Ambleside

April 20, 2016

We had checked out of the Buttermere hostel this morning and spent the day hiking from Honister Pass to Great Gable, and now we were heading onwards to the Ambleside YHA. Normally this would be a straightforward drive, but one of last winter’s storms had washed out the Keswick-Ambleside road and it still hadn’t been repaired. So we had to take a circuitous route over narrow roads, and we finally arrived at the hostel at about 6 pm.

Lake at Ambleside YHA

Lake at Ambleside YHA

The hostel was a very large newly-refurbished building and it was very busy. Paul and Neil were in separate dorms on the first floor, but Rosemary asked about the possibility of a lower bunk, so the girl at the desk opened up a new dorm room on the third floor, and so Rosemary was the sole occupant of that room. We met downstairs for dinner at 7:30 pm, by which time Rosemary’s car-sickness had gone away. The restaurant overlooked the lake and the view was very pleasant as we ate our dinner (a really tasty beef lasagna for all of us because the chicken and ham pie was sold out).

April 21, 2016

We met downstairs for breakfast at 8 am, having the usual egg, bacon, hash browns, and beans. (The sausage wasn’t that good so we didn’t have that.) We had thought of hiking in the Langdale Pikes area, but since the weather looked set fine for the whole day, we decided to hike the Fairfield Horseshoe instead. We had tried it a couple of years ago when we hiked the Cumbria Way, but had turned back because of rain and clouds.

Wordsworth’s house at Rydal Mount

Wordsworth’s house at Rydal Mount

So we parked near Rydal Mount, after some circling about while looking for the car park. The first part of the walk took us by one of Wordsworth’s homes and then headed steeply uphill on a cobbled lane. Soon we were climbing up Nab Scar, gaining height quickly up the ridge. The views were good despite the brown haze in the distance, and we could see the Hexham power plant. With binoculars Paul thought he could make out the towers at Blackpool.

Windermere Lake from Nab Scar

Windermere Lake from Nab Scar

It seemed quite warm as we ground our way up from Nab Scar to Heron Pike, then to Great Rigg, then to the top of Fairfield. Surprisingly there were a lot of skylarks singing—they must only just have returned from Africa or wherever they spend the winter. The top of Fairfield is very flat, with several windbreaks to sit behind, so it was very pleasant eating our lunch there.

Fairfield Horseshoe in the haze

Fairfield Horseshoe in the haze

To descend back to Rydal we took the other arm of the Horseshoe. It was a bit confusing because from the top of Fairfield there are trails leading downward in several directions. Our route down was long and in some places steep; we passed by Hart Crag, Dove Crag, High Pike, and Low Pike, adding up to six new Wainwrights for the day. At the bottom we passed through a new micro-hydro project before finally reaching the car park.

Sunset at Ambleside

Sunset at Ambleside

It had been a long day and all of us were happy to get back to the hostel for much-needed hot showers. At dinner they were out of the chicken and ham pie again, so Paul and Rosemary had the lasagna again and Neil had fish and chips. We discussed the idea of the GR10 (along the Pyrenees in France) as a possible future walk, as Christine had been talking about it. But it’s 900 km long with not many places to stay, so we definitely wouldn’t be doing it all in one go!

April 22, 2016

Our time in the Lake District had been very successful, with only half a day of heavy rain stopping us from walking. But now we were heading back to London and then home. But before leaving we drove up to Grasmere again, just to look around a bit more. And incidentally to buy some more Grasmere gingerbread!

Grasmere gingerbread shop

Grasmere gingerbread shop

We had train tickets from Windermere, but Neil drove us all the way to the Oxenholme station where we caught the direct train to London. Our train manager was quite a comedian, commenting when we arrived in “tropical” Wigan and warning us to watch out for London Marathon competitors. The ride seemed very quick and we were back in London before we knew it.

Posted in Britain | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Buttermere

April 18, 2016

We woke up to howling winds, horizontal rain, and low cloud cover—definitely not a day to go walking! So after breakfast we retired to the lounge to wait out the storm. Our whole morning was spent inside, Rosemary finishing off her Nero Wolfe book and Paul reading some of the local magazines. We ate our lunch in the lounge and continued hanging out in the lounge until finally about 2 pm the rain stopped.

The mountain tops were still in cloud, though, so we decided on a low-level walk instead. One of the issues of Cumbria magazine in the lounge had a description of the route around Crummock Water, which is just the other side of Buttermere, so we decided to do that.

Crummock Water outlet

Crummock Water outlet

It wasn’t a bad walk around the lake. The path was easy to follow and for the most part in good shape, at least along the side closest to the road. At the far end was the old pump-house with its metal plaque dating back to 1903, which doesn’t seem to be used any more. On the other side of the lake there were several boggy sections, which we mostly managed to avoid by walking on the larger sedges, but not entirely. There were a lot of birds on that side of the lake: Canada Geese in pairs along the lake shore, a small group of Willow Warblers by one of the streams, and something sounding like two pebbles being tapped together at the base of a boulder slope. That could have been a Ring Ouzel but we couldn’t see it.

Robin in holly bush

Robin in holly bush

By the time we got back to Buttermere the clouds had mostly gone away, as had the wind. At the hostel we ordered our choice of dinner and then went up to change. Dinner tonight was Cumberland sausage with mashed potatoes, but the vegetarian option was a vegetable tart, which Rosemary said was very good. Dessert was a delicious chocolate cake with ice cream.

April 19, 2016

A beautiful morning, blue sky and sunshine, much improved from yesterday. So after breakfast we packed our packs and set off to do some mountain walking.

Past the end of Buttermere Lake we walked, and then found the path leading up Red Pike. It was a stone staircase which followed Sour Milk Gill up to Bleaberry Tarn. Once at the tarn the trail continued steeply up more stone steps to reach a saddle between Dodd and the base of Red Pike. We weren’t sure whether Dodd was one of the Wainwrights (it isn’t, but Dodd near Skiddaw is) so we walked the short distance to its “summit” and admired the views looking down over Buttermere and Crummock Water.

