Days 21-23 New Zealand Society of Genealogists Conference

Still not firing on all cylinders and equipped with a very unflattering over the ear and round the head mike, I deliver my keynote presentation about the story of Isabella Fry. It is the tale of an unfortunate woman, chocolate and a very bad man, which appears to go down well. Afterwards, we choose to stay in the main hall to listen to our friends talk about DNA. Firstly Michelle Patient and then our housemate for the duration, Maurice Gleeson. After lunch, Maurice is up again, this time talking about using DNA to identify unknown world war 1 casualties. By co-incidence, he was focussing on the Battle of Fromelles, which is featured in Barefoot on the Cobbles, although I don’t name it. Maurice used the session to launch the ‘Commemorating the Missing’ project. This encourages people to look at the list of the world war one soldiers whose bodies have never been recovered and ‘plant’ a virtual family tree on their behalf. Thus, if bodies are recovered in a location that links to those personnel, it might be possible to contact relatives so DNA can be obtained. I have already committed to ‘planting’ trees for the six Braunds on the list and we do already have relatives who have taken DNA tests, although obviously, it would be their decision whether or not their results should be used in this way.

There is a session on New Zealand School records and then I have to summon the adrenaline to talk about One-Place Studies at the end of the day. People are taking pity on my lurgy ridden state and keep pressing medication into my hands!

Det7qRgVMAAF8WVWe are taken to the Chateau on the Park for the conference dinner where we have an unusual but very tasty, hot/cold buffet mixture and delectable but clearly not very good for us desserts. Chris ‘entertains’ all-comers with the delights of seventeenth century barber surgery. We do present to adults on a regular basis but the addition of alcohol has an effect on the levels of audience participation! At the request of the maitre d’, one of Chris’ patients is a young waiter, who enters into the spirit of the thing. Fiona, our self- appointed chauffeur and also the overworked conference convenor, explains about the psychological impact of the earthquake on Christchurch residents.

The Sunday begins with our seventeenth century presentation. Yesterday’s sessions were very well received but now I am feeling as if I am giving of my best. There is an overwhelmingly positive response afterwards, which gives us a warm fuzzy feeling. I listen to a double-handed talk on ‘Research Tips and Tricks’, which includes a very effective use of Power Point as a way of recording family history from the ’other Fiona’. I then listen to a story-telling session from Margaret Copeland, an historical interpreter who represents the wife of the goaler of nineteenth century Lyttelton Goal. I have to leave before the end to prepare for my own Facebook Generation talk. It was very well attended (there are three streams of lectures) and there was a real buzz afterwards, with plenty of questions and comments.

In the evening, we have invited a few fellow members of The Guild of One-Name Studies round to our adopted home. We are feeling more and more like riotous students by the minute. We have an hilarious evening, with the humour partly fuelled by the fact that the local pizza house names its offerings after the seven deadly sins. One of our party ordered a ‘Twelve inch lust’, no comment! There was also this hysterical attempt to take a picture with all of us in, using the time on someone’s precariously balanced phone. We had a lovely time but we are obviously showing our age, as our guests had left by 9.15pm and we managed to keep the house in very good order. Our hostess has been incredibly generous with her home and my early blog comment about Hokey-Pokey ice cream led to the freezer being stocked with the same – yum.

The final day already. I can’t believe it has gone so fast. I listen to Fiona talking about The Time Travelling Genealogist, encouraging us to record our own lives as part of our family history. Her ‘Memories in Time’ business has some great products and it is a very good presentation. Next, I learn about the ‘Decimation by the Invisible Enemy’, which is about the appalling effect of the Spanish flu on those on board the ship the Tahiti. I finish the conference with my ‘Remember Then’ session. I wondered how it would adapt to an international audience but judging by the reaction, nothing was lost in translation. It is sad to say goodbye to people who have become friends. We have had a wonderful time and have been looked after exceptionally well by all concerned.

Four of us take a trip to the Antarctic Centre in the afternoon. Included is a ‘Hagglund’ ride, deemed to be unsuitable for those with heart conditions, of a nervous disposition or who are pregnant. I briefly debate the wisdom of this and decide I should enter into the spirit of the thing. The Hagglund are the all terrain vehicles that are used on Antarctic expeditions and we career across a track hanging on tightly. It was a bit on the bumpy side but pales into insignificance in comparison to sand-dune buggy riding, so I survived unscathed. We pat some huskies and watch the blue penguins being fed. These are all rescue penguins, who would not survive in the wild. Then a chance to sit and relax whilst watching a 4D film. We don the approved glasses. It turns out that this is not as relaxing as all that, as the seats tilt alarmingly, to simulated power boating across a lake and at intervals, water is hurled in our faces.

