Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Perth Writers Festival – part one

I left Wellington on the afternoon of Wednesday 22 February, flying first to Melbourne and then on to Perth (both flights approx 4 hours).

Movies I watched: 'Moneyball' (decent), 'The Ides of March' (decent) and 'The Adventures of Tintin' (very nearly gave up on it - not the biggest fan of the books but on film the boy detective annoyed the shit out of me).

I arrived in Perth at 8pm (they’re 5 hours behind NZ) and was surprised to find it pitch black outside, then remembered WA does not 'do' daylight savings. It was a close, muggy evening after a scorcher of a day and I worried that the heat and humidity would mar my festival experience. I needn't have, as the temperature for the next five days was mild in comparison, never getting above 28 degrees and without much humidity.

But to experience the festival I first had to leave the airport, which took a while as the driver that was supposed to collect me was nowhere to be found. After a series of phone calls to organisers and drivers, I was picked up two hours after my arrival, by which stage it was 3am NZT and I was keen to check in to the hotel and hit the hay.

On Thursday all the international authors at the festival with the time and inclination to go on a boat trip were taken out the Rottnest Island. Gathered in the hotel lobby, waiting to be walked down to the jetty, I found myself standing opposite Germaine Greer.

'I like your t-shirt' she said.

Several possible responses occurred to me, most too frightening to offer to the author of 'The Female Eunuch', so I just said, 'Thanks.'

Our boat was rather flash and there was plenty of wine and soft drinks to be had on the voyage. It took about an hour to make it down the Swan River to Fremantle and then another hour out to the island.

Bottlenose dolphins, Swan River
I had been looking forward to a spot of birding on the island and seeing some quokka, but the boat anchored about fifty metres offshore and we had to swim/snorkel to land, which ruled out taken bins or cameras. It also meant I washed up on the beach de-sunscreened and shirtless, and could only last twenty minutes on the white hot sand before returning to the water (even then I got a bit sunburnt). I saw a few fish - wrasse, a large kingfish-y fish, sundry tiddlers - but nothing to compare with the snorkelling I did in NZ in December (and certainly not the Great Barrier Reef). But it was still fun.

Rottnest Island from our mooring, Parakeet Bay
The best part about the trip was just hanging out with the other writers who'd all arrived the day before like me. A very civilised way to ease into a festival, I must say.

In the evening, the festival kicked off with Germaine Greer's opening address on eco-feminism, which was delivered in Winthrop Hall at the University of WA. The entire campus is architecturally… forceful, but this grand hall is totally out there: a combination of a Viking mead hall and a Sicilian cathedral, replete with stained glass mandala, baroque marble floors and Aboriginal art on the rafters.

Afterwards, the writers and invited guests gathered outside for the PWF opening party. I was still getting used to the fact that you could hold an event like this outside, with no shelter or backup plan -- knowing I'd be appearing on this same lawn in two nights' time for The Feast of Words... The only gripe about the party was the minimal food. We'd boarded the bus at 5.30 to go to the opening address and it was past ten when we got taken back to town: a few slivers of lamb pide didn't cut it unfortunately. (See also: Stephen Romei's festival wrap for a glimpse of how other writers coped with the food shortage).

Winthrop Hall, UWA
Friday: the festival started in earnest. My first session was 'Short, not so sweet', discussing the short story form with Janette Turner Hospital and Amanda Curtin. Counting on my fingers just now, I think this would have been my eleventh panel discussion in front of an audience since A Man Melting came out, and I think this one would have to have been the most rewarding. 

The session was ably chaired by Georgia Richter, who managed to set the session off on an interesting path early (once we'd all given short readings: I read from 'Copies' for the first time years) and from then on it felt like a real conversation. We discussed the rewards and challenges of the form, the way ideas germinate, how some ideas are best suited to a short story (or a novel or a poem), how we approached the task of pulling stories together into a collection, whether we read other writers when immersed in our own work and how to deal with the agony of influence. There was just the right amount of agreement and divergence and we could have filled another hour, easily. And as an added bonus, the two questions from the audience were good'ns.