Climbing up to Bleaberry Tarn

Climbing up to Bleaberry Tarn

Back at the saddle we followed the trail, which was mostly a scramble now, up to the top of Red Pike. From there we followed the ridge down to High Stile, where we had lunch and admired the view; from this vantage point we looked down on the Coast to Coast path, which went from Ennerdale Water past the Black Sail hostel and up the Haystacks. We could even see the Irish Sea, but the distant views were quite hazy today even though the weather was clear.

Bleaberry Tarn and Buttermere

Bleaberry Tarn and Buttermere

We carried on to High Crag and dropped down quite a long way to Scarth Gap. Here we debated whether to climb back up to Haystacks, but Rosemary was finding her knee becoming more painful so we decided to give it a rest. The descent to Buttermere Lake was reasonably fast, and we followed the now-familiar lakeshore trail back to Buttermere. Our treat for today was to be homemade ice cream from the Buttermere Ayrshires ice cream shop, but much to our dismay it was closed due to a power outage in the village. For some reason the Croft House Farm café was open, though, so we walked back there to get our cones.

High Crag from below

High Crag from below

Our friend Neil arrived at about 5:30 pm so we spent some time catching up. Unfortunately Christine had a meeting to attend, so she had stayed back in Glasgow. Rather than having the hostel dinner, we walked down to the village to have dinner at the Fish Inn, arriving there just ahead of a 20-person van tour. Both of us had the half roast chicken with veggies, which was really good. We sat after the meal and discussed options for tomorrow’s hike, finally deciding to drive to Honister Pass and hike to Great Gable from there.

April 20, 2016

After breakfast we packed our bags—we would be moving on to Ambleside today—and headed out in Neil’s car up to Honister Pass. Our original plan was to climb up to Grey Knotts and work our way over to Great Gable, but there were a lot of grassy paths to choose from and there was a misleading sign at the exit from the car park so we ended up taking a lower trail which also went in the same general direction. When we had walked the Coast to Coast from Haystacks to Honister Pass all those years ago we had got lost, and now it was clear why—there are no landmarks and a random network of paths.

Navigating with map and GPS

Navigating with map and GPS

Anyway we got ourselves sorted out after a while and arrived at the base of Great Gable, the saddle at Beck Head. The climb up Great Gable was quite steep in places but it didn’t take us too long to attain the summit, where we sat and ate our lunch. The weather was lovely and the views were great in all directions; we could even see the Isle of Man. Neil pointed out various peaks so that we got a better idea of what was where. At Great Gable there is a memorial plaque for members of the local hiking club who died in the war.

On top of Great Gable

On top of Great Gable

Descending the other side of Great Gable we crossed Windy Gap and continued over the small bump which was Green Gable. There were a couple of other small bumps, including Grey Knotts, and soon we were looking down on Honister Pass. Going down the grassy slope towards the slate mine we met a woman with red hiking poles who didn’t like the idea of going down while not on a real path. But after a few minutes we noticed that she seemed to have found one.

Great Gable memorial

Great Gable memorial

At the café we stopped for tea and coffee before heading onwards to Ambleside. As we left we saw the red-poles woman waiting at the bus stop; she was staying near Keswick so we picked her up and took her there, since it wasn’t really out of our way.

Posted in Britain | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Walking between hostels

April 16, 2016

We had to move on today, since the hostel was all booked up tonight and we couldn’t get beds. So we’re moving on to the YHA at Borrowdale, which isn’t that far away. So after breakfast was finished we completed our packing and headed down to Elterwater to catch the bus to Dungeon Ghyll. (No, we weren’t going to walk all the way!) The weather was much improved, with lovely blue sky but bitterly cold winds.

Starting off from YHA Langdale

Starting off from YHA Langdale

In Elterwater we waited about 15 minutes for the bus to arrive; before we got on board about 20 walkers got off, leaving only one passenger on the bus. The ride to the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel took about 20 minutes so we were on the trail shortly after 10 am.

Hikers in Mickelden valley

Hikers in Mickelden valley

We had walked this section of trail a few years ago while walking the Cumbria Way, so it was quite familiar to us. For an hour we walked along the Mickelden valley which is level for the most part. At the end of the valley the trail splits, with one arm going to Esk Hause and the other to Stake Pass. Ascending the pass was fairly easy on a well-graded trail, with great views but still the bitterly cold wind. Finally at the top we continued along until we found a reasonably sheltered place for lunch. As it turned out our lunch spot was very close to our lunch spot back when we had walked the Cumbria Way.

Climbing Stake Pass

Climbing Stake Pass

Descending the far side of the pass was really cold despite the sunshine, so cold that our fingers were turning white. We descended as fast as we dared, along the way having a brief hailstorm to add to the fun. The trail levelled out now, and it was just flat walking until we reached Stonethwaite and followed a road for a short distance to Longthwaite, where the Borrowdale YHA is located.

Frog spawn in Stake Pass

Frog spawn in Stake Pass

We arrived at the hostel around 3 pm. We had stayed here when we did the Coast to Coast walk, but that was eight years ago and it didn’t look all that familiar. We checked in and found our rooms; we were early enough that we both got bottom bunks. They told us that they were having a school group tonight (normal procedure for British YHAs) so we booked our dinner for 6 pm to mostly avoid them.

Dipper in River Derwent

Dipper in River Derwent

The hostel is on the banks of the River Derwent, so we followed the path beside the river into Johnny’s Wood for a while. There were two Dippers in the river, which was a treat, but Rosemary had twisted her knee on the descent from Stake Pass so we didn’t go far, retreating to the hostel’s lounge instead. Dinner tonight was fish and chips—a huge plate which we could hardly finish. Not quite as good as YHA Langdale’s fish and chips, either. Paul decided on chocolate and banana sundae for dessert, and Rosemary had ginger and butterscotch pudding with custard.

