Today Stephan went skiing. Douglas was his very patient and attentive personal trainer. They're the pair in the middle of the picture.
I did not want to ski, having a strong reluctance to risk injury at this time of the year, approaching calving time, exam supervision, mating ... It would wreck a number of plans if I were unable to walk.
I was also extremely pessimistic about Stephan's chances of making it off the snow on his own two legs, without the aid of emergency medical specialists! He has form, after all.
But he had a fantastic time, only fell on his back a couple of times (including once taking Doug down with him) and by the end of the day could ski and turn with some confidence. There's a few seconds of video of his last run down the slope here.
I wandered around watching people, talking to some and enjoying having absolutely nothing to do for several hours. A couple of times during the afternoon a bit of snow fell - or flew into us, wetly. That was the most snow I've ever seen fall! Three flakes fell on me in London one night, many years ago. Seeing snow flying around during the day was a real treat.
When Stephan and Doug had finished, we met Tomas, who had disappeared up the slopes as soon as we'd arrived, and we'd only seen him at lunch time.
At the end of the car-park was a snow cave, created by a guy who had decided to live there for a month to raise awareness and funds for Avalanche Rescue Dogs.
I was surprised to see Stephan go inside through the rather small hole and not come out for several minutes! I thought he didn't like small spaces as much as I don't.
When they came out, some TV3 cameras and an interviewer approached Stephan, who then appeared on television (on Tuesday evening).
To the left of Stephan in the picture is Blair Whitaker, the cold cave dweller.
During the afternoon I'd been watching a guy with a dog and some people clambering around on the slopes in the snow and when the story appeared on TV, it turned out I'd been watching the camera operator, who was filming the dog I'd watched running up the snowy slope.
Today Kathleen, Doug and Tomas took us on a tour up to the head of the lake, across the Dart River and then on into the bush to the beginning of the Routeburn Track.
Our hosts said it was a shame about the rain. Apparently it rains at this end of the lake, but rarely at the other. It was then we realised that we have a different gauge for precipitation from people who live in Otago! There was a light drizzle, of the type we barely note at home.
In the Beech Forest, the environment was damp and luscious.
The lichens and mosses were beautiful.
The forest was so different from that in Northland. There was some variety of plant species, but nowhere near the range we have in our sub-tropical bush areas. All of the big trees appeared to be Beech.
Doug and Kathleen, Tomas and Robby Robot.
Robby Robot has a story: he was left accidentally wrapped in some sheets at our house, when Stella and her family went home from Stephan's Birthday party. I sat him safely on a dresser and forgot about him, until we were leaving for our holiday. It occurred to me that it would be quite fun to take him with us, photograph him in various places and send the photos back to Stella.
As I write this, Stella still hasn't figured out who these people are, nor who created www.wheresrobot.com.
We were directed to point at things by our photographer: some sort of family tradition. When in Rome ...
This is the Sugarloaf Bridge, beyond which we only walked for a few minutes, before turning back. We explored the stream for a while, looking at some lovely rocks, then made our way back to the car-park.
Strange forest, with so little undergrowth. I really enjoyed being in it though, having not seen Beech trees before. They're in all my tree books, but I've never taken any notice of those entries, not having any to see in person.
At the Glenorchy Café at the head of Lake Wakatipu, we had a late lunch. Kathleen and I chose a wonderful soup, for which we tried to get the recipe from the chef, who was not particularly forthcoming. I'd have given it to Stephan, so it's not as if there'd be local competition!
Stephan and Tomas kept talking about going swimming, but they decided the wind was a bit too strong and they might be blown out into the lake. Doug, Tomas and Stephan did some fishing for a while instead.
This is the Kawarau Suspension Bridge adjacent to the Gibbston Road, along which we travelled this morning, in the direction of Alexandra.
We'd stopped to see if we could watch anyone bungy jumping off the bridge, but the bridge itself was far more interesting, so we walked across it for a closer look at its construction.
$180 to throw yourself off a bridge attached to a rubber band, for a thrill which lasts a few seconds? You'd have to be pulling my leg!
We drove on through the Kawarau Gorge, stopping to look at the river at the signposted Roaring Meg lookout.
After passing through Cromwell we drove for some time along the shores of the long lake formed by the Clyde Dam.
Everything in this cold dry climate seems so bleak. One day I'd like to come back to all these places in the spring or early summer.
Even the Ragwort plants are stunted by the cold. Up north some are in full flower.
Back in the car I noticed a lovely smell from the plants I'd walked on - it was Thyme, growing wild everywhere.
Some of the colours in this landscape are fabulous.
We went to Alexandra to visit Peter and Anne. Peter is the son of Stephan's mother Muriel's first cousin Frank.
I met Peter way back when I first knew Stephan, in the '80s, and have always liked him. We last saw them when they came to visit us at the farm at the very end of 2008.
While Anne prepared some lunch, Peter took us for a drive up to the lookout over the town.
The hills were startlingly bare, except for the awful wilding Pine trees, which are spreading as weeds.
We had to head home again in the early afternoon because Stephan had promised to cook a roast beef dinner for the family - he brought it with him in his luggage on the plane.
I found a walking track on one of my maps, so we went on it. It was up a stream off the road to Glenorchy along the side of the lake. I picked this one because it was mentioned in the Native Orchids website. I hoped I might see some orchids.
