Tuesday, 27 November 2012

and oh, the sweetness of the air

It would be a shame to travel all the way to a country where they have regular V8 races and to not watch some V8 races; so last weekend I went to watch some V8 races.

On Saturday night I went to Woodford Glen Speedway to watch dirt track death racing with post apocalypse deathtrap cars of death.

It was sort of comparable to UK stock cars and banger racing; louder and faster (some of the modified stocks were pulling wheelies as they accelerated off the back of the final corner), but much less destructive.  Although one chap still managed to flip his Super Saloon on the back straight, messing up his car and bruising his elbow in the process.

The next day I went to Ruapuna Park to watch something slightly more civilised; V8 Supertourers, the Kiwi equivalent of Aussie V8 touring cars.  Support races took the form of Rennsport (a load of German stuff) and classic muscle car racing.

It was a pretty fun waste of a few days, and almost helped to take my mind off the fact that I was completely missing the final race of an enthralling F1 season.  Thanks, NZ telly.

I also finished painting some toys this week; a Big Mek with a kustum force field...

...and a Painboy with his grot minion.

The painboy is great for making Nobz mobz much more expensive and only slightly more survivable.  The Big Mek with his whizzy gubbinz does much the same thing but on a slightly larger scale; thereby having a mediocre effect on a much larger proportion of the army.

Sinister foreign confectionery; Whittaker's.  It's not a single type of chocolate bar - Whittaker's will happily sell you a whole range of yummy things to stuff into your stupid face.

I've chosen the Bittersweet Peanut Slab not because it is especially delicious (they're all delicious) or exotic (none of them are exotic), but because I like the black and gold packaging.  It reminds me of the JPS Lotus cars from the seventies and eighties.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

foonting turling dromes

Two centuries before New Zealand was established as a British colony, a Dutch seafarer by the name of Abel Tasman made the first contact between the outside world and the Maori when he stumbled upon the north coast of New Zealand's South Island.  When the Maori came out in their canoes and made their traditional "friend or foe" challenges, the Dutch responded by noisily blowing trumpets at them.  The Maori were clearly not keen fans of this sort of free-form jazz, as when the Dutch lowered a boat to go and meet with them it was attacked, and four crewman killed.  Abel decided that he didn't need to actually set foot on land to have discovered it, and fucked off with some haste, settling on the name Nieuw Zeeland.

Last weekend we went to have a vague poke at the national park named after Abel Tasman.  It is called Abel Tasman National Park.

We started by driving up to Nelson on Thursday night, then went up the road to Marahau the next morning.  At Marahau we hired a sea kayak; or, as my boss referred to it, divorce boat.  Which suggests that he too may have experienced kayak rage at some point... the problem with two-man kayaks is that the person on the back controls the rudder and therefore determines the direction of travel, regardless of how much the person on the front tries paddling to one side.  Meanwhile the person on the back has to try to keep paddling in time with the person on the front, which is really difficult if the person on the front has no sense of rhythm, or occasionally stops paddling for no reason at all and starts whistling.  Whistling?!  Why the fuck are you whistling?!  Paddle, damn you!  PADDLE!!!

We managed to get to get to Watering Cove without killing each other, took a short walk over to Anchorage Bay or Cove or Something, and found our accommodation for the night - the Aquapackers floating dormitory thing.  We gained entry by standing on the shore and waving until someone noticed us and came over in a wee boat to get us.  

In spite of being trapped on what would be most diplomatically described as a "cosy" boat with a load of other people and a desperately short supply of booze, it was actually quite bearable.

The next day we walked through the forests back to Marahau, with a slight detour to check out Cleopatra's Pool (a rock in a pond).  I went for a bit of a paddle; the water was so cold it made my feet hurt.

Then we drove to Kaiteriteri, and had a look at split apple rock (a rock which looks a bit like a split apple).