We are then collected for a meal with some of the conference organisers. This is followed by Te Reo Maori lessons, which are being put on, free of charge, by the owner of the Fush restaurant. He is concentrating on teaching us ‘pidgen’ Maori, where we substitute English words for those we don’t know (which is most of them). We had already picked up that Maori is not actually pronounce Mawree but more like Mardi. Te Reo Maori was not originally a written language and there is no equivalent of the letter s for plurals. Instead, what comes before the noun indicates several, rather than one. So ‘the‘, followed by something singular is ‘Te’ but if it is plural, ‘the’ would be ‘nga’ (pronounced nar). This is great fun but my inability with languages has not undergone a great transformation and the fact that it is in the evening after a very hectic five days does nothing for my concentration. Somehow, this ends up with us appearing on Maori TV news, fortunately not at the point when it all caught up with me and my eyes closed momentarily.

Then, after reluctantly bringing our last evening chat to an end, comes the applied mathematics that is our packing. We have a baggage allowance of 30kg each; easy, 60kg you’d think. But we only have three bags, one small one having gone to meet its maker on the outward journey. We cannot be deemed to have one and a half bags each, so two of these bags cannot contain a total of more than 30kg. In addition, no one bag must weigh more than 23kg. Effectively, this reduces our total allowance to 53kg between us providing we can, without the aid of scales, distribute our belongings appropriately between the bags. If you think 53kg is a ridiculous amount of luggage for two people, you’d be right but remember that we have three sets of seventeenth century clothes, including hefty shoes and numerous heavy surgical instruments. I also have the clothes that I abandoned in Peru that have been, very kindly, brought to me from Australia. In addition, we have also picked up a few things from the conference and our preceding trip, which have to be accommodated.

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Days 19 & 20 Workshops

A sensibly early start to avoid the rush hour sees us heading into Christchurch. My first, of two, ‘Writing up your Family History’ workshops is held in the impressive looking Christchurch Boys High School. The precise location is the former stables of the Deans’ (yes Martha, that is where the apostrophe goes) Building, which has recently been refurbished as the school archive, following the earthquake. Nineteen participants are present to hear me croak my way through the day. Actually, thanks to being heavily medicated, I am not a croaky as I was. The students are lovely and the day seems to go well. Back home to conserve my energy in order to do it all again tomorrow. Chris has been introduced to the resident bull in my absence and survived; our hosts breed champion Lowline cattle. He has also been cleaning the van, prior to us returning it tomorrow.

The next day, I am back for my ‘repeated due to popular demand’ ‘Writing up your Family History’ workshop. Different students give the day a slightly different feel but there seems to be plenty of enthusiasm. Chris successfully returns the van and Apollo agree to refund us for the replacement fire that we had to purchase. At least now we don’t have to work out how to get it home. We travelled 1804km, or 1121 miles in our van and it is sad to say goodbye to it, even if it was beginning to malfunction – still, we have more to look forward to.

After the workshop, we repair to the historic and impressive Riccarton House, former home of the Deans family, for a meet and greet. It is certainly a stunning property, although the severed animal heads on the wall seem somewhat unnecessary. We meet and we greet. Most of my students from the past two days are present and some people I am connected with on social media.

Then we are taken to our home-stay location, where the owner has kindly moved out to allow three conference speakers to hold wild parties enjoy her home. On the way, we pick up some exceptionally tasty fish and chips from a shop called Fush, which is how the locals pronounce ‘Fish’. This ‘house-sharing’ makes it hard not to feel like we are students again. We stay up later than we should putting the world to rights.

Days 12 & 13 The Catlins

We left Te Anau at 9am in 4 degree temperatures and driving rain. We managed to navigate ourselves to Fiordland Electrical to buy a fire, as we have had to return our borrowed one to Te Anau Top 10. Allegedly this is likely to be the worst New Zealand winter for years. We debate the possible merits of two alternative routes, hoping to avoid snow. We opt for the possibly more risky one, snow wise, which was our original intention and set off towards Manapouri. We travel along the South Scenic Route with no sign of snow. It would probably be slightly more scenic if we could see much of it through the mist and murk. We stop to admire the racing seas and Stewart Island lurking in the low cloud. After a slight detour we find our site at Invercargill.

