30 January 2012

Back in Galway

I have been back a week now and I miss the lovely warm weather that I had in Invercargill! I can't believe how lucky I got, to plan a summer holiday in Invers and actually get summer! I hear that it's over now and is raining there so I guess I left at the right time. Still, I'm sure it's warmer than here. When I arrived in Galway it was cold and rainy - the type of rain that doesn't fall so much as constantly hang in the air around you, so that you can't see very far and get soaked no matter what. My trip back was fine, it was better than the flights over there and I did not get too tired or sick. At Sydney airport I stopped to buy sparkly nail polish because they were on special and right now I am wearing bright blue sparkles on my finger nails and pink on my toes. My first week back has been slow and dull but I have been convinced that it would be a big waste at this point to drop out of the PhD - it's far too late for that. And seeing as I have not yet managed to win the lotto I guess I cannot yet take up a career of professional layabout and will have to stick it out. It's hard to get back into the routine of it all, especially when my lab work keeps being held up by things running out and needing to be re-ordered.

My apartment in Galway is much quieter now with the guinea pig gone, but at least I no longer have to worry about all my cords and cables and shoelaces being bitten in half. For my first week in Galway there has been a lack of hot-water here at home so I have first had a plumber in, who told me that there is nothing wrong with the plumbing and that I need an electrician (which I had already figured out, and told the landlord, but he sent a plumber anyway). The electrician came and decided that some fuse had been tripped, probably from becoming overheated, which stopped the timer from turning the heat on every night. So he sorted that out but warned me that it might be faulty, in which case the fuse-thing would need to be replaced. That was Friday and I had lovely warm water for my showers all weekend, but sadly my Monday started with a luke-warm, nearly cold shower. Now the electrician can't come till Wednesday or Thursday. Of course, that doesn't actually mean that we are stuck with cold water because the way it works over here is that you can push a button to bypass the timer and just heat the water whenever you want. So my sob story isn't actually so bad, it's just a slight nuisance really. And an excuse to go to work late, because I must be here to meet the electrician. So, that was my first, action-packed week back here in Galway. I really must try to get out and do a bit more so that I am not so boring.

21 January 2012

Travel Woes

Well, here I am in Abu Dhabi airport, having difficulty typing on a strange computer because their free wifi does not seem to work. I am more than halfway through my journey and I really wish it was over already. To begin with, the bus that I took from Invercargill was aboout 50 years old and really musty; it surely had not been cleaned since before they banned smoking on public transport. Luckily in Dunedin there was to be a change of bus. Unluckily, that  second bus was a half hour late, the driver was a toothless imbecile who just laughed insteading of being sorry for making two busloads of people late, they had yet to  fill the bus up with gas and  then the useless  driver took another 20 minutes or so to figure out the electronic device that they use to check passengers in. He didn't manage that either, in the  end they just did a headcount and assumed that all the correct people were there.

So despite that incompetent geriatric,  we finally arrived in Christchurch, where I got to have a look around the rubble and experience an earthquake (it was just a small one though). Despite having to get up at an ungodly hour, the first part of my plane travels went well. In Sydney I got to meet one of my uncles and we had a good long chat, until the time ran away from me and I had to rush off to security. And you wouldn't believe what happened to me there. Clearly Sydney security is more thorough than that in Christchurch. Some alarm went off and they had to open my bag and search it. You know  what  they found? One of my hairclips, a sharp metal one! I hadn't even considered that when I packed it, it's just a hairclip! They took it off of me of course, it being a stabbing sort of an object and all. Luckily they didn't also take my sharp bone brooch that Dad had made. So they  threw away  my hairpin, which had been a gift, but I can surely get another. I repacked my bag and on my way to my gate I stopped to buy some sparkly nailpolish. I made it to the gate just as they began to board, so at least I had no waiting around! I got a window seat and an empty seat next to me, the food was good and I managed to get a little sleep. Then I watched Cowboys vs. Aliens.

Now I have about a half hour until my next flight begins to board, but really it will probably be longer. It is about 10 am in NZ, it will be 6 am when I arrive in Dublin and I am terribly tired. After the last flight I couldn't figure out why  my shoes were so  uncomfortable, until I changed my socks and realised that my feet were all swollen. I really hate flying. I think I have about 9 hours to go, then a 3 hour bus ride. Can't wait to be in my own bed again!

