Three days after our outing on the Transalpine Express I tested positive. There was no mistaking the symptoms and the red line. I settled down to endure the raging temperature, dizzy head, cough, and aches and pains in places it didn’t seem possible to have them. Hubby only had three days to gloat, and then he turned positive too. We each had to isolate for seven days. Sadly, this meant we had to miss the works social BBQ and day at the races, which put us both into even more of a grump. Trotting races are exciting to watch. Fast and furious, like Ben Hurr without the knives.
Unfortunately the time was fast approaching when we would need to leave our apartment and begin an actual holiday. We had given notice to the letting company and duly received an email and a Vacate Cleaning Checklist, which (being confined to bed) I now had liberty to peruse in detail.
Those people who live in rented accommodation will, of course, be familiar with this type of high minded document. I have had some experience of this before. Offspring Number 1 has avoided it by living at home, in a camper van, or at his girlfriend’s. But Offspring Number 2 is quite an expert, having lived in various rented properties in Birmingham for years, where it is all but impossible to get your deposit back. Our document contained a list entitled General for all Rooms, (which saves paper). It itemised all the areas that must be cleaned if the tenant has any hope of reclaiming their bond (deposit). It would be much simpler if the list stated the areas that we could leave dirty. How refreshing it would be if you were permitted a certain number of abandoned biscuit crumbs, a protective film of dust, and a few finger marks on the sliding glass door. How compassionate it would be if we were not required to make spiders homeless.
All walls, floors, skirting boards, window frames and sills must be washed. Windows inside and out. Every dimensional aspect of the cooker, fridge, freezer, dishwasher, shower and toilet must be thoroughly cleaned and no soap residue or pink mould left behind. Curtains and carpets should be professionally cleaned (haha!). The taps, handles and toilet roll holders must be polished. Lawns must be mowed, compost bins emptied, weeds sprayed and gardens dug so that not a single weed is in evidence. Most home owners would take at least a year to do all this, (the keen ones that is) by which time – like the Forth Bridge – they would be starting all over again. But no, tenants must do all this in a couple of weeks. Luckily there is no outdoor area to worry about, although the Impatiens plant is flourishing and weed free.
But we do have two bathrooms, two kitchens, and two loo roll holders to polish. I wonder how many door handles, taps and loo roll holders I can get done while recovering from Covid? I can polish slowly.
The Waitangi holiday weekend had arrived. This is New Zealand’s National day when they celebrate (with varying degrees of enthusiasm) their founding document Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) signed by representatives of the British Crown and Māori chiefs on 6th February 1840. On that day a marquee was set up on the lawn in front of the home of a British resident and a proposal was made to the attending chiefs asking them to agree to British settlement in New Zealand. The Chiefs debated long and hard throughout the night at their Marae, but eventually they signed, and the treaty was signed by many more later. This is generally taken to be the time of the birth of modern New Zealand.
Everyone has a lovely late summer weekend. The schools have just begun their new year, but they all shut almost immediately for the holiday. Kiwi families disappear to the baches by the lakes with enormous picnics. In town the sheds and garages are opened wide, and the lawnmowers are in full throttle – both the ones driven by humans and the robot mowers purring over the neat green lawns.
On this day we headed towards Mount Somers and passed through the holiday village of Lake Clearwater, then on to gravel roads as we travelled through the Hakatere Conservation Park towards Mount Potts. The road was busy.
By which I mean that we passed at least one other car every ten minutes or so. The reason becomes clear. Not only are the views astounding, but as we descend into the wide Rangitata river valley we glimpse the seemingly tiny hulk of Mount Sunday in the distance.
But of course it can never again be just Mount Sunday. It will forever be associated with LOR Edoras, Helms Deep looming behind it. And it was not so tiny once we got there. It is just that everything around it is so spectacular! The last time I visited was 12 years ago and it was part of an organised LOR outing, which was great, and included all kinds of stories about the filming and the stars who stayed nearby, and a picnic lunch with a life-sized Gandalf mannequin. Because the filming site is part of the conservation park the film production team had to return the whole area to the exact state it was in before they arrived, including replanting original plants. We were also told about the famous mistake where Eowyn’s hair streams in the wind in one direction while the flag above her flutters in the opposite direction. I have never been able to watch The Two Towers in the same way again!