April 17, 2016

Today we were moving on again, but we were only going to Buttermere so we didn’t have to leave very early. There was a bit of ice on the puddles as we left, but the sky was blue and the sun was warm. We had decided to walk up to Honister Pass and then take the bus from there down to Buttermere.

Borrowdale YHA

Borrowdale YHA

Our walk up to Honister Pass was on the Coast to Coast path, so we would be retracing our steps from our very first long-distance walk, only in the opposite direction. The first part of our walk followed the River Derwent through Johnny’s Wood and then through the fields to the beautiful hamlet of Seatoller. Last time we were here we had heard our first cuckoo, but this time it was April, too early in the spring for cuckoos.

View from Seatoller

View from Seatoller

From Seatoller we climbed steeply up the hillside until we were almost on the same level as the pass, and then walked along a good path. Behind us in the distance we could see fresh snow on a range of mountains which we decided ran between Helvellyn and Keswick, and the views towards Buttermere were really good too.

At the pass we went into the buildings there and inquired about tours through the slate mine. We were too late for the 10:30 am tour, and the next tour would be at 12:30 pm—more than an hour away. We didn’t really feel like waiting that long so we decided to catch the next bus to Buttermere. It wasn’t that far to walk, really, but we hadn’t looked at the map closely and thought that all of the trails went over the tops of mountains.

Purple-tinged sheep

Purple-tinged sheep

As it turned out we only had to wait 10 minutes for the bus to arrive. The fare was £5 for the two of us, but we only had a £10 note and the driver didn’t have change. Luckily the other passengers on board did have change, though. The trip took about 15 minutes including waiting behind a herd of sheep as they trotted along the road.

YHA Buttermere

YHA Buttermere

The bus dropped us off at the Fish Inn in “downtown” Buttermere, from where it was only a short walk to the hostel. We headed into the self-catering kitchen to make some tea and eat our lunch. Then Rosemary tracked down one of the staff, and he checked us in. We decided to pay extra for a private room, which turned out to be a 6-bed dorm with a nice view over the lake. Naturally we both chose lower bunks!

Great Tit near the lake

Great Tit near the lake

The weather was still pretty good so we decided to walk around the lake. It wasn’t far to the permissive path down to the lakeshore, but now the sky was overcast and the wind had picked up. We were both glad we had put sweaters on. It took us about two hours to walk around the lake, which was clearly a popular walk. The views of the surrounding hills were very nice and the walk was very enjoyable. Back in Buttermere we noticed the Croft House Farm café, so we stopped in to have tea and a scone. The scone came with jam and clotted cream, so we were having our first cream tea of the trip! It was very very good.

Buttermere Lake

Buttermere Lake

Dinner tonight as the hostel was fish and chips—again! The food was not nearly as good as at Langdale, but for the price we couldn’t complain. The sticky toffee pudding (with custard) was really good, though. Tonight there were only four of us having dinner at the hostel; one of the others was a young guy from rural Montana who had been studying art history in Venice and was now travelling around Europe before having to go home.

Posted in Britain | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

High Close

April 13, 2016

After spending the night at Caroline’s place we headed off to the Lake District, taking the Northern Line to Euston Station. We caught the 9 am train to the north, changed trains in Preston, and soon arrived in Oxenholme. The weather there was cold and rainy, and our train was a few minutes late, but fortunately the Windermere train was waiting for us. We jumped on board for the short ride.

Preston station platform

Preston station platform

By the time we got to Windermere it was lunch time, so we went into the café by the station. We bought sandwiches and ginger beer and managed to get a table in the small eating area. We still had a fairly thick cloud layer with possible rain in the forecast, so we got our rain gear ready before leaving. Outside the café our bus was just about to leave, and after some discussion with the driver and the ticket seller we decided that we would start our walk to YHA Langdale, our hostel which was halfway between Grasmere and Elterwater, from White Moss Common.

White Moss Common

White Moss Common

The bus took us through Ambleside and past Rydal, an area which was very familiar to us, so we knew exactly where we would get off. By the time we got to White Moss Common the rain had stopped, so we didn’t need to put on our rain gear. We headed up to Loughrigg Terrace, which overlooks Grasmere Lake, and followed it up to Red Bank Road. Once we were on the road it was only a short way uphill to the hostel; total walking time only 37 minutes according to Strava.

(We noticed that our bus driver pronounced “Loughrigg” as “LOFF-rigg”. We had always thought that it was “LOW-rigg” but obviously we were wrong.)

Daffodils on Loughrigg Terrace

Daffodils on Loughrigg Terrace

The hostel is a big old stone building at High Close, with views in all directions. The reception wasn’t open yet but the door was unlocked, so we went in and found the common room, a big area with a lot of old leather armchairs. It had working wi-fi (once we signed up for The Cloud) so we made ourselves at home with some tea. When the reception opened we went through the formalities; all the private rooms were booked up so we were in the dorms. But since we were early we had a good choice of beds. Both the men’s and women’s dorms had a view down towards the lake at Ambleside.

YHA Langdale at High Close

YHA Langdale at High Close

It was now only 4 pm and dinner wasn’t until 7 pm, so we decided to walk down to Grasmere to buy some gingerbread. We retraced our route along the Terrace and then crossed the bridge to head into town. Fortunately the gingerbread shop was now open until 5:30 pm so we were in time to buy our gingerbread fix. We went into the Wordsworth gardens to look at all the daffodils, which were now in full bloom all around the area, and sat on a bench to enjoy a piece of gingerbread. As we sat there a cute little robin hopped down, hoping for some crumbs, but he was out of luck.
Our route back to the hostel took us up Red Bank Road, which went by some lovely houses and cottages. We got back around 6 pm so there was plenty of time before dinner.

