Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Christchurch, One Year Later

I haven't written in my blog since I arrived home in Canada last March; after all, it is titled "Carolyn in Aotearoa", not "Carolyn in Canada". But I feel compelled to write today, as it is February 22nd in New Zealand: the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch Earthquake.

It seems like a bit of a misnomer, as in reality there have been thousands of earthquakes in the Christchurch Canterbury region since September 2010, but say the phrase "Christchurch Earthquake" and everyone immediately knows you are referring to the magnitude 6.3 on February 22nd at 12:51pm. It's just past 9:15am in New Zealand right now - here in Canada it's 12:16pm on February 21st - but having just had my lunch here I feel eerily anxious and scared, almost as if there wasn't a 21-hour time difference, and the moment when my parents and I found ourselves in the midst of New Zealand's second-deadliest national disaster is rapidly approaching. This time (NZ time) last year I was at the airport meeting my parents, the latter having just flown Vancouver - Auckland - Christchurch to visit for three weeks. What a welcoming they ended up receiving!

Since returning to Canada I have been asked to give multiple presentations on my experiences in the earthquake, and share my pictures and story with the world. I don't enjoy reliving that day in vivid detail, but I do so because I hope my personal narrative is able to help individuals understand what it is like to be in the midst of such an event, and to spur them into action to better prepare themselves and their families.

I still experience a rapid bottoming out in my stomach each time I hear a low rumble or feel a building shake slightly. I don't think it will ever go away; it's a survival mechanism now, built into my brain and exacerbated by the fact that I live in an active earthquake zone. I won't go into parkades anymore, and when I walk around downtown Victoria, along storefronts and down narrow alleys, I look up uncomfortably at all the brickwork and mouldings and try to plan an escape from falling masonry should the ground suddenly start to warp and rumble.

I've been watching some of the footage of the memorial services in Christchurch today over a live streaming feed from the internet; I hope to be home in time enough today to watch the official remembrance ceremony from 12-1:30 (3-4:30 Canadian time). Even though I have two midterms this week and certainly don't have much time to spare, I feel the need to be connected to New Zealand and Christchurch today. I can't be there in person, but I can be there in spirit.

It's hard to forget. I don't want to forget... and yet, at the same time, I don't want to relive the earthquake, the event I now think about every day of my life. Perhaps by not being in Christchurch, it is harder for me to move on, as I haven't been there to see the rebuild effort, to see the city recovering and its citizens going on with their lives. Yet I am still in touch with the family I stayed with in Heathcote, and they have certainly picked up their lives and moved forward. Perhaps I should be taking my cues from them.

It's 12:51pm here in Canada. Kia ora, Christchurch. Be well! You are in my thoughts today. I am there with you.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Piha Beach, and Haere ra, Aotearoa. For Now. :-)

Well, this is likely my last blog post from New Zealand. In fact, I'm kind of in the no-man's-land of the International Departures shopping mecca of the Auckland Airport as I type this, so I'm not sure if this can still technically be classified as New Zealand Soil.

I'll just start typing about today, and we'll see how far I get before my parents and I get called for our final boarding call.

My mum had her sights set on going to the Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter museum in Auckland this morning, to the point where she had me book our admission passes online so we could get at 10% discount. What she didn't count on the 70 000 runners participating in the 39th annual Round the Bays run down on the same street the museum was located on! Actually, it was something of a perfect storm; the Antarctic centre could only be reached by Tamaki Drive, which was blocked off for the run, and the surrounding area had no roads whatsoever, as it was a scenic mountain reserve connected with a Maori Marae. Despite being armed with my computer accessing Googlemaps, and my dad's generally highly accurate sense of direction, we were unable to find a way down and around Auckland's twisty streets. We parked on top of the mountain, walked down over the grass, and tried for several fruitless minutes to wade through the tide of humanity walking/jogging/running down the road. By this point my dad was starting to say things like "We likely won't make it to Piha Beach now", and I was getting closer and closer to screaming in frustration and anger. I didn't want to go to this Antarctic thing anyway, and if it meant I was going to miss Piha, where I had wanted to go to since I first arrived in New Zealand... aaaagh!

We eventually gave up, hiked back up the hill, and using my computer once again plotted a route to Piha Beach. And thank goodness we had my computer, because without the route it plotted there is no way my dad and I would have figured out how to get there; the signage was all but non-existent, and one intersection wasn't even marked from the angle from which we approached it! Add on top of that your typical windy, narrow, densely-forested New Zealand highway, combined with my dad's slightly-too-fast and not-quite-mastering-lane-tracking-for-being-on-the-left driving, and we had a highly interesting ride.

The plane is boarding now, so I will write more later.


[Update: now typing to you live from the BC Ferry!]