One of the benefits of the organised tour was the large Landrover that got us round the site and half way up Mount Sunday. It was then only a short climb to the top. Now there is a car park (and compost toilet) about 2km away, and a scenic trail over crystal clear streams towards the mount. We enjoyed the stroll, but did not make it to the summit due to my dodgy knees (although Hubby blamed the shoes).
We stopped at Lake Clearwater on the way home to watch the jet skis and boats, the water and hydro skiers and the shrieking children being towed in dinghies. They were having the time of their lives. Back to school tomorrow kids!
In the afternoon we climbed back on the Transalpine Express – feeling relieved that we had not opted to stay the night in Greymouth in the rain. We were back in the carriage with the broken commentary, so we asked politely if we could move seats, which then prompted a neighbouring American woman to ask, and caused handsome Bruno a headache. However, all was sorted with a smile and we ended up in lovely new seats. We then had to work out how to get the commentary to work which involved an international effort with the American and an Australian in the seat behind. Hubby had already got his working and was maintaining a stiff upper lip.
All set, and we wafted out of the station and on our way back East. The commentary regaled us with interesting facts about explorers who brought their dogs along with them and were forced to eat them; early entrepreneurs who forged photos of extinct Moa birds in order to boost tourism; and the gold rush towns that have vanished forever in the swamp and rainforest. Sometimes we learnt how places got their names, although more often than not this information has become lost in the mists of time. An example of this being the river and settlement of Taramacau. There was once a ferry here, and a rumour persists that the ferryman’s wife had a cow that was washed into the river. She shouted to her husband in distress (presumably in a Scottish accent) “Oi! Terry! Ma coo!”and the name stuck. No mention of whether the cow was rescued or not, but I am hopeful in view of the fact that the place did not end up being called “Terry-ma-coos-deed”.
We chugged back up to Arthur’s Pass, where a few very soggy people got back on, and Bruno supervised the hooking up of precautionary engines ready for the tunnel.
Arthur’s Pass is named for Arthur Dobson, a surveyor in Canterbury who came to New Zealand as a boy in 1850 on one of the first ships from England.
Being a surveyor was an exciting occupation in those days and involved a deal of exploring that did not involve the use of laser measuring machines for new roads and housing estates. In the 1860s the gold rush meant that people were desperate to travel to the West Coast to try to get rich, and the Chief Surveyor in Canterbury commissioned young Arthur to survey the route. Arthur consulted local Māori and went exploring with his brother to find a route through the mountains. The only way he could find was via the deep Otira gorge. It was so steep that they had to leave the horses behind and lower the dog down on a rope. (At least the dog did not get eaten). He reported that this was the only way through. A route across the pass was opened, and it is still the only crossing through the Southern Alps. Of course it was named after Arthur. Although perhaps it should have been named Fido’s Pass to commemorate the heroic dog.
As the train descended from the Pass we left the rain behind. By the time we had reached the plains the sun was hot.
The most hazardous part of our journey was trekking through five carriages full of excitable Americans and Japanese to reach the open-sided viewing car. The sudden force of mountain air meant that intrepid passengers had to cling on to the safety bars while sliding across the wet deck juggling cameras and phones. Then back through the bodies to the café-n-bar car to brave the queue and talk to strangers while waiting for Bruno to make a cup of tea. He really is a man of many talents. He came to see us later, jangling his keys. “Are you getting off at Darfield? I will come and collect you.” He was as good as his promise, and now, looking a lot less handsome after a very long day, he led us along to the last door of the train, extended the step, and wished us well. We thanked him and clambered down onto the concrete platform – still empty. Hubby thought only of his relief at seeing the truck still parked safely next to the platform.
I listened to the whistle and the shivering sound of the air horn as the train pulled away.