We had signed up for dinner at the hostel, rather than cooking our own food (didn’t feel like it) or going out for dinner (no car, too far to walk). Today’s dinner was fish and chips, with actually a pretty good fish. We sat at a communal table with about 10 people; we had seen several of them earlier, shooting arrows at targets. It turned out that they were taking a course, learning how to be archery teachers. Besides them there was a couple with two nine-year-old boys who liked drawing and doing mental arithmetic. Dessert was blackcurrant cheesecake with ice cream, definitely worth the £8.75.

April 14, 2016

Today’s weather forecast was for almost no rain, which was a forecast we liked. It was still mostly cloudy but that was all right. After finishing our English breakfast we organized our packs, including the packed lunch which we had ordered along with some Mars bars and gingerbread to augment it.

From the hostel we headed out along Red Bank Road and then turned right onto the fells, following one of the many paths which we saw there. Our plan was to walk along the long ridge to the north, ending up maybe at High Raise which is located near the Langdale Pikes. Most of the path along the ridge was well-mapped, but various maps showed various confusing networks of paths near High Close. However by carefully choosing the right paths from our GPS map we made our way to Silver How, checking off our first Wainwright of the day!

View from Silver How

View from Silver How

From here we followed the trail to Blea Rigg (another Wainwright!), a trail which was much easier to follow. Not only were there many fewer paths heading off in random directions, there were several other hikers who were going the same way as us. Several boggy sections had us finding alternative routes, but for the most part the trail was good. By lunch time we were somewhere on Blea Rigg so we found a nice spot to sit and eat our BLT sandwich.

Our next destination was Sergeant Man, a higher bump which we could see in the distance. We had to drop down a bit and then climb back up to it. By now we had good views of Pavey Ark and the other Langdale Pikes, with Stickle Tarn at their base. Once on top of Sergeant Man we had more tea and also some gingerbread and a Mars bar. But now what next?

On Sergeant Man

On Sergeant Man

We could drop down to Dungeon Ghyll, where we could catch a bus back. Or we could find a route down to the head of the valley leading to Grasmere. From the map it looked like there were a lot of ups and downs on the way to Grasmere, so finally Dungeon Ghyll won out. But not by much. We headed that way, diverting via the really easy walk to High Raise. It was getting late, so we headed back directly towards Pavey Ark, then down a steep gully to Stickle Tarn, then down the steep path to Dungeon Ghyll. By the time we reached the bottom our legs were like jelly!

Descending from Pavey Ark

Descending from Pavey Ark

By the hotel we found the bus bench and as luck was on our side, the bus arrived within 10 minutes. (Later we looked at the timetable and found that the next bus would have been two hours later!) We told the driver we were going to the Langdale YHA and he said he’d let us know when we got to our stop. It was lovely travelling on the bus, which made short work of the distance. We still had to do the steep climb up the road to the hostel, but we did that quite quickly and arrived in plenty of time for dinner.

New Dungeon Ghyll

New Dungeon Ghyll

Tonight’s dinner was sausage, so we had ordered one Cumberland sausage and one Glamorgan sausage, to have a variety to share. But it turned out that the Glamorgan sausage was a vegetarian sausage! Not quite the variety we had expected, but it was actually very good. Dessert was apple crisp with custard and we both felt we deserved the large meal after our long walk.

April 15, 2016

We woke up to overcast skies with rain in the forecast, so since we were a bit stiff from yesterday’s walk we decided to have a more relaxing day. So rather than climbing more Wainwrights we headed down to Grasmere. We weren’t sure what we would do once in the village but figured something would come up.

As we approached the village we decided to take the river walk, which ran alongside the River Rothay. There were lots of daffodils in bloom, which made the walk very colourful, but there were also a few places which had been damaged by last winter’s floods. Soon we ended up at Sam Read’s book shop, which had a good selection of walking books. Our dinner-table mates from last night had shown us the walking book they were using, and it looked interesting, but we ended up buying the Footprint map of fourteen walks around Ambleside, Grasmere, Langdale, and Elterwater.

Daffodils by the River Rothay

Daffodils by the River Rothay

Walk number 3 was a short walk to Easdale Tarn; it started on Easdale Road, which was right across the street from the book shop. We figured this would be a good rest-day walk. It was a nice walk up through the fields, with cute baby lambs, and then we left the fields and headed up into the fells. There were still sheep there, but not with babies. The route was easy to follow, as it climbed up beside Sour Milk Ghyll, and we got to the tarn at lunch time.

Easdale Tarn

Easdale Tarn

Even though it was cloudy, there was a pretty reflection in the surface of the tarn. We sat down to eat our lunch and the predicted rain started; at least, we could see raindrops in the water but they were so small that we couldn’t even notice them.

Sheep near Easdale Tarn

Sheep near Easdale Tarn

After lunch we continued to the end of the tarn, found a suitable place to cross the creek, and then walked along the opposite shore. There was no real trail to speak of; just sheep trails through boggy places. But nearing the outlet we got onto a better path. From there we followed our map and went down through an area called Far Easdale. Along with the sheep there was a big group of students apparently practising their surveying techniques. After that it didn’t take long to walk back down through the farms back to Grasmere.

Herdy Mercury

Herdy Mercury

Earlier we had seen a painted sheep next to Dove Cottage, and then in a shop near the green we saw another one. (These were plastic sheep, not the woolly kind.) It turned out there was a fund-raising project where artists painted these Herdwick (“Herdy”) sheep. They would be displayed in several towns in the Lake District for a while and then auctioned off to raise money for a charity which delivers challenging outdoor activities for those with disabilities. The sheep we had seen near Dove Cottage was titled “Herdy Mercury” and its artwork involved several (modified) Queen song titles. We whiled away the afternoon looking for other painted sheep in Grasmere; one had been painted by local school children and was in the church next to the font.

Sheep in Grasmere Church

Sheep in Grasmere Church

After sitting on the green and finishing our tea we headed back to the hostel, following the now familiar Red Bank Road. Surprisingly we had walked over 18 km, farther than yesterday, but still it was an easier walk. As with other nights our dinner was really good, chili and rice and chips and salad plus extra salad—a very filling meal followed by chocolate mousse with fruit and cake. We sat with the same family who had been there last night, so we caught up with what they had done today.