Not being fans of oysters, we pass up the opportunity to visit the Bluff, where the annual oyster festival is in full swing. ‘Bluffies’ are apparently world renowned in oyster circles. Deciding that we have had enough of getting wet, we relax in the van. Now we are only getting wet from the dripping laundry that is hanging round our ears.

079 25 May 2018 Rainbow, Fortrose, South Scenic HighwayWe safely negotiate our way out of Invercargill, where the street names bear testament to the Scottish/Victorian heritage. Keeping a sharp eye out for the maroon triangles that denote the South Scenic Route, we head eastwards. Today there are spells of sunshine amidst the showers, creating impressive rainbows at Fortrose. Many of the cattle are Belted Galloways and I wonder at the logistics of bringing mammals out to New Zealand from Europe by boat. How much food would be required? What would one do with the results of cows/sheep/deer consuming said food?

The bird life so far has been disappointingly European in flavour, compared to our previous visit; perhaps because we are further south, or maybe it is the season. Today though we do see black swans, pukeko and heron. The Catlins National Park is beautiful and there is very little traffic. We encounter several hundred cattle being walked along the road in the opposite direction. We are used to stopping for cows at home, just not quite so many of them! At Waihola Lake there is a long fence that has been stuffed with hundreds of trainers, presumably odd ones that have been washed up on the shore.

For some reason, we exceeded our internet access at Invercargill, despite doing very little online. This meant that we could not check on the directions to today’s site, which is 2½ km outside Dunedin. It would be helpful to know in what direction. We are know on New Zealand’s ‘motorway’, a slightly more busy dual carriageway, which makes going slowly looking for likely turn off more difficult. Fortuitously, we spot a road sign to Kaikorai Valley. The site is in Kaikorai Valley Road. Adopting the strategy that worked in Queenstown, we take the exit and apart from overshooting the well hidden drive-in entrance, we reach Aaron Lodge Top 10 without incident. So far, we feel not investing heavily in a sat-nav was the right decision – famous last words.

Day 11 Doubtful Sound

And tonight’s nocturnal disturbance was the battery going in the smoke detector, so that it bleeped annoyingly every few seconds. We finally braved the cold in order to disconnect it. Another day, another Sound; this time Doubtful Sound. Typically, although it has been dry all night, it begins to rain at breakfast time. We walk down to the Real Journeys office and board our coach for Lake Manapouri. Randomly, the driver detours round a housing estate in order to deliver a letter. Then it is on board the MV Titiroa to cross the lake to West Arm. We manage to avoid the lake’s thirty three islands. Next it is on a coach with Mike to Deep Cove. Actually it is on two coaches as the road have given way, so we have to walk across a bridge at one point. This road is only accessible by water at either end. We cross the snowy Wilmot Pass and see the HEP station. Most of the electricity generated is used at the aluminium smelting works near Invercargill.

We finally board the Fiordland Navigator for our cruise of Doubtful Sound. ‘Sound’ is actually a misnomer – blame Captain Cook. Technical a sound is a V shaped inlet, created by river action, whereas a fiord is a glacially cut U shape, so this is a fiord. The ‘Doubtful’ part of the name was because Cook was doubtful that the prevailing wind would allow vessels to get back out of the ‘sound’ easily. We tuck into our complimentary Mitre Peak lunch from yesterday. I have never seen such huge sandwiches. They were about three inches thick, making eating them delicately a bit of a challenge. They were accompanied by similarly large-scale muffins.

063 23 May 2018 Rainbow, Doubtful SoundOur geography field trip continues. We sail up Crooked Arm, which on its own is a similar size to Milford Sound. Today we can enjoy a sound that we can actually see, as the rain stops and there is even occasional sunshine. There are also rainbows, which, inevitably, are not done justice by the photography. The majority of our fellow travellers are American university students. Some are wearing more make-up than I have possessed in a life-time. Others are clad in tee-shirts and thin cardigans – it is three degrees, still others sleep the cruise away. At one point the captain cuts the engine and generator ‘so we can listen to nature’s silence’ for about ten minutes. This was never going to go well, especially as the rain begins again during the process.

Our return trip proceeds without incident and we are hoping that our journey tomorrow will not be impeded by snow. as we head still further south and east. Today there was snow between Queenstown and Te Anau, so we are only narrowly escaping the weather.

