Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Canterbury Show Day

The height of the South Island's farm year is Canterbury Show Day. Amongst all the fancy new farm equipment for sale we check out the sandbox scale equipment to see what catches Hector's eye.

Our friend's son has joined us for the fair. Jamie and I do the carny tour of the "Get rich quick" booths. In a half hour frenzy Jamie's cash is transformed into a bag full of colourful prizes unique to the trade. And onto the rides.

The Ferris wheel gives us an overview of the fairground so we can plan our future adventures. The biplanes are only interesting from above. In the distance we see two huge inflated sinking Titanics, I wonder what they are for. Jamie has his eyes on another ride.

The bulk of the fair centres on the farm, all sorts of equipment is there for close inspection. There are acres of holding pens where judges scrutinize the best goat, the wooliest trio of lambs and the biggest pig. Beyond are grassy paddocks for the demonstration of equestrian expertise. We head for the centre for the sheep shearing competition.

Sheep shearing is a highly competitive trade, shearers especially proud of their agility (not easy to turn a sheep and clip it at the same time), their speed and the quality of their cut. Judges scrutinize each competitor, taking marks off if the the sheep's skin is nicked and ensuring no wool is left unshorn.

We are watching the manual clippers class. This is the classic shearing style and is an interesting example of where a trade values the intangible heritage of their work. These shearers are honoured not only for their shearing skills, but also for their abilities with the less used traditional equipment.

The cut fleece is laid clean side down by the roustabouts who clean out loose trash. Then it is passed on to the wool grader for evaluation. Two minutes for shearing, two minutes for processing and the fleece is ready for the market.
Afterwards we take in one more ride - the King Kong versus T-Rex slide. Mobbed with kids this was Jamie's highlight. After about 15 minutes racing up and down a gently swaying inflatable he was ready to head home.

On the way out we browsed the historic tractor paddock. A week later in rural Canterbury we met a vintage tractor road rally. Some dozen ancient tractors puffing and wheezed their way along the secondary highway, each one topped by a beaming older gentleman. It is remarkable how much nostalgia is associated with agriculture. I suppose it is a reach back to our western civilization's roots in farming.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Orokonui Wildlife and Native Bush Reserve

The Visitor Centre at the Orokonui Wildlife and Native Bush Reserve. The exclusion fence
can be seen winding over the hill before the Centre.
I recently contributed a blog entry on New Zealand's protection of endemic species to NiCHE (Network in Canadian History & the Environment). Here I've added a few more photos of the featured Orokonui Wildlife and Native Bush Reserve to highlight that organization's work.

Ensuring the continuing survival of the unique endemic species in New Zealand generally means the protection of remnants of their habitat. Many off shore islands have been cleansed (see the NiCHE blog for details on this) but on the mainland it means the control and exclusion of invasive species. At Orokonui they've built an fence, an impressive display of "Oh no you won't get in here."
Hine Rangi, an Elder of the local Maori hapu (~clan), Kati Huirapa Runaka ki Puketeraki, spoke at the re-introduction of a number of the threatened Otago skink. In addition to welcoming the skink back to their home she noted her iwi's (~First Nation) recognized claim to almost the entire South Island of New Zealand, the beaches and seabed of the adjacent oceans, the sub-Antarctic islands and the coast of Antarctica, which the ancestors had visited on occasion.
One of the skink ready to be released into their stony habitat.
Sue Hensley of the Reserve staff filling me in on the history and purpose of Orokonui.
Many endemic species habitat areas throughout New Zealand are protected spaces. This sign bounds a penguin sanctuary near Moeraki on the South Island's Pacific Coast.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Lake Daniels Tramp and Maruia Hot Springs

The Alfred River winds through a cool and shady beech forest. Flowing into the Maruia River, the whole watershed is a remnant of the original forest of New Zealand and home to a number of endemic species.

The Lake Daniels tramping track following the river is part of a 45 km long trap line with nearly 500 rat traps. Self-resetting traps in heavy wooden boxes, each baited with an egg, were spaced along the track acting as a barrier for invasive species that threaten the unique bird life of the area.

During our tramp through the woods we felt it getting cooler through the day, sure signs of a Southerly - strong wet winds from Antarctica. When we reached the hut clouds covered the sky and we were glad to have some cover.

The common room of the hut includes a stove, benches, tables and counter space with sinks and running water - the lap of tramping luxury. And in mid-week we had the whole place to ourselves.

Two bunk rooms with comfortable mattresses flanked the common room. We opened the windows and laid out our beds. As I had forgotten the sleeping bags and liners in Christchurch, Andrew and I borrowed a pair of sheets from the genial publican of the Huruni Hotel (the oldest continuously licensed establishment, since 1860, in New Zealand and still a pretty funky place) where we'd over-nighted on our to Lewis Pass.

When we returned the bedding on our way home we also graced the wall of the pub with a Yukon landscape calendar and listened to the manager's stories of television's Gold Rush.

Used to high alpine lakes in the sub-arctic, we were pleasantly surprised to find Lake Daniels was not cold. A refreshing swim took off the layer of sunscreen and introduced us to the variety of fish that made the lake home. A late afternoon thunderstorm produced a lovely set of rainbows that lasted until the sun went down.

