Sunday, June 26, 2005


Well, winter has definitely arrived here. It's freezing. A friend's outdoor thermometer read -5.9 degrees c yesterday morning - if I were that thermometer I would have refused to work! But the mountains do look awesome covered in snow & we found ourselves not feeling too jealous of the UK heatwave (until Wimbledon started) - after all we haven't had winter for 18 months! And anyway, days are getting longer again already!

I'm now a year older and realised how much older 28 sounds than 27. I had a wonderful day though. Lots of phonecalls from England, little gifts & cards from near & far, lunch out and then dessert & drinks in the evening with friends. I felt very loved. One of the best presents had to be from my small group here who got together & bought me Pride & Prejudice on DVD as my video was dying - I've already watched all 6 hours!

One new experience we've had this weekend is being in the minority to watch our national (ish) team (ish) play rugby. We went with English friends to a local church who had the first All Blacks vs. Lions match on a big screen. To be honest, I wouldn't have wanted to watch it anywhere other than a church as even in this environment some of the comments were v. cruel and I found myself feeling very defensive! Still, two more tests to go & maybe we won't be only cheering when the All Blacks miss a try/kick...

Neil at the top of the Gondola, the view looks across Queenstown to 'The Remarkables' mountain range. The hill, centre picture, was used in the filming of Lord of the Rings.

Natalie and Sarah, incredibly 'giddy' in the front of the helicopter.

Neil risks his life to enter an ice cave.

One of the many ice caves! This cave will be accessible for two weeks and then will collapse! The colours inside were awesome.

Fox Glacier; this part of the glacier moves up to 4 metres a day!

The Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall, Arthur's Pass.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Little Luxuries

We've just finished a 5 week stint house-sitting; it's something we could have got quite accustomed to as the property featured in the May edition of NZ House & Garden! Peter and Juliet had gone to South America, primarily to visit their daughter and son-in-law, who are YWAM missionaries in Brazil, and their new granddaughter. We felt at home almost immediately, probably because we'd stayed there before (in February) so we knew where everything was but this time the biggest blessing was not the swimming pool but the wood-burning stoves! The garden was still producing delicious vegetables (leeks, spinach, cauliflowers & broccoli and still new potatoes!) and having a bath was just heaven - I don't think I've ever been so clean (or wrinkled!).
The weather had been pretty good until the third week in May when it rained for seven days non-stop. Once again everybody was telling us they couldn't remember ever having this much rain in Canterbury. We didn't really mind because we were cosy & dry and had a tumble dryer but when water started dripping through the ceiling on the seventh morning of rain we did get slightly concerned. Fortunately the downpour ceased soon after and the roof could cope again. We bonded more with the cats this time too as we fed them (we didn't let them starve before but just filled an automatic feeder!) and they seemed to be in more sheltering from the dreadful weather. Having called them Mitsy & Motsy for the duration of our last stay, we discovered their names were Jack & Frieda. I had forgotten how nice it was to have pets around though vomitting up their last meal including traces of the mouse they just caught is slightly off-putting.
It was nice to have more space to entertain friends and on the Queen's Birthday weekend (how bizarre for Kiwis to have the Queen's birthday as a public holiday...) our small group came for lunch and stayed & played tennis & games until the evening.
This term has been good for us to really get into the swing of the youth & children's stuff we've started (if you ring & get our answer phone message you will have the opportunity to share the week's investigation codeword with us as well as any information you've discovered about Jesus through the week...!). I'm still focussed with the church in Rangiora but Neil is working more with the smaller churches in the parish, helping them work with children and families.
The weather is now cold. And not just a one off day! Our oil column heater seems to heat our little flat well enough; that is one advantage of having a small home - you can heat the whole flat as opposed to just the main living area where the temperature then plummets when you go to the bathroom or to bed.
The Lions rugby team have also arrived and played their first four matches which has made us rather nervous as they haven't been incredibally convincing. A couple of people have asked us if we'll have difficulty deciding who to support; uh, no. Really not been here long enough for that to be an issue! Though you can buy a half Lions & half All Black shirt for those whose loyalties are torn. There are so many English immigrants here in Rangiora that one sweet shop has tapped into the market by ordering boxes of Walkers crisps, Jaffa cakes, Double Deckers, Galaxy chocolate, Wine Gums etc. from the UK. The shop keeper told us people can't get enough of them and one English child in my Bible in Schools class reminds me weekly of items I can now purcahse in 'Just Lollies' (lolly is the Kiwi word for sweet). I hadn't even missed Jaffa cakes until they were mentioned...

