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Posts tagged ‘nature’s fury’

Vietnam: 10~In the Mekong Delta

We had reached the Mekong Delta. The bus driver deposited us and our guide at a departure point along the river and we were shown to a long covered ferry type boat with open sides. For about half an hour we were taken around, along, across the river.

There was just so much to see – the combination of muddy water, old boats and houses, clutter and colour everywhere. Read more

New Year Trip: 7~A 50-year flood

New Years Day started tentatively – but blessedly there was no headache to greet me. A fortunate thing, as it was time to move on again. We packed up and farewelled our hosts. As usual it had been a great visit and I’d be seeing them again in February thanks to a plan hatched the night before.

First order of business was coffee and food. We went back to where we found coffee yesterday and joy of joys, it was open.

That taken care of, the TomTom was set for Whakatane.

The drive started off well. It was a fine day with not too much traffic. Heading over the Bombay Hills I got stuck behind a car in the fast lane going a few k’s slower than ideal. Eventually they pulled into the left hand lane and, with my turn off coming up, I decided to put my foot down a little to jump ahead of the queue rather than follow and continue behind my slow friend. Then rounding a bend I saw with mild horror a police car off to the side. Uttering a stream of curses, I instantly backed off and braked feeling sure my time was up after a number of close calls in recent years. With frequent glances in the rear view mirror I was surprised there was no immediate pursuit. Could I be so lucky???

No.

By the time I got to the turn off the police car was underway, lights a-twinkling. Resigned to my fate, I soon came upon a side road which I pulled into and waited, license in hand. The officer was reasonable and I inwardly gave thanks to the wee time delay before his radar locked on, which resulted in a lower reading and ultimately lessened my fine.

We continued on, perhaps a touch more conservatively than before. Travelling through patches of the heavy rain that had been causing havoc in a few areas, we reached the Bay of Plenty from where we’d continue down the east coast. A random stop was made at a beach access spot along the stretch of road where it hugs the coastline.

Nice stretch of east coast beach, apart from the blue bottles




Whakatane wasn’t far off by this stage. It had stopped raining and had the appearance of a not-too-bad sort of day. But in previous days the area had been dumped on by massive amounts of rain and in some places, flooding and other issues had cut people off and caused roads to be closed.

As we entered the town we came upon huge queues of cars trying to head the opposite way. Thousands of people who had attended the annual New Year music festival over in Gisborne had unfortunately timed their journey home with road closures and it was chaos. But not for us, and we zipped past them as per TomTom’s instructions and found our motel.

The main township is located beside the Whakatane River, near where it opens out into the sea. We noticed the river looked high, really high, and along the riverbank could see where some walkways had been submerged. Near our motel a couple of roads had been blocked off. We checked in then headed out on foot to see what the situation was.

The flood had peaked by this stage and was starting to drop back. It was clear the river had risen above its banks in places and flooded some of the town. Later on when the measurements were in, it rated as a little larger than a one-in-50-year flood. The problem being that this kind of flood happens more frequently than that label suggests.

Mike in a big puddle

My main concern was for the following day. Our reason for stopping off in Whakatane was to do a tour to the volcanic White Island. Although the rain had stopped, water was still flowing into and inundating the river, and bringing with it it huge amounts of debris. The tour boats leave from the river and the trees and logs were a real hazard and so no tours had run for the previous couple of days.

The tour boats went nowhere today - would they tomorrow?

Half a day or so before, doubt we would've been standing here

The saying 'weather for ducks' springs to mind

Just along from our motel the road was flooded

While it was really interesting to see the flood, our tour the next day, which I’d been looking forward to for months, was in doubt. We would find out in the morning.

High octane weekend

I drafted this a few months ago but then other things got in the way. Now seems a good time to get caught up finally, before the year disappears, and for another reason I’ll explain at the end. So, let us rewind….

In April, the city of Hamilton hosted the New Zealand round of the Australian V8 Supercar series. Arguably the country’s premier motorsport event, it is the one sporting occasion that I try to attend in person each year. In a working capacity, as a flagmarshal.

Flagmarshals fulfill an important safety role at race events, their main function being to use a set of flags to signal certain messages to drivers. They are organised into small teams, each with a post chief, and put at specific positions around the course. Usually a day at the track is pretty long and tiring and sometimes it can be very full on. You expect an exciting, busy weekend with the Aussie V8s!

I was disappointed to give it a miss last year due to work. This year things were no less busy but there was no critical implementation dates, so I lodged my application. A few weeks later my place was confirmed.