But finally, an hour and twelve minutes after we left, we had crossed the Waitakere Ranges and were walking barefoot across the volcanic black sands of Piha Beach. The beach itself is majestic; smooth black sand, rolling surf, and dominated by a massive volcanic rock mountain called Lion Rock (or Te Piha in Maori, which means "bow wave", the waves hitting the front of a waka [canoe]). We climbed up the side of Lion Rock (as far as we were allowed!) for the magnificent view... and then as we came down observed a group of French people climbing up past the barrier and beyond to the very top of the rock. I certainly hope they got down safely, as the sign warned of loose and falling debris (and indeed we observed a large slip on the other side).

Piha Beach, while beautiful, is also deadly; there are many dangerous rips, and swimming is only permitted in a narrow strip of beach between two flags where the lifeguards are on duty. The danger doesn't stop it from being a popular surfing hangout however; there was a crowd of surfers out catchin' the waves, and noobies coming out for a lesson from the Piha Surf School. There was a sizeable crowd of families down at the water as well; I figured any Auckland family that wasn't participating in the Round the Bays run had escaped town and come out to the beach for the day!

Even though our cat is named after Piha beach (her former owners being from Auckland, and obviously enchanted with the beach's beauty), I don't think Piha herself would be very happy there; she wouldn't like the salt water, the noise of pounding surf, or the many eager dogs running down the sand with their owners! After a semi-nutritious lunch of chips, crackers, cheese, and veggies (we were trying to eat through the remainder of our food supply), we made a brief stop to take a picture in front of the Piha Beach Fire Brigade Station, bought a souvenir window decoration (to commemorate our visit) from the local tourist trap art gallery, and then started making our way back to Auckland and to the airport.

Navigating back to the airport was easier than navigating to Piha - airports tend to be a little bit better marked than remote beaches - but my computer and Googlemaps still came in handy. Once at the airport, we managed to return our rental car and check in with minimal fuss: interestingly, the flight we were on (NZ84) was overbooked by the airline, and as such they were offering incentives to switch to an alternate flight: $500NZ off to fly instead to L.A. with a four-hour layover, and then connecting up to Vancouver. We turned them down; you could not pay me enough money to make me go through US Customs, particularly after a 13-hour flight.

While we were waiting upstairs in the terminal, eating our way through the last of the food we couldn't take through security, we started talking to the couple sitting across from us; turns out they live in Napier (near Maraenui, where Frank lives) and their daughter (whom they were seeing off today) lives and works in Nanaimo! Sometimes it's crazy how small the world can be.

Going through security we had a minor hiccough (we had forgotten to fill out departure cards), and I had a slightly more major one: I forgot that I had a water bottle in my backpack half full of water! The security guard was merciful, however, and said I could keep the bottle if I drank the contents of it in front of him as there was nowhere to dump it out. So there I was, by the x-ray machine, chugging my way through half of my stainless-steel water bottle's H2O. After carting it all around New Zealand, I wasn't about to loose it!

I'm not sure what was particularly exciting that I can say about the flight... the plane went up at 8:15pm, came back down at 1:15pm (so thanks to the International Date Line, we got back before we left; that always amuses me), and it didn't experience any problems in the middle. I got my typical upset stomach about eight hours in, and spent the last five hours trying not to hurl up dinner while choking down a little juice and tea for breakfast (more like brunch, I guess... it was breakfast time back in New Zealand, but brunch time in Canada). My parents were seated together about five rows back from me, and I was by myself next to a nice Kiwi couple who now live in Vancouver. I didn't watch any movies, but listened to music on my iPod, and enjoyed glancing around seeing what everyone else had chosen to watch (The King's Speech, Black Swan, and episodes of Glee and Two and a Half Men were all popular).

So now I am back in Canada... in some ways it feels like I never left, and in others things are weirding me out. The weather wasn't that much of a shock - the air quality is just as good in New Zealand, so I wasn't taking huge gulps of the Vancouver air like I did when I got off the plane from Hong Kong in May 2009. What I did do was change out of my capri shorts and into a pair of pants (slightly more suited to Vancouver's 8°C as opposed to Auckand's 26°C). It's the little things that are getting to me: seeing traffic driving on the right, sitting in my uncle's left-hand-drive car when he picked us up from the airport; walking on the right-hand side of the foot path (pardon me, sidewalk); hearing the Canadian accent in all the conversations going on around me; and knowing that my accent doesn't stick out here. It's a reverse culture shock of sorts. Nevertheless, I definitely do still have a place in Canada; here on the ferry, my grade eight science teacher Mr Drew just walked by, and when I called out to him he came over and gave me a hug, said, "Carolyn! How are you? What have you been up to?" and sat down to have a conversation with me and my parents. Yes, Vancouver Island is still a place to call home.