Final Installment

On the final morning of our trip we took the Skyline Gondola to see the spectacular views over Queenstown, The Remarkables (mountain range) and Lake Wakatipu. It was a beautiful day so the panoramic views were very clear. We had a short walk around and I was quite excited as for the first time in real life I saw those large, red toadstools with white spots that fairies live under in stories! I was going to take a photo to put on the blog but that would just be like you seeing them in a story book so I didn't bother. Neil is looking forward to a return visit because we didn't ride the luge on this occasion and the small, toboggan like vehicles look great fun! We'd both definitely return to Queenstown, not least to see the surrounding mountains covered in snow which must look awesome.
Leaving Sarah in town as she was catching a coach further south, we began our 500km journey home. We had an amazing day as we drove through incredibally diverse landscapes including valleys of vineyards and orchards in Otago to barren, moor-like peaks in Lindis Pass and then gentle rolling hills and fields of cattle & sheep through South Canterbury. The weather remained glorious but we were aware of a front moving up from the south which was bringing with it a severe weather warning for snow! The highlight of the journey has to have been the view across Lake Pukaki. I had been navigating and making an attempt at pointing out key mountain peaks and ranges but Neil was losing confidence as I repeatedly said "No, that can't be Mount X it must be Mount Y" or "Now, maybe that's Mount X, not the previous three peaks I've pointed out"! Well, the ultimate clanger came as we were driving north towards Lake Pukaki. I had read that, on a clear day, the views of Mount Cook (the highest mountain in NZ) were supposed to be stunning so as more of the mountain range came into view I was trying to determine which was Mount Cook. I'd start by saying "That looks like it must be it, it's taller than the others", then we'd drive further, more of the range would come into view and there'd be another higher peak which then became 'Mount Cook'. This happened enough times for me to conclude we weren't going to be able to ascertain which mountain was Cook when we suddenly came around the last bend and viewed the whole of the range across the lake. "Oh, that's Mount Cook!"- it was massive and SO much taller than the surrounding peaks in the range. It really did look stunning. And on returning home we spoke to several Kiwis who have never seen the mountain because the weather has never allowed - we felt very blessed.
The final place we stopped at was Lake Tekapo, the waters of which can apparantly look almost electric blue though not on this occasion. But there is a tiny church, the Church of the Good Shepherd, that is built on the shores of the lake; it can seat about 30 people but is a popular tourist attraction because the view across the lake from the window behind the altar is amazing. I'm not sure I'd concentrate if I regularly worshipped there!
The final stage of the 7 hour journey took us through familiar countryside (well, we'd driven it once before on the way back from Summer Wine!) and as the sun set all we could think about was getting home before the fish and chip shop closed - it was nearly 8pm which could have been pushing it!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


