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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve‏

March 9th, 2010 · 1 Comment

When I asked the driver and tour guide of my trip to the Farewell Spit Nature Reserve a week ago about attractions on the South Island that he thought I might like as much, he told me about two places that were new to me. One of those places, the White Heron Sanctuary, was certainly one of the high points of my visit to New Zealand so far. The other one, the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, which I visited Tuesday, was another.

I went to the wildlife reserve after walking into Sumner from Graeme’s home on the cliff overlooking the village. I needed a better map of the Christchurch area and I wanted lunch and to connect to the Internet. I got a detailed map at a bookstore, enjoyed both tarihiki and gurnard, two fish that were new to me, at Sumner Seafoods, and connected at a coffee shop.

While the map was necessary for me to find my way across Christchurch, it wasn’t sufficient. I got lost more times than I can count on what should have been a 40 minute journey, according to the most helpful manager of the bookstore, who detailed the route to me. In the event, I took about two and one-half hours to get to Willowbank.

At the time, I didn’t realize that my delayed arrival at about 4:30 p.m. was one of the best things that happened to me. Here’s why.

The big thing about Willowbank, according to the tour guide who told me about it, is that this is the most successful place where kiwis breed. He was talking about New Zealand’s iconic bird, not the people of this country, who of course breed everywhere.

For a century New Zealander’s have been calling themselves Kiwis. Soldiers in the New Zealand military were the first to become known as Kiwis, and now this nickname has become an important part of this nation’s identity. So this rare little bird is even more of a symbol to the people of this country than the bald eagle is to Americans.

Unlike the Kiwi people, the kiwi bird sleeps during the day and is active at night. Also unlike the Kiwi people, this bird is endemic to New Zealand, having lived here for around 30 million years, and is found only here.

The kiwi is one of the few flightless birds. It belongs to the family that includes the ostrich, the emu, and the extinct moa. But this bird is the only one in the world whose nostrils are at the tip of a very long bill.

The kiwi starts to get active at dusk. This was my good fortune. By arriving at the wildlife reserve so late and by spending even more hours at its other sections first, I eventually got to a large room where the kiwis were waking up and starting to dig for food.

But I faced a further problem when I got there — almost no light. Even the fastest camera couldn’t capture a image of one of these birds without flash. However, I didn’t see any sign saying I couldn’t use flash, and for the hour that I spent it the kiwi shed I was totally alone with the birds.

Shooting in the general direction of where I heard a kiwi scampering around, I eventually got some adequate shots of this unique bird.

A Kiwi, the Bird that is the Symbol of New Zealand

A Kiwi, the Bird that is the Symbol of New Zealand

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Back to Christchurch‏

March 8th, 2010 · No Comments

Yesterday I completed a loop of New Zealand’s South Island. I returned to the island’s major city, Christchurch, where I arrived two weeks ago.

The biggest town I passed through was Timaru. I noticed that they have a nice botanic garden, so I stopped and looked around.

Flowers in Timaru's Botanic Garden

Flowers in Timaru's Botanic Garden

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Earlier, I found more natural attractions along my way.

Flowers and Sky

Flowers and Sky

Budding Flowers in Somebody's Garden

Budding Flowers in Somebody's Garden

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This Bird Visited my Table at a Seaside Restaurant

This Bird Visited my Table at a Seaside Restaurant

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My destination last night was the village of Sumner. This seaside area of Christchurch has many natural attractions, not of the least of which is my gracious host, Graeme McIver. He lives in a small and charming home on the cliff. This cliff is so steep that his house sits 60 steps down from the road. But it’s certainly worth the view overlooking the town and the South Pacific Ocean.

The View of Sumner from Graeme's Deck

The View of Sumner from Graeme's Deck

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Since Graeme is taking a class on writing this morning and early afternoon and has a date this evening, he left his house to me. I am so fortunate to have such generous friends.

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Across New Zealand’s South Island‏

March 7th, 2010 · 2 Comments

In two leisurely days I crossed the South Island of New Zealand again, returning to the sunnier and drier east side of the island. The trip took me 515km from the town of Franz Josef to the city of Oamaru.

Saturday morning after flying over the glaciers and Mt. Cook near the town of Franz Josef, I drove south along the Tasman Sea as far as the highway goes. At this lookout I stopped to stretch my legs and take this shot:

The View to Antarctica from Knights Point

The View to Antarctica from Knights Point

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At Haast Beach the road turns inward and passes through Mt. Aspiring National Park (love that name!). To this point the country is all rainforest. But beyond Haast Pass the land is in a rain shadow of the mountains and suddenly become much drier.

The View Back to the Mountains from the Dry Side of Haast Pass

The View Back to the Mountains from the Dry Side of Haast Pass

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New Zealand’s Glaciers‏

March 6th, 2010 · No Comments

The people of New Zealand have good reason to call their highest  mountains the “Southern Alps.” The big attractions of the town of  Franz Josef in the southwest of the South Island are glaciers. Even  from downtown Franz Josef the Franz Josep Glacier looms over all:

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White Heron Sanctuary‏

March 4th, 2010 · 2 Comments

If not for my friend Sharon, who is beginning to teach me how to appreciate, look for, and photograph birds, I might have missed the high point so far of my visit to New Zealand. I also thank the driver and tour guide of my trip to the Farewell Spit Nature Reserve a few days ago who told me about the White Heron Sanctuary when I asked him the places on the South Island that he thought I might like as much.