[You can read a very thorough account of the session at the Waxings blog...]

We were all on a bit of a high after the session (having all been in ones that never quite reached top gear) and several audience members commented how much they enjoyed it. Ine said it was the best session they'd seen at the festival so far, but that's not saying much seeing how it was only the afternoon of the first full day. But I signed eight or ten books at the signing table, easily the most I've ever done after a single session, which I think is a good barometer (Janette and Amanda were also in high demand).

If only you could catch lightning in a bottle.

Earlier that day I sat in on a session about sex and literature featuring Krissy Kneen, Glen Duncan and Frank Moorhouse. I've read and admired the work of Moorhouse, but the others were new to me. After the first two writers gave readings involving octopus on octopus on human action and werewolf sex, Frank Moorhouse launched into a patchy tirade about the 'creeping gentilism' of all those warnings that come on before TV shows. He also called Glen Duncan 'Duncan' about six times during the session. You could see Glen considering whether to correct him the first few times, then, when he realised the chance had last, seething politely for the rest of the session.

On the van ride back to the hotel I had a great chat with Favel Parrett. We’re both working on books with sections set in the subantarctic, you see. To any writers festival artistic directors out there: once our respective books come out, you can chuck Favel and me on a stage and we’ll easily fill an hour with our passion for albatross and easterlies.

Friday evening I was invited to the dinner that Random House Australia put on for its authors. In the bar prior to going to the restaurant, I was involved in a small intrigue as I pretended to be the Perth-based friend of an author who shall remain nameless.

Here’s the backstory: Author X had recently switched publishers, but his tlast three books - the books he was promoting at the fest, had all been released by his old publisher. To their credit they were still supporting him and invited him to their dinner, but he was booked to go out with a friend that night and declined. The friend, however, came down crook and cancelled and in the course of drinking at the hotel bar Author X had been convinced to go to dinner with his new publishers. The only problem was that to get to the cabs waiting to take him to the restaurant, he had to pass through the lobby, and waiting in the lobby were a bunch of publicists and authors from his old publisher. I told him no one here knew what I looked like and I could pose as his Perth friend, allowing him to pass through the lobby without suspicion. It all went to plan until we go in the cab but had to wait for a third author to fill it.  Meanwhile Author X was ducking his head down and muttering, 'quickly, quickly'.

Anyway, my publisher’s dinner was fun. I spent most of my time talking to Perth-based writer Sara Foster (who'd also been on the boat to Rottnest) and Nick Earls. I think I read one of Nick's books when I lived in Brisbane, but the details were sketchy - sometimes it almost better to have not read any books at all. Anyway, Nick and Sara were lovely and the time flew by.

I had Saturday to myself until the evening so I went for a walk around the city. My first impression of Perth was that it was a fairly typical Australian metropolis: flat, straddling a river, chocka with hideous 70s beige pebbledash monoliths. 

And for a long time on my walk I felt that Perth's architecture was actually a new low, so hideous, so perfunctory, so leaden. But gradually the quirkiness of its older buildings emerged and I realised the whole place was batshit crazy. The UWA campus was not an aberration or a folly, but a natural extension of the craziness.

In the afternoon I headed out to the festival and caught the outdoor poetry reading featuring David Brooks (who chaired my session in the Blue Mountains at Sydney Writers Fest last May), Canadian Michael Crummey, Aussie Cate Kennedy and Ireland's Dennis O'Driscoull. All poets were fantastic in their own ways.

I then went to a session about building bigger works from smaller pieces featuring Julienne van Loon, Favel Parrett and my pal Frank Moorhouse. Again, the session was a bit disjointed (at one stage Frank's phone started ringing) but it was still worthwhile.

And then it was time for the Feast of Words... But you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Reflection / Playlist / Perth / Door

Upon reflection: an update on Sunday’s braindump about new ideas

I feel compelled to open with a metaphor about the sudden flare of a sky rocket (and their unseen plummet back to earth) or the task of catching fireflies (and coaxing them to glow inside the mason jar).