There's not much else to do in Kaiteriteri, so we went and had a long look at the inside of a pub.  We stumbled back to our shitbox hostel to discover that we were sharing our room with a girl that snored loudly, and a couple that spent hours - and I mean hours - in the evening noisily moving things from one immense backpack to another immense backpack and then back into the first backpack, seemingly in an effort to fit twelve bags worth of crap into one bag.  They were still vainly attempting to defy the laws of physics the following morning, so we fucked off for a vague bimbly drive along some of the twisty roads in the hills before finally heading for home through the countless vineyards of the north and then down along the west coast.

Sinister foreign confectionery this week took the form of a Chokito.

The Chokito is kind of like a finger of fudge that has been dipped in chocolate, rolled in biscuity bits, and then dipped in more chocolate.  It surpassed all expectations by being not only edible, but also quite delicious.  Blimey.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

the sky resembles a backlit canapé

As you head towards Lake Tekapo you pass a sign that proclaims it to be a "Scientific Reserve".  Or maybe it was "Scenic Reserve"?  That would probably make more sense.  In any case, it summoned up images in my mind of bespectacled men in white coats roaming the planes, solving complex differential equations and growing ears on the backs of small mammals.

Turns out that it just means they have a big field and an observatory.  We've seen fields before, so we went to check out the observatory and watch the skis.  The night sky was obligingly clear, allowing us to see clouds of stars instead of actual clouds; as well as Jupiter and four of its moons and some other twinkly crap.

The next day we stopped in to visit one of the chaps from work.  He and his family own a wee holiday home in Twizel, and they were kind enough to fill us with lunch and then take us out for a blat around Lake Ruataniwha on their boat.  I'm not much of an expert on these things, but I reckon their approach is pretty much spot on; get a small boat because it's cheap, and then slap the biggest engine possible on the back off it.  I can't be sure of how fast it went because none of the dials worked, but it was fast enough to give a chap a whole different kind of haircut and purge my brain of everything but the theme tune to Magnum PI.

After that we headed up the road to Mt Cook.  I had thought that Mt Cook played the part of the angry mountain (Caradhras) in The Fellowship; but apparently that was Mt Earnslaw.  However Mt Cook and the rest of the surrounding Southern Alps did star as The Misty Mountains, and so in theory is still home to Balrogs.  The Southern Alps did a bit of a turn in the lighting-of-the-beacons bit too.  And it also turns out that the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was filmed in the vast rolling brownlands around Twizel, though I don't recall seeing much in the way of rotting Mumakil carcasses.  Perhaps stoats have devoured them.

Stoats are, by the way, New Zealand's deadliest predator.  Fact.  Before humans started stumbling all over it, New Zealand had only three species of native mammal; and they were all types of bat.  Mostly New Zealand was home to insects and a bazillion kinds of retarded bird, until Europeans brought over stuff to eat, shoot and wear.  Stoats were introduced in an attempt to control the rampant rabbit population... this failed horribly for a number of reasons.  First off, stoats are raging psychopaths; secondly, rabbits are wise to their stoaty ways and will peg it at the first sign of any stoaty trouble; and third New Zealand's birds are, as previously stated, retarded.  For example, the Kakapo.

The kakapo is a flightless parrot whose natural defence is to stand very still and pretend to be a bush.  The stoats fucked those chumps up.

Anyway, we rounded the day off by going for a bimble along Hooker Valley, on the west side of Mt Wakefield.  Hooker Valley wasn't entirely what I was expecting, but it still offered some good views and only mildly terrifying swing bridges over raging boulder-strewn rivers.

And at the end of it all, just past a big freezing lake and a lot of signs promising near certain avalanchey death to any traveller foolhardy enough to venture any further, the ominous mass of Hooker Glacier was just visible through the mists.

The next day we went up the other side of Mt Wakefield to bimble along Tasman Valley.  The first thing we found were the Blue Lakes.

The Blue Lakes were less like lakes and more like ponds to my eyes, but for the absence of frogspawn and a half-submerged shopping trolley.  Also not very blue.  If I understand correctly, these are sink holes left behind in the wake of the retreating glacier; and are pretty much the same size as Lake Tasman would have been twenty or so years ago.  Lake Tasman is pretty big nowadays.

