Over the long weekend we took the TranzAlpine rail trip from Christchurch to Greymouth through Arthur’s Pass. We drove down and spent two nights in Hokitika. We really loved the different feel of the west coast; subtropical, the rough Tasman sea. We got some good runs in as well.
Jean and I spent last week on vacation at a rental house in Wanaka. Wanaka is a mountain town sited on the shores of an alpine lake and a gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park. It was a great getaway and we enjoyed exploring the many tracks around the area and eating at some great restaurants. This is an off time of year there between summer and the winter skiing season. We had some rain and wind but also some gorgeous sun. One day we took a drive over Haast pass to the west coast. It was a sunny still day and it felt like summer again briefly as we explored the dunes near Ship Creek.
Jean and I took our first trip in a while, getting away from Oamaru for a night up at Lake Tekapo a couple hours drive away from here. Saturday was a gorgeous fall day and we had a beautiful drive with several stops. The drive is usually an enjoyable part of the trip here, not much traffic and plenty of scenery. Sunday morning we woke to cold rain. We went to a hilltop observatory that was sitting in a cloud. Luckily the cafe there makes good muffins. We hope to go back sometime for the night tour.
One of the things we first heard about when we were looking in to Oamaru was the presence of a steampunk culture. Neither of us had ever heard of this term before and we are still learning what it is exactly. It is a global phenomenon though and maybe set to be really big, at least according to some folks around here.
In Oamaru it appears to arise from the Victorian heritage the town has in the well preserved stone buildings and the activities in the Victorian precinct such as the penny farthing shop I mentioned in an earlier post.
There is a place called Steampunk HQ here that I visited with Mom and Dad and it was really interesting. The pursuers of steampunk are very imaginative and weave together a lot of elements in to the culture from stories to multimedia presentations to ornate repurposed industrial machinery. The HQ is in fact just one element of steampunk in Oamaru. We also went to a gallery exhibit put on by The League of Victorian Imagineers. There was a wide variety of art on display here from people in Oamaru and beyond, including the steampunk penguin pictured that I bought. It is now on display in my home office and so far is very inspiring. This little penguin can do anything in my imagination. The penguin was created by an American who lives in Oamaru and who, along with his partner, runs a boutique hotel here.
One of the more interesting exhibits at the show was a cabinet of drawers containing mechano-botanical specimens. These were exquisitely crafted pieces inspired by flora but steampunked in to a crazy sci-fi version with very interesting back stories.
There is a festival coming in June we hope to attend. We hope to see more of the clothing and outfits people create in this culture along with the stories behind them.
We enjoyed a final weekend with Mom and Dad before they departed for Australia today. We had such a good visit with them! We spent a couple nights in Akaroa on Banks Peninsula before they left since they were flying out of Christchurch. We went for a kayak on a rainy Sunday and saw some Hector dolphins very close to our boats. A couple of cruise ships were docked there and the town was busy; also lots of buses coming and going taking the passengers all around Canterbury.
Monday on the way out Jean and I ran a beautiful route on a sunny morning thanks to Mom and Dad shuttling the car ahead. We also got a chance to see the very impressive Scott exhibit at the Canterbury museum before heading home to Oamaru.
The occasion of Mom and Dad’s visit has led us to explore our town more. We finally went to the blue penguin experience which is the number one tourist attraction here. Each night the smallest penguins in the world come back to their nest boxes from a day of swimming as far as 25-50km out to sea to catch fish. They are highly encouraged to come back to a protected area that the local council has set up for them. Tourists pay to sit in bleachers, they shine a light that is not visible to the penguins and run a commentary as they come in around sunset in groups of 30-40. They gather just off shore to gain safety in numbers for the beach approach. Then they waddle past you and through a little fence to wooden nest boxes all throughout a grassy hill. With the people, bleachers, road, lights, fences, boxes and grass it doesn’t like very natural but you are able to observe them very close and it’s pretty fun seeing 150 penguins come in.
