The Giant’s House Finally!

I have visited Akaroa three times and finally I was able to see The Giant’s House. It seems it is more famous with foreign visitors than with Kiwis. None of my friends from New Zealand–even those who love Akaroa–had heard of it. This sculpture garden is an eccentric treasure.

I admire people with vision who develop the skills to execute it so masterfully. I am such a gadfly in my interests, I cannot imagine sticking with a project 17 years, let alone staying with it still. Josie Martin combines her love of horticulture with her artistic expression through painting and mosaic sculptures to create a truly original garden on the hill.

Someone in the village told us that she offered to create mosaic sculptures for the town of Akaroa, but the town council said no. She turned the no into a Yes! Yes! Yes! The hours are limited because she manages it herself. On the day we visited we paid the artist $20 each to visit her garden and gallery. We could stay until closing. We made sure to return and thank Jose for the experience.


One of several ceramic self-portraits of the artist in the gallery.

I am so glad I finally got to see the Giant’s House. Find out more at Trip Advisor. (#1 of 27 things to do in Akaroa.)

Akaroa, Jewel of the Banks Peninsula

The road to Akaroa is a bit twisty, and yet for your effort you are rewarded with views, great restaurants, penguins, art, and more.


Created by volcanic explosion and settled by French pioneers, Akaroa is a small village constrained by steep hills and water.


We stayed at the Akaroa Criterion Hotel–great location and management. It is an easy walk along the waterfront to restaurants and shops. It is also next door to Sweet As Cafe.


Entertainment, war memorials, and a great store for buying merino wool sweaters and other possum items at Woolworx.

This beautiful spot is in my top three places in New Zealand. Go already!

Hawkes Bay Museum Chronicles ’31 Quake and More


For just $10NZ you can spend a couple of hours happily exploring the exhibits of Maori artifacts, and rotating exhibits of cultural history. My favorite gallery tells the story of the Napier earthquake in 1931 and shows a film on a continuous loop: Survivors’ Stories. It is 35 fascinating minutes.


“In 1931, New Zealand’s deadliest earthquake devastated the cities of Napier and Hastings. At least 256 people died in the magnitude 7.8 earthquake – 161 in Napier, 93 in Hastings, and 2 in Wairoa. Many thousands more required medical treatment.” (Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand)

There are many testimonies in the documentary that moved me, but my throat closed a little when someone remembered almost casually how most of the nurses were killed in the initial quake and so everyone had to help as they could do cope with the injured. Oh my.

img_1164If you look at Napier today you can envision how Christchurch can recover; however, not without suffering, not without suffering and hard work.

Postscript:  I watched the video on Sunday with my mom. Her mom was 6 years old and living in Santa Rosa, CA when the San Francisco earthquake struck. She remembers the ground rolling up to meet her as she ran out the door. We thought about the latest NZ quake. We live on the “Ring of Fire” too, so we cannot become complacent. Check your emergency supplies and make sure you are ready with water, flashlights, candles, matches, and other supplies. Click through to this article in SFGate for tips on creating your own earthquake preparedness kit.




Earthquake Recovery: Christchurch

img_1152What people refer to as the  Christchurch earthquake was actually an aftershock of the first quake in September. The destructiveness of the February 2011 aftershock displaced the earlier incident as “the quake” and deservedly so.

Christchurch earthquake 6.3 magnitude on the Richter Scale. (Why Can’t Kiwi’s Fly?, p. 56):

A more accurate measure of how strong an earthquake feels or how much damage it causes is the Modified Mercalli Scale. It gauges the effects of an earthquake on the Earth’s surface, humans, buildings, and trees. It has a scale of I –XII (1-12); on this scale the Christchurch earthquake is rated IX (Violent: general panic, damage considerable in specially designed structures, well-designed frame structures partially collapse. Buildings shifted off foundations.) Some argue the Christchurch earthquake should have been rated as high as X (Intense: some well-built wooden structures destroyed; most masonry and frame structures destroyed with foundation. Rails bent. Large landslides.)

Another measure of the strength of an earthquake is peak ground acceleration or PGA. This does not calculate the total energy (magnitude or size) of an earthquake, but rather how hard the earth shakes. On that scale the Christchurch earthquake recorded one of the highest PGAs ever: at Heathcote Primary School it was an incredible 2.2 g, or 2.2 times the acceleration of gravity. And to compound the destruction, the greater force was upwards, with people lifted off their feet. Only the recent Japanese earthquake in Tohuku, on 11 March 2011, recorded a higher PGA—2.7g.

