Monday, February 14, 2011

Hanmer Springs, NZ: Canterbury Tales

For two weeks we crossed the broad apron of land that lies east of the Southern Alps and extends to the South Pacific Ocean. It is generally flat farmland for miles and miles (or kilometers and kilometers). It makes for easy cycling if the wind is in your favor, and it makes for lackluster pictures when the days are overcast. But it is not without its surprises.

So our map had labeled a place labeled Rakaia Gorge. As we got closer, the wind began to blow harder in our face, and we climbed a long grade. Cresting over, to our amazement, we looked up a deep canyon carved by wide braided river. Northwesterly winds were channeled down the canyon, and were strong enough to kick up dust on barren soil. Fortunately, the road turned so the gale-force gusts were at our backs and we were pushed like by an invisible hand. Pushed through the aptly named town of Windwhistle, and back down to the flat plains.

Dropping into Rakaia Gorge.

So as we took the inland route across the plains, along the base of the mountains, there were more than one crossing of these great braided rivers.  And when we visited the museum in Christchurch, we learned that rivers of this type, that have massive flows down steep gradients, are unique features.  Alaska and Canada and the Himalayas have them, and those in New Zealand are spectacular examples.

We did a detour to the city of Christchurch.  For what reason, we are not sure, other than it is the largest city on the South Island, and we thought we should go.  After weeks of quiet rural roads, the traffic and the density of people were a bit overwhelming.  We spent one day visiting the botanical gardens and museum, surveying earthquake damage, and managing to go into a sugar coma from eating too much homemade German kuchen from the farmer's market.

Most buildings with obvious damage were old brick and stone structures, like this church.

In search of a secondhand bookstore, we were dismayed to see it was no longer there.  The whole block of brick buildings were condemned. 

Hagley Park is a treasure in the center of the city.
One of our best camps so far on the trip was at Balmoral Reserve, a rustic designated camping ground with trees, grass and toilets.  It was peaceful, for only $5 a night.  I left the bag with our breakfast food, including a couple of particularly aromatic bananas, in the vestibule of our tent when we went to sleep.  Somewhere in the deep darkness of night I heard some loud rustling, and I knew something was after our food.  Instinctively I unzipped the door and grabbed the bag, assuming my reaction would scare away the beast.  Once I had the bag inside, I touched something prickly next to it.  I thought it might be a pine cone, so I tried to pick it up.  It was way heavier than a pine cone should be.  And I realized it was a hedgehog, like so many we have seen flattened on the side of the road.  In my half-asleep state, I freaked, and shook John, and told him something alive was in here.  He shined his light, and there was the thing all curled up.  I wouldn't touch it, so my hero picked it up using his shoes as forceps and tossed it outside.  He made me give it a good kick to get it further away from the tent.  Our friend was not there the next morning, so I assume he was not scared to death, like I nearly was.

A hedgehog's view of our camping spot.
We left the Canterbury Plains via Hanmer Springs, a tourist mecca known for its thermal pools.  We didn't want to pay the $18 entrance fee, so we enjoyed a hot shower at the campground instead.  Equally as luxurious for us. 

Morning light on the way to Hanmer Srings as we leave the Canterbury Plains.  It is for days like this that we travel by bike.

Our last braided river, the Wakai River near Hanmer Springs.

This picture of an alpaca with a California surfer dude look has nothing to do with anything else in this post.  Sheep, we have learned, are not the only wool-bearing livestock in New Zealand.
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