One piece of context I did not mention on Sunday is that I had just been watching Justin Paton’s superb ‘How To Look at a Painting’ on TV1 (the series based on Paton’s book of the same name). The show had, I suspect, conditioned me to thinking, if not in two dimensions, at least in visual and static terms. The image of the New Zealander looking upon a ruined London could be taken up and expanded into a nice collection of images (kiwis in jandals and MacPacs looking at the bombed-out remains of Stockholm, an ivy covered Eiffel tower, the crumbling facades of Wall Street…)

(Even this seems rather obvious and laboured to me today.)

But to take this idea and make fiction… it’s just too static. Perhaps Prof. Blyde Muddersnook did it best 101 years ago?

Playlist for an elongated February

Sirius/Eye in the Sky – Alan Parsons Project
When I write my Masters thesis – John K Samson
Night Terror – Laura Marling
Witches – Low
Bizness – tUnE-yArDs
Tiny Dancer – Elton John (but only if you sing it: 'Hold me closer, Tony Danza')
Joey – Concrete Blonde
England  –  The National 
Mykonos  –  Fleet Foxes

Away in WA

This’ll be my last post before I fly out to Perth to attend their writers festival. I arrive late on Wednesday (it’s a pretty long way from Wellington: two x 3.5 hour flights) and am being taken to Rottnest Island to watch birds and snorkel on Thursday before Germaine Greer’s opening address.

I’m appearing in three sessions:

I’ve also got two days to explore around Perth after the festival finishes. If I can’t post during the fest, I’ll do a round-up once I get back to Wellington.

Until then, here's a photo of a door:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Welcome to the waiting room: an almost real-time braindump about coming across what could become a book one day

I’m at that point with THE NOVEL where I know I’ll be finished with it one day — we’re talking months, not days, not years — and I can afford to open the waiting room in my brain and let some new ideas take up residence.

All ideas are welcome, but some arrive with greater urgency than others, begging for an immediate audience with the physician.

Some arrive alone, enter the waiting room sheepishly, prefer to stand rather than take a vacant seat next to another idea. Some of these loners turn around and walk out after a time, never to return. Others remain standing, refuse to engage with the others. Some relent, take a seat and are drawn into conversation: turns out they have something in common with their neighbour. Other ideas listen in, thinking, ‘Maybe I’m not so alone.’

Some ideas do not arrive alone but with a posse. The leader saying, ‘There’s enough of us here to keep you occupied for the next two years.’

This afternoon I read Brian Dillon’s piece ‘Ruin Lust: our loveaffair with decaying buildings’ in The Guardian. I’m interested in ruins, abandoned and derelict buildings, all of that. Just in the last three weeks I’ve posted about the old Sydney Street substation inWellington and the shut-up Arcadia Theatre in Waimate... But my interest stretches back further, at least to 2007 when my brother started a series of photos on the theme of abandonment... one of which is still the wallpaper on my laptop.

This explains why I read the Guardian article, but simply being reminded of my fascination with the derelict is not an idea. To return to the waiting room metaphor, I've actually opened up several waiting rooms. One of them has ‘Short Stories’ written on the door. Another ‘Narrative non-fiction’. Today I might have opened a ‘Ruins and abandonment’-themed waiting room and begun to siphon all my interests and ideas around this topic into the one space and let them mingle, hook up and fall out while I went about other things.

But there was a particular passage of Dillion’s article that grabbed me.
Reviewing Leopold von Ranke's History of the Popes in the Edinburgh Review, [Thomas Babington] Macaulay speculates that in the distant future Catholicism "may still exist in undiminished vigour when some traveller from New Zealand shall, in the midst of a vast solitude, take his stand on a broken arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St Paul's". Macaulay's New Zealander, gazing at the wreckage of the metropolis (and by extension on the fall of the British empire), was for decades a popular image of London's future ruin – its most notable avatar is Gustave Doré's engraving The New Zealander.

