Ships In The Night?

I took a wee trip down to The Glaciers a few weeks ago and I’m so glad I did!

The drive down the West Coast of the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand is one of the finest in the world. This isn’t my claim, it is according to Total Travel and you can view what they say here. In my opinion the best part of the drive is actually between Charleston and Greymouth (where I started my journey) but even so the further south you go the more impressive the views become and the whole trip is a truly memorable one.

Southwards I went until I came to a place south of Hari Hari where it appears the locals have discovered a new cash-crop-

2013-09-20 16.59.45ragwort!! Some years ago this was declared to be a noxious weed but it would appear that local councils have put its eradication into the ‘too hard’ basket as it is as rampant on road verges as it is in this paddock! I hate the bloody stuff as do stock so one wonders why cockies wouldn’t be a bit more proactive in controlling its spread on their land. Oh well, their choice, I guess, seeing councils don’t seem to give a damn!

I also took a side trip in to see what the glacier flight setup was just north of Whataroa. It’s some way from Franz and Fox glaciers but I guess they have access to a few lesser known ones close by. It wasn’t an operation that would set the world on fire but I guess they must make enough helicopter flights to keep them in fuel with a bit left over for the groceries!! (Or until they sell their crop of ragwort, maybe?) The old road-bridge pillarsWP_001004were quite impressive but the really impressive thing about the place was the lock they had on the door of their dunny! For those unfamiliar with the term, a ‘dunny’ is a lavatory, toilet or, for our American friends, ‘bathroom’ [even though there’s not a bath within cooey!!]2013-09-19 19.48.20This the sort of security every littlest room should have! If you were REALLY pretencious you could always use a greenstone boulder!

South of Whataroa I took a side trip out to the Okarito Lagoon. People know this for the iconic kotuku or white heron that nest and breed there, but it is also a special place just to visit for views both of the lagoon

okaritoand the beach. (If you of a mind to you can contact my mate Ian Cooper and arrange to view kiwi in the wild!)

On south to the glaciers. I went through to Fox Glacier first and did a wee bit of business before taking a run out to Lake Matheson. This is a special wee gem but usually best visited in the calm of the morning because its claim to fame is the view of Aorangi Mt Cook (New Zealand’s highest mountain which is just 17km from Fox in The Alps) that is reflected in the lake’s calm waters, a bit like this.matheson1cmprssdIt is a famous view sometimes depicted on various NZ stamps and is much more impressive in winter with the snow on the mountains, but… you see what I mean.Lake-Matheson2From Matheson I drove out to Gillespies Beach, an area that was mined for gold for many years. There is a nicely kept wee cemetery that’s worth a visit if you go there,

2013-09-19 23.27.24

many of the headstones with dates going back well over 100 years. One gets the impression that not all of the graves have had much care lavished on them2013-09-19 23.27.50and that there are many unmarked graves on the fringes or even in the surrounding bush. There are old gold workings to be seen further down the beach and the beach itself is typical of the West Coast- long, sweeping and worth investigative rambling!

I came back from Gillespies and decided to have a look at the glacier as I hadn’t been to it for many, many years and all of the talk of our glaciers receding at alarming rates has made me wonder for some time what the difference of some decades would be. It was just short of dusk and as I drove into the car-park I saw a pair of young ladies walking in the middle of the road towards the glacier. They separated as I drove up and thus I stopped, wound down my window and jokingly said “You realise that by doing that I won’t be able to run you both over together!!” Luckily she laughed, her friend joined us and we walked together to view the face of the glacier.

What a shock. My hazy recollections had the face of the glacier being closer to the road than where the car-park was now, and that it was quite high and broad and ran from side to side of the valley!2013-09-20 02.09.00Now the terminal face isn’t a face at all and the volume of ice-field that ran up to the entrance to the valley proper is paltry. It was really quite sad. I probably bored the lovely company with my teacher upbringing coming to the fore and acting the glacier guide -a bit presumptuous seeing I hadn’t see the bloody thing for about 40 years! Very kindly they didn’t opt to eject me from the group and their company was very welcome.

I suppose the glacial melting will get worse before it gets better but the following gives some idea of what has happened up the road at Franz Josef over the decades and it is logical the same graphic for Fox would be just as awful.2013-09-20 13.51.07 2013-09-20 13.50.56 2013-09-20 13.50.45 2013-09-20 13.50.34 2013-09-20 13.50.12More about that soon.

