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May 21st 2012
Published: May 21st 2012
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George (with commentary by Carla): On Tuesday we go to the airplane museum where there are lots of life-size model planes and some of them are flyable, and one of them is the only one of its kind left in the world. Some of the models are very odd. The drive down from Linkwater to Blenheim took us from fjords, inlets and wooded hills into the big country of fertile plains and vineyards. The New Zealand Royal Air Force has a base at Blenheim as there’s lots of flatness to land planes on. Peter Jackson the film director has also located his WW1 aeroplanes museum here, capitalising on the space available in the same way. It’s called the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre and it focuses on planes and flyers of WW1 both on the Allied and the German side. There are original planes, some full-sized replicas and some model recreations which are made by Weta (the NZ company that created the special effects for Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and for some of the Narnia films). This makes the displays quite compelling, even if you’re not particularly aeronautically-minded. We found out some interesting stories about the intrepid pilots during the war. We particularly liked Major Keith Logan ‘Grid’ Caldwell, a Kiwi pilot, who, when his aircraft was damaged and plummeted 1000 feet, putting it into a flat spin, stepped his left leg out onto the wing, and grabbed hold of the strut with his left hand. Attempting to balance the aircraft by changing the centre of gravity, he continued to try to fly the aircraft with his right hand on the joystick. This meant that he was able to guide the plane away from enemy territory and over the British lines. Just as the plane was about to impact with the ground he jumped, clearing the wreck and getting up to find he'd landed in front of a British infantry dugout. Astonished soldiers saw him get up, dust himself off and walk towards them as if nothing had happened. Apparently he then “took charge of the drinking in the British trench” before he got picked up and taken back to the airbase. We imagined him as being like Rik Mayall’s Flash-Heart out of Blackadder – wooof! The other notable thing about the WW1 flyers was how poorly treated they were by their commands. The Germans had no warm clothes provided by their government (the planes were open topped!) and so coveted the British sheepskin boots and coats and stole them whenever they could. Some rookie American pilots got sent to Britain by mistake when they were supposed to be heading for Italy. They had only been given lire and couldn’t change their money so had to beg and borrow to stay alive and also sneak into RAF training sessions to become properly competent at flying. We managed a picnic lunch (cheating that autumn weather again) and then went on to the Cloudy Bay Winery for a little tasting afterwards. Very pleasant! On Wednesday we go on a very long walk. Mum says it’s the longest walk we’ve done ever. It’s very muddy. The walk was a little portion of the Queen Charlotte Track (a 4 day walk along the Queen Charlotte Sound, if you were to do it all). We started from the end of the track about a mile from Smith’s Farm and walked 7km to a perfect lookout with (rather uncomfortable) picnic bench and yet again managed an al fresco lunch. Yes, we are keeping count. I can’t believe how well Ruby and George did as we walked a total of 13 km by the time we got back to the car and we all felt very deserving of our dinner at the local gastro-pub. The views from the track were reward in themselves but a little fine dining can also be justified I think. The following day we drive to Kaikoura and on the way we see baby seals. We arrive at our youth hostel. Along the road we picnicked again and also visited an amazing place which is a pool at the foot of a waterfall used as a safe nursery by mother seals for their pups. A short walk from the main coastal highway is rewarded with a heart-warming view of the pups playing, learning to swim and clamber in the idyllic little pool. The mother seals were also visible on the beach on the other side of the highway into which the waterfall river ran. Alex went off to take pictures of the adult seals close up and we were a little worried that they might charge him (although, unless he had tripped on the rocks in his haste to get away then he’d have probably been able to out-run them). Kaikoura is a stunningly located town on a peninsula jutting into the Pacific Ocean, set against a back-drop of the Kaikoura Seaward Mountains which are snow-capped. We stayed in the YHA which has an absolutely brilliant view across the bay to the mountains from its kitchen/dining room. A great excuse just to sit in the warm with a cup of tea and a biscuit and look out of the window. On Friday we go whale watching and we see three whales, hundreds of dolphins and more seals. The boats guarantee you that you’ll see a whale (or you get 80%!o(MISSING)f your money back). They are confident and with good cause. The continental plate upon which New Zealand sits drops away only a mile or so off the coast at Kaikoura. There is a 1000m deep ocean trench which runs right up to Tonga in the warmer Pacific waters. This depth attracts sperm whales, orcas, humpback whales and even blue whales a few times a year apparently. From our boat we saw three different sperm whales surfacing between feeding dives (they dive for up to 50 minutes at time and to depths of 1500m). We could see the water spouting out of the blow-hole and the top of the whales’ head and body. The best part was when the whales dived back down and they arched their backs and flipped their tails upwards. Very impressive. We also saw Dusky Dolphins – a large pod of about 100 or so which played and swam around the boat. Ruby and George liked these best. Another amazing sight was the albatross’s. We actually managed to spot a Wandering Albatross from the boat. This is the bird with the largest wingspan in the world – they can grow to have a wingspan of 3.7 metres apparently. They can fly for 30,000 miles without stopping and can sleep whilst they fly. They can also fly for hours without flapping their wings at all. Awesome! (A word used often in New Zealand without cause, but in this case I feel it’s justified). Afterwards we see Mirror Mirror at the cinema. The next day we go to Hanmer Springs and we stay at Hanmer Springs Forest Camp. We go to a water park with awesome slides. On Sunday we drive to Greymouth, it is very grey on the first day. We meet two kids called Marco and Stasha. On the way to Greymouth we go on a walk, we meet a woman, Mum thinks she’s a bit mad. The following day we drive to Franz Josef, it is very beautiful here. Wow, the YHA is 5 star! There is a glacier here.