Posted in Britain | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Christchurch again

Dec 7, 2015

Farewell to Akaroa this morning, we were moving on again, this time back to Christchurch. After breakfast we checked out of the hostel, which had been very comfortable, and walked down the street to wait for our shuttle bus.

We had half an hour to wait, and there was free wi-fi courtesy of Spark there, so both of us spent the time checking the Internet. Until one of the locals stopped to mail some letters and, noticing us, compared us to a couple of teenagers. He told us that his house in Christchurch had been flattened in the earthquake so he took the insurance payout and moved permanently to his holiday home in Akaroa. His wife would like to move back but at present they have no plans to do that.

Akaroa painter

Akaroa painter

The bus arrived at 10:30 am and we and a group of twelve teenaged girls got on. This time the bus didn’t have a luggage trailer for some reason, but everybody put their stuff on empty seats and it worked out fine. Back in Christchurch we were dropped off at the museum, which wasn’t too far from the YHA. It was too early to check in, of course, but we made sure that the room allocated to us wasn’t near the noisy fan which runs all night. Once that was sorted out we left our packs in the luggage storage room and headed out.

Peacock fountain, Botanic Garden

Peacock fountain, Botanic Garden

We were close to the Botanic Garden, so we went for lunch at the café there. The prices were quite reasonable, the sandwiches were very good, and it was nice to sit outside in the sun. Once done with lunch we went over to the iSite to find out about airport transfers, for our departure the day after tomorrow. We ended up booking a 10 am shuttle, which would pick us up outside the hostel, and we also bought tickets for the Antarctic Centre, where we would spend the day before flying out late in the afternoon.

Punting in the gardens

Punting in the gardens

Now that we had that all booked and paid for we set out on a walking tour around Christchurch. We had a brochure with a walk which mostly followed the tram tracks and its city tour, and a second brochure which showed us what had been there before the earthquake. It was quite unsettling walking around and realizing that the devastation in Christchurch could easily happen in Vancouver.

Rebuilding the arts centre

Rebuilding the arts centre

There were several old buildings which were actively being renovated and others which were just sitting there, sometimes shored up and sometimes not. And there were other streets which were business as usual. We saw the cathedral which had caused so much controversy and also its temporary “cardboard” replacement. The temporary one didn’t look that bad to us, but then we really didn’t know anything about the issues involved.

Destroyed cathedral

Destroyed cathedral

Back at the hostel we got our laundry started before walking over to the New World supermarket to buy food for the next couple of days. By the time we got back the washing was done, so we put the clothes in the dryer and made our dinner.

New temporary cathedral

New temporary cathedral

Dec 8, 2015

There was no rush to go anywhere today, so after breakfast we walked over to the Canterbury Museum, which is right next to the Botanic Garden. It’s in a large stone building which apparently survived the earthquakes, or at least wasn’t badly affected.

There were a lot of displays in the museum so we just started on the ground floor at the front. There were a lot of displays about the settlement of the area, and since it’s New Zealand that means both Maori and Europeans. The Maori had two rooms of displays and the Europeans only had one. Next there was a special Leonardo da Vinci display, with replicas of his famous paintings (no, not the real Mona Lisa) and a lot of displays devoted to his inventions. We didn’t know that he invented the bicycle, and breathing apparatus for divers, but there you go.

There was a section which had store-fronts and walk-in areas of businesses which were on the main street in the 19th century, including recordings of people talking about their shops. One unusual section was the Paua Shell House, which was originally in Bluff. It was made famous by the number of paua (abalone) shells which the owners, Fred and Myrtle Flutey, had hung on the walls. People from all over would come to see their house, and they became pop culture celebrities of the 1960’s, so after they died their grandson turned the collection over to the museum. The exhibit includes the front room and hallway of the house, plus the outside of the house, along with furniture and all of the knickknacks that they had.

Paua Shell House living room

Paua Shell House living room

Back outside we had a snack before walking around the Botanic Gardens. We followed the riverside path around the outside, so we missed most of the gardens, but we did find a tree in a cage. It was a Wollemi pine, an extremely rare tree from Australia. There’s a program to plant Wollemi pines around the world in case the Australian trees get burned in a bush fire or something, and this is one of those trees.

We headed back to the hostel for lunch, which meant basically all of our remaining food. After lunch we went over to check out the Re:Start Mall, whose stores are all made of shipping containers. We didn’t find anything to buy, though. So now we felt ready for another go at the museum. The second floor had an exhibit on Canterbury (the state where Christchurch is located) today, but it had way too many words. There was also a Bird Hall which covered New Zealand birds pretty well, but their bird specimens were old and faded.

Re:Start Mall

Re:Start Mall

The best part was the Antarctic exhibit, which was mostly about the British Antarctic expedition of 1957-58, in which Sir Ed played a part. There was a movie which must have been made soon afterwards, including film of the actual expedition, and some of the original vehicles which drove across Antarctica.

We’d agreed to go meet Karyn and James, two of the New Zealanders from our Banks Peninsula walk, so we went back to the hostel to wait for them. They were going to take us on a tour of Christchurch including an area where there were supposed to be Bar-tailed Godwits. Karyn showed up on her bike and James arrived shortly in the Range Rover.

We drove through large areas of Christchurch which had been populated with houses before the earthquakes. These areas used to be swamps before they were filled in and built on, so now they are condemned. The debris has been removed and the areas have been grassed over and nobody is allowed to rebuild there. The council keeps the area neat by mowing the grass, but sometimes people who only have cars to live in come here and “freedom camp”, which causes problems.

The area where we were driving had several road closures and detours as a result of the earthquakes, or of road repairs, but eventually we got to where the birds were. It was high tide so it took a while before we found a mudflat. But finally we did, and after a while James and Paul located the godwits, which were mixed in with numerous Pied Oystercatchers.

