Saturday, 31 March 2007

North to South

Just a short post today, as I am in Christchurch in an internet cafe, and my hour on the network will soon expire. There is still so much to write about and so many photos to show, but I guess I will complete the story back in the UK (with a permanent broadband connection!). Mr Knitbert is doing fine by the way, and thanks those who expressed concern about his ghastly experiences. He is mainly sticking to cake at the moment.

Here I am in Hokitika, at the National Kiwi Centre, where they also had yarn. This is where I got my Natural Felted Merino yarn, which is lovely and soft. I would like to make a cardigan in it, I think, there was a nice one in the last Interweave Knits which I quite fancy, if the tension is right.
I'm a little ahead of myself, though, as before we got to Hokitika, which is in the South Island, we had to drive from Rotorua, down the West Coast of the North Island, to Waikanae, where there is a beautiful beach, and then to Wellington. In the morning we had to cross the Cook Straits from Wellington in the North Island to Picton in the South. It was a beautiful day, and a lovely crossing. I took the opportunity to make some much needed progress with Mr Knitbert's socks!

The scenery in Marlborough Sound is just stunning, and as it takes about one and a half hours to traverse the Sound, there is plenty of time to look at it. There is a strict speed limit on the ferries in the Sound, they only do about 5 knots, as otherwise they might damage the wildlife and the coastline. There has been an ongoing argument between the ferry companies and the local residents about this for many years. It is beautiful though, isn't it?

Thursday, 29 March 2007

In Which Mr Knitbert Has a Trying Time and We Visit a Maori Village

I am writing this post from Franz Josef, a little village nestling at the foot of the Franz Josef Glacier. Our journey is not quite over yet, but we fly home at the weekend, so there are only a few more days to go. Catbert and DSoK are walking on the glacier today, but I have a dreadful cold and did not feel up to being on the ice, so Mr Knitbert and I took a nice walk out to the face of the glacier instead. We took some nice photos, but they are still in the camera, so I can't show them to you yet.

Poor Mr Knitbert has had a trying time these last few days! As you may remember, he is a vegetarian, in fact he has been a vegetarian since birth and until a few days ago he was able to say that he has only eaten meat once in his life, by mistake when he was about eight years old. Now he has tasted meat four times in total, and three of them were on this holiday! The first time was in Hong Kong, where he was offered a snack while I was having a manicure, which he thought was toffee, but which turned out to be pork. He spotted it straight away, luckily. Then three days ago he ordered an omelette with tomato and cheese, and it turned up with ham in it, which he bit into before realising, and then the day before yesterday he ordered vegetarian pasta at a restaurant in Hokitika and it came with bits of chorizo sausage in it! He got a free beer out of that one, though.
He is now so traumatised that I am having to cook for him for a few days while he recovers.

Where were we in our travels? Oh yes, we were heading from Auckland to Rotorua. On the way, we stopped to visit the Waitoma Glow Worm caves, recommended by Catbert's Rough Guide to New Zealand, which were well worth the detour. There are no photos, as flash photography would upset the glow worms, but all I can say is that it is a wonderful and atmospheric experience and I recommend it if you are ever in New Zealand. We also visited the Aranui Cave in the same area and here is a photograph of some of the lovely formations to be seen inside.

While in Rotorua we did two things. Well, alright, maybe three - or was that four? We walked around the Kuirau Park, which is a thermal park on the outskirts of the city. I discovered that our camera can record short videos, so I recorded one of a boiling mud pool, which I think shows it better than a static photograph.

Next, here we all are beside beautiful Lake Rotorua:
Then we decided that we would like a relaxing day, so we went to the Polynesian Spa and opted to spend the day in the Lakeside Retreat. I had a honey and manuka (the NZ name for Tea Tree) wrap and Catbert had a facial, and we all had access to four mineral pools, one at 36 degrees and the hottest at 42 degrees. Here we are after a day of this! I think we look relaxed...