Day 10 Milford Sound

A some point in the middle of the night the heater we rented with the camper van whimpered and died. In other nocturnal news, having left Chris’ phone on in case of yet more re-arranging of our itinerary, we received a call at mid-night about PPI. It was a night of torrential rain, with thunder and lightening rolling and roaring round the lake. This was marginally quieter than the door of our neighbour’s camper van, which they felt obliged to open and shut approximately every thirty seconds between 11pm and 1am. This they recommenced at 6am.

We were ready in good time for our 7.45am pick up to (hopefully) go to Milford Sound. We can actually see the road from the camper van. Given the pouring rain, one of us wanted to wait until we saw a vehicle draw up and then make a run for it. The other one would have been out there getting soaked from at least 7.30am. No prizes for guessing which was which. In the end, the mini-bus was early so it was a case of head out when we spotted it, which was at 7.40am. One of us had only asked, ‘Can we go outside and wait now?’ about eleventy billion times by this point. We were the first on board, which meant that we could sit at the front but this position came with the responsibility of being umbrella monitor. Our super ace guide for the day on our Fiordland Tours/Mitre Peak Cruise was Jonathan. He began by asking us if we would rather go tomorrow instead, as the weather was forecast to be better. None of the fourteen on board were able/keen to do this so we headed intrepidly on.

Jonathan gave us some information about what we couldn’t actually see due to the poor visibility. He did try to make a positive out of the heavy rain: the waterfalls will be more impressive. Between the years 1000 and 1800 half of New Zealand’s rainforest was burnt in order to aid the hunting of the now extinct flightless bird, the moa. Farmers moved in and free ranging deer were introduced. These soon became a pest and wild deer were killed or corralled into venison farms. This apparently involved leaping out of helicopters and winching up deer in order to transport them. We do indeed see some impressive waterfalls through the murk and also some cabbage trees, the southernmost growing palm tree. There is beginning to be a problem with non-native pine trees. These have been planted as a carbon-emissions pay back but they are encroaching on the National Parks and altering the habitat. Fiordland covers 5% of New Zealand and at 1.25 million hectares, it is the country’s largest National Park. It is also one of the world’s wettest places. They are not wrong there. The ten metres annual rainfall here is twenty times the annual rainfall of Christchurch. Just a bit of a shame that all ten metres have decided to fall today.

We stop for morning tea and very acceptable scones at Gunn’s Camp. Then comes the news that the Milford Road is closed due to a ‘wet slide’ avalanche. The heavy rain has put weight on the snow and the road is blocked. It may, or may not, be passable later. We walk the Marian Lake trail while we wait to see what transpires. I was lured on this short walk by the possibility of seeing blue ducks or Pukeko. The rain is still torrential and we are wielding complementary umbrellas. I have my camera in my other hand. Then comes the unbelievably wobbly suspension bridge over the rushing torrent. I am never a fan of anything high up or wobbly and the feeble looking safety wires on either side were only about 2 foot six high. Given the umbrella and camera, I was left with no spare hand with which to cling to the side wires for grim death. I lurch from side to side alarmingly but somehow make it across and indeed back. There was not a Pukeko in sight.

We return to the road junction to find the road still closed so we resign ourselves to having to miss Milford Sound. As compensation, Jonathan drives us up back past Gunn’s Camp to the Humboldt Falls. Then comes the news that the road is open after all. We are too late for our scheduled cruise but Jonathan thinks they will hold a boat for us. We are now very short of time as we have to be back on the Te Anau side of the tunnel before 4.00pm when the road will be closed due to forecast snow and we may be marooned in Milford, perhaps for days. Either that or the mini-bus will turn into a pumpkin, probably the former. We decide to give it a go.

Our own boat is not sailing but we can hitch a ride on a Juicy cruise instead. Their booked party has given up and not risked coming through the tunnel. Better still there is a selection of curries on board that they have ordered and which we can consume. This is our second free meal of the day as we still have the bonus packed lunch awarded to us in return for not being able to go to Milford Sound yesterday. We set off on Juicy’s Gem of the Sound. We learn that the rainwater forms a layer on top of the salt water in the sound. This is a rare phenomenon that only occurs in a handful of places in the world. We stop at McKenzie falls and venture out to view the Tasman Sea, ‘the Roaring Forties’, with its four metre swell. Our voyage is slightly shortened to ensure that we get back through the tunnel before the witching hour. We do get up close an personal with Stirling Falls. Some of those on board accept the invitation to stand on deck. Any parts that were not already drenched by the rain are now soaked in spray. Judiciously, we remain indoors at this point.

