The Secret Diary of Adrian Petford Aged 39¾

The big freeze – International Antarctic Centre

Posted in Christchurch,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 28th, 2009

I’ve been quite surprised by how many people seem to be reading my blog. Calling home I was amused when my Mum told me my cousin had said she would print off the blog so Mum could read it!

I have always had an interest in heroic feats of exploration, particularly from history and so Christchurch’s International Antarctic Centre was a must see this time. On my last visit it was too far out from the city centre to get to and so I went to the very good Antarctic section of Canterbury Museum instead but this time I had the opportunity to spend the whole day at the centre if I wished.

International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009

Adjacent to Christchurch airport, the International Antarctic Centre is in a very unusual and striking looking building. It’s not just for show or the tourists either; Christchurch has a pre-eminent role in scientific and exploration work in Antarctica and servicing the various international bases, so much so that it’s known as “the gateway to the Antarctic.”

I was amused to see the pay stations in the car park had penguins on top of them! Pay being the operative word in the case of the Antarctic Centre, as I discovered. As well as a very high ticket price you have to pay a premium to park. Oh well, if it’s being used for the research the centre does and their penguin colony I don’t begrudge it too much.

I’d arrived about 11.30am and paid to park up to 5.00pm which would, I hoped give me more than enough time to see everything. I went for the full works ticket which gives you a ride in a Hagglund Antarctic vehicle and unlimited access to everything inside the centre plus a half hour behind the scenes tour of the penguin attraction. I also booked an electronic information guide to take around with me. Walking right in I was impressed, the first section was all about the challenges of flying to Antarctica!

Replica of Scott Base, New Zealand's station in Antarctica – 20-Aug-2009
Replica of Scott Base, New Zealand’s station in Antarctica – 20-Aug-2009

Then it was into a section called The Four Seasons which contained replicas of Captain Scott’s hut and the entrance to New Zealand’s Scott Base. This section was fascinating. I loved seeing the information about how the new base had been built, the daily photos sent in from Antarctica and a look at the base’s notice board! Although a lot of the science they do goes over my head, I’m enthralled at how people manage to live and work on the bases there for up to six months at a time.

An authentic Antarctic storm is recreated at the International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009
An authentic Antarctic storm is recreated at the International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009

There was a countdown clock in the next section and the attendant was calling people in saying “the next storm is due in five minutes”! So we had to don rubber overshoes and heavy winter jackets before going into a chamber full of genuine snow and ice in which an Antarctic storm would be simulated! This was really well done and I’m glad I experienced it, although it was so cold and unsettling I don’t think I’d go through it again! There are viewing ports into this part for the faint-hearted to watch from outside! Then no sooner was that over than it was time to go and watch the penguins (which are mostly little blue penguins, the same as at Oamaru) being fed at 1.30pm. This was really entertaining and fun. The guide gave a good commentary as the penguins waddled over and had the fish handed out to them. I was impressed that a lot of these penguins are being looked after in captivity because they are injured or disabled and wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild.

Feeding the penguins, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009
Feeding the penguins, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009
Little blue penguins, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009
Little blue penguins, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009

The feeding took place until 2.00pm when, conveniently it was time for me to go on my behind the scenes penguin tour. This was brilliant and taken by the same guide as we’d just seen feed them. We went down into the lab and had a chance to see the penguins in action from close up. A couple of them seemed very interested in our group and the children there got to feed them. It was fascinating to hear about their work raising the penguins at the centre.