On the way back we stopped for dinner at a pub called Pomeroy’s. Rosemary had the chicken and bacon pie which she had missed out on at the garden café and Paul had a pulled pork sandwich. The food was good and like most pub meals had large portions, although not as large as what you would get in an American restaurant. After saying goodbye we got back to our room and got ready for tomorrow’s flight home.

Dec 9, 2015

At last we’re going home today. It seems like it’s about time, even if we are returning to several days of rain storms! It didn’t take us long to pack our packs today, after having done it so many times on this trip, so there wasn’t much to do this morning. We had breakfast and then chatted for a short time with a fellow traveller.

Steve’s Shuttle picked us up at 10 am to take us to the airport, and once we were we checked in for our flight and gave them our large packs. This didn’t take very long, so now we only had five and a half hours until our flight to Auckland would leave.

Antarctic Centre

Antarctic Centre

Christchurch is one of the main gateways to Antarctica, so just down the road is the Antarctic Centre, an entertainment and interpretive site. We had already purchased our discounted senior tickets from the iSite in Christchurch, so we went over there right away. We had missed the 10:30 am penguin feeding but they scheduled us in for all the other events. At 11 am we went to the 4-D movie about a trip to Antarctica, which was great fun. It started off with crossing the Drake Passage, complete with bouncing seats and sea spray in our faces, then toured us around the continent. We had birds flying towards us, penguins walking towards us, and (real) snow falling on us. Definitely an entertaining film.

United States transportation centre

United States transportation centre

Then there was the Antarctic Storm, where we got to stand in a cold room in the snow and experience wind chill as the temperature dropped to -25°C. The storm didn’t last long but it was interesting to be in that dry cold air. From here we went on to a Hagglund ride. (A “Hagglund” is a ruggedized tracked vehicle designed by the Swedish army and used to get around Antarctica.) We went behind the Antarctic Centre, so we went over hard-packed dirt rather than snow, but we were able to experience how the machine handled in various conditions. We went up 45-degree hills and over a crevasse and through deep water, which was a lot of fun.

Penguin at the entrance

Penguin at the entrance

After lunch in their café—New Zealand meat pies—we went back in for the interpretive part. They had a pool with Little Penguins which had all been rescued after various mishaps. We were missing feeding time but we watched them puttering around. Besides the penguins there was a variety of other displays, which showed the various expeditions to Antarctica including actual artifacts from those expeditions. The whole thing was really good and we thought that more cities should have attractions like this near their airports.

Finally we returned to the airport. Going through security was easy and fast, so we arrived at our gate with lots of time. The flight to Auckland was scheduled to take an hour and twenty minutes, and then our flight to Vancouver would leave at 8 pm and take 13 hours, arriving at noon but still on December 9.

Posted in New Zealand | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Banks Peninsula, part 2

Dec 5, 2015

Our sleep was partially interrupted at 2 am by a lot of penguins honking, braying, and squeaking outside; it was quite funny listening to them as we tried to sleep. And then it got light at 5 am in our little house, but we turned over and slept until our usual time. Our walk today was only 6 kilometers over headlands, so we didn’t have to get an early start. In fact we really had to get a late start so we didn’t arrive too early at Otanerito Bay.

Stony Bay outdoor bath

Stony Bay outdoor bath

It was sunny again this morning—we had been really lucky with the weather on this walk. We headed out at 10 am and had a leisurely walk to the beach before angling up to the headland. As we walked along the trail we passed by numerous penguin nests—which we could detect by the fishy smell! But we didn’t see any penguins. Soon there was a Kelp Gull colony by the shore, and we could see that one nest had three chicks which were being fed by both parents. And then around the corner we could see a Spotted Shag colony on the cliff across the bay. There were chicks there too but we could hardly make them out.

Spotted Shag colony

Spotted Shag colony

At Sleepy Bay we made a short detour to see the waterfall, which turned out to be quite beautiful as it cascaded over a moss-covered slope with bright green duckweed floating on the surface. On the next headland there was a good view back to a sea stack. But this was a new stack—before the earthquakes it had been a high sea arch. You don’t see that sort of thing very often.

Sleepy Bay waterfall

Sleepy Bay waterfall

It was now close to lunchtime, but there was no seat here and the ground was covered with sheep droppings, so we decided to carry on. Down the slope we went and through the trees to the beach at Otanerito, from where we could see the blue gate outside our house. It was just before 1 pm so we sat on the front porch and ate our lunch.

The house was surrounded by a beautiful garden full of roses, fuchsias, and tall geraniums. Inside there were two large rooms with beds plus a large kitchen. What a beautiful setting for our last night on the track! There was a shop, too, which if anything was better stocked than the shop at Flea Bay.

Otanerito Bay house

Otanerito Bay house

We claimed the front room (with four beds) and left the back room (six bunk beds) for the others, who didn’t arrive for quite a while because they had stopped to watch a group of fur seals cavorting in the surf. For the rest of the afternoon we sat on the front porch and had tea and wrote our journals. Before dinner we walked down to the beach, which is very sandy and is described as a “swimming beach” in the brochure. However none of our group went swimming because the water was still too cold.

Our fellow walkers

Our fellow walkers

Back at the house we chatted for a while before making our dinner. Tonight we had roast lamb with mashed potatoes, which is our favourite of all the freeze-dried meals we tried. We also finished off a lot of the other food we had brought, so that our packs would be much lighter for tomorrow’s walk. As we were finishing dinner it started to cloud over, and by 7 pm the rain was starting. But according to the forecast it would rain overnight but by 9 am tomorrow the weather would improve.

Dec 6, 2015

From time to time during the night we could hear rain pouring down, but by the time we got up the rain had stopped. This agreed with yesterday’s forecast, so we looked forward to fine weather.