Alas, I imagine this brings an end to my daily blog posts on Carolyn in Aotearoa, as Carolyn is no longer in Aotearoa, but Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It's going to be very strange not to be blogging every night; forgoing food, relaxation, and very often sleep just to make sure I got everything from the day down on (digital) paper to share and reflect on later. The next few days will be spent unpacking and readjusting to life in a place where I have a permanent bed and room (such a concept!). I have several books, some cast-off clothes I collected from fellow backpackers and op shops (thrift stores), and some CDs to add to my collection here. Despite being away for so long I brought back very little from New Zealand, mainly due to subscribing to the Backpacker Philosophy: if I bought it, I'd have to carry it!

I'm going to add pictures to almost all of my blog posts, as I'm going to leave the blog up as something of a digital photo album and memoir of my travels for myself and my friends to view (if I flatter myself to think that they would be so interested to do so). As such, I leave you with this, a traditional Maori goodbye: haere ra, kia ora. Farewell, and good health.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Parnell: The Funky Part of Auckland!

After dinner last night we went for a walk around Tauranga, and saw a group of people clustered around a television screen; when we got back to the motel we found out it was likely due to the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. New Zealand had been issued a marine warning, but we (the country) were very fortunate as nothing significant came of it. I had a moment of horror when I went to contact one of my friends who is currently living in Japan, but she is thankfully okay, aside from being terrified by the experience. I can't say that I blame her; I know exactly what it's like to live through an earthquake.

This morning we drove from Tauranga to Auckland without stopping; it took us about two and a half hours, and then another half hour to get from Customs St in downtown Auckland up to the hotel in Parnell! Ah, city driving, I definitely do not miss thee. To be fair, however, a lot of the delay was due to construction work, not heavy weekend traffic.

Once checked into the Kingsgate Hotel, and finished snacking on our lunch of cheese, crackers, fruit, and leftovers from last night's dinner, I phoned Michael from Mainline Steam and confirmed that yes, indeed, we had made it to Auckland and would be walking over to the depot in a few minutes. He asked if I remembered how to get there, and I said, "Oh, yes, and anyway, I'll just follow my nose!" to which he responded (quite brilliantly, as he knows about my cold) "Well, your nose is running, so you'll be here quickly!" Bada-bing.

As it turned out, Michael was all by himself at the depot waiting for us to arrive; I felt badly, as I had assumed more volunteers would be around, but it turns out they all went home just after lunch. Nevertheless, Michael was very gracious, welcoming my parents and I, and gave us a little tour around the depot, showing us the different locies. Ja 1240 has come a long way since I took photos of her back in October! It's thrilling to see such care and attention being paid to the engines. I know my dad was impressed with the scale of the operation, and particularly with the huge engines from South Africa (the "giant beasties" as I refer to them); I think the firebox on one of them could have easily fit my Honda Civic inside. It's so large that there is a direct feed from the coal box into the firebox; one wouldn't be able to keep up with it stoking by hand.

It was good to spend time with Michael at the depot; Mainline Steam was how I started my time in New Zealand, and it was nice to have it as an ending as well. Incidentally, interest in the Mainline Steam Tour 2011 has already been registered, and there are some repeat guests from last year's trip! Sigh, I wish I could go again... but I'm afraid that (aside from the small problem of not being in the country) I broke the bank the first time around and it has never recovered.

After leaving the depot we walked back up (and then down... and then up again... the streets here are very hilly!) to Parnell and found a post box so my mum could mail a postcard, and then back to the hotel, where my parents went across the street to explore the rose gardens and I stayed in the room, nursing my cold to get up enough energy to go out again for dinner. We ended up walking back to Parnell Street in search of a good restaurant, and settled on Nori, a Japanese one on the corner of Parnell and Garfield Streets. I had a wonderful meal; my first good sushi in months! I think even my mom, who doesn't like sushi, enjoyed her dinner: she had salmon teriyaki, and the two of us both had crème brûlée for dessert (yes, I know, such a traditional Japanese dessert. Oh, well).

Leaving the restaurant, we started walking up the street to wander around before heading back to the hotel. I must say, although I'm not a fan of Auckland, I like the funky vibe of Parnell; it's definitely a major improvement to the impersonal, big-buisness feel of downtown Queens Street. As it happened, we found ourselves smack in the middle of White Night, a celebration of "great art, great culture and great fun in a great city". Part of the Auckland Arts Festival 2011, "over 50 public and private art galleries, museums and cultural centres across Auckland [threw] open their doors to let the light out and the public in". The first activity we came across was a colouring one, aimed mostly at kids: we were invited to draw a picture on paper using pastels in exchange for a cupcake or lolly, and then the drawings were taken and posted in a local art gallery for the evening. I'm not much of an artist, so I simply drew a bunch of coloured ribbons weaving and intersecting one another; I suppose in a way it can be seen as representative of my life, and how I have woven and intersected with so many others over these past few months.

