10/15/2016: Touring Christchurch

I didn’t even get to write my blog about the damage seen in our visit to Christchurch before the next earthquake has devastated New Zealand.  Kaikoura and the surrounding area is one of the most beautiful areas that I have ever experienced and hope for the best for everyone impacted.  (aerial photos from 10/28/2014: Flight over Kaikoura)

My first career was in urban planning and my second is in emergency services, so visiting Christchurch was fascinating from a clinical standpoint.  Two years ago, we were advised not to go to Christchurch because of the damage; “there was nothing to see.”  When we visited in October, I was disappointed that I had missed seeing city center on the last trip because I would have liked to see the recovery process over time.  Today, I am glad we didn’t spend time there because we were in Kaikoura and who nows when that area will recover.

I’ve seen lots of areas burning or recently burned by the wildfires in California.  Within a year, the scars of some of those fires are gone and they are on fire again.  I began my second career on a fire near the Indians (10/19/2015: Hiking “The Indians”).  The scars?  An occasional snag or cat-faced oak.  I was in lower Manhattan the week after 9/11 and have returned every 3-4 years since.  Still vivid in my memory are the store front mannequins covered white plaster dust, the impromptu memorials of flowers along chain link fences accompanying hand made signs for the missing, and the debris fields towering over 100′ fire department aerial master streams at Ground Zero.  The recovery?  On a physical level near complete.  Changed but vibrant again.  On a personal level it will never be forgotten.  New Orleans shocked me the most with whole districts abandoned.  Areas the size of small towns just left to rot.  Each is an interesting case study in damage, response, and recovery.

Christchurch was a reminder of the frailty of our cultural world.  Five years after the earthquake, buildings are abandoned, shored, or demolished.  In fact, whole blocks of buildings are not used.  However, it’s an odd mix because so many other areas full of life.  Outside the city center, you could pass through the city and not see any signs of the earthquake (did it 3 times).  In fact, as we walked down a residential street, our first experience was what looked like a church steeple sitting on the ground with no building to hold it up.  It caught us off guard because everything else seemed so normal (The next day, we found out that we hadn’t noticed our first experience with the rebuilding because a skin had been built around an old church to protect it’s historical interior).  A walk through the city center was an interesting mix of damage and recovery.  Most city blocks were completely normal, then you would have to detour because of construction (but what city isn’t full of construction).  You are always crossing the street because of closed sidewalks or walking through the tunnel of scaffolding .  Christchurch was different though because the next block would have a complete skyscraper, empty.  No signs of life except graffiti and broken windows.  The next block…like nothing had ever happened.

I was disappointed to read that they want to tear down the Christchurch Cathedral but, in light of this week’s news and the long list of damage caused by earthquakes, I understand. The list of cultural icons that I have seen that are now damaged or destroyed keeps growing though.  It’s a constant reminder of time and it makes me want to travel more lest I miss anything else.

Steeple from the Wharetiki House
Version 2
Our City O-Tautahi
Massive shoring on Our City
Chief Post Office
Christchurch Cathedral
Shoring on Christchurch Cathedral
James Cook Memorial, Victoria Square





Hoiho Quest

When I research a trip, I make a list of must sees, like to see, and hope to see.  On this year’s trip to the South Island of New Zealand, Kiwi’s and penguins were pretty high on the priority list.  It’s great to read all the guide books and tourist maps, but when you get there, you find there are choices…blue penguin or yellow-eyed.  Which would I rather see?  Can we see both?  What are the habits of each?  Nocturnal?  Locations?  Travel times?  Alternative sites?  (Why one of my favorite travel blogs ever was Type A Traveling at Bulldog Travels)

Personally, I would rather find wild animals on my own in their habitat rather than take a tour just to check a box.  The next question is “Are we going to find them in their natural habitat without a guide?”  Are we okay going home without seeing them?

Penguin crossing sign in Oamaru


These were all the questions going through our minds as we reached Oamaru, New Zealand and realized there was no way that we were going to reach our reservations at Penguin Place near Dunedin (The trip that should have taken 3 hours per the guidebook was taking 5.)  Should we stay to see the Blue Penguins return at dusk?  Should we continue on the trip and hope we saw penguins elsewhere?

We had a ferry to catch in a couple of days and had to continue south hoping for the best.

Later than expected (thanks to cars and trucks speeding up every passing lane leaving a line of traffic trailing them (a phenomenon we see on our local highway)), we arrived on the Otago Peninsula.  We had a reservation for a campsite and settled in after 14 hours of flying and 11 hours of driving.  The next morning, after the “full breakfast” and a couple of flat whites, we weren’t in the mood to take a tour; we needed exercise!  We rode our bikes from Lower Portobello and hiked to a spot where locals said we might see penguins.