I offered the young ladies a lift back to Fox Glacier township with the idea we have a coffee which they accepted as it was now past sundown and getting a bit chilly. After proper introductions it transpired Nicole was a young German lassie and Frida hailed from Sweden, and both worked at the local tourist hotel as part of their OEs. It was delightful to chat with them for a while and find out a wee bit about each other.  I made hollow threats of dire consequences if they didn’t contact me when next in Greymouth before I took my leave and set off to  find a place to stay.

Next morning I was in Franz Josef by about 7:30 and made myself a cup of coffee in the glacier carpark. It has to be said that the road in,2013-09-20 15.05.30the presentation of facilities, the information boards and so on are MUCH better at Franz Josef, although this didn’t impress me much (nothing to do  with DOC, of course!) On the wall in one of the toilet cubicles-

2013-09-20 13.39.00

On the floor of the same cubicle-2013-09-20 13.38.52

Not impressed, tourist people!!!

The walk up to the terminal face was too far for me to contemplate that morning but the walk out onto the river flats was pleasant but again quite a shock.2013-09-20 14.04.27 The series of pics above shows very graphically what has happened and it was alarming to picture where the face had been and how far it had moved up the valley.2013-09-20 13.49.19‘Ka Roimata O Hine Hukatere’ has now disappeared around a corner and it is not until one completes a several km trek or takes to the air that the glacier is actually properly seen. One of the logical consequences of this is how people now experience the glacier- nowadays it is largely by air as it is getting to be a bigger and bigger tramp to even reach the glacier and today’s tourists desire things to happen somewhat quicker than can be achieved by foot! The buzz of helicopters and higher flying ski-planes is constant competition to the birdsong- I’d prefer just the birdsong!

One must do is a short excursion into the bush at the carpark, along a well-formed path2013-09-20 13.46.44to reach Peter’s Pond, Franz’s answer to Lake Matheson.peter's pondWhat a gem! It is a kettle lake which is simply where melt water from a glacier ice-block has been trapped in a natural erosion bowl in solid rock. This one is not very large but as you can see it’s beautifully positioned to give some gorgeous reflections!

Having done most of what I’d gone South to do I headed back home and kept pondering on the highlights of the trip. The weather was typical of the West Coast- brilliantly fine. The new places I visited were interesting. The glaciers were food for thought (although I think I am of the opinion that while global warming/greenhouse gases/ozone depletion are all buzz-wordy convenient excuses/explanations for glacial retreat we should not completely lose sight of the age-long cyclic nature of climate Earth. Don’t get me wrong, man’s influence on the planet is far from blameless in this regard but I have an optimistic bone or two that tell me that the glaciers will return. Doubtless I won’t be around to welcome them back!!!) The silence in some areas in the bush was a worry (1080?).

But doubtless the highlight of the trip was people. I met a couple of Yanks and we chatted about greenstone (they didn’t buy any of mine!) I picked up a hitch-hiking Israeli and our conversation was quite enlightening- I am not a fan of what the Israelis do on their own doorstep but this young lady had quite a refreshing attitude and this I found interesting because she was doing an OE having just completed 3 years of compulsory military conscription! I met an Argentinian couple who I chatted to about memorabilia and souvenirs, having seen them browsing displays of awful home-produced kitsch. (They didn’t buy any of my stuff either!!) And then, of course I met a young German and a young Swede. And that was the highlight. Two young visitors with perfect English who were happy to chat about this, and that, and the other, and who were effusive in their opinions of Aotearoa New Zealand. I had the impression that they weren’t peeing in my pocket, either, but were honestly happy to be here and enjoying the company of Kiwis they met. To have my home and fellow Kiwis praised so readily by visitors was balm to the soul!!

My time with Frida and Nicole was limited but it was a delight to be contacted by Frida a few weeks later to be told she was coming to Greymouth for the day, and would I like to meet her for coffee? Would I!!?? We met, completed her few errands then I took her home for lunch as she said she hadn’t had breakfast and was starving! We chatted for what was far too short a time and I then took her to meet her friends. It wasn’t until we had taken our leave of each other that it dawned on me that I might never see this young person again. Ever. This really gave meaning to the saying, “Ships that pass in the night”.