As geologist Hamish Campbell said: “No wonder so many stone churches, including Christchurch Cathedral, were destroyed. Such structures were simply not designed to be thrown up into the air and left to go into free fall, even though the fall is all over in a matter of milliseconds to seconds.


I first visited Christchurch in October 2010. I experienced a small roller during my stay, but I’m from California so I wasn’t unnerved. I’ve never experienced what Christchurchians did for a period of several years: a seemingly never ending series of aftershocks of varying strengths. I feel like I followed it with the Ole JackMeter. My friend David introduced me via Facebook to Ole and Karen and I visited them and got the deluxe tour of Christchurch and Banks Peninsula in October 2010. They were away from Christchurch on the fateful day in February, but they endured many more sleepless nights. It was not uncommon to be woken up by the sound of a train–held in suspense as to the size of the coming trembler. Ole posted on Facebook when there was another significant quake by saying something like it was another “Jack night” meaning he was going to need Jack Daniel’s whiskey to get to sleep. Whenever I read this from my home in California I’d say a little prayer and think of the beautiful city in Canterbury.

Ole and Karen gave me another tour in 2013. Streets and sewer lines were dug up for repairs almost everywhere we drove. Places I had admired in 2010 were in ruins or closed. Upheaval was ongoing including occasional aftershocks. There were also signs of vitality. The Restore Mall had recently opened with shops in shipping containers.

UK Sarah made time on our road trip to meet Ole for breakfast (Karen was on a business trip) and he gave us another deluxe tour. The roads are in much better shape. There are more and more signs of life returning to normal. The Children’s Bookstore I love is closing/for sale; however, it is hard to say if it is earthquake or book industry related. Now the Sumner suburbs are completely cleared and going back to nature. The fallen rock along the Redcliffs is almost completely removed and many people have already rebuilt to a new standard.

I predict that Christchurch will go from tragedy to triumph. It takes time. And they’ve only just stopped shaking.

This documentary gives a moving account of the “big one”.

Postscript: Their Monday morning they experienced more earthquakes (7.8 Richter, 5+ aftershock(s)). The epicenter was further north near Kaikoura. I am sad to see the photos of the destruction of this beautiful seaside town. My prayers are with them. We can also donate to the NZ Red Cross.

Swatch: Cycling to Skeinz


You can order yarn and penguins in sweaters on-line.

I have been intrigued with the wool shop Skeinz in Napier since 2011. When I was living in St Heliers and the Rena shipwreck happened the shop put a call out for penguin sweaters to help with the recovery. They were completely swamped by the response and the veterinarians only needed a few (their use is actually no longer in vogue). So Skeinz was clever and bought some stuffed little blue penguins and yellow-eyed penguins and sold the sweaters to raise money for penguin recovery and conservation.

The shop is in an industrial part of town because it is co-located with their wool mill and is essentially a factory outlet. Too far to walk and impractical to take a taxi so I rented a 3 speed cruiser and headed to the beach bike path. It was counter-intuitive to go via the Port, but the bike rental guy suggested that there would be less traffic and more scenic.

20161102_150910All good until I got to the transition from the Quays to the light industrial part of Napier called Onekawa. Suddenly I was navigating through roundabouts with logging trucks! I found a new gear fueled by terror! I got lost a couple of times and finally put away my paper map for Ms. Google. My 20 minute bike ride took twice as long, but it was worth it.

I had packed 2 patterns for a sweater and blanket for a friend’s baby due in December. (I learned the hard way to not depend on being able to find a pattern in a knitting language you can read. And then how much yarn to buy?) Karen helped me find the NZ equivalents of the right weight yarn. I really enjoyed looking at and feeling all the beautiful different wool yarns. Karen figured out how to ring it up so I didn’t have to pay GST and Skeinz ships overseas for free for orders over $100 NZ. I appreciated her assistance especially as there was a steady stream of customers.


Karen asking the office how she can save me the GST: the key is she has to ship it directly to my home in Sacramento.

I decided to cycle back to the City Centre in the most direct route. It was another blood pumping pedaling experience. When I stepped off my bike I felt very satisfied with my yarn haul and as if I’d wrestled ewe to ground, sheared and spun wool all while being chased by wolf! I went back to my hotel, showered and treated myself to a delicious dinner at Bistronomy.