A couple of weeks before race weekend I attended a briefing in Palmerston North, a small city a couple of hours north of Wellington. As well as getting some useful information, we also received the coveted entry pass and the standard issue white overalls. While not designed to look good (or even vaguely fit well), at least we would look all the same and, hence, somewhat professional.

We also found out where we would be assigned for the weekend – a keenly sought after piece of intel. Every flaggie wants to get on a prime corner spot with lots of action. Of course there are few of those places and 300 marshals so some people are obviously going to miss out.

Such as me! Still, it was a thrill to just be involved.

The days ticked over and finally it was Thursday, marking the start of my long weekend. I hit the road for the drive north, very happy to be driving my car instead of my desk.

Morrinsville is a small town in the Waikato and I find it to be a good base when going to the V8s being not far from both Hamilton and my grandmother. It has a couple of good motels, a good supermarket, and that’s about all I need. It also has tractors.

Friday is the start of the race weekend and the first of three long days for those involved in making it happen. After navigating the dark city streets to the assigned carpark (always a bit hit and miss on the first day), marshals are typically all signed in by 6.30am and waiting at Turn One by 7am for a ride around to the flag points. I and the other point chiefs detoured to pick up the communication radios.

Standing en masse in our white overalls, it if wasn’t for the context of the racetrack we could easily be mistaken for a gang of house painters. At most other race events in NZ marshals are in orange gear which is a little more unique.

Of the 23 flag points around the street circuit I was around the back on point 15. As forewarned by the circuit diagram I could see that we would be sufficiently far away from a corner to be assured of a quietish weekend. Sigh. I met the other three flagmarshals, the fireman assigned to our point, and the guy who was manning the nearby emergency escape hatch. We set up the equipment and I got plugged into the communications set. Essentially a hard wired telephone system, I had a leash of around six feet which kept me from straying off point.

Eventually, after various course vehicles had completed various laps around the track to check for various things, the sessions got underway. It was great to be back on the front line, even on our humble flag point!

Marshals have to behave in a professional manner and this extends to not taking photographs while on duty. Hence there aren’t photos of any actual action. Being professional doesn’t rule out having fun: I was with a good bunch and we had a lot of laughs over the weekend.

We also had a resident rabbit. Clearly a bit of an urban bunny he (she?) was quite happy being near people and within a few metres of fast noisy V8s. It also only had three legs which made me less worried that it would amble under or bound over the barriers onto the track.

The weather forecast was not brilliant and Saturday was w-e-t. We were next to a traffic overbridge which provided some shelter when nothing was happening – that is unless you were tethered to the point like I was. The support classes rotated through their stints on track and provided some good entertainment and a little bit of flag action for us. Luckily it wasn’t tooo wet and race one of the Aussie V8s went ahead as scheduled in the afternoon. This was what we all came for!

Without the benefit of any commentary or a big screen it is tricky to keep up with what’s happening on track, especially once the pit stop strategies come into play. And especially when spray at times stopped us from seeing beyond more than a few metres. The conditions caused dramas elsewhere around the circuit, which did create a little bit of excitement for us when the track came under full-course yellow.

It is usually a relief to get to the end of the day after standing on concrete for the best part of 10 hours. I gave the ZZ Top concert a miss as I was meeting my mother for dinner back in Morrinsville. Hard to believe it is 24 years since I saw them play at Western Springs back in their heyday.

Sunday saw the weather gods in a better mood as there was only patchy rain. I think most of us had been able to dry out our wet articles from the day before. By this stage of the weekend my back and legs were regularly needing a bit of relief from standing and my ear regions were feeling very tender from the tight head-set.

Another feature of our remote outpost was the absence of other humans, aside from the ones hurtling past us on the track. There were no spectator areas nearby so apart from the rabbit, we were visited only occasionally by race officials and police officers on foot patrol.

The build-up to the second 59-lap race for the Aussie V8s included the drivers parade. Marshals will typically applaud all drivers at the end of every race and it is nice to get the occasional wave back in return. Just about all of them acknowledged us, though some did seem a bit preoccupied talking to the obligatory decorative female sitting beside them.

Race two got underway and we soaked up the final opportunity of the weekend to see these cars in the flesh. It was an exciting race and resulted in a brilliant first V8 Supercars win for one of the NZ drivers.

Afterward we did the usual equipment pack-up. I walked back around the track to HQ which provided a good perspective of the various corners, especially where there were obvious signs of cars having connected with walls. I didn’t linger at the track on account of paying my grandmother and mother a final visit.

The next day I was busy with the 500km return drive home, a couple of weather related stops helping to break it up.

