Sunday, March 27, 2016

Arts and Crafts on New Zealand's West Coast

Fresh from our rest day in the Franz Josef Glacier area, where we sat out a dreary day with homeschooling and movies, we got up EARLY on Thursday the 24th to make our appointment 175km north in the small hamlet of Barrytown.

The rain was pouring as we started, and it made for slow going through coastside roads, rainforests and unknown roads.  We saw the rivers swelling as the Southern Island Alps mountains were right next to us and took the brunt of the downpour, but we eventually made it safely to the home of Steven and Robyn- who run an all-, day knife making workshop out of their homestead.  We had heard about the workshop through a marketing mailer all the way up in Whangarei on the North Island and then also heard about one of the cruising families we know completing the workshop with their ten year old.

Steven turned out to be an incredibly funny character who kept us entertained all day long with a wonderful sense of humour.  He assembled the class of 11 and just after 9am Tristan and Alexia started placing their soft steel in to the forge and then, when it was red hot, started pounding out the shape with hammer over the anvil.  For such an iconic part of the blacksmithing image, this pounding turned out to be wonderful fun, but also quite short, and after three or four poundings we had a good enough rough shape to harden the steel by dipping it in water.  I say "we" because after watching Tristan and Lexi get started, and how well Steven and Robyn were taking care of them, I had an urge to go through the process myself.

Our class had a few local Kiwis in it, but the bulk were traveling younger folks from Germany, Finland and Canada.  It was fun to see the kids interact with them as they went through the process of cutting the steel, installing the Rimu wood handles and then refining and shaping the blade through multiple interactions with the sanding and grinding belts.  Tristan and Lexi were engaged throughout the process with only minimal help from Steven.  We made 95% of the knives ourselves with Steven stepping in for key parts, and allowing his considerable years of experience to ensure we had a great finished product.  He has been running these workshops almost nonstop for 16+ years, 5 days a week, and at last count had helped people make 20,000 knives.

While we had some downtime between steps,  we were able to throw axes and knives, check out the horses and birds on their property, and take turns on a giant swing they had set up between two telephone poles.  The day went by quickly, and after much sanding, staining and polishing we all had some remarkably beautiful knives to be proud of.  It was great to see the kids build something with their own hands, and see the process through from raw material to finished product.

Notice Steve's knife... the little girls so wanted one of those!
Heather had been watching Alina and Amaia, who were too young for the knife workshop, and had checked us in to our next AirBnB home: "Happy Harry's Hutch" outside the tiny town of Blackball. Blackball was an old mining town (home of New Zealand's Labour party after a coal worker strike in 1908, and sadly home of a mine disaster as well)

Harry's Hutch was a beautiful cozy vintage coal miners cabin, and our host baked us a wonderful cake as well.  It was a really unique setting, and one of the reasons we love AirBnB, as it sends us to places we never would see, and to homes we would never know about.  We even heard Kiwi calling each other at night!

happy wife, happy life...

The next morning we continued our arts and craft adventure, and headed to Hokitika, the New Zealand of jade and carving.  Heather had expressed an interest in jade carving and we had found a place online called "Bonz'n'Stonz" that had good reviews.  Arriving at 10:30am we quickly met Steve, a wonderfully warm man with a great disarming smile.  A native Solomon Islander who had married a local Kiwi, Steve quickly accepted us along with a young Dutch couple as his charges for the day.  He first wanted to talk to the kids, so that they got to know him and got comfortable, and then we were off and running.

We tried to let Heather stay focused on her jade project, and we all got started looking at designs, and then Steve helped the kids pick out shells or jade and get started.  It was fascinating to see them just dig right in, and Steve gave us lots of latitude to use grinders to get the general shape, then dremel tools to get finer details.  We made a few mistakes early, but everyone stuck with it- the kids' attention span was impressive.  The younger kids were done with their simple, but beautiful,  designs fairly quickly and played upstairs, and Tristan and Lexi did school after they were done (can't miss too many days).  I got to start my own project, and Heather kept working on a very cool, intricate design.  By 5:30 we were doing the final polishing and took a final photo with Steve, who had been so supportive of the total family experience.  It was another great hands on experience, and has the kids talking about buying grinding gear in Lafayette to do more projects.