Little blue penguin, International Antarctic Centre. The penguins here are injured or disabled and cannot survive in the wild – 20-Aug-2009
Little blue penguin, International Antarctic Centre. The penguins here are injured or disabled and cannot survive in the wild – 20-Aug-2009
Behind the scenes at the penguin colony, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009
Behind the scenes at the penguin colony, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009

After this it was into another hall where I saw part of a documentary about life through Antarctica’s long winter season where the sun never rises and also some of the satellite equipment being used on the bases. There was so much information to digest at the Antarctic Centre I’d pretty much reached information overload by now so didn’t take much more in, but it is somewhere I’ll definitely go again so not really a problem. I only used my electronic guide twice. The rest of this hall was devoted to science and natural history in Antarctica. Then the next section was an overhead screen with a video presentation detailing the natural history of the continent. This I did take in as it was well presented and snappy. Then, finally it was into a screening room where a massive screen was showing seventeen minutes of footage from Antarctica set to music. This was very spectacular. It featured Captain Scott’s grave and I was also surprised to see how much of Antarctica isn’t actually snow covered.

Hagglund Antarctic vehicle, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009
Hagglund Antarctic vehicle, International Antarctic Centre – 20-Aug-2009

By 4.30pm I’d finished. What a brilliant attraction. I knew it was highly regarded but it was much better than even I’d expected and well worth the high admission price. The only thing that remained was the Hagglund ride. In the end I was tired and put off by the fact it said you had to be physically capable of getting in and out of the vehicle quickly, plus it looked like I was the only one waiting to go on the ride. Next time, I think. On the way out I saw the Hagglund depart absolutely packed with people. Oh well, at least I got a photo of it. You always have to leave something to do next time!

I said goodbye to Lynne and Robert the next morning. They have been very hospitable and I’ve really enjoyed staying at the 306 on Riccarton motel. It’s probably the best motel I’ve ever stayed in over here and I’ll definitely try to come back next time I’m in Christchurch.

On the flight back up to Auckland I got some great photos of the Southern Alps, Marlborough Sounds, Kapiti Island and the middle of the North Island from the air.

The flight north. The Southern Alps from the air – 21-Aug-2009
The flight north. The Southern Alps from the air – 21-Aug-2009
The flight north. Marlborough Sounds from the air – 21-Aug-2009
The flight north. Marlborough Sounds from the air – 21-Aug-2009

With the long road trip over, I was looking forward to spending my last weekend back on familiar ground in Auckland and enjoying some home comforts again!

Akaroa – parlez-vous Français?

Posted in Akaroa,Christchurch,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 28th, 2009

By Wednesday I was seriously flagging. After almost two weeks of living out of a suitcase and non-stop activity I really felt I just had to have a rest. I considered slobbing around relaxing in the unit but as soon as I saw the brilliant blue sky outside I just knew I had to do something. But what?

Steve and Cherie had recommended the run out to Akaroa as a nice drive and Lynne at the motel had suggested it as a good day trip, but it was only really worth doing in nice weather. As it was such a lovely day I thought this would be a good bet. It was low key, not too taking (it’s about 85km away from Christchurch) and would be good use of the time rather than charging around trying to fit as many different things into the day as possible. I set out just after 10.00am and was soon on the road to Akaroa. I’m getting quite good at navigating around Christchurch now, although it does help that the city is largely laid out in logical blocks.

It was, indeed, a lovely drive, very picturesque. I saw the Port Hills and drove on alternately straight and winding roads out onto Banks Peninsula. It took around an hour and I really enjoyed looking at the awesome scenery from a largely empty road. This area was originally populated by French settlers and that history was evident in a lot of the place names and the French character which comes over, which I suspect is quite intentional and for the benefit of the tourists, at least to some extent.

Akaroa harbour – 19-Aug-2009
Akaroa harbour – 19-Aug-2009

There were some stunning views going down over the mountains towards Akaroa. The Hilltop Café sat on the best one and was even heralded with a sign (“The best view of Akaroa. Don’t miss it!”) around the previous corner! Sadly I did miss it, but noted to myself to stop there on the way back!

I reached Akaroa and immediately noticed what a quaint historical town it was, lots of old and very pretty houses and buildings.