In the evening we had booked a trip to the Tamaki Maori Village and Hangi. Mr Knitbert and I had been to this on our previous trip to New Zealand, and it is absolutely fabulous. You really feel as if you were an early European explorer standing outside a Maori village for the first time. When the Maori warrior comes out to issue the challenge to the visitors a shiver runs down my spine. Inside the village, by firelight, you can see traditional Maori crafts and activities, such as tattooing, which is practised here, and which is a very traditional form of body art for Maori, even today.
On the knitting front, I have very little progress to report on Mr Knitbert's socks, but I have bought some lovely Merino Possum yarn in a pale purple, and some gorgeous natural felted merino in a natural brown colour. I am embarrassed to report that my yarn purchases are now so bulky that we will have to buy another suitcase to transport them on the return journey.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

The City of Sails

Auckland is also known as the City of Sails, and is lucky enough to have a huge natural harbour. You can see the sea from almost everywhere you go in Auckland, which gives the city an open feel and provides beautiful views. During our last few days here staying with Mr Knitbert's lovely cousins, we visited as many places as we could with Catbert and DSoK. This photo was taken from the Rose Garden in Parnell, just as the sun was setting, and I must say I am rather pleased with it. It is of course the Auckland Sky Tower, which you can also see from almost everywhere you go.

We visited the Sky Tower on our last evening in Auckland. For me and Mr Knitbert it was our second visit, and I promised you earlier an amusing story about our first visit there. We went to the Sky Tower last time only a couple of days after arriving in NZ, while still jet-lagged, and went down to the basement where you buy the tickets. There you can buy a ticket to the main observation deck and, for 3 dollars more, a ticket to the highest observation deck. We had the following conversation:

K: We'll just get tickets to the main deck shall we?
Mr K: It's only 3 dollars to go to the very top, let's get the full tickets!
K: I'm not sure I want to go to the very top. I'm sure I can see whatever I want from the main deck.
Mr K: It's only 3 dollars more! Great value! Let's do it!

So we did it. In any case, you go in the lift to the main deck first, where you change lifts to go to the very top. In the lift, the floor has a glass square in it, so you can see the ground fall away and get tiny as you get higher and higher. Mr Knitbert and I looked through the glass square and saw how high we were going, and we both got really freaked out by it. We left the lift and went onto the main deck, where the glass windows are angled out for better viewing and there are more glass squares in the floor. We clung uneasily to the guide rails and sidled along the viewing benches, neither of us wanting to admit that we were completely freaked out by how high up we were.
After a while, it was time to get the next lift to the higher level. I said, "I don't really want to go any higher", and Mr K admitted that he didn't either! So we never got our 3 dollars' worth!
This time, we were rather apprehensive, but found that we were not at all bothered by the height but instead enjoyed the wonderful views. We think it must have all been caused by jet lag. We watched the sun set over Auckland and I took this photo of the city at night:

Only a few hours earlier we had been lucky enough to go sailing in the harbour and out past North Head in Devonport and along the Northshore up as far as Takapuna. From the Sky Tower we could see where we had sailed and the Auckland Harbour bridge which we had come back towards, and the Marina just by it.
During our short stay in Auckland, we also visited the wonderful Auckland Museum, where my favourite part is the ground floor, dedicated to the People of the Pacific. Here we all are in front of the museum:

As I write this post, I am actually in Nelson, on the South Island, where tomorow we are going walking in the Abel Tasman National Park. We have done so many things since we left Auckland I am several posts behind! Our next stop was Rotorua, a city in an area of geothermal activity and famous for its Maori cultural experiences. By way of a taster, here is the view from our hotel window, which looked out over the Whakerewarewa Thermal Park and the Pohutu Geyser.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Walking with Ents

This Kauri tree is called Te Matua Ngahere, and is believed to be 2000 years old. Doesn’t he look just like Treebeard the Ent? It is hard to explain the sense of awe and respect that I felt on seeing these giant, venerable trees. The forest is called Waipoua Forest and is a sub-tropical rainforest on the west coast of the Northlands of New Zealand’s North Island.

As a Lord of the Rings fan, I think that walking through this forest felt just how I imagine that walking in Fangorn Forest felt to the hobbits. I have tried in these photos to show how dense the forest is, with one clear path winding through it, which was put in place very carefully so as not to harm the trees. Waipoua forest is a conservation area which is full of Kauri trees and where you can see the two oldest and largest Kauris still alive today.

This one is called Tane Mahuta, and is thought to be about 1500 years old.

These four Kauri trees are growing all together and are called the Four Sisters, you can see how small and insignificant I am beside them! You can read more about the forest here.

After seeing the forest, we drove on back to Auckland and stopped at the Kauri museum. Here we saw how the Kauris were processed into timber during the period when they were being felled; we saw many lovely items of furniture which had been made of Kauri wood in the past, and we also found out that there were until recently (the 1970s) two even older and larger Kauri trees in the forest. Kauri trees become hollow in the centre as they become older, and eventually the wood which is left of the trunk cannot support the canopy any more and the tree collapses. At the museum we also saw many carved and polished pieces of Kauri gum, which is a resin very similar to amber.