Early one Sunday morning we arrived at the deserted station at Darfield, a little town that straddles the railway track on the western side of The Canterbury Plains. We had to hunt for it. Eventually we found a long concrete platform which was endowed with a sign and a small “bus stop” with graffiti on the dusty window. We were the only people. We waited by the side of the long empty track.
At last (bang on time) we spotted the blazing lights of the Transalpine Express crawling slowly towards us from Christchurch.
The engine slid past us until the final carriages were aligned with the platform and stopped. There was a long pause. Then a handsome young man leaned out of a window and waved. “Simon and Ann?” He yelled. We climbed aboard. He radioed the driver. We shunted slowly on our way. The handsome young man with flashing dark Hispanic eyes was called Bruno. As we were the only ones to get on at this stop we had a personal welcome and we were told that the onboard commentary in our carriage was not working. Oh. We could ask to swap seats if we wished. As the carriage was wonderfully peaceful and we were booked to return in the afternoon, we did not worry, but settled down to watch the glories of the Southern Alps pass us by. The rain clouds gathered ahead of us as we rumbled through the tunnels and over the viaducts.
The Transalpine Express is generally regarded as one of the great train journeys of the world. It has been on my bucket list for years. I do love a good train ride, although I am not referring to Greater Anglia or Cross-country – who have a habit of abandoning their passengers at Leicester or not showing up at all due to strike action.
The Transalpine Express leaves Christchurch on the East coast of South Island and travels through 223 Kilometres (139 miles) of plains and mountains to the port of Greymouth on the West Coast, facing the Tasman Sea. It takes four and a half hours to do the journey, then it turns around and comes back again. It crosses some of the most challenging terrain that any train has had to cope with, running easily across the Canterbury Plains, then rising steeply through the ‘Great Divide’ – the indomitable spine of mountains that divides the East from the West. The train passes through 14 short tunnels, over four viaducts including the 82m Staircase Viaduct, through Arthur’s Pass and then through the 8.5km long Otira Tunnel. Up until 1923 (when the Otira tunnel was completed), the journey would take two days in a Cobb & Co horse drawn coach and all the passengers would have to get out at Arthur’s Pass to help push it up the hill.
The Otira tunnel was an amazing achievement of its day and consisted of tunnelling to join the rail head at Otira with the one at Arthur’s Pass. The engineers achieved this with only a couple of centimetres difference in the width and height of the tunnels as they joined. This is even more astonishing considering that the Otira end of the tunnel is over 250m (820 ft) lower than the Arthur’s Pass end. The train has to stop to attach an additional engine at both the front and the back before it can enter the tunnel. The girl on the PA system told us that this is just a precaution, but it was necessary to close the café. It was hard not to shudder as we burrowed slowly through the darkness under the mountain.
Timing a trip on the Transalpine is tricky. Weather conditions can never be relied upon. We left the plains in morning sunlight, but by the time we reached Arthur’s pass the rain was pouring down.
A large number of passengers alighted here with their rucksacks and walking poles. They got very wet just walking off the platform. We stayed in our snug carriage as the wind and rain lashed the windows. The climate on the West Coast of South Island is very wet. It is a rainforest environment. As we slid down towards Lake Bruner we began to see beautiful banks of ferns and waving orange Crocosmia interspersed with Rhododendrons, Agapanthus, Hebe and Hydrangea. Willow often takes over the water margins. Most of these species are not native to New Zealand, but thrive at the expense of the indigenous flora and are classified as weeds.
At last we pulled into the little station at Greymouth and were obliged to disembark and brave the elements. Most people ride the train one way only, so the tiny hire car office was full to bursting with eager people. The tinier gift shop was also heaving and many nationalities squirmed alongside each other to admire kiwi t-towels, greenstone pendants and lanolin face cream. Even the ladies toilet had a stand of necklaces by the hand dryer with a big sign informing us that cameras were operational (in case we are tempted to pop one in the handbag). Not really sure how a lady was supposed to actually purchase one. Many more frazzled passengers were gathering suitcases and struggling through the rain to find coaches and minibuses for the next leg of their journey.