Our flag point

Waiting for the day to start

Our 3-legged bunny

The drivers' parade

Returning to base

With gran and mum

Amazing weather on the Desert Road

Quick stop on the Kapiti Coast to watch the sunset

And now back in the present, the end of 2011, it was recently announced that the V8 Supercars have been pulled from Hamilton after the April 2012 event. In short it has been a financial disaster. Quite possibly this also spells the end of New Zealand round altogether. There is one promising alternative venue at the Hampton Downs racetrack south of Auckland and hopefully they can pull it off.

But 2012 could well be the last time the V8 Supercars are in NZ. And unfortunately they’ll be doing it without me. I’m travelling to the UK in May and my resources are going toward that.

My memories and photos from the 9 or 10 Supercar events I did marshal at will have to sustain me!

The snow storm arrives

The morning arrived and I peered through the curtains… still no sign of falling white stuff. I was starting to feel a bit let down!

After wrestling our bags out of the hotel and checking out, it was off to revisit our fave Queenstown breakfast cafe, Motogrill. Fortunately yummy coffee and food came fairly quickly. Queenstown has a bit of a nazi reputation with parking and many spaces are regulated by the quarter or half hour, but we escaped unscathed.

The main objective today was to get to our accommodation for the next few nights in the Cardrona Valley. It is somewhat isolated, or at least not in easy reach of supplies, so we found a supermarket to stock up in before we left town.

With bags of food and drink wedged into what little space remained in Mike’s car, we set off in lightly falling snow. The next stop wasn’t far away, to have a coffee with Ants. We heard that those in the group from last night who were to fly home had their flights cancelled, the first real sign of the impending weather.

We decided to call into Arrowtown, a lovely place that has retained a look and feel from its gold mining days. A short walkabout ensued before it was time to get our act together and go. Pie no.4 called out to me but I showed surprising restraint.

A short stop in lovely Arrowtown

The Crown Range Rd is the most direct route between Queenstown and Wanaka and goes through the Cardrona Valley. At just over 1100m high, a lot of the road is well into the snow line during a half-decent winter. On the way to the turnoff snow started to fall heavily and continued as we made the hard-left turn and began to ascend the zigzag.

The snow began as we headed for the Crown Range Rd

A few minutes later we arrived at the sign directing us to fit chains and we joined the little hub of vehicles already undergoing the transformation. Mike purchased our set off TradeMe a couple of years ago and they sat unused, until now. Looking at our neighbours struggling with their chains, and looking at the tangled pile that was ours, did cause us to wonder how long this would take.

Mike getting down to business

However, Mike managed to interpret the Japanese instructions – or at least, make sense of the diagrams – and after 20 or so minutes they were on.

That is one finely fitted chain

We slowly nudged back onto the road and found ourselves behind the most unlikely of vehicles given the conditions. Very keen!

You don't often come across a car with chains on the rear wheels. Zephyrs probably aren't your typical alpine transportation

Travelling at an average speed of 50kph, the road seemed much longer and it took ages to reach the summit. The conditions made me a bit on edge so it wasn’t exactly a relaxing drive, but creeping along gave us more opportunity to take in the amazing white landscape.

The slippery white road with ressurance of a barrier to the left and bank to the right!

A few k’s later on the other side we* were able to shed the chains (*clearly I mean it was Mike out there doing the detaching) and a few minutes later we rolled into Cardrona.

The end is nigh - arriving in Cardrona

Made it! The comfy lodgings at Benbrae

Now that we were at the resort, with its fantastic insulation and heating and outdoor hot pool, it could snow all it wanted…

Go here to pick up the rest of the trip.

Snowed in and loving it

Right now we’re in the Cardrona Valley on day four of our winter break. I had been recounting my North America trip of a few years ago with a goal to finish before heading down south. However that master plan was scuttled by work pressures so I’ll get back to it later. There are more immediate travel tales to get on with!

We should have been up at the ski field today but it was closed on account of the dose of Antarctic weather currently sweeping the country. Amazingly there’s also been snow at home in Wellington and even in Auckland. Unheard of.

Cardrona is a teeny place and it was a bit of a mission getting here yesterday, which I’ll post separately about. We were planning to stay in Wanaka but a special deal came up at the Benbrae Resort, a fantastic place about three minutes walk from the iconic Cardrona Hotel. A little further along are the access roads to Cardrona ski field and Snow Park / Snow Farm. Since we were planning to spend most mountain time up at the Cardrona fields, staying close by in the valley made sense.