We carried on bimbling along the valley track, the lake concealed behind a large and mostly treacherous looking ridge of rocks and boulders.  After a few hours of walking we found a slightly more stable looking pile of rocks and clambered over them to discover that we had gone past the end of the lake and were now alongside Tasman Glacier.

I sort of expected the glacier to either be a huge groaning cliff face of glistening ice or a big mint with a polar bear standing on it.  It is of course neither of these things.  The glacier is a big chunk of ice several hundred metres deep, but is almost entirely concealed beneath a couple of metres of rocks - the remains of the surrounding landscape that has been ground out by the glacier, left behind as the glacier melts away.  The result is a desolate, alien landscape that's kind of cool but not very pretty.

Whilst sat on our teetering pile of avalanche fodder, I experienced the questionable delights of the Mighty Perky Nana.

It is a chocolate covered banana chew thing - basically the same as Pineapple Lumps, except that it tastes of banana.  Apart from the first mouthful, which tasted kind of like cheese.  And the rest of it, which tasted like horror.  Die in a fire, Mighty Perky Nana.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012


Okay, so this is about a week late.  I literally do not care.

Two weekends ago DeathCar2000 went to Kaikoura, about 180km north of Christchurch.  Here, the mountainous landscape drops away sharply into the sea to a depth of over 80m, and then plummets to around 800m... the deep waters and merging of cool and warm currents results in all kinds of very edible sea life splashing about quite close to the shore.  Sea food features heavily on just about every menu in town, with most places noisily advertising crayfish meals.  Crayfish meal = facehugger & chips.

Not all of the sea life is there for the express purpose of being eaten; these lazy bastard seals were hanging out at the peninsula on the first day that we got to Kaikoura.  They apparently do this quite a lot, as there were signs all about warning that if you get too close they'll eat your face to pieces.

Most of Kaikoura's history is tied up with whales.  The oldest (and pinkest) surviving building in Kaikoura is Fyffe house, built in 1842 by Scottish whaler Robert Fyfe.

Whales were apparently in far greater supply than building materials in the 1840s, as the house is built on foundations of whale vertebrae.  After many successful years of hunting whales Robert Fyfe started to go a bit mad, and wound up dead after bimbling off into the sea.  The house was passed on to a relative whose name I forget; and she in turn sold it on for a huge sum of money to another relative, George Fyffe, who had long wanted to get on this lucrative whaling malarkey.  Unfortunately for him the arse had fallen out of the whaling market a few years previously, and he was left completely bankrupted.  Meanwhile the rest of the population of Kaikoura, being a bunch hard-drinkin', shit-kickin', whale-huntin' badasses, found themselves with no whale-huntin' to do; and so stuck to the hard-drinkin' and shit-kickin' instead.  Kaikoura descended into wild lawlessness, until the arrival of Joseph Goodall who in 1867 bought Fyffe House, took up the post of district constable and restored law and order with little more than a pistol and a pair of handcuffs.  What a hero.

Whales are still an important part of the local economy in Kaikoura; although these days it's less about rendering blubber and more about whale-watching.  There are many different ways to see whales in Kaikoura; you can get in a light aircraft, board a ship, go for a helicopter ride, hire a sea kayak... the whale-watching option we took was to cane a six-pack in the hostel, and then spot a whale just 100m or so out from the shore as we stumbled off in search of a pub.  Huzzah!  This called for many celebratory drinkums.

The next day we stepped out blinking and bleary-eyed into hideous, glorious sunshine.  With the whale-watching box ticked (sort of), the only thing left to do in Kaikoura was to find a mountain and climb it.  It's not difficult to find mountains, since the only thing big enough for them to hide behind is other mountains; and our task was made easier by the fact that Mt Fyffe was clearly visible from the front door of the shitbox hostel.

Mt Fyffe, you're going down.  Or we're going up.  Either way, a relative translation of position is going to occur.

The walking route up Mt Fyffe isn't especially difficult to follow, as it's a 4x4 track - not that we saw anyone driving on it.  It was a pretty steep gradient, and my legs were more than a little hurty the following day... I experienced a good few pangs of vertigo here and there too, particularly on the bits where the track was on the very spine of the hill and the world just dropped away to either side.  Eek.