Doug and Joy, the American couple, were first to leave this morning. They had a shuttle bus to catch and didn’t want Joy’s arthritic knee to make them miss it. We chatted with the New Zealanders for a short while before heading out the door at 9:30 am. We had a 10-kilometer walk, with 600 meters of elevation gain and 600 meters of elevation loss, but we didn’t expect it to be too challenging.

New growth of native bush

New growth of native bush

For the first hour we gradually gained elevation as we followed a creek up through the Hinewai Reserve. The reserve had been created about 25 years ago, after somebody discovered that native bush can start its life growing under gorse bushes and then grow up and choke out the gorse. As we climbed we had a few short steep sections involving steps, but for the most part the trail was well graded. The walk through the reserve was well signposted, with signs identifying trees and other plants, and we finally saw a silver tree fern, which is an emblem of New Zealand.

Silver tree fern

Silver tree fern

As we approached the saddle there was a side trail leading to a pond which, it was said, often had a pair of Paradise Shelducks. So we went to have a look, and there was a pair with their brood of eight chicks. It didn’t take long after that to reach the open area near the saddle, and then after a short climb we could finally look down at Akaroa. At this point we suddenly remembered that the Banks Peninsula had been formed by volcanic eruptions, and therefore we were now walking over the rim of an extinct volcano.

Information sign on the loo

Information sign on the loo

There was a very cold wind blowing here so we carried on down to a shelter which was marked on our map. The shelter was about the size of two phone booths, but it was very welcome as it kept the wind off as we ate our lunch. Parts of the trail down from the shelter were quite steep but with our destination in sight the whole way it spurred us on to get there.

Last look at Otanerito

Last look at Otanerito

Finally back in Akaroa, we stopped at the bank to get some cash and then walked the short distance to Chez la Mer to get our room. The outside of the hostel is painted in shades of purple and we found out that our room was also painted mauve, with the beds having rosy pink sheets with floral duvets. Very colourful! After dropping our packs in the room we retrieved our other bags from the office, where we had left them four days ago, and rummaged through them to hopefully find some clean clothes. Not much luck there, so we’ll be doing laundry once we’re back in Christchurch.

After a cup of tea Rosemary went out shopping—last chance for bargain-priced merino products. She bought a lovely possum-merino-silk sweater and several merino shirts. We also found about the scheme where tourists can avoid paying VAT, which we hadn’t heard anything about before.

Tonight we had dinner at the Akaroa Fish and Chip shop. We both had elephant fish, which we had enjoyed before; it cost $4 versus $10 for blue code. They had sour watermelon flavour Fanta, which we both really liked, so we had that to drink. We also had some L&P lemon drink which is apparently a New Zealand favourite, but neither of us was impressed. Sitting outside at the picnic tables was really nice, with warm sunshine and a nice view over the harbour.

Posted in New Zealand | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Banks Peninsula, part 1

Dec 2, 2015

We didn’t sleep very well last night because about 11 pm a noisy motor came on and rumbled for most of the night. So we were pretty tired when we got up at 7 am, to get ready for our trip to Akaroa.

We caught the Akaroa shuttle at the appointed place on Montreal Street, just around the corner from the hostel. As we drove through Christchurch the driver pointed out various sites and told us about the devastation of the earthquake. We went around and over the hills to Akaroa, in the heart of the Banks Peninsula, after about an hour and a half. Today it was sunny and everything was sparkling and bright in Akaroa, and after claiming our bags from the shuttle we walked down to Chez le Mer, the hostel where we would be storing our unwanted gear.

Akaroa harbour view

Akaroa harbour view

After leaving all of our bags there we walked along the sea front to the lighthouse and then back again, checking out the shops and restaurants and people swimming and so on. We stopped at the French crepe restaurant for lunch; the crepes were very good but their credit card machine wouldn’t accept any of our credit cards. That was very annoying because it cut into our cash reserves.

Akaroa pier

Akaroa pier

After five weeks in New Zealand we’d hardly had any temperatures above 20°C, but here it was something like 34°C! We were already tired and this was too much, so we went back to Chez le Mer and dozed in their garden for the rest of the afternoon.

Akaroa lighthouse

Akaroa lighthouse

Finally at 5 pm we headed over to the old post office (closed due to earthquake damage), where our transportation to the start of the Banks Peninsula Track was to pick us up. The bus arrived at 5:45 pm and the driver gave us a brief talk before heading off. The Onuku hut was about a 15-minute drive away from Akaroa and was situated high on the hill overlooking the harbour, with spectacular views. The house we were to stay in had four beds in a loft plus two rooms on the main floor with two sets of bunks in each. There weren’t that many of us, so we had a room all to ourselves.

Cows in Akaroa

Cows in Akaroa

By now it was close to 7 pm so we made our dinner. The kitchen was well supplied with cooking pots, plates, and utensils, things which you wouldn’t find in the DOC huts. Tonight we had chicken and tomato fettucine, which was quite good. After dinner we sat and chatted to our house-mates. There were eight of us: four New Zealanders who are celebrating a 30th wedding anniversary, an American couple from Seattle, and us.

Onuku hut kitchen

Onuku hut kitchen

Dec 3, 2015

Last night it was warm, so warm that we didn’t even sleep in our sleeping bags, only the liners. But this morning it was clouding over and we could see it was quite windy. We left Onuku Hut just after 10 am and started the very steep uphill climb. Luckily the views were good, so stopping every so often wasn’t a problem. Down in the harbour there was a cruise ship, not an overly large one but still we couldn’t imagine 2,000 cruise ship people on the streets of Akaroa.

Onuku hut

Onuku hut

Akaroa harbour

Akaroa harbour

The steep uphill climb considered for a considerable time, but we only had 11 kilometers to walk today. We were also buffeted by the winds all the way up, so standing still was hard work too. Just after noon we finally got to the trig point, the highest point of the track at 699 meters. We found a sheltered spot and sat down to enjoy our lunch and the views over the Pacific Ocean. Soon afterwards the New Zealanders arrived, and then the Americans. We sat around talking for a short while before heading off.