We ventured out to look at the River Grey, which is very accurately named. We stopped to admire the monument on the riverside which is dedicated to the many miners who have lost their lives in this area. The sculpture was of three miners who looked uncannily like dwarves. I hope it was meant as a compliment.
Work was slack and Hubby appeared home at lunchtime on a Tuesday. We had to go to Ashburton to sort out some boring banking business. My EFTPOS card would not work. So we parked by the railway track and strolled over to the blue plush premises of the Bank of New Zealand. What a pleasure to conduct banking with such a helpful and pleasant cashier rather than faff about unsuccessfully online. There is nothing like a BNZ cashier who tells you that they will sort everything out NOW! And then they do.
With time on our hands we wandered along to the Ashburton Heritage Centre, a smart new building which has replaced the small rooms that used to house the museum. Good job! We were greeted in a charmingly smiley way and directed to a section of the ground floor full of history. Colonial history. The stories were of indomitable Pakeha (British Europeans) who set up small settlements and Stations during the 1850s and then travelled down from Christchurch to the “runs”. The Māori tended to pass through using a coastal route. The Canterbury Plains were arid and difficult for travel. The area only achieved its famous patchwork of farm fields after major irrigation works in the twentieth century. Undeterred, as they usually were, the early settlers arrived.
The main obstacle to settlement was the great Rakaia and Hakatere (Ashburton) rivers. Because of their wide braided nature (the Rakaia is 2km width in some places), and their erratic flow as they bring water down from the mountains, they could not easily support a ferry or a bridge. Horse drawn vehicles struggled to cope with the crossing. People were having to ford the rivers in bullock carts. But in 1858 William Turpin managed to set up a ferry service across the Ashburton river, and he opened a hotel of sorts.
The railway arrived in 1874. There were long bridges, a new hotel, and suddenly the population grew from 50 to 500. People brought their tea sets, sewing kits and piano stools. We looked at the pictures of haggard bearded men and tight lipped women in stays, admired the glass cases full of their precious belongings, and marvelled at the audacity of setting up a fire service with just a few buckets.
One of the early residents was a lady called Clara, born in Norfolk to a sailor father. The family emigrated in 1875 when Clara was eighteen, and they settled in Ashburton. She married a fellow Methodist called William Lill and they had eleven children. She was President of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union for over 20 years, and signed the local petition for women’s franchise. The Union realised that unless women could vote, alcoholic prohibition would never be passed by the government. Sheep and cattle drovers were well known for laying all their wages on the bar and drinking until the money was gone. The women were angry!
In 1893 New Zealand became the first self governing country to give women the right to vote in parliamentary elections, and this was a direct result of the massive grassroots petitions coordinated by Kate Shepherd and signed by the many “Claras” throughout the country.
We left the stories of the past and climbed the stairs to the art gallery. Here the balance was redressed with giant photographs of half naked Māori displaying their body tattoos.
A bit of an anti climax then to finish our trip with a visit to The Warehouse to buy our own little works of art – a set of penguin shaped lunchbox cool blocks! That’s civilisation for you. I wonder if they will be in a museum one day?
The NZ Channel 1 news from North Island was not good. Rainfall has been unprecedented this summer. The new Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, was doing his best to get around, having just taken over from his exhausted predecessor (Jacinda Ardern). Several people lost their lives in the Auckland floods; the airport was underwater – international passengers forced to take refuge on an upper level without loo paper; and both Elton John’s farewell concerts were cancelled because the concert goers would have needed to wear waders. Poor Elton might have ended up with pneumonia again.
Meanwhile, South Island was basking in hit-and-miss sunshine. We set off in the truck on our Sunday adventure on a gorgeous blue sky day. We made for the Rakaia river gorge. Māori legend says that the gorge was created by a Taniwha (river monster) who used to live there. He cultivated crops and hunted for Moa and Weka to eat. But one cold day he went away to find a hot spring in which to warm himself, and while he was away a demon, personified as a nor’west wind, came and flattened his property. When the Taniwha got home he was furious and he went to get huge stones and boulders from the mountains to make the river narrow. These made up the rock walls of the gorge, and the outcrops of stone where the bridges are now. The gorge and the plains are well known for the rattling wind. The Nor’westors have been known to drive people crazy in this part of New Zealand.