Our next stop was across the street; we found ourselves in a greenstone carving store, where my mom ended up buying a beautiful wooden bowl carved with a traditional Maori motif. Then we went next door to a contemporary art gallery, and I was dazzled by several paintings where the artist demonstrated a remarkable ability to blend colour and create the illusion of light. If I had $12 000 burning a hole in my pocket, I may very well have walked out of there with one of her paintings!

As we were walking back down the street toward the hotel we got sucked into visiting Elephant House by a rep woman standing on the street... it's one of the classier souveinr shops, focusing on crafts and gifts rather than cheap crap mass-produced in China. My mom got a shirt, my dad a hat, and I got some yarn to knit into something (with my current skill-set, likely a scarf), and a possum fur wrap. I am not a pro-fur individual, but considering the possums here are an invasive introduced species, and knowing the havoc they have wreaked on the native birdlife, I feel fine supporting their eradiation.

Back at the hotel at last, my mum and I then spent over an hour trying to pack our bags; thankfully, I've gotten pretty good at it after over five months on the road, but it's still a pain to try to squish everything in neatly. I've really been quite good about limiting the things that I buy over here, but somehow I've managed to amass half a dozen books or so (who's surprised? Likely no one), so I'm not so much concerned about running out of space as being over weight.

Tomorrow promises to be an eventful day; my mum wants to go visit an aquarium, and then we're heading out to Piha Beach for the afternoon, provided by dad and I can figure out how to navigate there(!). Goodnight!


Friday, March 11, 2011

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

Today was our first (and thankfully, only) fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants day; we had no set plans, and no pre-booked place to stay for the night. All that was predetermined was that we were heading in a roughly northerly direction. In the end, my parents both got their ways (sort of): we ended up going to Matamata, home of Hobbiton, and for the evening are now situated in Tauranga, a seaside city on the East Coast. Initially my father wanted to go to Mt Maunganui, where my aunt and uncle had stayed and loved when they vacationed here in 2005, but after calling around to a few places we quickly discovered that things book up quickly for a Friday night. I could have told my parents that, having gone through the long and arduous process of selecting and booking accommodation for the rest of this trip, but I did get some satisfaction out of watching my dad call a series of places before finally finding one that had room: see, dad, it takes a bit of work!

Matamata is a small town of 7800 about an hour’s drive northeast of Rotorua; before Sir Peter Jackson selected a nearby farm as the setting for Tolkien’s Hobbiton, its two main industries were thoroughbred horse training and dairy farming; now a substantial amount of tourism can be added to the list. We booked our tour of Hobbiton through the local iSite, and were bussed to and from the farm (on a glorious old white bus named “Gandalf”), located about 10km out of town.

The farm property is owned and run by the Alexander family; Ian Alexander, the father, and three sons, Craig, Russell, and Dean. Peter Jackson originally chose the location in September 1998 after an aerial search of the countryside because of its isolated location (the rolling hills block out any sights or sounds of the 20th century, and the nearest road is 2km away), and because it contained three elements critical to Hobbiton: a lake, a dance field, and a large tree (the “party tree”, for those who know the movies well). To access the site, the New Zealand Army was contracted to build a road around behind the hills (hidden from view), and also built graded spaces for the filmmaker’s technical equipment and the cast & crew’s caravans, make-up trailers, and catering. Site construction started in March 1999, and filming for all three movies took place at Hobbiton from December 1999 to May 2000.

After filming was complete the original contract stipulated the sets had to be completely destroyed, and the land returned to its original state. Demolition of Hobbiton proceeded, with the mill, pub, market, and bridge razed to the ground, and about half the hobbit holes destroyed before inclement weather forced the crews to stop because the work became too dangerous. In the meantime, The Fellowship of the Ring had been released to theatres, and locals had figured out that the Alexander’s isolated farm was where filming had taken place. Soon visitors began to trickle in to see what was left of the sets, and the Alexanders, likely realising the tourist industry could bring in some extra cash to supplement their sheep and dairy farming, spent two years in negotiation with New Line Cinema to keep the remaining hobbit holes (albeit without their decorative exteriors), and developed a tour company to bring the eager crowds of Lord of the Rings devotees through.

Fortunately for us, however, the farm is once again an active film set: Peter Jackson is now directing The Hobbit, and Hobbiton has been resurrected, or more accurately, almost completely rebuilt; a Hobbiton 2.0, if you will. Reconstruction began in December 2009, and filming was scheduled to begin in December 2010. However, Peter Jackson suffered a perforated stomach lining, and filming at Hobbiton was suspended as a result. His loss was our gain: while I am genuinely sorry for Sir Jackson, and wish him nothing but a speedy recovery, I am grateful for his illness, as it allowed for us to have a tour of a reconstructed Hobbiton, looking almost identical to how it appears in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy (actually, it has been expanded for The Hobbit).

Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say about Hobbiton: while we were allowed to take pictures onset, everyone had to sign a confidentiality agreement before beginning the tour, which I will reproduce here:

The property you are about to enter is a working film production location. Everything here is the confidential trade secret and proprietary information of the film production company, 3 Foot 7 Limited.
You must keep what you see and hear strictly confidential. 

Information acquired by you here
must not be disclosed by any means to anyone (including your family and friends).
These disclosure restrictions also apply to Twitter, Facebook, You-tube, My-space or any other social networks, blogs, websites or the Internet generally. 

You are permitted to bring cameras and recording devices but only on the condition that any photography or recording is to be used for your personal, private and non-commercial uses ONLY.
By signing below you are confirming you understand that: 

  • As a condition of your access you are bound by a legal obligation of confidentiality; 
  • If you breach your obligation of confidentiality you may be sued; and 
  • All rights to (including copyright in) any recordings or photographs used for any unauthorized purpose will immediately vest in the film production company upon such breach. 

Serious stuff. I’ll be happy to talk about what I heard and saw and experienced after the The Hobbit movies come out, but until that point I’m going to keep quiet. :-) Nevertheless, walking around the set, I couldn’t help but wonder what J. R. R. Tolkien would have thought to see his beloved Hobbiton coming to life; I think he would have been immensely pleased.

After the farm set tour we were bussed back to the main road, and over to The Wool Shed, where we were treated to a sheep-shearing demonstration, and got to feed pet lambs with with bottles of milk (it’s amazing how affectionate animals can get when one offers food; then again, my brother were the same way when promised a lick of the beaters when my mum was making cookies).

Once back in Matamata, we had a mid-afternoon tea of smoothies (coffee for dad), and then drove the fifty or so kilometres to Tauranga, where we are currently situated at the quiet but centrally-located Roselands Motel. Right now my mum and dad are cooking up a feast of chicken, steak, beans, corn, and pasta in our little kitchenette; I’ve been prohibited from participating because of my cold, but I’ve been informed the dishes will be my sole responsibility. It’s a beautiful late summer/early fall evening, and the wind is rustling the curatins as it blows through the sliding glass door of our unit. The timer just dinged, so I guess I had better be off. Goodnight!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Some say the world will end in fire..."

I wonder if Robert Frost saw the irony in beginning a poem with the above words, considering the connotations of his last name (likely. He was an ironic kind of guy).

Last night my parents were treated to one of the joys of hostel living: the incessant music from the bar on the ground floor filling the room until all hours of the morning, playing such appealing tunes (to their ears) as Katy Perry’s “Firework”, Duck Sauce’s “Barbra Streisand”, and Flo Rida’s “Club Can’t Handle Me”. I just smiled and popped in my earplugs, which evidently also enabled me to sleep through the drunken swearing brawl on the street at 3am.

After a brief look around the beautiful Napier Cathedral we were once again on the road, this time heading Northeast to Rotorua, the smelly geothermal capital of New Zealand. The highway was littered with sealcoating operations, so we were constantly stopping and starting, surrounded more often than not by tree plantations of pine and Douglas fir (planted in their straight rows, marching up and down the mountainsides; it unnerves me). We made it to Lake Taupo (and the town of the same name) around noon, and stopped for lunch at the side of the largest freshwater lake (by area) in New Zealand, where we ended up feeding a feral cat morsels of cheese from our sandwiches.

As we drove highway #5 up toward Rotorua, my mother became increasingly agitated about how we just “drive all day and then never see anything”, causing my dad to pull off the road while she consulted the Lonely Planet and tried to figure out what activities we could do for the later afternoon and evening. We ended up driving down the road to Waimangu Volcanic Valley, the only hydrothermal system in the world where the exact date of its commencement is known: June 10th, 1886, with the eruption of Tarawera Volcano.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley is a Scenic Reserve and its geothermal features are classified as Category A (of international significance); as such, it is administered by the Department of Conservation. However, part of the reserve is leased by the Crown to a New Zealand-owned private company that charges a fee for admission to the site, but in return provides a café, gift shop, boat tours on Lake Rotomahana, and a shuttle service from the end of the walking track back to the main parking lot. We opted to do the 4.4km walk through the valley without the boat tour, as my mum had booked she and my dad into a Maori cultural experience dinner and show in Rotorua that evening starting at 6:30pm, and we needed to be on the road by 5:30pm.