How often do we have such brief encounters and then go our separate ways? I know it is in the nature of the mobile world we live in, but…

Jag kommer att sakna dig.


Good-Bye, Mate.

Tomorrow I farewell a very good friend of mine. He’s not a long-time friend, we only met in 2005. He’s not my BEST friend, I’ve been around a wee bit long for him to be that. But he’s definitely a friend.

My wife and I decided to move to The Coast a few years ago when I retired, and thus took up residence in, for us, a brand-new part of the country. I’d holidayed here a couple of times, and the missus had spent a couple of nights here. We arrived unheralded and thought the process of assimilation could take some time, but being retired that wasn’t a problem, time was something I figured we had. Within days of being here, and through my game of choice we met a bunch of locals, and all made us welcome. One of those was Pat. Our initial contact was interesting to the extent that he was a member of an outfit called “The Syndicate” and I’d made a comment about another member of The Syndicate’s suggestion regarding post-game haggle (another story). But the upshot was that Pat and I met.

I won’t repeat what advice Pat received about me from the Syndicate member I had played with that day but suffice it to say Pat thought the advice was worthy of not outright dismissal. We had a couple that evening, and once or twice over the next month or so we actually played the game together, shared the after-match tipples, and got to be a wee bit more than just passing acquaintances. As luck would have it I was good enough to be selected for provincial representative duties later that year, as was Pat (he’d been a part of the team for some years, and thereby hang A LOT of tails/tales!!) So we traveled away together and the initial casual friendship was cemented into something more.

The game will always be the focus for us, but we grew our friendship, (my wife and I with his wife and him) and enjoyed some great dinners together at his place or mine. He loved being a BBQ ‘chef’ and wasn’t at all bad at producing some pretty presentable steaks. The sad thing was that he used the BBQ as an opportunity to have a smoke or two, Linda not allowing the smelly habit to be carried out inside. He wasn’t a particularly adventurous cook but he never disappointed. We generally followed the meal with a few, and after wine with dinner, beer wasn’t appropriate so we normally had a couple of convivial rums. Pat was a cracker for ‘things’ and a few years ago he came across a bowser carousel that looked pretty good, so he bought one! I only mention this because you might get the impression that when the top came off the bottle it only toook a couple of pours to finish it!! We assiduously measured each pour from the bowser. That’s not to say he didn’t measure more than one at a time!

Most of the various ‘adventures’ I went on over the past few years have included Pat (or should I say included me?) and he was always a lot of fun. I never heard him take a crack at anyone, have a bad thing to say about anyone, suggest that anyone was unworthy of this or than. Pat was a guy who came from ‘ordinary’ stock and as a consequence recognised the value of hard work, something he did all of his adult life. He was not well educated being a fella who had little time for school when he was there. Once he’d left, however he realised that life doesn’t just present you with stuff, you have to earn it. And earn it, he did. When I met him he was a successful businessman having established a coast-wide carpet and tiling business that dominated the local market. Although the owner Pat still laid carpet himself- he had to stay busy! Sadly at the time of his passing Pat was in the process of easing himself out of the working life and was in negotiations to sell his business to one of the national concerns. I sincerely hope that his widow isn’t taken advantage of carrying these negotiations through to a successful conclusion!

Pat also got himself involved in a wide variety of things. He was a valued committee member at the golf club and served a period as President. He was a keen coach of young sports players- golf, league, boxing and such (all sports he was keenly involved in himself at various times in his life). He loved his years of jet-boating and served the community well during the devastating floods of the early 90s when the town center was flooded to the level of first floor balconies, using his boat to save people trapped in flooded buildings. Pat was a guy who selflessly got involved.

As well as not having Pat around any more I have a few regrets that arise out of the ‘don’t do today what you can put off until tomorrow’ habit. Pat had never trout-fished with a fly and as this is one of my passions I was determined to introduce him to this and ‘get him hooked’ on this pass-time. I knew this was going to be a bit of a challenge as Pat and the very liesurely nature of trout-fishing were not truly suited, but when you’re on a beautiful, pristine New Zealand river amongst natural bush in gin-clear water, anything is possible!