Doré, Gustave and Blanchard Jerrold (1872) in London. A Pilgrimage.
Having read these words, a posse of ideas stormed the waiting room with ‘My next novel’ painted on the door.

I’m not saying it will be my next novel, or if these ideas are any good, but I’m noting the process down here to illustrate, in some small way, how inspiration might arrive and how I handle it, plan for it, plan with it, and get things done. Or how I fool myself about these things.

This idea of a New Zealander travelling to ruined civilisations is rich with possibilities. 

My first thought was that this is what New Zealanders do on their OEs already. 

Macaulay’s comment seems doubly prescient as it was made in 1840, the year the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. While it might not have been the birth of the nation (that would ignore a lot of feuding and plundering and some 'we're getting along just fine thanks'), but the events of that year were undoubtedly a catalyst for many of the things that make New Zealand unique today.

Then there’s the idea of ‘the New Zealander’ just being a throwaway line of Macaulay’s, an example of someone from far away, and presumably from a less civilised place. It brought to mind Dominic Corry's piece in the NZ Herald Online last week, 'When movies mention New Zealand.' There are tons of examples from film, TV, books and even video games where New Zealand is shorthand for 'very far away'. It's interesting that this dates from at least as far back as 1840.

I can’t tell from the Macauley quote or Doré's engraving whether 'New Zealander' in this context means 'Maori', as the two terms could be synonymous around this time. But there’s another interesting idea that could be dug into further.

If we’re to take Macauley’s idea literally, a story would have to have a New Zealander look upon a ruined London. It could perhaps take place duringthe city's bombardment during WWII, but I’m not so keen on doing something historical next. The future seems a much more interesting place. The post-apocalyptic section of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas comes to mind. In fact, a lot of examples come to mind. Post-apocalyptic fiction seems to have been done to death. But the challenge of taking up a tired genre and introducing new life has its own appeal.

As you can see, there are novelish ideas here, not all of them complementary. It could be a contemporary story of a New Zealander (or a number of them) travelling around Europe and addressing the EU financial crisis and a bunch of other 'fall of a civilisation c.2012' topics. It could be an historical novel set in the 1940s. It could be something set in the future, post London’s own apocalypse (or a worldwide apocalypse). And there may be less literal, less blindingly obvious interpretations of this idea which have yet to enter the waiting room.

The above summarises my first 30 to 60 seconds of head-time after reading the Macauley quotation and clicking the link to see Doré's engraving. But to end the story here would be incomplete and unhelpful. What happens next when an idea sticks up it's hand and says, 'Consider Me!'?

Well, after thinking to myself that ‘The New Zealander’ could be one of several types of novel, I finished reading Dillon’s article. In truth, I started to skim as it held little remaining interest.

Then I googled to see if there were other images of the New Zealander looking upon a ruined London online. I got a whole lot of Doré's engraving, but nothing else after scrolling through the first few dozen results.

I did, however, open up two pages that promised to address Macauley’s quotation in more detail. The first was ‘WhenThe New Zealander Comes’ by Prof. Blyde Muddersnook, P.O.Z.A.S. from The Strand Magazine, September 1911 (via 

Let us take a moment to admire the author’s name.


The next link was to “The Stupendous Past”: Rose Macaulay’s Pleasure of Ruins” by Will Viney.

This second one looked to be less about Thomas Babington Macaulay than his first cousin twice removed, so I tackled it first (being inherently lazy and impatient; if I was an insect I’d be one of those ones that spend most of their time zipping around on the surface of ponds).

An interesting tidbit worth noting:
“So prevalent did this idea of the inquisitive and judgmental New Zealander become that by 1865 Punch placed it on their list of ruined rhetoric, literary devices judged to be “used up, exhausted, threadbare, stale and hackneyed.”

Let us take a moment to admire the pun in ‘ruined rhetoric.’