The Gaiety Theatre, Rue Jolie, Akaroa built in 1879 – 19-Aug-2009
The Gaiety Theatre, Rue Jolie, Akaroa built in 1879 – 19-Aug-2009
Coronation Library, Rue Jolie, Akaroa built in 1875 – 19-Aug-2009
Coronation Library, Rue Jolie, Akaroa built in 1875 – 19-Aug-2009
Akaroa is full of interesting old houses, this one on Rue Jolie – 19-Aug-2009
Akaroa is full of interesting old houses, this one on Rue Jolie – 19-Aug-2009
Akaroa is full of interesting old houses, this one on Rue Jolie – 19-Aug-2009
Akaroa is full of interesting old houses, this one on Rue Jolie – 19-Aug-2009

The signs at the petrol station I stopped at on the way in were bilingual in French and English. I carried on along the road to the picture postcard views of the harbour front.

It was so hot and sunny I took my jumper off and ended up in just my summer jacket and shirtsleeves. Sometimes I can’t quite believe it’s meant to be winter here. The harbour front was unbelievably nice, very quaint, very French and showing itself off very well amidst the spectacular scenery of the bay. I thought before I looked around too much I’d better have lunch, so stopped at the bakery and cafe for refreshment.

While sitting there, I listened in to a conversation between two locals about genealogy which was interesting to hear considering the unique history of settlement in this area. There are Tricoleur flags and blue, white and red bunting flying in many places in Akaroa and a lot of the cafes, restaurants and shops play up the French stereotypes. It’s really strange seeing a French-style cafe in the middle of all the exotic palm trees! There are several monuments to the French settlers and some of the street names are French (Rue Jolie being the one that sticks in my mind!).

Fire and Ice, Church Street. Akaroa was established by French settlers and evidence of French culture is everywhere – 19-Aug-2009
Fire and Ice, Church Street. Akaroa was established by French settlers and evidence of French culture is everywhere – 19-Aug-2009

A shop called “Fire and Ice” had a Tricoleur flying alongside the Southern Cross and a ramshackle bicycle outside proudly displaying its “Open” sign. I was also interested to learn, from a statue in tribute to him, that the captain of Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton’s ship came from Akaroa.

Once I’d finished my lunch I walked right along the harbour front, looked at the lighthouse and took in anything interesting in the side streets. I also browsed the gift shops. A few were closed until next summer! One owner said that in winter Akaroa’s population is only about 500, but that can swell to 10,000 in summer! There were some very interesting little shops full of unusual souvenirs and bric-a-brac.

Beach Road, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
Beach Road, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
Beach Road, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
Beach Road, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
Beach Road, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
Beach Road, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009

Usually once I’ve had a look around a place, I race off to my next destination but today I actually took the time to spend a few hours just sitting by the harbour front considering my thoughts and it was a great way to relax. I watched children feeding the seagulls and the boats out in the harbour just floating there; occasionally changing position but generally being as lethargic as I was. So I did get my relaxation time, but in a beautiful place that made full use of the day as well.

Childrens Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
Childrens Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009
French Bay, Akaroa – 19-Aug-2009

I left about 3.30pm wanting to enjoy the scenery on the way back while it was still light, which I did. I stopped several times for photos, including at the Hilltop Café which was indeed the best view of Akaroa and unmissable!

From coast to coast – Christchurch to Greymouth on the TranzAlpine

Posted in Arthurs Pass,Christchurch,Greymouth,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 28th, 2009

On Tuesday I did the TranzAlpine train which runs from Christchurch on the west coast to Greymouth on the east, right through the spectacular Southern Alps. It’s billed as one of the world’s great train journeys and the idea of doing it was actually what caused all my other plans for this trip to fall into place around it, so my expectations were high for something truly amazing. The train goes there and back and takes a whole day, so I had a very early start for its depature at 8.10am. The motel’s hosts, Robert and Lynne had very kindly offered to give me a lift to the station and back which was brilliant and solved a lot of problems for me. Robert had said it was best to get there as early as possible as the TranzAlpine is a very busy and full train. I thought it would be quiet in winter, but I’m glad I took his advice as it was absolutely packed out. The train is very well set up for the scenic journey with large windows, a commentary throughout and an outdoor observation deck.