We journeyed on along a steep gravel road high over the gorge and headed towards Lake Coleridge. We were on tarmac again as we headed along the valley towards the lake, the winding braids of river water twisting over the wide grey gravel bed, the green pastures on each side filled with grazing cattle and sheep. Then back to dusty gravel as we wound our way towards Lake Coleridge village with its mighty power station and outlet. From there we backtracked and journeyed along the Eastern side of the long lake until we reached the northern tip. The lake itself is mostly hidden between long hills, and road access is limited.
This is Lord of the Rings country and it was easy to imagine Wargs leaping from hills, and heroic riders of Rohan galloping through the grassy tussocks. But all we saw were tractors making silage, and a few determined “trampers” with their shabby rucksacks and floppy sun hats. New Zealand loves to look after its seeking-the-wild visitors. Of course, the trails and tracks are legendary. But perhaps less known is the fact that they position deep compost lavatories in little huts at regular intervals. These monuments to civilisation all now claim to be “accessible” and have a picture of a person in a wheelchair on the door, together with a sign directing parents to supervise children who may be using the toilet (non supervision does not bear thinking about). I was not completely sure how a person in a wheelchair could be expected to get up the gravel hill to the door of one of these noble edifices, but determination is a wonderful thing. At least there is loo paper and hand sanitiser, although no plumbing of course. (Yes, I DID have to go and explore.)
At the North end of Lake Coleridge we went for a walk and admired the late lupins on the shore. A lone Ute was parked on the edge of the lake, it’s owners way out on the water in kayaks. As we watched, a speed boat whined up the still blue length of the lake, making waves that travelled all the way to our feet. It turned and started back, hugging the opposite mountain shore, and then the engine stalled. Hubby laughed. “Flooded engine!” He muttered. The boat was a long way off, bobbing serenely, no longer making waves. They had a long row home.
We stopped at the smaller Lake Selfe for our picnic. This was populated by a couple of paddle boarders, a trout fisherman, one duck, and a cloud of dragonflies. We ate our cheese and tomato rolls and watched the fisherman flicking his long line into the shaded water under the trees. A picnic table had been thoughtfully provided, so we sat for several minutes until the sun began to burn. The fisherman was young, and he had brought his dad along to cook the BBQ while he tried to catch fish. He obviously had not caught any because the smell of beef burgers drifted across the shore. They stopped to chat (everyone does here), and then we headed homewards.
At last we had a weekend where we could take a trip away. We got up early, drove to Christchurch airport and parked up. We jumped on a plane to Rotorua in North Island. This is much the most efficient way to get between the North and South Islands and usually does not involve seasickness. We had no checked in luggage, there were no security conveyor belts, and we walked across the tarmac to our aeroplane. Fantastic views through the clouds as we chugged above the braided rivers and the Cook Strait. We rumbled into Rotorua to land 90 minutes later, and joined a slow queue to collect a hire car.
Finding our way out of Rotorua (the UK is not the only place with road works), we drove to Taupo for a lovely BBQ lunch with friends, before returning to check in at our accommodation – optimistically called a Hotel. We had a nice spacious room with a view of the next door petrol station. The room was in need of updating (mouldy shower and tired carpets) but adequate. The hotel was in a prime position very close to the Māori village and a steam belching Geyser. The Maori village is used for shows and hangi (feasts) and attracts lots of visitors who enjoy the cultural aspect of the events. The Geysor is also a great attraction, but comes with an enveloping odour of rotten eggs (Sulphur). So we got the full experience. The weather was warm and beautiful. We flung open the windows, and a few moments later decided we might prefer to melt instead. Hey ho.
We did not stay in our hotel room for long. We drove into town to visit Eat Street (street names are often very helpful here) and wandered up and down the food outlets reading menus and trying to decide what nationality of food we wanted. Then to the awe inspiring Redwoods Forest. We joined a long queue, in the dark. In the rain. With no coats or umbrellas. Hubby folded his arms – a sure sign of doom.