The article notes that Doré's New Zealander is a “racial and political outsider, wandering from the periphery of things to visit the fallen core of an empire now past” (my emphasis). Okay, duly noted.

If I decide to pursue this ‘The New Zealander’ idea further, I guess I’ll have to tackle Rose Macauley’s ‘Pleasure of Ruins’, but for now I was happy just to skim the rest of the article.

I then turned to Prof. Blyde Muddersnook’s 1911 article.

I quickly realised this was a piece of satire (man, I wish there was a real Prof. Muddersnook). It's the future, baby, and New Zealand is the height of civilisation (and now just called Zealand). Lun-dun is being excavated. A team of archaeologists from Auckland arrive at “the ancient village of Suthuk, which is on the edge of the river-bed of the Thames, most of which is now reclaimed land planted with cabbages, the export of which forms the principal staple of the country.”

The appeal and the limitations of the piece are evident in the following two sentences, midway through:
“Indeed, it is no wonder that this island became gradually depopulated in the course of centuries, when its inhabitants had to endure such climatic hardships. Indeed, to one accustomed to the climates of old Zealand, Australis, Krugerland, Mapleland, Dai-Nippon, and other parts of the world, not to mention Mars and the moon, it is hard to realize how any intelligent race of men would consent to continue existence in such a bleak island.”

You can’t start two sentences with ‘indeed’. But it is funny, in a trying-slightly-too-hard way.

I’ll admit, again, that I reverted to my skimming ways not long after this passage.

I think there’s only so long you can explore a new idea immediately following its entrance into the waiting room.

It did occur to me that, as I was sitting at my computer and distracted by ideas that aren't anything to do with THE NOVEL, I could write the last hour up as a blog post. Et voila!

It’s best now that I walk away. Play hard to get with 'The New Zealander(s)'. If the posse is still there when I’m ready for them, then I’ll come back here and click on these next few links (which I haven't read and can't vouch for their relevance):
Stay tuned. One day I may post about what happens when an idea sticks up its hand and says 'Reconsider Me!'

Friday, February 17, 2012

Arthur and George's tipping point into slow water

Reading muddle

I'm in a bit of a (paper) reading muddle at the moment. I seem to start a book I'm really excited about, then something more important will come along that I need to read, like the latest book from a writer with whom I'm appearing on a panel discussion in Perth (I fly out in less than a week, excitement).

But the real culprit seems to be the millstone of reading Commonwealth Short Story Prize entries. Not that being a judge isn't a privilege and reading the stories isn't fun and often edifying, but reading pdf's on my iPad seems to have eaten up all my paper reading time. (It also doesn't help that several of the books I'm trying to finish are short story collections themselves, making it easier to put down at the end of a story and not pick back up). iPads are great things, but reading for anything more than twenty minutes on the backlit screen is tiring. And on beaut days like today, you can't read outside!!

I guess it beats printing all the stories out and killing the planet.

Talk to me

I have, however, been ploughing through audiobooks.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big DifferenceFirst up, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. It's really hard to judge this book on it's merits after it made such a big splash when it was released more than a decade ago and many of its terms and ideas have permeated the culture.

But it was nice to spend eight hours with Gladwell after only reading the occasional New Yorker article from him. 

One of the cool things about the audiobook is that it's read by Gladwell himself. I'm sure the book reads personably on the page, but it's lifted to another level when he's speaking sense right into your ear. 

Arthur and GeorgeThen it was back to fiction with Arthur and George by Julian Barnes. The novel is based on the real life struggle of solicitor George Edalji and his famous supporter, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, against accusations of animal mutilation and criminal mischief.

The novel is much longer than Barnes' most recent work, The Sense of an Ending, which I read and enjoyed last year. A&G feels more substantial because of this greater length and historical weighting, but it fails to ever really take off into truly facinating realms. It is well observed, well researched, pleasingly written at the sentence level, but fails to be interesting for long periods (some that read like pure reportage; others, such as when Conan Doyle agonises over committing infidelity for pages on end, seem more at home in a sixteenth century melodrama or Mills and Boon).