19 January 2012

Leaving Invers

Well, my last few days in Invers have been quiet. To begin with, the dry weather took the weekend off and we had torrential, unending rain. That was OK though, gave me time to finish my jigsaw puzzle and read a book. I have succeeded in clearing out loads of my sister's junk and fixing up her tv so that she is not so bored while on bedrest. I finally got around to organising my trip up to Christchurch for my return flight and buying NZ treats to take back to Ireland. Then the weather cleared again and I made the most of a sunny day to go sightseeing in my own city. Only, there are not really any sights here. At all. There is a park, a water tower, there is our somewhat dull excuse for a city centre/town square. There are a couple of statues. That's about it. I gotta say, my cat is more interesting than Invercargill's sights. Right now she is considering sitting on my knee so that I can no longer type. Then, when I try to type she will get all pissed of with me for moving and give me this look that says 'if you don't stay still, I will scratch you'. So, here are some pictures and that's pretty much it from me for the night.

My impossible jigsaw puzzle.

 My cat, as she ignores me piling junk on her while she tries to sleep.

 Weird concrete 'art' in our city centre.

 The water tower! Last time I checked, you could climb up it and see the view for 50 cents. It's probably a little bit more than that now.

 Here are the pretty roses at our park, where you are not allowed to pick the roses but I have never been caught yet.

The pond and the bridge, where once when I was feeding the ducks one of them got tired of me holding the bread out to it and decided to bite my toe instead.

 This is the band rotunda, it's not ver exciting at all, but as I was walking towards it a huge branch randomly fell off of a tree and almost right on top of me!

Last one, here is the fountain in the playground. It has statues around it that we always used to climb all over. They are slippery though so some of them were really difficult to get up on. But I lied, that wasn't the last one, this one is, because my cat is awesome (that is, when she's not waking me up at 5 am because she wants company).

13 January 2012

The Catlins - Part 2

My second day in the Catlins was full of waterfulls. The first was this one below, called Matai falls. I have since looked all of these places up on google and it seems that all of the falls are often far more full of water and impressive than they look here. I mean, we have had a summer with barely any rain. They were still picturesque enough.

Next was Horseshoe falls, which was further up the track from the previous falls. So altogether it was a decent bushwalk but it didn't actually take very long, it just involved a fair amount of climbing. I liked this fall better, it was bigger and had a nicer pool. I will have to re-visit the Catlins one day, after lots of rain, to see how it all can look in different circumstances.

So after the bushwalk we got back to the car and the next stop along the road (because we really were just turning off at every signpost) was the Purukaunui falls. This was a slightly longer walk, with lots of interesting trees, and instead of walking up the river like the others we followed the river down until we could here the falls below.

These falls were bigger, with lots of levels, which with very little encouragement we climbed onto. I'm not sure that we would have been able to do that if there had been the usual amount of water going down the falls. As it was, the water was ankle-deep and freezing cold.

After the falls we finally made it to Jack's Bay, where there is a big blow-hole, which was one of the major attractions of the day. Now, when I think of a blowhole I imagine a hole that water rushes up out of at high speed. This, it turns out, is not neccessarily the case. First, however, here is Jack's Bay, which was very pretty with it's very blue water:

Here is the blowhole:

As you can see, it is not a hole that water rushes up through, to fly out of the top as foamy spray. Instead, this blow-hole was steep cliffs with water crashing somewhat violently at the bottom. It was very noisy. At a very high tide the water would probably be somewhat higher, and in a storm even more so, and it was very huge and impressive, and I think if you fell in it you would probably not survive. It just was not what I thought it would be. It's sort of odd though, when you think of it, that there could be a great big hole in the land like this.

We stood around watching the waves crash below for quite a long time. But eventually there is only so much of staring down a blow-hole that a person can do, so we turned back (which was actually quite a long way back and included a big, steep hole). The next stop was somewhere sheltered to eat lunch, because it was incredibly windy on this particular day. However, it was windy everywhere and nowhere looked like a good place for a picnic so we stopped in a camping ground and figured that nobody would notice. Unfortunately, it was quite crowded so when we finally found an empty area to stop the car, it turned out to be a staff-only area. So we got found out and told off. Luckily, we had finished our picnic by that point so it didn't ruin our lunch. We packed up and moved on to Surat Bay in search of more sealife. Again, the sea provided and we came across a sea-lion!