The day was overcast with a grey sky – one thing you can never guarantee is the weather, it’s just the luck of the draw on whatever day you pick to go – so I was concerned the journey wouldn’t be at its best. As we left Christchurch and journeyed over the plains, it seemed to get worse with fog getting thicker and thicker. You couldn’t see very far from the track on either side. Oh well, I thought, it looks like I’ll have to make the best of this and just go again in summer. The very informative commentary got started as we passed though the fog; shame we couldn’t see any of the things being mentioned, but much to my relief they said that we would be getting out of the fog and into the scenery once we were off the Canterbury plains. Phew!

View from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009
View from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009

Sure enough, once we started climbing the fog cleared, there were patches of blue sky and the sun even tried to come out! The scenery was stunning. It was freezing standing on the back of the observation deck of our carriage but I was glad I did. People were snapping frenziedly away with cameras as soon as the first snow-capped mountains came into view and I’m not surprised, they were breathtaking. There was a spectacular gorge, supposedly the most photographed half hour of the journey, lots of viaducts and tunnels including the Otira Tunnel which took ten years to build and takes about 15 minutes to go all the way through. Plus of course the mountains, which were awesome and showed themselves off particularly well at this time of year capped with winter snow. I got off at Arthurs Pass for the full Southern Alps experience. It is an unmanned station in glorious isolation.

View from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009
View from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009
View from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009
View from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009
Southern Alps, seen from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009
Southern Alps, seen from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009
Southern Alps, seen from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009
Southern Alps, seen from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009
Arthurs Pass, on the TranzAlpine route – 18-Aug-2009
Arthurs Pass, on the TranzAlpine route – 18-Aug-2009
Arthurs Pass station, on the TranzAlpine route. The station is completely unmanned – 18-Aug-2009
Arthurs Pass station, on the TranzAlpine route. The station is completely unmanned – 18-Aug-2009

I was also interested by the township of Otira, formerly prosperous but now a ghost town. An Auckland couple who were travelling on the TranzAlpine saw it and made enquiries about buying the hotel. It turned out that their title also included the buildings of the entire town which they got lock, stock and barrel for about $70,000 and now rent out!

Once on the other side of the Southern Alps, we were on the west coast and heading towards Greymouth. It definitely seemed much more lush and green on this side and the famous west coast rain was very much in evidence.

View from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009
View from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009
View from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009
View from the TranzAlpine train – 18-Aug-2009

The first thing you see after alighting in Greymouth, the home of Monteiths is the Speights Ale House! – 18-Aug-2009
The first thing you see after alighting in Greymouth, the home of Monteiths is the Speights Ale House! – 18-Aug-2009

As we approached Greymouth, I was very relieved I’d decided not to stay overnight as Greymouth was indeed grey. Stopping at the station we disembarked. I was surprised how many people were getting off here and unloading luggage to go on to other destinations. As I only had an hour and it was raining heavily I stayed close to the station. I was highly amused that the first thing you see when walking out of the station in the home of Monteiths beer is a Speights Ale House!

After my brief time on the west coast was up, it was onto the train again for the return journey. I was certainly glad I had got all of my photographs already as it rained all the way back and we hit fog again approaching Christchurch. The trip still had a massive impact even under these conditions though – very moody and atmospheric.

It was an awesome day, definitely one to remember despite the weather not being quite as good as it could’ve been and more than met my expectations. I would’ve liked to spend more time on the west coast but will probably do a proper tour next time I’m here. Monteiths is my favourite New Zealand beer so a return to Greymouth to do their brewery tour is a definite must!

Heavenly Christchurch – the house at Ilam

Posted in Christchurch,New Zealand 2009 by Adrian Petford on August 28th, 2009

Christchurch is one of my favourite cities in New Zealand and was the first place I ever visited in the South Island on my trip here six years ago. Known as “the garden city” and deliberately conceived as a little corner of England in the South Pacific, the city centre has a grand cathedral, public school, beautiful botanic gardens, lots of old historical buildings, trams and even punting on the River Avon! As I was on foot last time I was here I spent the whole time in the city centre, so for this visit Christchurch was more a base for doing things in the wider area. I didn’t actually get back into the city centre at all but if you like places with an interesting historical background and unusual atmosphere, Christchurch is highly recommended.