We had come to do the Redwoods Treewalk at night. The cheery young Kiwi attendants kept popping along the line with their glowing iPads to check people in, chat, and tell us that we were only an hour’s wait away. When we finally shuffled as far as the great spiral walkway that was to take us up into the mighty trees our enthusiasm was significantly dampened. We were greeted by an even cheerier young man who told us how lucky we were to see the Nightlights in the rain because the wet makes the glowing lights sparkle like emeralds. He also told us not to touch the trees because their bark is very sensitive (but apparently it is OK to attach an enormous treewalk of rope bridges 20 metres above the ground using huge hooks and nails). His safety advice included the warning that there should not be more than 8 people on a rope bridge at any one time. Now, this was very sensible advice. However, the ladder bridges are completely dark (and wet) so it was almost impossible to work out how many people were actually on the bridge. The best way was to gauge the bounce. He had told us, (quite rightly) that there must be no jumping. However, as people stepped onto it the bridge would sway and bob. By the time you got to the other side the end of the bridge would be boinging towards you with varying degrees of force. Anyway, we made it, and the lights and giant lanterns were amazing.
Definitely worth the wait, even if it did take us most of the next day to regain our “land legs”. We decided to go back to look at the trees properly in daylight from the ground, and they were awe inspiring.
Having survived the night and the fumes, we set out to find breakfast in the town. We ended up in Eat Street again with a wonderful breakfast of coffee with honeyed bacon, poached eggs and toasted focaccia. This gave us the strength to walk to the Village Green by the lake where we were in time to look at a huge rally of vintage cars. The camping chairs were out en masse in the warm sun, with enthusiasts from the local motoring clubs perched strategically between rows of Morris, Mini, early Utes and Chevrolets. Hubby was so intrigued that we walked round the large field twice, and he was persuaded to put a couple of dollars in the bucket. A Gospel service was in full swing under the trees as we left to explore the lakes.
Rotorua is a favourite holiday destination, known in New Zealand as “The Lakes District”. Around the deep scenic lakes in the area are clustered the many baches where the Kiwis adore to spend time. They were out with their boat trailers, kayaks and wetsuits enjoying the water. The children quickly learn to be fearless adventurers. We watched, intrigued, as a family set off from the shore on a particularly popular activity. Mum and dad had placed their two primary age children (in life vests) tummy down on a rubber dingy, and had obviously told them to hang on tight – which they did (for dear life). Mum then attached a very long rope between the dingy and a jet ski and climbed on behind dad. She sat with her back to dad, presumably so that she could check if either of the children had dropped off, and fed out the rope as they left the shore. Dad pulled on the throttle, the children screamed, and the whole family shot off across Lake Tikitapu. We did not see them return.
Further along the road we came upon the Buried Village of Te Wairoa. This is a museum and archaeological site recording the infancy of tourism in New Zealand during the 1880s, when there was a mission and two hotels on the site. Intrepid Victorians stayed here. They visited local scenic attractions and thermal pools, admired the culture of the local Māori population, and sent pressed leaves home in their letters. Until one day in June 1886, a phantom war canoe was seen on the lake, a portend of disaster. This vision was followed by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Tarawera, which changed the landscape and buried the village in thick mud. The story of the dead, the survivors and the heroic rescue attempts is told here. It is an atmospheric and beautiful place, with a very steep climb to a roaring waterfall (that nearly finished me off).
Then it was time to head back to the tiny airport to catch our ride home. Only 4 Gates here…well one really. Everyone goes out of the same door and saunters across the tarmac to the Air New Zealand plane. We have watched it arrive from Christchurch through the the huge glass windows. We have watched them unload and reload for the return journey inside 30 minutes. Once we are all aboard, the pilot taxies up the runway, swerves round in a u-turn at the end, and “puts his foot down” on the straight. Up and away into the clouds, heading back South.
It was a warm day with a clear view of Mount Hutt. Time to stretch my legs on the pretty Methven Walkway.