The eruption on June 10th, 1886, radically altered the landscape: what was once rolling, scrub-covered hills with no evident hydrothermal activity became overnight a series of craters, and completely destroyed all plant and animal life in the surrounding area. Before the eruption, the area was the most famous tourist destination in New Zealand due to the Pink and White Terraces, silica deposits on the shores of Lake Rotomahana, formed by geothermal heated water (high in siliceous sinter) flowing down the hillside, leaving pink and white silica deposits behind in a terrace shape, and thermal pools that people came to bathe in. The eruption of Mount Tarawera destroyed the terraces, burying everything under hot mud, boulders, and ash. Tragically, the volcano aslo buried the nearby Maori and English settlement of Te Wairoa, killing over 120 people.

The eruption created a huge crater, which eventually filled in with water, creating a new Lake Rotomahana, considerably larger and deeper than its predecessor. Today, the lake is a peaceful bird sanctuary, and we observed black swans, little shags, and New Zealand scaups all happily swimming around its banks. Amazingly, it turns out the terraces may not be completely destroyed as was previously thought: scientists working in January this year discovered the lower tiers of the Pink Terraces intact at the bottom of the lake, at a depth of 60m!

Having experienced some of New Zealand’s geothermal activity before when I was traveling on the Stray Bus I was well-acquainted with the sulphur smell permeating the air, but I still find it a surreal experience to see hot water bubbling out of pools, and steam rising directly from the sides of a cliff. As we walked down the pathway beside Frying Pan Lake we could hear the mud burbling away; the CO2 and H2S gases bubbling up give the lake the appearance that it is boiling, and also give it an acidic pH of 3.5. In fact, parts of the lake underwater are boiling, but the average temperature of the lake is around 55°C, due to cooling from evaporation, convection, and radiation of heat. Frying Pan Lake itself was the site of an eruption in 1917, which sent steam and debris surging up the hill and destroyed the accommodation house.

Another famous feature of the valley was the Waimangu Geyser, which although only active from 1900-1904, was the world’s largest geyser, hurling black sand, mud, and rocks 400m into the air every 36 hours. Now the basin has been mostly filled in with native bush, and the only sign of the geyser’s presence is a white cross erected on the lowest part of the crater rim, marking where three tourists (who had been warned where they were was unsafe) were swept to their deaths on August 30th, 1903, when Waimangu erupted unexpectedly.

creekside). Also fascinating to see was the colourful algae that could survive and grow in such hot water, creating blooms of dark green, orange, and yellow. The most surreal feature for me, however, was Inferno Crater Lake, which lies in an 1886 crater blown in the side of Mt Haszard. The lake has a complicated rhythmic rise/fall cycle, where the water level rises to around 30m, overflows into Frying Pan Lake (at a temperature of 80°C!), and then recedes to a minimum of about 8m. The lake has a very low pH of 2.1, and is the largest geyser-like feature in the world, even though the geyser cannot be seen (as it’s at the bottom of the lake). What I found surreal was the beautifully intense sky-blue colour of the water, seen under ideal conditions a few days after its overflow has stopped (we were lucky and caught it at just the right time). The colour is caused by the fine silica particles in suspension in the water. It was quite difficult for my glacier-trained brain to accept that this bright blue water was not freezing cold, but nearly boiling hot!

By the time we got down to Lake Rotomahana at the end of the 4.4km walk and took in the giant red crater (Tarawera Chasm) in the side of the volcano on the opposite side of the lake, it was time to catch the last shuttle bus of the day back up to the gift shop and café. I was more than ready to go, as my sore throat/cold/stomachache/headache-suffering body was ready for respite from the intense sunshine we had been walking in for the past two and a half hours.

The drive into Rotorua took only twenty minutes or so, and about half an hour after checking into our motel my parents took off on the shuttle bus to go to their Maori cultural experience (a traditional meal and concert, hosted at the somewhat less-than-traditional location of the Holiday Inn). I think my mum was happy in the end, however; she got to see geothermal activity, and she got to see something of the Maori, culture, all in one day. I was left to fend for myself, which was just fine, as there was a Countdown across the street, and food in our chilly bin that needed to be eaten up.

Now it is 10:30pm, and I promised myself that I would be in bed by now, so I must be off. We still aren’t sure what we’re doing tomorrow; my mom wants to go to Matamata and see Hobbiton, but my dad is angling for heading of to Maunganui and to the beach. We shall see! Goodnight.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Trainworld, Art Deco, and Hanging with Frank

I love my canalphones. My dad can snore as loud as he wants (he’s been remarkably quiet this trip, actually), and all I can hear is the beautiful sounds of Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain.

