Antarctica and Ireland in One Day

February 8, 2016

We arose to the sunrise on the mountain and its ice cascades. Enjoyed our usual quick breakfast of coffee and cereal and headed back along Lake Pulaki and turned west towards Lake Tekapo. Both lakes are glacial and magnificent. Unfortunately, at 9 am both lack the deep blue aquamarine color because of the sun’s position in the sky. We passed by the salmon farms that raise California Chinook salmon and have established these American fish in the New Zealand waters. They seem to be doing very well.

We reached the dismal tourist roadside tackiness of Lake Pulaki but enjoyed the nice public bathrooms. Experienced travelers never pass up a good flush. Next to the tourist traps stand a quiet little church dedicated to the pioneers of McKenzie country as the region is known. Mr. McKenzie (or McKinney in the original Gaelic) was a famous sheep rustler who ended up knowing plenty about this mountainous region also known by its touristy label of the Southern Alps. Anyway, the church was cute and authentic and was next to the famous statue of a sheep dog. We took pictures of both despite the bus loads of tour groups and left.

Much of the land that we crossed early in the morning was much like the Owens Valley. It was mostly dry and covered with chaparral like shrubs. Where it was irrigated from the lakes, it was green for the cattle and sheep. We came out of the mountains and into the verdant farmland that lies to the southeast of Christchurch. We passed through farmland and rivers reminiscent of Southern Illinois around Cairo. As you pass through a town you realize that the towns seem to exist to sell farm equipment and silos. There was plenty to see and the kilometers went by quickly. We reached Christchurch around noon.

We followed the airport signs to our first destination. The Antarctic Center, near the airport where we landed a little more than a week ago. It is a tourist attraction not to be missed. Christchurch as well as the rest of New Zealand is one of the main centers for expeditions and scientific work related to Antarctica. We paid our fees and were shuffled into our first mini-adventure, a storm in Antarctica. We donned rubber boots and heavy jackets and went into a room where our guide with a couple huskies was wearing shorts. It was cold but our Alaskan memories were quickly revived. The lights dimmed and the wind started. The chill factor quickly dropped well below zero. Since we could see the exit, it was easy. After all, we used to take our baby Jennifer out in worse wearing her red Eskimo outfit.

We got a chance to enjoy some Blue Penguins that have been rescued and are being kept here because they won’t survive in the wild. They are cute little buggers despite their bird smell. We then went and saw the “4D” movie about a quick trip to Antarctica. The chairs rocked and bucked as the ship crashed through the waves with water droplets being sprayed in your face. That was OK except when the seagull targeted you in 3D. Luckily they left out the 4D for that effect. It was entertaining despite the fact that we had just had real sea lions show us their snarls in person. My son-in-law hates this sort of thing but we had fun.

We then explored the rest of the exhibition noticing that there was a group from Holland America lines also touring the facility. I still prefer being on my own. The facility concisely and interactively brought us up to date on both the paleo history and the current politics of Antarctica. I was glad to see that the current polar explorers essentially eat the same backpacking food that we fed our Boy Scouts. We kind of left the place wishing to join in the efforts to preserve the old bases used by the early explorers like Shackelton and Scott. Museum people are painstakingly trying to preserve what remains from a century ago. Of course, I did find it strange that so little attention was paid to Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian who beat Scott to the South Pole and lived to tell about it. The whole experience was a good break for us.

After checking into our little apartment with a washing machine, we had dinner at an Irish Pub called The Craic. Now this Irish term is important in that it describes an attitude unique to the Irish. The Irish love of conversation, sometimes ribald and boisterous, is summed up in the term Craic that is pronounced like crack. A good Pub is full of good natured Craic. A pint or too helps with the carrying on. Tonight the attention was on a trivial pursuit like game called Speed Quiz played using cell phones. We were invited to compete but demurred. Bobbie did manage to yell out the answer to one question eliciting a gentle admonition from our high heeled, red dressed somewhat heavy and 60ish game show host. We managed to make it through round one without getting kicked out. It was great fun. I think a return trip to Ireland is in order.

Tomorrow we plan to explore Christchurch on foot and give the driver a day off. We will see what adventures come our way.

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