At first the sea-lion was just snoozing in the sand but I guess he got tired of me hanging around and trying to take his photo because he suddenly reared up with a grunt, which gave me a hell of a fright. I jumped and backed off because I thought that perhaps he wanted to chase me. He didn't though, he just gave me a look and then turned around and flopped back down on the sand. It might not have been me at all really, maybe he was worried about the incoming tide getting him all wet.

Surat Bay began as an estuary and was only a little windy, until we walked around a point of land to reach the ocean and were scoured by wind-blown sand. We kept on walking, however, until we reached a signpost pointing to the location of an old shipwreck, and at this point it was pretty much a mutual decision to turn back. We wussed out of going for a swim because it just seemed too cold, so the rest of the afternoon was spent trying to find somewhere more sheltered to swim, in fresh-water so that we could wash all the previous day's salt off. We drove along, slowing over every bridge to check out the rivers beneath, but none of them looked good enough to swim in. We knew that there was a lake nearby, so decided to risk it even though lakes are generally freezing cold. However, this particular lake was all marshy around the edges and full of week, and clearly a reserve, regenerating-forest area.

So instead we just took photos and rested for awhile in the sunshine before continuing our search for a swimming spot.

The lake was very still and reflective, and very pretty, not to mention how warm it was on account of it being sheltered all around by hills and forest. Speaking of which, on the walk to the lake I found yet another interesting, twisted tree.

So for lack of a swimming spot, we decided to just go ahead and look at one more waterfall, in the hope that there would be a swimming spot somewhere along the way. There was, but then we got to the top, where the waterfall was (this one was called Mclean's Falls). On account of the region being so dry, we could clamber right to the pool that the water falls into - perhaps you can always do this, I don't know, but I have seen pictures in which these falls are a huge mass of rushing water so I think on other occasions I would be more wary.

On this occasion, however, there was not too much water and there were already a couple of guys in the pool, so in we went, not only for a swim but also for a bit of a wash! It's a long-standing tradition for us (I'm not going to say for Kiwi's because perhaps other people don't do this) to take soap and shampoo along to the river and make the most of fresh, free water when staying out in the countryside. I'm not actually so sure that it can be very good for the river, but at the same time, so long as it's just us and not the entire population, I'm sure it won't do any harm. It probably gives the tourists a false impression of our way of life though! For the record, the water was absolutely freezing, I took forever to actually get in it, but then it was actually quite nice, but the waterfall itself was sort of painful.

So feeling clean and refreshed, there was one final task for the day. This was the ropes course at Tautuku, which is an obstacle-course built up in the trees in the forest, that has been there for ages and ages but I had never heard of before. Considering how dangerous it could potentially be, I'm not surprised that it's not so well known. I'd say it's probably the type of thing that youth adventure clubs and boy scouts do, and random people that live nearby or are passing through and have heard of it. Like us. I had never visited the Catlins properly before so this was my first time, and some of it was very difficult and bruise inducing, like the wooden contraption below that you have to sort of slide your body through, from one swing to the next.

One of the hardest parts was a rope net that had to be climbed up, and it being somewhat loose and soggy really didn't help. Then, once you reached the top, you had to haul yourself over the top, cling onto a thin plastic pipe and somehow slide down. I nearly fell off of that bit. The next day my arms were absolutely killing me and I reckon it was that particular obstacle that did it.

The more fun part of the course was the easier bit, which was a series of wire bridges through the tree-tops. There were some balance beams of various sorts and a tightrope that was impossible (for us at least, the only obstacle we did not complete). The course ended with a rope swing into a rope net, which looked like fun but proved to be the most painful part. The net was perhaps too close to the rope, because you didn't so much drop gracefully onto the net as hit it at high-speed and be paralysed with shock for a minute or two while you tried to figure out if you'd broken your fingers and arms and legs or not.

Finally, after the ropes course, the day was over and we really deserved our dinner and a rest. Clearly, so did this wood-pigeon that was hanging out by our camp, eating some sort of fruit or seeds.

So after a long weekend of sightseeing around the southern coast, the good weather has finally packed up and the farmer's are getting their long sought after rain. It has been raining quite steadily and I miss the sunshine, but at least it has given me time to finish my Christmas jigsaw puzzle and clean up the house.

