This is 13 years old. I’ve been digging into old files and found this from the year 2000.
We have been in Australia for three nights after a flight across the Tasman Sea from Christchurch, New Zealand. In New Zealand we hired a car from rentadent, cheap and surprisingly good, only a few rust blobs.
Drove down the West Coast of South Island NZ following in reverse Bhante’s journey as recounted in ‘Travel Letters’. Remote coastline, lightly peopled, old gold mines, forest, wild shores, seals and birds, glaciers and rivers… Wonderful.
No time to enter Fjiordland, but Queenstown nearby was a delight. Signed up for a lake voyage on a coal fired, hand-stoked old steamer, with bar and pianist… The pianist got her eye on me and I was singled out to sing a song of my region. I thought I gave a confident performance of “Ilkley Moor Baht ‘at”, under the circumstances… The Japanese tourists enjoyed it anyway… an American considered that I must be a professional entertainer and I had to write out all the words for his missus. All those raucus boozey nights at sea have finally come in handy.
Sorry to go on about that but it is surprising what becomes significant on a journey, the glaciers fade into vagueness, the highlights that remain in memory are those of conversations, odd happenings and trivia…
The brown man who cleaned the beach each morning where we stayed in Fiji had strange milky green eyes, yet his family was from Madras. Gently picking up bits and pieces, he seemed supremely content.
South Island again….The Weka, a flightless rail, comes out of a swamp where we parked at Cape Foulwind, apparently disinterested in bipedal mammals yet he picked up and wandered off with someone’s shoe. I have not encountered a more inscrutable bird… What is happening in its mind? It is tenaceous and single-minded. Most of the flightless birds survive only on outlying small islands where there are no introduced mammalian predators. Inoffensive as they are, they are no match for the house cat, the rat and the feral ferret, so many of them have joined the Dodo in oblivion. I was heartened to read that a pair of Wekas had been observed killing a stoat.
Near Dunedin is a colony of Royal Albatross. The chicks were as big as the parents and soon will leave to spend two years at sea circumnavigating the Southern Ocean on the Roaring Forties. Wonderful to stand on the cliffs as the largest of all birds soar in from the Pacific just a few yards above and below. The oldest ringed bird in the colony has not returned this year,she was ringed as a chick 62 years ago and is now presumed lost at sea.
In the albatross centre a horrifying display of pictures shows the true cost of the tuna fisheries, astonishing figures; longlines, 120Km in length, carrying trusses of 60,000 baited hooks, towed behind deep sea boats across the Pacific. The prized blue-fin tuna are pulled out in great numbers and so are numbers of albatross, hooked through the lower beak. Perhaps the oldlady was among them, unaware that the squid she dived for was barbed.
Near to the albatross headland is a sheep farm which embraces three sandy bays. Just before dusk the Yellow-browed penguins waddle ashore after a full days fishing; in little groups they make their way into the sandhills to their nests under the thick bush. The sheep have eaten up most of the bushes but this farmer has fenced off some areas and replanted native species. Until they grow, the farmer has provided little wooden shelters with easily defended doorways (european stoats are killers). The penguins seem very happy with their quarters.
The Yellow-browed is reckoned to be the rarest of penguins. The farmer’s conservation effort keeps a few people in employment as guides for the visitors. We were led through camouflaged trenches into the middle of the colony to watch the peguin homecomings at dusk.
On the beach we seem to be alone. Suddenly, out of the surf heaves a great black monster; a bull fur seal lumbers onto the sand for a digestive sleep. We flee in terror.
They were once slaughtered in thousands for the European fashion trade, the survivors are now left in peace and are recovering, they seem to own the beach and people approach only close enough for their camera lens. There is the occasional sea lion hauled out and resting, they like penguin for lunch and so the yellow eyes keep well clear. All this is within the metropolitan district of the city of Dunedin.
Northwards is Christchurch, if I had to choose where to live in New Zealand it might be here. This is where Rutherford (the physicist) was educated and did his initial researches. His old college is now a lovely arts centre, galleries and studios of working artists, cafes and bistros, and a theatre. We spent three hours at a performance of Chekhov’s “Three Sisters”. Formerly this was considered drama of Russian melancholia and took four hours. Modern producers have discovered the comedy aspects intended by Chekhov and run the play a lot faster.
The botanic gardens are magnificent, the Victorian plantings are mature with splendid trees. In the cafe we enjoyed the benefits of a strong pound by ordering the most expensive cakes.
At present we are in my nephew’s penthouse flat on the 24th floor on a tower right on the edge of the ocean on the Gold Coast (south of Brisbane). Everything is stunningly high from here and I have a few problems adjusting to the perspectives, it feels a bit like being in deep space on the starship Enterprise. Preparations are underway for Martyn’s birthday; Beryl is on the beach with Patricia and I am here writing what was intended to be a short email.