At the trig point

At the trig point

From here it would be downhill all the way to Flea Bay, sometimes very steeply. We angled down the hillside, then steeply down the gravel road until we reached Mortlock’s Mistake. Fortunately the track makers had realized that road-walking is boring, so here they sent us down a trail which followed a creek through native bush. The trail was narrow and rocky but easy to follow, but we still had to lose 700 meters of elevation. This was hard on the knees and it seemed to go on forever, but when you looked around there were a few big trees which had escaped the loggers’ axes.

Warning sign

Warning sign

Flea Bay Cottage

Flea Bay Cottage

Soon after 3 pm we crossed a sheep paddock and arrived at our destination, Flea Bay Cottage. We were the first to arrive so we had our pick of the rooms. We quickly found that it had indoor plumbing, so we both had nice warm showers before enjoying some soup and a cup of cocoa. The others arrived a bit later and we chatted with them for a while. Before making dinner we went for a short walk to the beach, where we saw a Little Penguin and its chick in a nesting box, and also Canada Geese with six goslings.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

California Quail

California Quail

After dinner we all headed over to the Pohutu Bay penguin reserve, where the owners are avid penguin conservationists. They have several hundred Little Penguins nesting on their property and they have built a lot of nesting boxes for the birds to use. We were greeted by several lambs who were expecting a handout, because apparently the cruise ship passengers do that.

Penguins in their nest

Penguins in their nest

Penguins gathering on the shore

Penguins gathering on the shore

Our guide was Francis Helps, one of the owners. He gave us camouflage ponchos to wear and then gave us a brief talk about the penguins. We got to see a nesting penguin with two chicks because Francis lifted the top of the nest box to show us. Out in the bay there were a few hundred penguins hanging around waiting for dusk, and we saw groups of them starting to come ashore to go to their nests. Apparently the birds in the bay were a good sign, since that means they filled up on fish quickly and then had time to hang out. We probably saw about 500 penguins in total, which was really neat.

Dec 4, 2015

Today’s hike would be much shorter than yesterday’s so we were all looking forward to that. It wasn’t until 10:15 am that we headed out under sunny skies towards Stony Bay. We walked down to the beach and then through the penguin nesting area which we had visited last night. Of course it was all quiet now. As we zigzagged up the hillside we could still see that there were penguin nests, even at 80 meters above the sea. Those penguins have to walk a long way uphill to their nests!

Flea Bay Cottage kitchen

Flea Bay Cottage kitchen

As we approached the headland we came across a bench labelled “Dolphin Watch”. Yeah right, we thought, but sure enough down in the bay Paul spotted a dolphin and when Rosemary used the binoculars she could see that not only was there a dolphin, but she had a baby! We watched for about 20 minutes while they swam around, diving and surfacing at quite regular intervals. These were Hector’s dolphins, which are the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin.

Hector’s dolphin mother and baby

Hector’s dolphin mother and baby

We finally dragged ourselves away and continued along the trail. It was very similar to the British coastal trails, going up, along, and down, but none of the ups and downs were extreme. Also like the British trails, there were several stiles to cross and sheep to startle as we walked by. We came to an offshore island which had a colony of Fairy Prions. Unfortunately the prions have the same habit as penguins—they feed out at sea during the day and return to their burrows at dusk. So we didn’t see any prions.

Pacific Ocean coastline

Pacific Ocean coastline

We reached a seat on the cliff top about noon, but we didn’t have lunch there because our map said there was a shelter a bit farther on, at Seal Cove. We had heard it was an interesting shelter, and it was. It was made of corrugated iron but it was built right onto the rock face. Inside the shelter were several plastic chairs, a small table, and also a sink, and there were large windows to look out of. But it was a fine day so we sat at the picnic table outside to eat our lunch.

Sheltered shelter

Sheltered shelter

After lunch we walked over to the nearby cave. At first we couldn’t see anything but after our eyes got accustomed to the dark rocks we were able to see several seals. Then just below us on the rocks we saw two smaller seals, one of them moving very awkwardly over the rocks.

Deciding we had spent enough time with the seals we collected our packs and continued up the trail. We had a bit of a climb to gain to the top of the headland, and then we stayed on top for quite a distance until we came to a very tough and serious-looking fence. It was a predator-proof fence, built by the landowners, and it protects a nesting colony of Sooty Shearwaters. This is the only place in New Zealand where they nest on the mainland. Unfortunately their lifestyle is like that of the penguins and prions and so we didn’t see any shearwaters either.

Stony Bay view

Stony Bay view

From here it was downhill to Stony Bay, where our night’s accommodation was located. The trail led inland through a grassy area and then to the huts. Wow, were we surprised when we got there! There was a small field surrounded by several buildings. There was a large house with a sitting area and eight beds, and there were also three cute little houses each with two bunk beds, a propane burner, and a sink. The shower building was built against an enormous tree trunk and had water buckets on top to get warmed by the sun, and there was an outdoor bath with a supply of wood to heat it up once you’d filled it with water. The whole place was quite magical.

Large house at Stony Bay

Large house at Stony Bay

We had arrived first so we chose one of the little houses. We reluctantly rejected the one with the penguin nesting on the front porch and chose the one next to the stream. On the wall were china plates and mugs, and there were candles to light the place at night—no electricity in the little houses. Eventually the rest of our fellow walkers arrived and chose their accommodations.

Our little house

Our little house

There was a little store at the end of the site which was very well stocked. You could get eggs, sausages, tomatoes, bananas, steaks, drinks, ice cream, wine, beer, chocolate bars, and potato chips, almost everything you would need for a meal. We bought beer and ginger beer for pre-dinner drinks and once everyone was settled in we sat around talking and laughing until it was time to make dinner. We all cooked in the main house rather than in the little houses.

Stony Bay shower facility

Stony Bay shower facility

We stayed up until about 10:30 pm to see if any penguins would show up; several times we heard rustling in the bushes but that was all, so we went to bed.

Posted in New Zealand | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment