because he has been seen fighting off orca which were attacking smaller sperm whales. (They showed us a video of this on the way back to base.)
All whales are named when they are known, according to Maori custom. In particular, if whales are stranded, they are named, and important ceremonies are held in their honour if they are so unfortunate as to die on the beach.
You can see from this picture that Tiaki is quite a size. You can only see about two-thirds of his length and the top tenth of his body. We really don't want to see one this close to Roaring Girl.

Places and people
Tono's fluke

And this is Tono's fluke. All whales have individual tails; it's the key way to tell them apart. Also, when they dive, they leave a smooth patch on the surface of the sea, probably from sheer displacement. Each whale's patch is different, another signature.

Places and people
Our first sperm whale

Lucky for us! Jason took us straight out to where Tono had last been seen, diving about 55 minutes earlier. And sure enough, five minutes later here he is, blowing his spout on the surface.

Places and people
Listening post
09/01/2008, Still at sea

Jason (the aptly named skipper) used the hydro-phone to help him find whales. It relies on whales' own tendency to use 'active' sonar' ie to emit noises in order to find things. (Passive sonar is just listening to other noises already happening.) It's a clever bit of kit, of a piece with a very professional operation.
Of course, the whale watching boats talk to each other about the whales they've found and what they're doing. Sperm whales dive for up to an hour and then spend five to fifteen minutes on the surface recovering. So if one is spotted, the others have that long to get to it. Also, the whales that are around Kaikoura a lot don't necessarily travel far during their hunting dive, so come up in roughly the same location where they were last seen.

Places and people
Just a little way out there
Overcast but calm
09/01/2008, At sea off Kaikoura

Whale Watch Kaikoura is one of the biggest businesses in New Zealand. It is Maori owned and run, and its CEO also chairs Tourism NZ. There are four of these boats, taking 44 people each and going out 3 or 4 times a day. They guarantee up to 80% of your money back if you don't see whales, so they need to be good at finding them.
It isn't cheap (NZ$130 each!) either, but it's also almost unique to have so many large whales come close inshore, and a semi-resident colony of sperm whales. Again, this is due to the Kaikoura canyon which is so close inshore. The nearest point is at Goose Bay (about 50km south of Kaikoura), where the sea depth drops to 800m, less than 800m from the shore.
If you look at a topographical map of the sea bed hereabouts, you see a big ridge which hooks north from Christchurch, and the canyon comes inshore behind this. So not only do you get this very deep water, but also relatively calm seas (emphasising the relatively), as the full frenzy of the Pacific has been broken over that ridge. A storm out there would be an unhappy thing to contemplate.

Places and people

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Who we are
Who: Pip Harris and Sarah Tanburn
Port: Ipswich
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