As we began, I thought perhaps we ought to do some proper track walking, so we marched along for a while and then I realised I wasn't enjoying myself much, because I can walk like that any day of the week; I'm out in the clean, open air any time I want to be. The interesting thing to do was to slow right down and look at the trees and plants and the environment, because it's all so different from home.
So we never found the hut we were supposed to be walking to and we didn't see the interesting historical gold-mining things we were told were there, but I did see a whole lot of Sun Orchid plants. They'll be beautiful when they flower!
Hebe grow everywhere down here, in the wild. I've only ever seen them in gardens before.
The appearance of the forest canopy is so different from that in our own area.
The craggy snow-covered peaks on the skyline also make things look just a little unusual to my eye.
We didn't have time to continue our walk for as long as we might have because Stephan had a date with a boy and a lake!
Stephan had promised Tomas that he would go for a swim with him in the lake after school, so we picked him up, and went to the beach.
There were a couple of amused spectators watching from a lakeside café, and an astonished-looking man on the beach nearby, as these two stripped off to very little (the deal was shorts or no swim - no wetsuits!) and dashed into the very cold water.
Stephan said he'd have to dive or he wouldn't be able to do it.
He said he tried to grab hold of the pontoon, thinking he'd climb up and dive in again, but he was so cold he was worried he'd die in the attempt, so swam very quickly back to the shore.
Tomas ran in three times before ducking under the water and rushing back out.
As is the custom when one goes for a swim at the beach, we went and had an ice-cream afterwards. I'm still laughing just thinking about it all.
There's a very short video of Stephan's swim here.
After dinner, Stephan showed Olivia and Tomas how to make their own ice-cream.
Our holiday had come to its end: Kathleen dropped us off at the airport and we took some last pictures of Robby Robot in places we thought the children might recognise and then got on a plane to Christchurch.
Feedlot stalker on the job again: I spotted the Fire Star Feedlot as we approached Christchurch, top left of the picture. As far as I know, it's the only one in New Zealand.
Stephan's sister Rachel met us for coffee at the airport, for the three quarters of an hour we had between flights.
We heard you get a free shake with your lunch in Christchurch, but we missed out. (Is it still too soon?)
One of the air stewards insisted he take our photo as we walked away from the plane in Auckland - there was the option of exiting the plane at the front via the covered walkway, or out the back, which was far nicer. The steward had been unnecessarily brusque when I was a little slow to turn off the e-reader before we descended to the airport; perhaps he was making amends.
We spent the next four hours wandering around inside the terminal, looking at the various shops, mostly at books. Then on to the little plane back to Kaitaia, where we flew in under some quite low cloud, in murkier conditions than I've landed in for a while.
As soon as we drove up to the house, the cows started calling from Flat 1, where they had been for two days. I checked them all over, and then led them along to the House paddock, where they all kicked up their heels and ran around like mad things for several minutes. I think they were really pleased to see me! They don't usually behave like that.
So that was our holiday. As I sat down to light the fire, I had the weird feeling of everything being exactly as always and having not been anywhere at all.
I'm very glad we went somewhere so entirely different from home and going to a really cold place had the effect of making us feel that we'd returned to somewhere quite warm, a lovely feeling which lasted for a couple of days. The dryness, which with the cold presumably contributes to the bleakness of much of the landscape, was the main thing we noticed as different from where we live and that too made it a really good holiday destination.
One very strong social impression remains with me: the difference between Kaitaia and Queenstown in the populations and their resources was striking. Being somewhere where there is money and apparently very low unemployment casts the situation up here in sharp relief. Some people tell us it's a racial problem; I say it's socio-economic and appears racial because guess who's at the bottom end of the socio-economic pile? Kaitaia and its surrounds are widely depressed, in all senses of the word. There's little work and little enthusiasm to do much about that on the part of those who are unlikely to be successful in finding work if they do try. And being at the thin end of the resource wedge in a society, watching those who obviously have a great deal more, often simply because of when and to whom they were born, can lead to resentment and unrest.
I know the usual line: anyone can do anything, if they apply themselves; but that doesn't pick up a whole society when it has gone into a decline. Just because some people can fight their way past racism and sexism to "make it", doesn't mean that the system isn't still entirely unsatisfactory for those who don't or can't and if the system is broken, it is the system at fault, not the individuals who don't make it up the ladder.
Ever since we changed from a society based on community to one of individuals and "user pays", everything has gone downhill and I hate it. This will only end in tears.
I really noticed the green all around me today! The temperatures over the last week have been quite mild, so the grass is growing a little faster than it was before we left.
The Road Flat Paddock, where all the fill from the corner was dumped, has a lovely green tinge over the top of the new soil. I didn't get around to sowing the seed the contractors provided (the weather was never quite right), but the Kikuyu appears to be doing as it normally does and recolonising the area. I didn't walk in for a closer look, fearing that the surface may be rather soft still.
The water-cress which has been growing up the little garden waterfall over the last couple of seasons, had taken over and was making the water flood out onto the surrounding ground, rather than going down to the big pond. Stephan wrenched most of it out, so the water can run freely again. It's lovely having fresh water-cress so easily available just outside the house, but it does need to be kept under control.