11 January 2012

The Catlins - Part 1

This last weekend was a very long one; after going out into the countryside and touring some of Southland's beaches I went into the Catlins with friends for a couple of nights. During which time we did so much that I'm still recovering somewhat. To begin with, we took the coastal route up to our camping ground and along the way stopped at some of the beaches, as you should do when you take a coastal route anywhere. The first stop was Waipapa point, where a sea lion decided to come up for a rest on the beach, which was a good start to the day.

See, here he is, lying down and looking sort of dead - he mostly ignored us but definately knew that we were there because every now and then he would lift his head and give us a warning look before flopping back down onto the sand.

So at Waipapa point there is not much more to see; if there had not been a sea-lion I might have been a bit disappointed because I don't really find lighthouses to be very exciting. After the sand is a rocky shore, with interesting volcanic rocks but not a lot of sea-life in the rock pools. Just barnacles and limpets. The tide was coming in so the waves were crashing against the rocks and the spray flying into the air. I didn't much feel like getting wet though, so I stayed well away.

The reason for the lighthouse at Waipapa point is this piece of ocean below, which is hiding a rocky reef that caused a major shipwreck about a hundred years ago. A lot of people died so after that they built a lighthouse and began to stock the ships with enough lifeboats to hold all of the passengers, just in case.

After Waipapa Point was Curio Bay, also called Porpoise Bay, where a pod of Hector's dolphins live. You can see the bay below but not the dolphins because they were too far out and moved too quickly. Sometimes they come into the shallows and swim with you, but not this time. We saw some jumping but my camera was not pointing in the right direction at the time, sadly. The water was really nice though, my first swim in the ocean for this year!

After lunch, a swim, and some time to warm up afterwards, we went for a walk along the rocks and around the point. A seal had been seen in the water and climbing up onto the rocks so we were keeping an eye out for it (because you really don't want to get too close to seals and sea lions that are on land), but as usual it was well camouflaged and lying still like a rock, so that we came across it all of a sudden and got a fright when it reared it's head!

Following the rocks around brought us to low cliffs surrounded by beds of kelp, which the waves crash against. The rock is volcanic, but not from any existing volcano. This part of our coastline was formed way back when the continents were still attached togethere, and there was a great big forest in this area. Now there is volcanic rock and a petrified forest.

Standing near anough to be hit by all the spray can be fun, but is much safer at other beaches. Here the waves are so big and the cliffs a bit high, you could be knocked into the sea, and I really don't know what your chances of survival would be. So, simply put, we were not allowed to stand at the edge of the cliffs and let the spray soak us.

Finally, after clambering around the rocks and cliffs (the tide was somewhat higher than when I had done this in the past, we got a big wet), we made it to the other side of the bay, where the petrified forest is. There is not as much to see as there once was; apparently there used to be petrified trunks standing up, so it really looked like a forest. People take pieces of it, even our musuem has some, in the garden of all places! It is difficult to show in a photo what the area is really like, because of course the petrified wood is pretty much the same colour as the rock. It is the shape and texture that is different.

We finally left Curio Bay and the next stop was Niagara Falls, and I really have no idea where the name came from. Someone's idea of a joke. The 'falls' are a little area of a little river where the water goes over a few rocks. However, the river was sheltered and sunny so we went for a swim, washed the salt off. It was freezing at first but then was actually really nice, and the rocks were warm and perfect for lying on afterwards. There were a lot of rocks in the water, however, so we came out somewhat battered and bruised.

Finally we ended up at Papatowai, our campsite, where there is quite a deep estuary, an old maori moa-hunting site and, of course, more rocks and more ocean. The water was warm but I was done with swimming for the day; instead we walked down the estuary to the ocean.

It was actually quite a long walk, for the most part on nice, soft sand. The Catlins is not all rocks, sand and ocean however, there is native bush too, so all of the bush-walks were really rainforest-walks.

After a lot of walking we came to rocks - quite sharp rocks.  By this stage everybody was getting somewhat tired and hungry instead of continuing along the rocks (which were, of course, very interesting rocks, but at the same time, when you've seen one rocky Catlins' shore, you've seen them all), we returned to camp for a rest and a meal. However, it was still quite light so soon enough we needed another diversion to pass the time.