We reached Auckland on Friday evening and on Saturday morning Catbert and DSoK arrived safely from London, and here they are that afternoon on the Devonport to Auckland ferry. They are holding up well considering that they have only had five hours sleep!
And finally, a little knitting content. Here is my new sock bag, which I mentioned previously,

and my two socks on two circs - not, alas making very much progress!

I also visited a yarn shop in Devonport called Wild and Woolly Yarns and purchased these two skeins of Touch Yarns Kid Merino. Mr Knitbert kindly bought me and Catbert each one of these lovely hand carved wooden shawl pins.

Both Touch Yarns and an NZ company called Natural had a wide range of beautiful yarns available, which I would have loved to buy more of, but I just don't have the space to transport them home.

Today we are leaving Auckland and setting off to Rotorua, but we have spent a great few days here, and were lucky enough to go sailing in the beautiful Auckland Harbour, so my next post will show some of the lovely City of Sails which we have seen.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

The Bay of Islands

We have spent the last two days in the Bay of Islands, which lies to the North of Auckland. On the way we stopped at the Warkworth Museum and Parry Kauri park. The Kauri is a tree native to New Zealand, which lives for thousands of years and can grow to an enormous size. Kauri wood is very hard, and was at one time very sought after for masts and such like. As they take a long time to reach maturity, the Kauri forests were chopped down, a hundred or so years ago, faster than they could grow back. Today the Kauri is a protected species, so in another thousand or so years I daresay the stocks will have been replenished. We are hoping to see some very old Kauris on our way back to Auckland down the West coast, but in this park there are two Kauris which are 600 and 800 years old respectively. Here is the 800 year old one, with Mr Knitbert underneath it for scale.
We looked around the Warkworth museum shop and I found a little hand made bag with a sewing kit in matching fabric, which is just perfect for socks, all costing a princely $8, which is about £3 photo of bag. On the subject of socks, I have started another pair. These ones are the Father and Son socks from Interweave Knits Fall 06, and they are for Mr Knitbert. I am knitting the two together on two circulars, which is going quite well so far, although I did knit three sides of two socks onto one needle while we were driving along (Mr Knitbert was driving of course, dear reader!) and the thinking required to sort this out made me begin to feel sick, so I had to stop until we reached our destination. However, it is all sorted out now.

Today we visited Paihia, just up the road from where we are staying, where we caught a ferry across to the town of Russell. This was once the major trading port of New Zealand, but after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, the government and trading activities moved to Auckland, and today Russell is a charming, island paradise with wooden houses, surrounded by water of an intense blue green, and with lots of very nice restaurants and craft shops.

In Russell we visited Pampollier, a restored building originally constructed by French Catholic missionaries in order to print and bind bibles in the Maori language. We were able to see how this was done, and what hard work it must have been. The restored house has a beautiful garden and orchard.
Next we went to Waitangi, where the Treaty between the British government and the Maori people was signed. The treaty grounds have been made into a park and conservation area for the New Zealand people and visitors, and you can see the house in which the first official British Resident in New Zealand, James Busby, lived with his family.
There is also a Maori meeting house

and a fabulous Maori war canoe, which is also in the photo at the top of the blog. I took this photo last time we visited New Zealand, and today we took several more. The boathouse is right on the edge of the water and is a lofty, peaceful place with a view across the bay.
The Bay of Islands is a beautiful, sheltered harbour surrounded by sandy beaches and coves. It is still warm here and it feels like summer in the Mediterranean - in fact this part of New Zealand is at 35° S, which is a similar location to Morocco in the Northern hemisphere. It has to be one of my favourite places in the world.
Tomorrow we head back to Auckland, and I hope will be able to see the Kauri forest, in which case I shall have more Kauri facts and photos for you! Then, on Saturday, Catbert and DSoK the Intern arrive in Auckland to spend the next two weeks with us, and we are planning to head South to Rotorua and the South Island, after a couple of days looking around Auckland with them, of course.