We headed back to our Happy Mining Cabin and lit a fire for our last night there, and started packing up the van once again.  We probably have slightly too much stuff, but we actually have our system down pretty well, taking a certain amount of basic foodstuffs with us, and packing everyone in cozily.
In the morning we started our 4.5 hour drive to Nelson, but before we left the Blackball area we stopped in at the Brunner mine site outside of Taylorville.  This site once had the most active and successful coal mine in New Zealand, and was the site of another horrible mining accident. It was an impressive site with detailed signage and preserved artifacts, and you could even peek in to a few of the old, fenced off, mine entries.  Enough to convince me that Mining is not in my future career profile!

Hopping back in the car we started our drive, that took us along the beautiful west coast of the South Island.  It was a sunny day for most of the time, and the sights were stunning.  Shortly we made our way up to Punakaiki, and the famous Pancake Rock & Blowhole site.  I was slightly apprehensive as we pulled in to a parking lot loaded with Sightseeing buses and tourists,  but the stop didn't disappoint. The Pancake Rocks are uniquely layered rocks, that have formed in to towers after being eroded by the Tasman Sea.  They are interesting to see, but what really makes this stop worthwhile is the Blowholes.  There are several different kinds, and we were mesmerized as large ocean swells would come in and air and water would get ejected out of different openings- some narrow and high, others very large and wide.  Finally, there was also a fenced area called "Sudden Sound", well set back from the coast where an underground tunnel channeled the sound and air out in a sudden "Woooosh".  Another very cool Nature Experience and the Family Circus crew piled back in to the Circus Mobile.

Always goofing around... thank goodness there aren't as many people around down here in NZ
The drive to Nelson was beautiful, as after the coast we shifted inland following several stunning rivers.  We stopped several times for great photos and eventually crested through the last mountain and descended in to the plain of Nelson.

They just barely cared out a one way road into the rock... Unfortunately you can't see if a car is coming when you are behind that corner... if there is a car then someone has to back up.
The winemaking regions here are Moutere Hills and Waimea Plains, and we were fortunate enough to find a place to stay IN a vineyard, just ABOVE the winery in the Moutere Hills- Sunset Valley vineyard! (funnily enough we weren't successful with AirBnB here, and were lucky to find this place)

That is our kitchen window on top and the porch on the left, wine sales office is below us.

They have to cover the grapes to protect from the birds.
We couldn't believe the stunning surroundings as we drove up to this beautiful organic winery set on 63 acres in the rolling hills, with 8 acres of grapes planted.  The kids immediately unloaded and then ran around, as the hosts told us to eat as many grapes as we could, and to embrace the whole property.  Soon the young girls had discovered the two horses, and already were asking to stay longer. That feeling was common for the whole family and the next morning we talked to the owners and extended our stay for a week, including the opportunity to help them pick their grapes tomorrow.  Lexi and I got a great winemaking lesson from the owner/winemaker Ian, as she has a great interest in being a vintner when she grows up, and she is currently writing a report in winemaking.

Lexi got caught in there sneaking grapes.. hee hee

We had a great Easter with an Easter Bunny visit, and some driving lessons on back country roads for Tristan, and now we are catching up on school, while planning day trips to Abel Tasman Park, horseback riding, and ....something else (Caves? water?, animal farm? paintball?art galleries?....)
We will stay here until Saturday when we catch the ferry back to Wellington and spend three nights there before making our way back to Family Circus and Whangarei.  It will be nice to get back, but I know we will miss the great experiences we have had in the South Island, and I am very thankful that we have gotten to see so much!