I also regret not completing our tramp to the top of Mount French, one of the peaks behind Lake Brunner, not far from home. He’d hunted here frequently in the past, and he wanted to introduce me to HIS playground. Pat loved his hunting and every year he secured hunting rights to two blocks that he’s use during ‘the roar’, that time of the year when the stags are at their aggressive best and presented fantastic stalking options, especially along ‘the tops’, and in the valleys leading down into the lush South Island bush. It was delightful last evening when Pat’s son told me that his wife had placed in the coffin with Pat a couple of furry chamois place-mats that Pat was very proud of, but which Linda couldn’t stand! (The best option for both of them!)

A few years ago Pat suffered a fall after a brain seizure and this limited his activity to a great degree. He wasn’t able to hunt, he’d not even been in the bush since the fall. His golf suffered but he was working his way down the handicap rankings again by virtue of his dedication and determination, but he was no longer part of the rep scene and we missed him on the away trips.

As previously mentioned we have a social group called ‘The Syndicate’ that was formed many years ago by Pat and a few of his cronies to generate some camaraderie and friendly rivalry (which involed quiet wagers and a wee bit of the liquid amber). The Syndicate reguarly takes wee trips as a group and have fun and enjoy each other’s company on other golf courses, and in the evenings that followed. This was another activity that Pat hadn’t been able to continue of late and we are going to find it difficult to resolve ourselves to the fact that he’ll never be on these trips again. I do know, however that he will always be part of them. How could you forget a guy who, among other things, danced naked on the bar of the hotel the team were staying at?

As life goes on we all lose the ones we love but accepting the inevitability of this doesn’t make it any easier. Pat was a guy who loved life, and one who brought a lot of joy to others. He will always be remembered around here with a huge amount of respect and affection.

Rest easy, my friend. Do what you can to organise a large trout for me next time I’m out.

Good-Bye, Mate.

World Wide Whanau

A couple of years ago a member of my whanau went on a bit of a pilgrimage to the Middle East to sort of retrace his father’s war-time exploits and to pay homage to our and other NZers forebears who had made the ‘ultimate sacrifice’. One of these was my namesake, my father’s brother Norman Murray (no, I’m not called ‘Norman’) who died in the defence of Maleme Airfield in Crete, 20th MAY, 1941, and lies at rest in the Souda Bay Allied Cemetery.

Souda Bay Allied Cemetery, Crete.

While on the island my cousin left an entry in a visitors’ book, and not one to use few words when many can do just as well, he left a decent amount of information. Probably thinking no more about the visitors book he continued his hikoi and ultimately returned home tired but well satisfied with his efforts.

Some months later I received from him a group email in which he let the family know about a Polish couple who had been holidaying in Crete, had read the visitors’ book entry, were intrigued and had contacted him. They intended returning for another holiday to Crete in the not too distant future and very generously inquired as to whether they could take anything to Souda Bay to Uncle Murray’s grave for him.

I thought this ‘random offer of kindness’ was at least worthy of a reply and so I did with a general introduction of myself, my relationship to the author of the visitors’ book entry, and a sincere thanks that they should make such a generous offer. I included a message and a family photo. In a very short time I got a reply from Malgo and Roman, a Polish couple who live in Lodz, letting me know that they would, indeed take my message and print the photo that I had sent in digital format and place it on the grave of our uncle.

I subsequently received another email from Poland with photos attached of Uncle Murray’s gravesite with our family photo and I have to admit there was a lump in the throat and a tear in the eye as I read the kind message and opened the attachments.

What wonderful people Malgo and Roman are- total strangers thousands of kilometres across the World who read an obscure entry in a visitors’ book and offered to carry wishes and objects for no other reason than that they are wonderful people. I am happy to say we have developed our relationship through the convenience of email, have exchanged gifts and family details, and I am now delighted to consider Malgo and Roman good friends.

I am looking forward to my daughter visiting them in Poland as part of her OE some time later this year, and am quite jealous of the welcome I know she will get from this delightful couple. Who knows, one day we may even shake each other’s hands! (…although I  think I would prefer a kiss from Malgo- after all she is part of my World Wide Whanau!)

What a better place this world would be if a lot more people had the same friendly, unselfish and helpful attitude of the Grzybowskis of Lodz, Poland.