306 on Riccarton Motel, Christchurch – 17-Aug-2009
306 on Riccarton Motel, Christchurch – 17-Aug-2009

This time I was staying in the well to do suburb of Upper Riccarton at a really nice motel, the 306 on Riccarton. The hosts, Lynne and Robert were immediately very welcoming, helpful and friendly and my unit was amazing. It had a full kitchen, flat screen TV with Sky, wardrobes, double bed, writing desk and bathroom with a huge spa bath. Definitely the best, most comfortable unit I’ve stayed in so far this time. It suited me very well for the few days I was there.

One of Christchurch’s less savoury historical events was the infamous Parker-Hulme murder case, which shocked polite Christchurch society to its core in the 1950s. Two apparently normal schoolgirls, Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, murdered Parker’s mother who was trying to break up their intense friendship. The story was dramatised by The Lord of the Rings’ Peter Jackson in his film Heavenly Creatures, starring then-newcomers Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey as the girls and shot at the real locations where the events actually took place. Since I am a fan of the film and have an interest in the real life case, I’d picked this motel partially because it was very close to Ilam, the grand house in the grounds of the university where Juliet Hulme had lived with her father while he was rector there. Last time I was here Ilam was too far out for a visit so I was determined to make use of my unexpected opportunity this time to have a look. It’s a beautiful house in its own right and the picturesque gardens are famous.

As I’d arrived in Christchurch after lunch on the Monday, I didn’t want to waste the rest of the day so it seemed like an ideal chance to go around the corner up Ilam Road and see the house. Sounds easy? Think again. Off I went through the university campus, with cars right behind me so I couldn’t drive slowly to look properly. I took a left turn too early and had to go around the block; on the next time around I couldn’t even see any sign of an entrance. Third time around I turned off the main road and into Homestead Lane hoping for a side entrance but nothing was obvious. The university students gave me bemused looks as my car kangarooed over the speed bumps too fast because I was trying to look! I had to go back to the motel and check some online reference material to confirm exactly where the house was in relation to other buildings and then it was time for another attempt. Going past, I actually caught a glimpse of Ilam up the driveway this time, but as usual traffic was busy so there was no chance to slow down or stop. Next time around I saw it was now a very private looking “Staff Club” that I wasn’t sure would welcome members of the public wandering around the grounds. By this point the light was going so I thought it would be better to try again during the day when there would be more to see and the traffic was quieter. So I didn’t manage a look at the house but got very used to driving around that block by the end of the afternoon!

I tried again on Wednesday but once again the road was too busy and crammed with parked cars to stop anywhere. Foiled again! As I was en route somewhere else and didn’t really have time to mess about I just carried on to my destination.

The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009

By Thursday I had become absolutely determined to see that house before I left! The now familiar ritual of going around and around the block with nowhere to stop continued, but this time I changed my plan of attack. I parked at the other side of the university campus and walked through to Ilam Road. There isn’t much to see from Homestead Lane but on foot I was able to walk right up the long, sweeping driveway to Ilam, take lots of close up photos of the house and walk around the grounds and gardens at my leisure. I was a bit worried about this at first given it’s a private staff club, but as students were wandering about all over the place it was clear that only the house itself was off limits. I imagine the gardens must be really nice in summer and even without the historical significance, Ilam is a very interesting house, very much an example of trying to recreate a traditional part of England here on the other side of the world.

The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
The house at Ilam, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
Ilam gardens, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
Ilam gardens, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
Ilam gardens, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009
Ilam gardens, University of Canterbury, Christchurch – 20-Aug-2009

So success finally! It was definitely the best idea to visit the house on foot as I actually got to spend some time looking around which was well worth it.