Sun hat firmly planted on head, I set off towards the road. Just past the new Opuke Thermal hot pools and spa, powered by glittering solar panels, there is an unassuming entrance to the woods. The path skirts the Trotting Race ground and leads towards the RDR. RDR is short for Rangitata Diversion Race. It was built in the early 1940s and consists of a long canal-like waterway which diverts river water in order to irrigate over 100,000 hectares of farmland. However, it is no use thinking of the dingy canals of Peeky Blinder Birmingham. The RDR is full of beautiful blue water, and the backdrop is the Southern Alps. With this as my goal, I plunged into the woods.
There was a big sign, adorned with a slightly soggy net butterfly, saying “Enchanted Forest”.
Excitement mounting, I skip along the pathway under the trees to find myself in an amazing land of fairies that, unlike Puck and Arial, do not appreciate the finer points of poetical meter. There are numerous enticing fairy house doors in tree trunks along the path, with painted windows above them. The more ostentatious residents have signs that explain their particular position or peculiarity. For instance, a smart tree with a red door, red windows and a pathway adorned with red painted stones belongs to Fairy Michelle. Her sign is helpful: “The Fire Chief is Fairy Michelle, any sign of fire ring her bell”.
A posh home with more red stones, a shiny sequinned door and a flattened plastic crown nailed to the tree trunk belongs to Fairy Queenie. She is “the ruler of them all. When fairies need her help they need to call”. Then there is the home of the OCD fairy: “Keeping her house all neat and cosy, the tidiest of all is Fairy Rosey Posy.
The creepiest door belongs to the tooth fairy. Orange, with green and white windows. Her sign says: “Tooth Fairy likes to boast how her door is bigger than most, inside is where baby teeth go, white and bright all in a row”. (I have added some commas here and there to assist reading). We also learn that “Fairy Gypsy flew to Australia to see Bluey and Bingo. She visited Aussie Zoo, saw a kangaroo and dingo.” Well done to Fairy Gypsy for broadening her horizons. I hope her wings did not get too tired. Some of the houses have fairies who obviously do not fly so well – perhaps due to age, infirmity or obesity. I know this because they have small wonky rope ladders to help them get down from their high front doors. I felt very sorry for Fairy Bayley, who was always scraping her knees, but my favourite was the livestock keeping fairy. “Who stole all the sausages and hid them under a log? It wasn’t Fairy Lavender but her naughty little hedgehog”.
Interspersed with the quirky fairy houses were some diversions. There were three cylindrical blind mice running down a branch, a nest of rather beautiful red dragon’s eggs, a fairy tunnel (not a real tunnel but an exercise in perspective painting), a place for Santas sleigh to pull in, and a fairy tea party laid out on tree stumps (with a do not touch sign).
On my way I passed several small children with mummies and dogs in tow, who were obviously enjoying the delights of the Enchanted Forest. We all said “Hi!”, we adults grinning at each other conspiratorially. One very small person toddled up to me on the path, but quickly backed up when I said hello. Perhaps she thought I was the wicked witch, or – god forbid – the tooth fairy.
I wandered over the flower draped bridge (artificial blooms of course – they need to withstand the elements, the children, and the fairies) and wondered where Shrek, Fiona and Donkey had got to. The sign said we might be able to spot these celebrities putting in an appearance at the “Fairy Hall”, but they must have been avoiding the paparazzi, because they were not in evidence.
At last the path led out of the trees and up the bank of the RDR, where the kind residents of Methven had placed a wooden bench for weary walkers to enjoy the view across the fields to the mountains. A very small combine was busy far away. The blue water and wild banks were peaceful.
I braced myself for the return journey through the Enchanted Forest.
We were out on one of our Ashburton shopping forays, when we decided to drop in at the Chertsey Book Barn. We had no intention of buying any books.