The White Heron Sanctuary is near Whataroa and just a few miles from where I am staying two nights at a campground in the town of Franz Josef. When I first looked out of the van this morning, my day started with a bang as I saw this sight:

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

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New Zealand’s West Coast‏

March 4th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Today I drove 275km down the West Coast of New Zealand from Westport to Franz Josef, which sits between the South Pacific Ocean and the Southern Alps. While the little town of Franz Josef is so crowded with tourists that I chose to bypass the busy restaurants for a quiet meal in the van, the images that I captured today were all from the seal colony just 10 miles south of Westport. This is the only on-shore spot where the Southern Fur Seals bear and raise their pups.

Before even getting to the seals I came across this noteworthy bird indigenous only to these islands. That has to be true because the bird, called a weka, is flightless. Before the arrival of humans here it had no need to fly, having no natural enemies. The only land mammals native to New Zealand are two species of bats that must have flown here or have been blown here.

A Fearless Weka

A Fearless Weka

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New Zealand Scenes and Shells‏

March 3rd, 2010 · 1 Comment

The wild west beckoned yesterday. Not America’s, but rather New Zealand’s.

I drove the width of the South Island from Golden Bay in the northeast to Westport in the east in about eight or nine hours. Most of the journey took me through a beautiful scene of verdant forest. Green was everywhere, not only in the trees but more grass that I ever saw before. The grass came right up to the road itself.

While beautiful, this scene doesn’t lend itself to spectacular photography. However, sunrise on Golden Bay and sunset at Tauranga Bay did.

Golden Bay in the Morning

Golden Bay in the Morning

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Farewell Spit Nature Reserve‏

March 2nd, 2010 · No Comments

Yesterday was the sort of day that drew me to New Zealand. I took a seven-hour tour of the nature preserve at Farewell Spit. This is the far north end of the South Island, exactly as far south of the equator as Boulder is north.

Tour Bus at Cape Farewell

Tour Bus at Cape Farewell

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Captain Cook named the cape when he left New Zealand in 1770. The cape itself is this split rock:

Cape Farewell

Cape Farewell

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Cruising Queen Charlotte Sound

February 27th, 2010 · No Comments

Graeme returned to his home in Christchurch at noon Saturday. This had been the plan from the beginning of our trip to the north of the South Island of New Zealand. He took a train that follows a scenic route along the east coast of the island.

In the several days that we traveled together, Graeme was a wonderful companion and instructor. He taught me everything that I need to know to run his camper van and was also a knowledgeable and informative tour guide to his country.

But now he has left me alone in his camper van. This meant that I had to drive it, something that I had mostly avoided during the past few days that we were together.

Everybody warned me that driving on the left side would be the hard part. But it hasn’t been hard for me, especially because I had that experience when I lived four years in Kenya and Malawi.

What is hard is driving a big vehicle with a manual transmission. The camper van is bigger and heavier than my Toyota Highlander SUV, which has an operator-friendly automatic transmission. Graeme’s Mercedes Sprinter camper van is about the size of the biggest SUVs, like a Suburban.

This camper van is fully equipped except for the lack of an automatic transmission and air conditioning. New Zealand rarely needs the later, although for a few hours on Saturday afternoon back at the campground I appreciated having a picnic table in the shade.

This self-contained camper van even allows what they call “freedom camping” here. This is where you pull over to a flat spot beside a road. I haven’t done that yet, mainly because I appreciate the wi-fi in the campgrounds.

This van has electricity (when we hook it up to a power outlet in a campground), including a built-in electric heater, a sink and drinking water, a stove, a grill, and a microwave oven, a refrigerator, a toilet, a very small shower, closets, large windows and curtains, and foam couches convertible at night to two twin beds (when Graeme was here) or a large queen bed for one by using the backrests to fill in the gap between them. Everything a boy could want!

On Saturday afternoon after Graeme left I took a catamaran cruise for four hours from Picton through Queen Charlotte Sound on the Endeavor Express. This was a perfect day for an ocean cruise — no wind, much sun, and in fact not a cloud in the sky.

Traveling alone, I wasn’t lonely, because I met many people on the ship, as single travelers often do. The Endeavor Express serves backpackers who are hiking part of the Queen Charlotte track, vacationers in resorts along the sound, and people who live in cabins there.

A Good Place for a Hermit to Live

A Good Place for a Hermit to Live

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From Kaikoura to Picton, New Zealand‏

February 27th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Graeme and I left Kaikoura yesterday morning under heavy overcast skies. It had rained in the night. New Zealand’s weather is reputed to be quite changeable, and this country is living up to expectations in this and in all other ways.

But since the morning was dreary, we cancelled our plans for a helicopter flight over the Kaikoura Peninsula and continued our drive north. Changing again, the weather cleared by noon and we had clear skies when we stopped at a landmark roadside restaurant directly on the South Pacific Ocean called “The Store at Kekerengu.” This delightful restaurant reminded me strongly of the Nepenthe Restaurant on the Big Sur Coast. For my lunch I chose what the Kiwis call a crayfish and I call a lobster.

Feasting on Lobster

Feasting on Lobster

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