The journey South continued...As we came out of the Haast Pass (and the torrential rain) we caught our first glimpses of the Southern Alps. The three of us thought it looked alot like the Lake District though slightly more dramatic. The town of Wanaka lies on the edge of a lake bearing the same name with the mountains (snow-capped) as a stunning back drop. We stayed in 'The Purple Cow' youth hostel two streets up from the water front. This was the most up-market of the hostels we stayed in; we were sharing with one other girl, Birgit, the four person room had a kitchenette, sofa, TV and it's own bathroom. [Little aside: Birgit was from Germany and had been travelling in NZ for a couple of months but her journey was hampered when she twisted her ankle on a road whilst trying to hitch a lift. She said she lay in agony trying to wave at cars to stop & help her but lots drove past! Eventually a lady did stop & took her to the doctor; she then took Birgit home to stay with her for a week until she was more mobile! Isn't that kind! When we shared a room with her she was hobbling on crutches but hoping to make it to Queenstown in the next few days.]
We frequented an Irish pub in the evening and a couple of gift shops the following morning but then headed further south towards Arrowtown. This is the most like a quaint village we've come across and the highlight was definitely the tree-lined avenues and the hillside ablaze in the most gorgeous autumn colours I've ever seen. It used to be a gold-mining town and is infamous for its exploitation of Chinese settlers in the mid 19th. century. There is a reconstruction of some of the settlement buildings but I think we've been spoiled by English Heritage & the National Trust - some of the reconstruction was laughable!
It was only another 45 minute drive before we reached Queenstown and then the joy of negotiating the roadworks (it seemed the whole town's road system had been dug up!). Now, I must mention the roadworks. Sometimes they have cones, sometimes not. Sometimes they close the lane they're working on and re-direct the traffic, sometimes they just let the cars carry on driving over the surface - it seems to help them level it! Sometimes they warn you on the approach to the roadworks, sometimes not. On the way over the Haast Pass we drove for about 5km on road that had been dug up. We then approached 2 large machines digging up our side of the road and absolutely no way for us to know whether it was safe to overtake them on a bend where we couldn't see any oncoming traffic. Having negotiated this hurdle we arrived at traffic lights (though at this point there seemed to be no need for them as no work was taking place) where we sat for nearly ten minutes with no traffic coming the other way wondering if we would sit there all night. So, as you can imagine, Queenstown was nearly carnage.
The backpackers hostel was the most budget accomodation but we selected it because it had a spa. When we got to the spa there were alreday two American guys there who were settled in for the remainder of the afternoon with their bottles of beer. They had not drunk for a month (they decided they needed to detox after a particularly heavy spell in Auckland) and had decided to break their fast. They told us their surfing & fishing tales and about the bag fulls of mushrooms they'd picked from a forest that then turned out to be completely the wrong type! They had a bungee jump booked for the following day but the last thing we heard the next morning was that they'd missed their pick up and when the hostel owner had gone to get them up they were still out cold and their room stank of booze - it possibly had not been the best night to end the detox.
Anyway, the three of us headed for Glenorchy to do a days walk along the Dart-Rees track - a semi-circular, four day route with huts along the way. The drive out to Glenorchy was spectacular & we kept stopping to take photos. When we arrived we could see where they shot some of the footage for Lord of the Rings (one of the few places it's easy to identify & you don't need a guide book and alot of imagination!). There was another 15km to drive on unsealed road to Paradise before the track started. On a couple of occasions we stopped and thought we'd just better start walking because we didn't think the car would cross the ford but then a guy slowed down & reassured us that our car would definitely make it through & it was still quite a way to the start of the track. Well, we did make it there and the tramp was amazing. We saw about 12 people near the start of our walk who had started at the other end of the route and were just completing the track after their last night in one fo the huts. But after that we saw nobody and really did feel in the middle of nowhere. Part of the track wound along side the Dart river but the majority was through forest. We kept glimpsing snow covered mountains through the trees & wondered if we would actually make it to a clearing before it was time for us to turn back. Well, we did. And it was awesome. We just wished we had the time to carry on & complete the track because we know there are more treasures further in that will have to be seen to be believed.
The evening we could have really used a spa it was closed for cleaning but we compensated with a large meal out (absolutely no point in trying to cook with about 30 people in a kitchen that's not big enough to swing a cat - though it did have a cat which climbed all over food benches...) and Neil and Sarah continued on their hunt for a decent pint. We then returned to the hostel and, as you can imagine, slept very well. The final part of our adventure will have to wait for another day...