Ruby (with commentary by Al): On Tuesday we went to the aeroplane centre and it had First World Way planes. It was really good and amazing. We went to a winery. The next day we went on a 13km walk to a lookout. We had lunch at the look out. We saw a good view, it was really muddy. On Thursday we saw baby seals on the way to Kaikoura. They were playing in the waterfall. We arrived in Kaikoura. We were staying in a youth hostel. We watched ‘Cats and Dogs’. Next day we watched whales and dolphins. I felt sea sick even though I took seasick tablets. At 7.30 we went to the cinema and saw ‘Mirror Mirror’. It was fun and amazing. This is one of the funny parts “love is someone passing the potatoes”. The previous night I’d gone with Ruby and George to the cinema to get tickets for the following night’s showing. We were told there really was no need to pre-book as they are never full. This was backed up by the fact that no-one had turned up for the film that night and so they were cancelling the show. However, they did invite us up to the projector room to have a look around. It was old-school – the projectors were installed in 1942 and the projectionist had to take out the films from the massive boxes and rewind them on a spool – cut them and sellotape them together at the right spot. There was also a 15 minute intermission in the film while the second half was rewound, cut, taped and loaded onto the projector. It was brilliant to see how it all used to work when I was a kid. Sadly the projectionist (Ross) told us that they were being upgraded next year and the whole thing would be controlled from Blenheim and he was out of a job. When we went back to the cinema the next evening we were first in, with a total of about 9 customers to see the film.

On Saturday we went on a journey to Hanmer Springs. We walked to the hot springs. There were 20 pools and three big slides. We stayed in forest camps. The drive was on one of the most twisty roads yet. We went high up into the mountains, and it started getting colder. We arrived at the forest camp we were stopping at overnight. It was an old foresters camp, quite basic but right out in the woods so we were looking forward to a nice quiet evening. I went with George and Ruby into the Hot Springs pools. Carla walked back to the forest camp only to find buses full of teenage boys and their dads on a rugby weekend break! There goes the quiet night. The pools had thermal hot tubs for grown-ups and mega-slides for children – but even they had warm water. At first the sunshine kept you a bit warm, but when the sun went down it started to get cold. So long as you stayed in the water it was OK, but by the time you got out and walked back to the top of the slide in just swimming trunks I was absolutely freezing. Still, the slides were great fun, especially the ‘Super-Bowl’ – hurtling down backwards on an inflatable boat with George. We sat in one of the hot pools to warm up again before leaving. When we came out Carla had returned in the car and took us back to the camp. The camp was run as a charity and the funds clearly didn’t stretch to adequate heating. The communal kitchen was cold – we had to put all the kitchen rings on to heat the place up (in addition to the 2 tiny wall heaters in the dining room). It was so cold we opted for an early bed (after American Idol on TV). But the teenage boys were still running around the camp. They went on until about 3am. It was -3 degrees outside, but even that didn’t put them off. Next morning we drove from Hanmer Springs to Greymouth. On the way we went on a walk up the mountain. We went across a high wirey bridge. Then we went back .This walk was part of the St James Walkway – a 5 day, 66km walk in the Lewis Pass National Reserve. At the start we spoke to a local woman and her husband, who were very friendly and suggested a route we should take. She then started acting as our guide and explaining things to George and Ruby as we went. Then when we stopped for a break she stopped with us. She didn’t seem to take the hint we actually wanted to walk on our own. She continued telling us ‘it’s only a few more minutes’, for about half an hour. Eventually Carla couldn’t take it anymore and we had to pretend to turn back, wait for a bit and then carry on after she had got far enough ahead! Then the route she had suggested turned into an extremely steep path and we had to turn back and go back the way we came. We got to Greymouth, and the YHA was lovely. A nice warm fire in the communal room after the previous freezing accommodation felt very luxurious. All though there appears to be little else to recommend Greymouth. I think it’s a passing through town. In the morning, we drove to Franz Josef. We found it was higgledy piggledy to find a picnic place but in the end we found one. Then we got there. We came here because Dad is going on a glacier. This drive was through some spectacular scenery. Snow-capped mountains rising up from the coast. We stopped for a picnic lunch at a lake just outside Franz Josef in glorious sunshine. We really have been amazingly lucky with the number of al-fresco dining occasions we have had, given that it is winter in the southern hemisphere. And I’m looking forward to a walk on the glacier tomorrow!

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21st May 2012
Aviation Museum Blenheim (1)

Love the scenery, not sure about the St James Swing Bridge - was anyone tempted to pretend to saw through it when the others were half way across?
21st May 2012

Loved the old the old movie projection equipment
What fun times you are having. I (Len) loved the old movie projection equipment story. The Harborough Movie Makers are envious Thats the kind of cinema I love - only 9 people! The mountains and coast line with its plants and animal life looks and sounds lovely. An excellent treat for all. How's the beer there? Lots of love Len and Marion (Nanny and Lollipop)
22nd May 2012

I couldn't stop laughing about Ruby's comment that mummy thought the woman was mad - I can just imagine the whole scenario!!! Sounds wonderful ... more detail on Cloudy Bay, though please....and are you bringing presents back??? (Only joking).
28th May 2012

Loved the Flash-heart story - in fact he immediately came to mind as I read the story - even before you'd mentioned him... Am particularly jealous of this part of your trip as I've always wanted to spend time in New Zealand.

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