More to my liking we observed the yellow-eyed penguins at another beach nearby. There you are on a trail above the beach and there aren’t nearly as many. When we went at night there were a lot of people observing but no penguins, possibly because a group of three people were playing on and near the beach despite signs telling you not to do this. We stuck it out though and a little after dark were rewarded with seeing 5-6 of the penguins come in. The next time we went in the morning at daybreak to see them heading out to sea. Then we were almost the only ones there to observe them and it was very cool. My mom got some photos.
On the complete other end of the local animal spectrum we visited the largest employer in town on Monday, the local slaughterhouse, or meat processing plant. Many of Jean’s patients work there and she went to see what the different jobs require physically. I’ve never toured anything like that before and I don’t know if you’d be able to in the U.S. or not. They gave us a several hour long tour of almost the whole facility.
First we saw the lamb and sheep lines. There were three lines going when we were there, with room for a fourth. They process an unbelievable number of 10,500 sheep and lamb in a day. The lamb comes through a narrow chute and has only a brief chance to gaze around a bit dazed before a worker stuns the animal with an electric shock. The animal then has its throat cut by a Muslim worker who also says a silent prayer each time in accordance with halal meat processing. The intestines are clamped off to not contaminate the meat and it is hung up on hooks where it travels up a ramp for further processing while it bleeds out, also part of the halal process. The meat is shipped all over the world with the US being the biggest market, if you see ME 18 on your package of lamb it is from this plant.
The sheep is efficiently cut open and the skin is pulled off by a pair of robots, but most of the work is done by people, quite a few people, all with sharp knives. They rotate around on the line so one job doesn’t get too repetitive. The lamb is decapitated by a guillotine-type device, the head rolls in to a hole in the floor to become part of a blood and bone gardening mix. There were many such images in the plant, too many to really process at the time but they’ve come to me since I’ve visited there. I think it’s an experience any meat eater should have available.
The line for the cattle was very different, they only do about 250 of those a day, it is in much more cramped circumstances and the animals are so huge up close. There are large gleaming stainless steel wheel barrows where they collect the liver and intestines. Guys have to be on lifts next to the cow to go up and down while they get the skin off. One guy has a giant hacksaw suspended from the ceiling that he controls for one long cut to part the cow in half.
They use all parts of the animal there, the sheep stomachs for tripe, intestines for sausage casings, other parts for garden compost. I found the whole tour very interesting. It didn’t turn me in to a vegetarian but I can understand that perspective on things. The sheep don’t seem to “know” what’s happening and their death is pretty quick so overall it seemed a humane process but it is powerful to see such a structured and large scale killing facility. Not something you are likely to find listed on TripAdvisor anytime soon.
My parents flew in for a visit on Saturday, our first visitors to New Zealand! They flew in to Queenstown and we spent four nights there. We enjoyed a great view of Lake Wakatipu from our rental house. Sunday Jean and I went for a trail run and Mom and Dad walked by the lake. Monday was a dramatic stormy day, perfect for wine tasting so we went to Peregrine winery and had a wonderful tasting. I’ve never liked pinot gris before until trying theirs. Afterwards we ate at Amisfield, another winery with a very yummy restaurant.
Tuesday was our big day, getting on the bus in the morning for a trip to Milford Sound. Dad stayed in Queenstown and went for long walks and did his botanical drawings in the gardens. Mom, Jean and I took the very scenic bus ride to Milford Sound and then cruised out to the Tasman Sea on a boat. When we came back we decided to take the offer of a helicopter ride. It was amazing, our pilot flew us right next to the mountain walls to ride the thermals up and we landed on a glacier near the top of the Darran Mountains. We had a perfect day for it which doesn’t happen all the time. Getting out on the glacier was the highlight of the day for me. It would have been even sweeter if we climbed to it. Seeing what’s back there makes us eager to explore it more. Here is our landing.
Now Mom and Dad are back in Oamaru and getting the tour. Oamaru is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Antarctic Scott expedition’s ship, the Terra Nova, landing at Oamaru Harbor and delivering news of the polar party perishing on the ice to England via a telegraph. We saw some excellent photographic prints taken during the expedition at a museum in town today. Tonight we are hoping to see some yellow-eyed penguins.