Having said this, I still think it's a good book.

Slow WaterAnd now I'm listening to Slow Water by Annamarie Jagose. The book won the Montana Book Award in 2004, which means that a panel of judges thought it was the best book of New Zealand fiction published in the previous year.

Without looking back at what other books were eligible that year, I can sort of see why the judges liked Slow Water. It is sumptuous at the sentence level. Both the music of the words and the evident research that has gone into getting the historical details sorted. There's also an overriding modern sensiblity that doesn't ever mess with the sense that these things actually happened, but there's a point why we're being shown this moment (always to do with hypocrisy and/or gender/sexuality).

But the plot is as slow as the title suggests.  Like Arthur and George, Jagose's novel is based on a real historical event, the sexual transgressions of an English missionary, William Yate, on board the Prince Regent as he made is way back to his mission in Waimate (in the Bay of Islands, as opposed to Waimate in South Canterbury) and the subsequent fall-out when the ship docks in Sydney.  But the novel does not adhere to Yate's story. Rather, it bounces around all those on board the Prince Regent, from the passengers in steerage, their children, the rough crewmen and the newbies aboard. Again, I can see why this is done (to contrast their behaviour and attitudes at sea with those in port), but for the longest time there's no plot to carry a reader through the beautiful sentences.

Again, I think Slow Water is a good book in many respects, but if this is what is expected of serious historical fiction, excuse me while I run the other way.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Special Features: Old Sydney Street Substation

The old Sydney Street substation, photographed by Rachel Connolly. Copyright NZ Historic Places Trust .
There may be some people out there who’ve read my column about the old Sydney Street substation in today’s Your Weekend magazine and were left wanting more.

Sometimes it’s impossible to do a subject justice in 500 words. (If you can do it justice in 500 words, it’s not worth writing about). In this instance, I really wanted to include some web addresses to help direct further enquiries, but alas.

I’m sure those sufficiently piqued could find everything via Google, but I’m going to give them (and Google) a helping hand by collecting the links together here.

The Building Itself

The Historic Places Trust’s register has a very thorough report, prepared by Adrian Humphris and Inka Gliesche, on the old Sydney Street substation on. It’s available online here ().

There was also an article on the old girl by Tommy Honey in Architecture NZ (Nov/Dec 2005). Not available online but I have a scan if your local library doesn't have the issue.

In my column, I mention the proposed Kate Sheppard Exchange development which could incorporate the substation. The development was in the news last year when people objected to the proposed size of the building. I emailed the developers, Redwood Group, seeking an update on the project but I didn’t receive a response before my deadline (and haven’t since, but can’t be bothered pestering them).

On Wellington’s Substations

The Architecture Electric, a photographic survey of Wellington’s substations, is available as a free e-book here.

I asked the architecture types I interviewed if they had favourite substations in town and received two responses.If, like me, you’ve developed a sudden interest in substations, you might want to check out some of these:

Tyson Schmidt (co-author of ‘The Architecture Electric)

1. Have a picnic and watch the planes at the concrete panel marvel that is the Moa Point Road substation (page 14 of our book)

2. Venture above Boyd Wilson Field to Victoria University's Te Puni Village to look at the wind sculpture atop the University Zone substation (page 109)

3. Be impressed by the massive steel doors on the Moore Street Zone substation behind ECC lighting (page 106)

4. Walk the tracks of Mt Victoria until you find the Hataitai Zone substation with its wall of mesh encasing the large transformers (page 105)

5. Enjoy the graffiti used to disguise substations such as 69 Miramar Road (p.73) and down Lukes Lane (p.72, great Keith Haring-inspired figures on that one)

6. Jog past the substation with clean classical stylings on the corner of one of Wellington's most expensive streets (The Crescent in Roseneath) (p.54)

Adam Alexander (architectural designer; wrote his thesis on Wellington's substations [available in hardcopy from Victoria University's libary])

1. St John St Substation (adjacent to Aro Valley Park)

2. Lower Tory St (between Courtenay Place and Cable St)

3. 10 Haining St (off upper Tory St)

4. Hankey St Substation (intersection of Taranaki, Hankey and Wallace St)

5.Salamanca Rd (Near top of cable car)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Research Roadtrip: Wildlife

In this final instalment on my trip down south I will fulfil my promise (and then some) of posting bird photos .