The scenery is stunning and white and it is a real novelty to stay somewhere like this. I’ve grown rather fond of the perfectly temperatured outdoor hot tub, especially being submerged in it while the snow is falling. We’re fully self contained but will also make good use of the pizza bar here at the resort and the food and drinks down at the hotel. We may have been down there a couple of times already…

Some others staying here have had travel plans mucked up by the weather given roads and airports have been closed. It is nice to not have any of those pressures; still, with snowboard gear not being used cabin fever may yet set in!

The snow status in the resort this morning!

The Cardrona Hotel

How cool is that! My mocha from the Cardrona Hotel this morning.

Backyard at the Cardrona Hotel

The awesome outside fireplace

Walking through a new subdivision - Cardrona could look very different in a few years

The Cardrona River. Brrrr.

How to combat bitterly cold wind on the morning walkabout

Not standard attire, unless one is heading for the hot tub

The place to be on a cold snowy day!

Fleeing a hurricane

On my walk to the Daytona raceway I saw evidence of the last hurricane / tropical storm to have visited the area.

There were warnings of another on the way. My plan for the following day had been to pop down to the Kennedy Space Centre but that instead became ‘get out of Dodge’.

My cousin was a flight instructor and the pilots were tasked with taking their little trainer planes away to safety. I would’ve been happy to catch another bus but I was assured that as well as my cousin, his girlfriend, their cat and other belongings, there would also be enough room for not-so-small me and my not-so-small pack.

That night was spent packing up their apartment and taping the windows. It was an early start in the morning out to the airport and getting ready to go.

After what felt like ages we were able to leave. While a bit freaked out from being up high in a teeny weeny plane, the views were great.

A couple of refuelling stops later I developed a migraine and had to bail – think this was in Mississippi. After a few hours in the little airport lounge I recovered enough to taxi over to the bus station where I resumed my itinerary.

From memory the hurricane/storm didn’t amount to much.

Before the quakes: one great weekend down south

eatToday a region of the South Island including the city of Christchurch suffered a devastating series of earthquakes, almost six months after a magnitude 7.1 struck. Whereas the first quake was miraculously free from loss of life, the situation this time is very different. The full enormity of the impact of today’s quakes is yet to be realised.

In light of today’s events I wanted to post a few words and pictures about a fantastic long weekend we had down in the Christchurch and Banks Peninsula area three years ago.

Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city and is 45 minutes by air from Wellington. Mike and I flew down and collected a rental car, heading for the inner city to enjoy breakfast at a cafe near the Avon River. We didn’t linger too long but did walk around the Bridge of Remembrance world war memorial – I wonder what the state of that is now.

The first of our two nights away was at Sumner, a seaside suburb about half an hour from central Christchurch. We loved Sumner – nestled above and below high cliffs, it had a lovely village vibe to it with good access to beach and interesting rock formations to walk around. Today those cliffs made Sumner especially vulnerable.

Sumner as seen from the Port Hills

One of the most striking geographical aspects of Christchurch is the Port Hills – the hills between the city and the town of Lyttleton where the South Island’s biggest deep-water port is located. The hills have quite an extensive road network across them and it is really interesting just driving around looking at the landscape and the various features and lookouts.

The following day we headed south into the Banks Peninsula, beginning with a short stop in Lyttleton. One of the roads to Lyttleton goes around the side of the hills with places to stop and look over the port. Today slips came down cutting off that road – as well as the main tunnel route.

Looking out over Port Lyttleton

Lyttleton was the epicenter of today’s quakes. We were really quite taken with it on our visit, it could easily be a fairly rough and ready port servicing town but it had a real charm with its heritage buildings given new life from vibrant shops and cafes. There were also some beautiful houses and gardens if I recall.

The port town of Lyttleton

Our destination for the night was Akaroa, a lovely settlement with British and French origins located in the Akaroa harbour on the southern end of the peninsula. Only 75kms from Christchurch, it is a fantastic drive and we enjoyed it despite our very budget rental car. The superb weather highlighted everything to perfection, particularly once we arrived in Akaroa. A more picturesque and idyllic seaside village you would be hard pressed to find. We have not yet heard how they fared today.

The Akaroa waterfront as seen from our hotel

A little pier in Akaroa

Back in Christchurch the following day and with spare time before our flight, we drove out to the suburb of New Brighton. The big feature here is a 300m pier on an 18km long sandy beach. A wet and grey day it nonetheless was a great way to end our weekend.

Lake Ellesmere in Banks Peninsula, a quick detour off the main road

The New Brighton pier

I’m sure the events of today have changed forever some of what we saw three years ago, making these fond memories all the more special.

A damp stroll on the New Brighton pier

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