This is an old wheat barn that stands beside the railway track. Visitors pull up in the rough car park and then squeeze in through the side door. Once through the door it is almost impossible not to gasp. The barn is huge, and every square metre is full of second hand books of all sizes and genres. Heaving higgeldy-piggeldy bookshelves are crammed in throughout the yawning space. It feels that it might be necessary to unravel a piece of twine in order to negotiate the dim passages and find the way back to the light. One side of the barn is dissected by a partition, beyond which countless boxes of books loom in mountainous stacks right up to the roof – all waiting to be sorted.
We scarcely noticed a woman sitting behind a counter. This was partly because she was too busy to say hello, and partly because she was almost buried under boxes as she mined their contents. Instead we were met by a very handsome ginger cat sitting on a broken chair, who miaowed an introduction and proceeded to show us around. In reality he was probably pleased to see someone with hands available for stroking, who was not a book, or holding a book, or unwinding a piece of twine. I suspect his name is Zag. I only suspect this because I later found out that his brother is called Zig. Could be wrong.
New books are rather expensive to buy in New Zealand, so we were not alone in this place. As we plunged further into the maze, accompanied by our whiskered guide, we occasionally stumbled upon other explorers. They were browsing in corners, delving in piles, or sliding round battered tables and shelves, totally immersed in their discoveries. Zag was rapidly loosing interest as our hands became full. We negotiated children’s fiction, cooking, and medical self help, explored the room of fantasy books and then hunted for C in general fiction. This was not an easy task. The handwritten labels were visible and orange, but often obscured by height or…you guessed it…books. Eventually we came across the woman and the counter again, Zag having long since abandoned us for a much younger explorer whose mother was wielding a phone to take pictures. We had to pause a moment while the woman at the counter slammed a box down onto the floor, then we paid our dollars and squeezed out. She retreated behind a new pile.
“I thought we weren’t buying any books!” Said Hubby, clutching his hardback by Chris Ryan.
Methven is a ski resort. It bustles in the winter time, but is very quiet in the summer. However, a few forays past the horse poo sign to the village centre were a welcome pastime for me. The cafes were mostly open, the ATM finally said “yis”, and The Four Square supermarket enabled the opportunity of engaging in conversation with someone other than a top loader washing machine.
In fact, it is very easy to talk to people here. While meandering past the Red Cross Shop (in the slim hope of browsing for second hand kitchen equipment) I absorbed the obligatory sign telling customers to take their work boots off and noted that the lovely volunteer ladies were not planning to turn up and open the shop on any day before 1pm. Exception: Saturday 10 till 12. As I had timed my excursion (badly) for Morning Tea Time, I had no chance. A man screeched to a halt on his bike next to me. We had a chat about opening times and agreed that it was quite OK to come back later.
Following this I had an intimate conversation with a little hairy dog who was trying to persuade me to stop by his art shop. Followed by one or two human “gudays”. Then there was the dog who was just getting some exercise from his comfy bed outside the Real Estate shop and was a little too busy to stop and pass the time of day.
I walked as far as the smart new building which proudly proclaims itself as Methven Library and Museum. I have fond memories of the original library which sadly did not survive the 2011 earthquake. But even an earthquake is unable to change some things on South Island. Closed. I probably need to turn up on Friday afternoon to have any chance of perusing the contents. I shall save that treat for another day. A Friday.
On the way up the deserted Main Street I rest my memory foam under a bench outside the Medical Centre, which is wonderful and proclaims it’s wares on the roof. Medical, X-rays, Dental. Physiotherapy is just next door. Hydrangeas adorn the attractive exterior. So simple. So efficient. You know exactly what you are going to get before you walk in.
My eye is caught by a large sign further up the road which says “Car and Dog Wash”.
I read this several times. I wonder if I am suffering from culture clash and a “dog” must be a kind of New Zealand truck rather than a Labrador with a waggy tail. Hell no! I looked it up later and Facebook can’t be wrong. There is a photo of a large Doberman enjoying a lovely shower in a huge bath. What an excellent plan! Wash your dog when you wash your car. The sign says it all! Not sure this would catch on in Blighty though. What would the lovely Eastern Europeans at the local car wash say if I turned up and asked them to clean a Staffordshire Bull Terrier? Probably charge me double.