We kept going until we reached the hut, 1100m up; I figured that was probably far enough.  We'd ascended high enough that we were into the clouds (the same ones obscuring the top of the mountain in that photo of the harbour), and there was snow everywhere; and although it would have only taken another hour and a half to reach the summit (another 500m up), it would have made for an even longer walk back; and it's not like we'd have got a view of anything other clouds from up there anyway.

The next day we were back in Christchurch, and in the evening took the short trip to New Brighton beach to watch stuff explode in celebration of the capture and torture of either a fierce revolutionary, or a dastardly terrorist (depending on how many Che Guevara t-shirts you own/how catholic you are).  It was free; which is good because it means it didn't cost us anything.  It's almost as though the organisers have realised the folly of charging people to see something that is happening in the sky and is visible for miles around.  Despite being free, it was a very fine display indeed; the fireworks were set of along the length of the pier, which is like an actual pier as opposed to the amusement-arcade-suspended-over-water that we're more used to.  On the whole it was well worth dealing with crowds of people and getting pocketses filled with sand for.

Sinister foreign confectionery this week was a Cherry Ripe.

It's kind of cheating, since I've had them before; so although it was still quite foreign, it wasn't too sinister.  I quite like Cherry Ripes, but I'm not convinced that I'd ever bother with them if they were generally available; finding bits of coconut stuck in my teeth half a day later is too irritating for there to be any chance of Cherry Ripe finding it's way into my top three.

Friday, 2 November 2012

hitler skelter

My temporary housemate and I decided last weekend that it might be nice to do something that didn't involve a 1000+ km round trip; so we went on a little jaunt over to Akaroa in the Banks Peninsula.

Lying around 50km to the south east of the city, the peninsula is essentially a massive crater that was created as the result of a couple of volcanic eruptions many, many years ago.  If I'm learning nothing else out here, it's that the two things New Zealand do really well are big fucking hills and badass natural disasters.

We stopped off for lunch in the Hilltop Pub.  Because I am a stupid, I only took a photo of the boring buildingy bit and neglected to capture for posterity the view from the garden, which consisted of 1) the distant shimmery wet bit of the Banks Peninsula surrounded by big craggy hills, 2) a sheep munching away at the grass just the other side of the fence, and 3) a splendid jerk chicken burger and a jug of beer to wash it down with.  There was also a surprising number of vintage motorcycles parked outside; I completely failed to capture these too.

And then on to Akaroa.  160 years ago Akaroa was a French settlement, and a lot of the people living there now are direct descendants - there were more than a few tricolores fluttering in the breeze, and lots of the streets are called Rue De something or other.  It was all terribly quaint, and with all the surrounding hills it felt like we were in the middle of a huge crater.  Because we literally were.


The main road around the peninsula is called Summit Road, and runs pretty much along the crest of the hills.  The best views from Summit Road were of the road itself as we drove along it; but what with the sheer drops and the lack of barriers and the fucked front shocks lending DeathCar2000's steering the kind of vagueness that really focuses a chaps mind, I thought it best not to try to take any photos en route.  I think you can Street View most of it anyway.  Meanwhile, there were plenty of other spots along the way to stop and waste more cameraphone battery, including Le Bons Bay; a nice little spot which, as far as I can tell, has absolutely nothing to do with the frontman of Duran Duran.

The following day I would have gone to a classic motorsport shenanigan at the local raceway, but it turns out that I'm too stupid to use a calendar.  So instead we stayed at home and didn't go anywhere; which actually made for quite a pleasant change.  I used the time to finish off painting some toys...

A mob of five lootaz.  Mobz of five are great because you can fit the whole unit under a single blast template, and when they all die in one go it saves a lot of going back and forth between the table and the figure case.

Units of five; efficient.

Sinister foreign candy this week took the form of Pascall's Pineapple Lumps.

The packet proudly proclaims the contents to be "artificial flavoured" - and I can confirm this to be the case.  It was like eating dense slabs of vaguely pineappley yellow rubber.  Not the worst thing I've eaten since I got here, but that's mainly because I've eaten a Pinky and a Reel Rainbow Big Fish.