049 22 May 2018 Mirror LakesWe make it back through the tunnel in time, just as snow is beginning to fall. There are a few stops on our way back to Te Anau, including a fruitless Kea hunting stop, a chance to photograph the Mirror Lakes and also to view Lake Te Anau from Te Anau Downs. By this point, the rain has almost stopped and we can actually see not just our hands in front of our faces but the lake as well.

Back on site, I become very grateful for the charm offensive that Chris has been launching on the ladies at reception since we arrived. He has managed to blag us the loan of a heater.

Day 6 Along the 8 to Cromwell

In one of our wakeful moments during the night, we looked out at the acclaimed stars. They were certainly very bright and numerous but our own at home are pretty impressive too, so perhaps we did not fully appreciate the awesomeness.

The next three days are more about the journeys than the destinations. Before leaving Lake Tekapo, we retrace our steps into the town for provisions and call in at the ‘historic’ Church of the Good Shepherd. Our arrival coincides with that of a coach load of selfie stick waving, Japanese tourists, who seem incapable of understanding the clear graphic that forbids photography inside the church. It appears that standing in the doorway and pointing one’s camera towards the interior is somehow not taking photographs of the inside of the church. To be honest, although there are lovely views of the lake from here, if you can dodge the plethora of tourists, we aren’t too impressed with the ‘historic’ nature of the church, even by Antipodean standards; it was built in 1935!

024 18 May 2018 Lake Dunstan, CromwellWe head south down the 8, passing through a more barren landscape. We drive through Twizel, a town that grew up round the Hydro-electric industry and along the twists and turns of the Lindis Valley to Cromwell. This town, on the shores of the man-made Lake Dunstan, is in what used to be a gold mining area but is now better known as a wine-growing region. We take a walk round the town, most of which is housing estate and eventually reach the deserted historic quarter, which we remember from our previous visit. I was expecting to need multiple coats, gloves and hats but it is beautifully warm and despite road signs warning us that it is winter, our camper van tells us that the outdoor temperature is 21 degrees, allegedly warmer that it is at home! This is as far south as we reached on our previous visit, so from here onwards we are in uncharted territory.

Day 5 Mount St John

We still haven’t quite cracked the time difference thing and after a disturbed night, wake up at what is a late hour for us. The sun is shining across the lake and there is not a cloud in sight, nor does there seem to have been any snow. The first snag is when the inhabitants of the neighbouring van, who are leaving early, unplug their electric cable and then turn off the master switch, which halts the supply to our van as well!

We decide to climb to the summit of Mount St John, where the dark sky observatory is located. There are signs of frost but the air is wonderfully fresh but on the thinnish side. Our destination is 1043 metres above sea level. I don’t know if I am still suffering from the after effects of the Peruvian trip but I did find reaching the top a bit of a struggle. Maybe there is a reason why almost everyone else we see is about half our age and those who are not have driven up. The views did make it worth the effort and we run out of superlatives.

019 17 May 2018 Mount St John SummitWe stop for refreshment at the top where, allegedly, we encounter the highest postbox in the southern hemisphere. It is a little early to post things home so we don’t make use of it. In an effort to control the caffeine intake, I have a very pleasant ginger, honey and lemon hot drink. There is free water available and my travelling companion offers to get me some while I am waiting for my purchased drink to arrive. The container is empty and whilst attempting to take it to the staff for refilling, he drops it on the floor. Fortunately it bounces. Later a small child, away from watchful parental eyes, turns on the tap at the bottom of this now full water container, so the contents runs all over the carpet. This makes our offence seem trivial.

The downward journey was much easier than the upward climb, although I somehow manage to trap my fingers in the door of the public toilets. Dripping blood in a spectacular fashion, I return to the van. Chris has discovered two overseas drivers’ permits in the glove box. I wonder if I can pose as Fabiola. Probably not. She is thirty something and no clothing is visible in her head and shoulders photograph. After a short recouperate, we head for the hot springs. We enjoy floating around in the open air, with views of the mountains. The water is 37 degrees but the cold wind makes getting out a little chilly. Still, with the summit and the swim, we have ticked off two of our guide book’s recommended 101 things to do in New Zealand in one day. Some are in North Island, some we have done on our previous visit and some are rather to ‘active’ for us but we should manage to accomplish a few more later in the trip.