The following day we hiked back out to the highway and explored the pass area before checking into the Maruia Hot Springs. Maori use of the springs is well documented. When the Lewis Pass highway was built in the 1930s two Pakeha, sisters from a nearby town, started a popular resort at the springs. Purchased by a Japanese family in the 1990s, the hot springs, or onsen, provide a charming oriental retreat.

The hot springs include a series of outdoor pools with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. When the sand flies get to you a retreat to the indoor pools ensures tranquility.
The hot springs also offers Shiatsu, Japanese traditional therapeutic massage. Both Andrew and I sign up for the hour long full body. For the first half of mine the masseuse brings all my inner knots to the surface and I find it somewhat difficult to relax. But through the second half these melt away and I am back into the pool to enjoy the release of muscle tension.

The dining room offered both a visual and aural sanctuary. The tasty menu of Japanese food and libations eases the way into an evening walk.

At the summit of Lewis Pass the strange colours of the trees offered a contrast to the grey clouds that began closing about us on our last short walk before heading back down to the Canterbury Plain's sunshine.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Children's Christmas Service, Christchurch

 The Anglican Cathedral in Christchurch remains unusable since the February, 2011 earthquake. This past year however they completed their Transitional Cathedral.

The church faces many challenges, dozens of older stone churches were destroyed in the earthquakes and the cost of rebuilding this lost infrastructure far outstrips their means. The transitional cathedral, designed by a Japanese specialist in cardboard construction, offers a dramatic and welcoming space and was an economic buy.

 The cathedral has steel shipping containers for walls and offices atop of which long cardboard tubes support an translucent acrylic roof. The Cross and much of the sanctuary's furnishings are also cardboard. The large cattle fence in the centre aisle gives an indication of the seriousness with which an agricultural community takes an animal service.

Our three generation family attended the Children's Christmas Service with ANIMALS. Hector is just being introduced to the array of social and cultural performances that bind communities together. Two weeks ago he attended, and stayed awake for most of, a steam punk version of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. The animal service kept him completely entranced from start to finish.

The Christmas story was presented from the perspective of the Innkeeper whose stable full of animals became the birthplace of Jesus. Angels appeared, Mary and Joseph rode in on a donkey and as new players appeared they were warned, "Watch out for the pig."
By now the stage included a couple of horses, several ponies, pigs of all sizes, lots of sheep and lambs, donkeys, three cows, many dogs, cats seemed to be absent, and a host of keepers.

As the service ended the animals all headed out the front door. This is not the pig noted above. The Pig had two handlers, one with a large sheet of plywood to put between pig and whatever seemed in greatest danger at any given time.

This ram was very well behaved, though I think it was humming though the Lord's Prayer.

Behind the cathedral we witnessed the 184 chairs, a moving work of public art (every couple of months it moves to another empty space in downtown Christchurch, there are still many) as a remembrance of those killed in the earthquake.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Hector's First Tramp: Woolshed Creek

Hector and Stephen at the start of the day. It was still cool and the morning walk through the Beech forest was thickly scented by the honeydew sparkling on many of the tree trunks.
The first three kilometres of the trail follows the old track of a railway spur line to a series of small coal mines operated off and on through the first two thirds of the 20th century. Most of these were small hand operations, the evidence on the ground suggested back breaking work.
We then climbed out of the valley, behind us to the east the Canterbury plain sloped gently away to the Pacific Ocean. Ahead the high bluffs overlooking the creek.
Andrew at a style where we passed into the Woolshed Creek protected area. Some stiff climbing ahead us up the ridge.
But from the top we can look west into the Southern Alps.
Erin, Stephen and Andrew drop down from the height of land to the source of Woolshed Creek. The hut, a recent replacement of a colourful old tin and timber one, was empty, the advantage of mid-week tramping.
The Puzzle at the Woolshed Creek hut - A plastic bag with puzzle bits and the remains of the top of the box. Inscribed on the reverse was the story of a puzzling competition.
"Donated to Woolshed Ck by Oxford School - Hut Record - 63 minutes  - dreaming!"
"Hut Record - 8 1/2 hrs ARANUI"
 "27/08/09 - 2 hrs 30 minutes by candlelight. 3 pieces missing and 2 halves missing"
"19/01/2011 Missing 8 pieces + 4 half pieces (includes 5 edge pieces)"
"27/11/13 - 23 1/2 pieces missing!! GOOD LUCK"
"180 Dream Team 3 minutes 12 seconds 478 pieces missing."



Hector enjoyed the swimming facilities at the Hut. Alas he was the only one to get a hot bath.
Family Fun. Stephen and Erin frolic while Hector enjoys the silliness brought on by fresh air.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Paddling the Yukon River 3: Forest Fire

Our last night on the river we camped in a small island of unburnt forest. Perhaps 2 km long but only about 40 m wide this strip of living trees was a sanctuary within the scorched trees stretching on both sides of the river.
With no shortage of nearby fire wood we had a magnificent dinner of bbq ribs that left us fat and happy.
Under a full moon the burnt remnants of the forest waved eerily in the night breeze.
The morning was misty and smoky
By now we were practiced loaders (not sure that we ever got that good at paddling) and had an early start on the day's trip.
The end of our sanctuary and the start of a long stretch of burnt timber.
Somehow I ended up at the end of group but we all enjoyed a beer together when we reached Carmacks that evening.