This morning started with several different activities; my mum went off to the Napier iSite to find out about the best places to buy souvenirs, and my dad and I went to Trainworld (at last!), a 2,109 square foot 00-scale model railway located on the 1st floor of a building on Dickens Street (what back in Canada would be called the 2nd floor). Run by Anne and Michael Deitz since 2004, Trainworld actually consists of five different layouts. Besides the main 87 x 27 feet 00 layout, there is an American O-gauge railway running about six feet up in the air along the back wall in a circuit (a work in progress, but it was nice to see a “CP Rail” boxcar); a Thomas the Tank Engine layout with four different trains (Thomas, Percy, James, and Doc) that one could control by pressing buttons on the side of the layout case); the Marklin Layout created by the late Francis Marsden of Napier in his basement; and Lilliput, a 60-year-old automated layout that took twenty-five years to build, and contains several animations, such as a loader digging a hole, a steam boat rocking gently at the dock, and a tractor ploughing a field.

Some of the scenes modeled in Trainworld’s main layout made me smile; it’s always interesting to see what little details and scenes model railroaders choose to build. These included:
  • a battalion of Beef-Eaters marching back up the hill to their medieval castle 
  • a house fire being fought by the fire brigade, and a crowd being kept back from the flames by the police
  • a cricket match in full swing 
  • a train wreck strewn about a gully below a viaduct 
  • Wiltshire white horse cut into the pasture on the side of a hill 
  • a wedding at the church 
  • advertisements on the side of the rail line’s wall proclaiming “Yorkshire Relish” (Yum?)
Also highly hilarious was a sign posted on the wall by the control booth. While it applies to model railroading, I think it also translates over to those of us who enjoy playing trains with life-size models...


Model Railway Disease 
Adult Males Very Susceptible 

Symptoms: Continual compliant as to need for a constructive hobby. Patient has blank expression, sometimes deaf to children and wife. Always haunts basement, attic, or garage. Won’t do work around house. Has nose in model railway catalogues and magazines. Often found wandering around railway shops with camera. Mumbles numbers such as 4-6-2, 0-4-0, 2-6-4T. 

No Known Cure - Disease Not Fatal

We met up with my mum back at the hostel, and she filled us in on her morning: she ended up doing an Art Deco tour of Napier’s downtown core, and then went shopping for a nice merino and possum wool sweater, and a souvenir for my brother, Arthur. She took the two of us down to the Art Deco Trust’s headquarters on Tennyson Street, where we watched a short twenty-minute documentary on the history of Napier’s terrible 1931 earthquake, then subsequent rebuilding in the Art Deco style of the day. I was always mindful of Napier’s history and its characteristic buildings, but after watching that video I found myself paying even more attention to the ziggurat constructions, sunburst motifs, and intricate carvings found all over the city.

After lunch at Jester’s Pies (so good that dad had two), we got in the car and headed up the hill to Napier Bluff lookout, where we took in the splendid view of the Port of Napier and Hawkes Bay. The last time I was up there was with Stefan and Harrison, and it was so cloudy we could hardly see a thing! That certainly wasn’t the case today, as we watched the huge cranes unloading a container ship, and graders and loaders scurrying back and forth grading a new section of the breakwater to hold even more logs waiting for export.

At 2:30pm we headed out to Maraenui visit Frank; I had a little bit of a shock when we got there, as the City of Napier is digging up the old creekbed beside the house to create a more “meandering stream” out of the currently straight concrete viaduct: the result is two huge piles of sand, which the neighbourhood kids took great delight in sliding up and down after the machine operators had gone home for the say.

Frank was in good spirits, and greatly enjoyed showing my mum around his garden as the two of them talked plants. I did a load of laundry for the three of us, and of course the moment I hung it out on the line it started to cloud over (mercifully, it didn’t rain). I was also able to socalise with Tiger again, who despite running away at the first sight of the three of us coming up the back walk, reappeared when I was out in the garden and then wouldn’t leave us alone (although that may have had more to do with the fact that it was close to suppertime). Poor Frank got to listen to our earthquake story, complete with visual aids in the form of pictures from my laptop... every time I look at those photos, the more amazing I am that we walked away relatively unscathed as we did.

Waiting for me at the house was some mail that didn’t make it to me before I left on New Year’s Day; I finally got to open my mum and dad’s Christmas card, and my copy of Australian Railway Enthusiastlocie J 1275 at the Hoteo Quarry on the front cover! It was fantastic to finally see it in print. :-)

For supper we went to the Frying Dutchman and picked up an order of snapper and chips, and then sat in Frank’s kitchen, enjoying our “fush and chups” with Tuimato sauce, a couple of good beers (ginger for me, regular for dad and Frank), topped off with some Rush Munro’s ice cream for dessert (passionfruit, so delicious!).

Around 9:30pm we said our goodbyes; we loaded my suitcase that has been under Stefan’s old bed for the past two months into the car, so I now have all my belongings with me again. I wore jeans for the first time in two months today! It was a slightly odd feeling.

I am now off to bed... this entry has been a bit more terse and less descriptive than previous ones because I have been feeling progressively worse all day, and I’m coming down with something (lucky me). I simply don’t have the energy in me to write any more... goodnight!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Te Papa, Featherston, Waipawa, and Napier (and Motion Sickness).

Last night at 12:30am, just as I was drifting off to sleep, Wellington had a minor earthquake... likely no more than a two-point-something on the Richter scale, but I felt it as my bed rocking back and forth. Wellington regularly experiences minor tremors - the city is built on an active fault line - but you can imagine what it did to my blood adrenaline levels. I didn’t fall asleep for a long time.

When I woke up this morning I didn’t feel very well, which was exacerbated by the sore neck and shoulders I got from sleeping on my pillow wrong. I made my omelette for breakfast, and about halfway through got a very queasy stomach. Lying down on the floor helped to abate it, but I wasn’t keen to be starting the day nauseated, as I knew we had at least a four-hour drive ahead of us to get to Napier.

After checking out of the motel we went and visited Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. It was my second time going there, and as such I knew what we were getting into; Te Papa is fantastic, and it was unfortunate that we had only a few hours to spend there, as one can easily get lost and spend the whole day wandering around and looking at all the fascinating exhibits. Some of the interactive displays are so engrossing and well-designed that one can lose all track of time. We limited ourselves to the third and fourth levels, and took in the Colossal Squid, Awesome Forces, and Blood, Earth, Fire. Even though I had seen all three exhibits before I found them interesting the second time around, and learned a few new things.

The most poignant additions to the museum were a model survival kit illustrating the supplies every household should have in the event of an earthquake, and a small poem, donation box, and comment book for visitors to leave messages for the residents of Christchurch. The survival kit exhibit was illustrated with pictures of Manchester Street after the earthquake, and I could see the restaurant we were eating at in the background; it was a sad reminder of the devastation from which we escaped, while so many others did not. I also steered well clear of the interactive walk-in exhibit featuring a house going through an earthquake; I didn’t feel the need to relive that experience.

We finally set out for Napier around 1pm, and since we were taking SH2 we found ourselves on the very windy, very steep pass up, over, and down the Rimutaka Ranges. Unlike the train trip through the Rimutaka Gorge, which I thoroughly enjoyed, this trip, courtesy of my dad’s just-a-little-too-fast driving, gave me a severe case of motion sickness. I didn’t actually throw up, but just thinking about it now makes my stomach queasy.

We stopped for a picnic lunch at 2pm just outside of Featherston at the site of the Featherston Military Camp, which in 1916 was the largest camp in New Zealand (4500 men in huts, and another 3000 in tents). Here soldiers received the last of their training before marching over the Rimutaka Ranges to Wellington and the ships that would take them overseas to fight. In 1942, the camp was restarted to hold Japanese prisoners-of-war, and on February 25th, 1943, forty-eight POWs and one on-duty solider were killed in a riot. Today, the site is a memorial to peace; there are forty-eight ornamental cherry trees planted in memory of the dead Japanese, and a cross for Private Walter Pelvin, as well as a camphor tree sapling grafted from a tree which survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. The message of peace, however, wasn’t shared by the four chickens who came over to us and fought over the apple cores we threw on the ground for them. They also fought over the remains of my sandwich that my dad fed to them, which was technically cannibalism, as it contained chicken...!

Piling back into the car (my stomach somewhat more at ease, even though I ate little lunch), it was drive drive drive... thankfully the highway between Featherston and Napier is nowhere near as windy, as it mainly passes through rolling hills and farmland. When we entered Waipawa I took my parents up for a little detour to pass by Skye’s house, and as luck would have it she was out in the garden! I definitely surprised her, but she was delighted to see me again and meet my parents, and invited us all into the yard where she showered my parents with praise about how wonderful I was (they were skeptical) and pointed out all the things I had done in the garden for her. Several beds needed weeding... I was instinctively bending down and wanting to get to work putting things in order again.

When we finally bid adieu to Skye (and Finn, sitting on the back porch, quietly knitting), it was 6:30pm, which put us into Napier here at 7:30pm or so. We checked into the Criterion Art Deco Backpackers, and while I’m content to be staying in a room with a bunk bed and single bed, my parents are lamenting for the lovely two-bedroom apartment we had in Wellington. I’m just trying to help the budget, mum and dad... and besides, here we get a free continental breakfast!

Tomorrow we are going to wander around downtown in the morning, taking in the Art Deco buildings, and then in the afternoon we’ll head out to Frank’s, where we’ll socialise, pick up my mail, and take him out to dinner. I can’t wait to see him again, although the excitement is bittersweet, as this is the first time I’ve been back in Napier since Fay died in January. Nevertheless, Frank seemed quite excited about our visit when I spoke to him on the phone this evening, so perhaps things will go well. Goodnight!