$20 NZ for 2 hours with a grace period. Includes helmet and lock.

Penguin Parade at Aquarium


The National Aquarium of New Zealand is not very large and only takes about an hour to see the displays, yet it includes a charming Penguin Cove where over a dozen injured little blue penguins live out their days in ease and repose. I watched Dora, the hand-raised penguin who really likes people and swims and chatters at the front of the pool, while another penguin sunned herself on the deck, and a third penguin swam for the joy of swimming. You can view through a window underwater and from above.

When the keepers came out at 1:30 to feed the penguins, almost all of the penguins came out to grab a fish or two. The penguins feed three times a day in view of the public (9:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. daily). One keeper shares information about the penguins while the other feeds them by hand. They warn about the threats to penguins like the pollution and fishing line that caught Gonzo and removed his fin and lower beak. The rescued penguins live longer at the aquarium than they would in the wild; one elderly penguin is 21 years compared to 12 years average in the wild. The keeper said she’ll be served her lunch “at home” likes Meals on Wheels.


The towns of Napier and Hastings were almost completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1931. Napier was rebuilt in the Art Deco style and continues to celebrate this architectural heritage in festivals and tours. Many cruise ships stop here for a day and one convenient penguin outing is to the Marine Parade and National Aquarium of New Zealand. For over a kilometer along the shoreline there are gardens and walkways that lead from the Hawkes Bay Museum to the Aquarium.

Entry to the National Aquarium is $20NZ for one adult. A family of four can visit for $54NZ. There is special pricing for students and seniors. The aquarium is open from 9 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The café and gift shop are currently closed for remodeling.

It is a 20-minute walk from the tourist information centre to the aquarium. The paths are flat and easy to navigate if you are in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller. Just across the street from the I-Centre is a bike rental place. For $20NZ you can rent a cruiser with a helmet and lock for 2 hours. Most of Napier is completely flat so you can pedal to the aquarium, see the penguins and continue exploring.

Starry, Starry Nights at Lake Tekapo

mt-johnOn the shores of Lake Tekapo about 8 km from the village is the Mount John Observatory, New Zealand’s premier observatory run by the University of Canterbury. To visit this observatory and to see stars through one of their telescopes, you only need make a reservation with Earth and Sky tours and keep your fingers crossed for clear skies.

There are nine tours to choose from depending on the time of year and time of day. Some are designed especially for families. We made reservations for 2 adults ($148 NZ per person) for the 9:30 p.m. tour. When we arrived at the Earth and Sky office and shop in the village we were informed that there was 100% cloud cover. We had the offer to go on the tour with just the behind the scenes observatory and the slide presentation, or to reschedule, or to get a full refund. Since I had just been to the California Science Museum planetarium and we were very tired and the forecast was rubbish, we opted for the refund.


Late the next night the clouds broke up and Sarah set the alarm to check the stars at midnight (very good) and at 4:00 a.m. (very, very good–full on Milky Way). I had not seen the stars so glorious in such a long time. I only wish it had not been so cold and damp or I would have spread a blanket and stared longer. It is a healthy reminder that these stars are there all the time, we just can’t see them because of light and air pollution.

The Mackenzie Basin, where the Mt John Observatory is located, is especially good for stargazing. On the Bortle Dark-Sky Scale—which measures how dark the night sky is—the Mackenzie Basin scores number 1, the highest (best) darkness rating. Astronomers disagree about how many stars it is possible to see with the naked eye (a lot), although Professor Brian Cox calculated the number as anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000. Compared to 200 in most parts of Europe. And the center of the Milky Way is in the Southern Hemisphere in the constellation Sagittarius.(Gerard Hutching, Why Can’t Kiwis Fly?)

southern-lightsWhen we caught up with my friend Ole in Christchurch he told us he was taking a group of photographers to Lake Elsinore to learn to photograph the southern lights also known as the Aurora australis. He works for the Canon company and gets to do lots of fun stuff like this.

So whether you set your clock to go out on the lawn by your hotel room, or you book a tour with Earth and Sky, don’t sleep through the most awesome natural show in New Zealand.

All photos for this blog post are from Google Images search. My photography skills do not extend this far–no fault of my trusty Canon camera.