Penguin tracks in the sand

At the end of Victory Beach, we found the tracks of the last penguin hiking to the ocean for the day.  We were rewarded with Southern Fur Seals but, alas, no penguins.  It was fascinating to see all their scuffling in the sand as they climbed over the last dune into the bush.  Nothing I ever imagined from pictures of penguins in Antarctica.

Later the same day, our tour of the Catlins took us to Curio Bay.  Again, there was the chance to see Yellow-eyed penguins.  But when?  The penguins didn’t have a ferry to catch in the morning.  We hiked down to the Petrified Forest (fascinating in itself) but then had to decide whether to keep driving or camp for the night.  We decided to check on the camping, buy some supplies, and admire the view from the bluff.  At the last second we decided to return to the petrified forest and look for penguins again.


We knew at first glance that penguins must be there because everyone was crowded into a cluster on the rocky shore.  After a quick hike down the bluff, we took a seat on the rocks and watched as Yellow-eyed Penguins returned from their day at sea.  It was more entertaining than I ever expected.  We sat quietly on the rocks and let them go about their business (so happy to have a long lens for my camera).  They look like any other bird in the ocean but, as they came to shore, they morphed into an awkward Weeble plodding across the rocks.  As they preened themselves they seemed so proud; so detail oriented.  They spent a long time cleaning themselves at the water’s edge.

But, with their head down, their walk looked like they were kicking a can down the road in anticipation of the next bad thing to happen.  As they hopped from rock to rock, there was a long pause as they seemed to contemplate whether could make the landing.  All I could think of was Eeyore.  They had the look of a hard day at work and a long commute home.

The big surprise came as the last penguin came to the edge of the bush, leaned back, and called to the wild with the energy of an opera singer.

The early stress of seeing a penguin was alleviated in one instant.  As opposed to the effort to see a Toucan in the jungles of Belize (Toucan’t See Me), finding penguins was easier than I expected.  Off the coast of Stewart Island, we found Blue Penguins while kayaking with Phil’s Kayaks.  Pictures?  Sorry, trying to keep the kayak steady in heavy seas; both hands on the paddle and both feet working the rudder.  The photos would not have been interesting because the birds were so small in such a large bay.  The fascinating part was hearing the barking of penguins as they called back and forth to one another from all around us.

In Milford Sound, we were rewarded with a sighting of Fiordland crested penguins; a breed we had no expectations of seeing.  The ship’s captain said it was rare to see the penguins and he had never seen such a large group (11 total).

Fiordland crested penguins or ‘Tawaki’

And the kiwi?  We went to Stewart Island in hopes of seeing one.  As I sat out on the balcony with my cup of coffee early one morning, I heard the calls of 2 males and was happy with that.  Next trip I might consider a tour.



9/29/2016: Running Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

I was so impressed with hiking Point Lobos State Natural Reserve that I decided to return on my morning run.  As I arrived at the entrance, I found a group of runners with the same idea just waiting for the park to open.  It was great to cover the trails that I had missed the previous day and, once the other runners had chosen a different trail, I felt like I had the park to myself.

The only mistake I made was running from the hotel.  I don’t mind running busy roads but Route 1 was ridiculous.  Every blind corner had a truck speeding north, hugging the shoulder to maintain whatever momentum he had.  It got old quickly; I should have driven to the park and done all my running on quiet trails, enjoying the tranquility of the nature reserve.

Whaler’s Cove
Whaler’s Cabin
Abalone shells
Whaling Station Museum
Cypress Cove
Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii)
Sunrise through the fog and pines


View from Route 1 as the coastal fog receded


9/28/2016: Hiking Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

The character of the Monterey coast is all present at the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.  The towering sculptural Cypress amassed in contorted groves, the textures of the pendulous lace lichen hanging from the Coast Live Oaks, the pastel colors of the wildflowers intermixed in the coastal scrub, and the ephemeral views of the rocky cliffs revealed by the shifting fog.  Wildlife can be seen in the forest, in the cliffs, and on the water.  It doesn’t take much time to realize why so many authors, artists, and creative people were attracted to the California coast south of Carmel.  The full range of emotions are reflected off the Pacific Ocean, carefree crystal blue in the sunshine and moody grey when the clouds roll in.

Just off Route 1, it’s a busy park.  But, with so much natural beauty in a small space so close to Carmel, Point Lobos is worth the visit.


9/30/2016: Touring the garden of the Mission San Antonio de Padua

First impressions are a tricky thing.

When you walk into the courtyard of the Mission San Antonio de Padua, you aren’t bowled over by the beauty.  It’s a little sparse.  Everything is showing a little drought stress from the summer heat and earthquake retrofit construction is ongoing.  The garden is similar to the mission itself.  From a distance, the mission does not look impressive but as you look at the details, beauty can be found everywhere.  It’s subtle but it’s there.

It’s definitely worth the effort to look close.