Monday, 12 March 2007

The Path To Enlightenment

Gidday from Auckland! We arrived yesterday morning and are staying with Mr Knitbert's cousin in her lovely house in a suburb of Auckland. We have not done anything interesting here yet, as we are resting, so this post is about what we did in our second action-packed day in Hong Kong. We set off early to see the Po Lin monastery (spelled correctly this time) and the big Buddha, which you can see above. This was constructed in 1993, both as a tourist attraction and also as a sacred place for worshippers. Mr Knitbert read all about how it was constructed, and that the thickness of the bronze on the face is only one centimetre and so on, but I am afraid I did not pay attention, as it is not made of yarn. You can read about it on Wikipedia if you would like to know more.
To get there we had to take the MTR from Causeway Bay to Lantau Island, and there we walked to the Skyrail Terminal, which is a fantastic cable car ride across the mountains to Ngong Ping, the village where the monastery and Buddha are located. In the MTR station we passed this curious attraction:

It is the wedding of Hello Kitty and Dear Daniel, who are the brand name and characters associated with some product for young girls. The display is life size and right in the middle of the concourse. Isn't Hello Kitty's dress fabulous! I couldn't decide if it was sweet or really scary - what do you think?

The Skyrail is labelled "The Path to Enlightenment", hence the title of this post. It takes about 35 minutes, and as it was still quite overcast the cable car sometimes disppeared inside a low cloud. Mr Knitbert took hundreds of photos of cable cars to show how great the ride was, of which I have selected two.

The cable car arrives at the village of Ngong Ping, which is full of shopping and cultural opportunities. We walked through without buying anything or having a massage or seeing the Monkey's Tale dancers, to the foot of the steps up to the Buddha. There are quite a lot of them, and the sun had started to come out, so we were getting a bit hot by the time we reached the top!

The Buddha is even more impressive close to: This photo is of one of the mountains, and you can see the clouds rolling over the top of the summit and cascading off it.

After walking around the exhibition halls inside the statue, we made our way down the steps towards the Po Lin monastery, which was about five minutes walk away. We had sensibly purchased snack tickets at the Buddha, which entitled us to a light vegetarian snack at the monastery (noodles with vegetables and some little pastries), and after all that step climbing we were ravenous! Here is a temple in the monastery grounds, seen from the courtyard:

Inside the temple was also beautiful, with lovely dragons, hanging lampshades in brightly coloured silk and lots of flowers in pots, but I did not think it would be very respectful to take photographs in a place of worship, so I did not.

After our snack, we returned via cable car and MTR to Hong Kong centre and the second fitting of our new clothes. Mine fitted perfectly and so I was able to take them away, while one of Mr Knitbert's jackets had to have a small adjustment and was to be delivered to the hotel the next morning. They are all fabulous, and I cannot believe how quickly they were made. I also persuaded Mr Knitbert to order two more shirts and another pair of trousers, to be sent to him in the U.K., and I think I might call them when we get home and order another jacket and skirt to be sent to me, as they are so lovely. What am I like !!!

If you are visiting Hong Kong and would like to use the same tailor, they are called Raiment Custom Clothing, and are located at 101 Hutchison House, quite close to the Central MTR station. Ask for Jacky Chan (no really!).

We were completely exhausted by this time, so we went back to our hotel for a rest and to work out how we were going to remain inside the luggage weight limit for the next leg of our journey. I swear next time I travel long haul I am going to take just a pair of jeans and two T shirts, and leave the rest of the space for purchases.

The next day we took it easy, I had a nice manicure and then we went shopping. If you don't like to shop or play golf, I am not sure what you do in your spare time in Hong Kong. The shopping malls are just amazing; miles and miles of marble flooring and hundreds of huge designer stores.

Then we had to get back to the hotel to be picked up for our transfer to the airport, and Mr Knitbert got disoriented, with only half an hour to go, and started looking up at high rise buildings and muttering to himself. In the end I had to force him, practically at knife point, into a shop to ask directions, and it turned out we were only about five minutes away from our hotel after all. Just as well!

The ongoing flight to Auckland was packed this time, whereas the same flight from London on Wednesday had been less than half full, and Mr Knitbert told me we had done a derated flex takeoff, as the aircraft was not very heavy. The flight was smooth and uneventful, and the good news is that I did quite a lot more crochet squares!

The bad news is that I only got about three hours sleep and Mr Knitbert didn't sleep at all, so he looked a bit crazed by the time we got through immigration and customs. We had an excellent night's sleep last night, though, and I awoke at a very civilised 7.30 am, so I hope we have adjusted to our new time zone.

Well, I am nearly at the end of this extremely long post. I have finished my Hedera socks at last:

And finally, here is the garden of the lovely place we are staying. The weather here has just turned rather changeable, with frequent showers, but it is still lovely and warm, and I was able to swim in the outdoor pool this morning.

I would also like to thank everyone who has left comments, it is nice to feel I am still in touch with all of you even though I am so far away. See you soon!