Northern royal albatross, Taiaroa Heads, Otago

More albatross, plus hoiho, godwit, giant petrels and more, after the jump...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Research Roadtrip: Clay Cliffs and Earthquakes

Earthquakes, Waitaki District

I went down south with a rough itinerary and a bunch of must sees (towns, museums, coastal stretches), but I had enough time to detour to places that sounded cool on the sign post or my GPS screen.

Two of these detours yielded fantastic results.

The first was Clay Cliffs, which is near Omarama. (I didn't acknowledge the aural similarity to my name at the time, but I can't rule out that it was a determining factor in my going there).

After leaving the main road and driving for ten kilometres (most of it gravel, punctuated by several gates for livestock) and walking for perhaps another k, you reach some, uh, clay cliffs. 

They reminded me a lot of the Putangirua Pinnacles in the Wairarapa, except these formations were a sandy brown rather than cement grey.

The sun was shining. The nearby braided river slipped by. Rock pigeons swooped from ledge to ledge, behaving as they must in their natural habitats (there's nothing like seeing a city bird in the country to redeem it). Emerging from a niche in the cliffs I was met with this view:

Great stuff.

If you intend on visiting, I recommend visiting the Omarama i-site first to pay your $5, as Clay Cliffs is on a private estate (the money goes towards upkeep of the area).

Sheep, Clay Cliffs Estate
The next day I turned off the highway at Duntroon and headed to a township (as it appeared to be on my GPS) called Earthquakes. I knew nothing more than its name, but that was intriguing enough. What would a town called Earthquakes look like? Why the plural? 

Turns out Earthquakes is hardly a township. More like two farmhouses situated close to the road (gravel once more). But, as you might expect from the name, the area is interesting geologically -- even if the cliffs and ravines weren't formed by earthquakes but a landslide thousands of years ago.

It also turns out the area is rich in fossils (there's even a Fossil Trail through the region), with a whale fossil on display about two hundred metres from the parking spot at Earthquakes.

The real highlight for me, however, was the landscape. The long, fine grass. The waxy coprosmas. The limestone cliffs. The green and yellow rolling pasture in the distance, leading to the freshly snow-dusted ranges.

Again, it helps it was a stunning day and that I was all on my lonesome in this magical place.

One problem with being alone and somewhat awestruck is there are holes littered eitherside of the path. At one point an unseen bird rustled in a nearby bush. I stopped to see what it was. The movement stopped. I stepped slowly toward the bush, then suddenly my left left was in a hole up to the hip.

The offending hole
If it had been a few inches deeper, I'd have done some serious damage. If it had been slightly shallower and the bottom more uneven, I could have badly twisted or even broken my ankle. Getting outta Earthquakes alone would have been fun.

But all I got was a bruise on my ankle and a lesson in birdwatching.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Research Roadtrip: MacKenzie Country and Waitaki Valley

Sometimes I talk too much...
Lake Tekapo
Lake Pukaki
On the way to The Hermitage
Aoraki/Mt Cook, south face
Waitaki Basin
A glimpse of Lake Benmore
Benmore Hydro Station
Aviemore Hydro Station
The road from Cattle Creek

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Research Roadtrip: Waimate

Waimate is a small town in South Canterbury, 20kms north of the Waitaki River. The population of the Waimate District (which encompasses Waimate and a number of other smaller towns) is around 7,000 people.

And while things mightn’t be as bleak economically as in the 1980s, a walk around Waimate town will still yield a number of closed and boarded up buildings.

Tea Rooms: closed
Back of the main street: barren
Mr Whippy: sprinkled with graffiti

More about Waimate after the jump...