The evenings last excursion was to Tautuku Beach, where there was a cave. The Catlins are famous for the Cathedral Caves, but these are now under Maori jurisdiction and you have to pay to get in. Apparently they are just like any other cave, only they are really, really big. I thought that maybe they were full of colourful crystals or interesting rock formations, but they are not, so we didn't bother. We had a look inside this cave instead, which smelt so awful you could only take very shallow breaths. Turns out that it smelt like something had died for good reason - there was a very old dead cow in there, slowly decomposing.

Despite the stink, the view of the beach and ocean at twilight from inside the cave was really amazing, so of course I forbore the atrocious smell and stopped to take photos.

And even more photos. I took loads, actually. It was really hard to just choose a couple of them for putting on here. But there you go, I am showing restraint and now I'm going to take a break from rambling and leave something to write about tomorrow - because the next day involved a lot of bush-walking and waterfall-viewing and ended with an incredibly strenuous obstacle course.

07 January 2012

Southern Coast

I have so little time left of my holiday, so now I am cramming in as much quality time as possible, as opposed to just lazing the time away. So on my second-to-last weekend here I have first driven up to a small place called Pukemaori, where my friend's grandma lives and where I spent quite a lot of my holidays as a child. These days it is mostly the same as it always was, except instead of there being one completely mad rooster that would chase children down the road, there is now a flock of little chickens that do their best to make the house their home.

Down in the gully is a tyre swing that we used to pull up into the tree so that we could swing down, which was always incredibly scary the first time round and I, being a huge wuss, used to sit there for ages trying to force myself to do it.

On of the points of the trip was to take a tiki-tour on the way back and stop at all the old beaches we used to visit. The first stop was at Clifden, where there is an old suspension bridge across the Waiau river, but the bridge was closed! So we could not walk across and could only go down to the banks and test how cold the water was. It's a really strong river and we generally were not allowed to swim in there, but at the moment the water is low due to the rather uncharacteristic lack of rain down here.

Next stop was a random little cemetery where we had a look at the old gravestones, which for reasons unknown were being guarded by a big rooster.

Finally we reached the coast and first stopped at a lookout over Te WaeWae bay, which was really cold and windy so we didn't stay long.

Next was Orepuki, which is also called gemstone beach because stones tend to wash up in big piles, and semi-precious stones can be found there. However, there were no stones for us to find that day, only piles of bluebottles, which is a type of small jelly-fish. They wash in where there a big storms and currents out at sea, they can sting so when the wash in we always had to get out of the water as kids. This time around they were just washed up on the beach and the smell was pretty awful!

This beach is not a beach for swimming, there is a really strong undertow. You can tell just by looking at the waves really and listening to the way that they drag all the stones back under the water.

There are big sandstone cliffs around the beach with lots of interesting colours. There used to be a small cave that somebody had dug out and we were too afraid to go in it, but when we were older we realised there was nothing scary in there, it was just a small dead-end. By that point we had to pretty much bend double to even get in there. The cave has gone now, it seems to have eroded away completely. Once we climbed up these holes that had been dug into the cliff to get to what seemed to be a window, which you can see below. Little did we know that there was a house behind that wall and somebody heard us coming. When we finally got to the top and poked our heads through the hole we found a face staring straight at us and it gave us such a fright that we just let go and fell straight back down the cliff. Luckily it was just a small cliff.

Near the beach entrance was a man made of wood pointing out to the water, and wearing a hat. It was interesting so I took a photo.

After Orepuki we came to Monkey Island, were the water is nice and blue and warm, but it was such a windy day that it felt too cold for swimming. We walked out to the island instead - at very low tide it is not an island at all but at high tide you have to swim to it.

We made a brief stop at Mullet bay, which is also called Cosy Nook but the real Cosy Nook is actually the next beach over. It is windy and rocky and has little fishing shacks all around it. There used to be a lot of mullet there but they have practically been fished out. There are a lot of little islands in the bay, but it was much too cold to get out of the car, let alone go for a paddle to get to them.

Finally we made it to Colac Bay, where the water always looks lovely, but again it was too windy for swimming. We continued on our way to Riverton, where we had fish and chips for lunch, on the beach. There we were sheltered from the wind but the water was cold so our attempt to go for a swim ended at about our knees.