Below the 45th Parallel: A Big Day in New Zealand

Saturday, 20-09-14: Day 31

World Records and Penguin Rafts

We woke to a cold morning, but we were getting used to that. We had a big day ahead of us, so after the usual morning rituals, we fired up the behemoth ... and were rewarded with an ear-piercing alarm. Clearly, we'd forgotten something essential. We checked all the doors, made sure the seat belts were on and that all the stuff that was supposed to be off was off. But upon starting up the van again, the alarm still sounded.

The waste water was pretty full (my intention was to dump it in Oamaru), but maybe it was so full it needed to be emptied before departure. So I drove over to the dump station, alarm still going off, and emptied 130 liters of waste water (this is not toilet water, mind you, but what people call greywater). Yet, after we got it all put back together, the alarm was still going off.

It was after 10:00 a.m. (so past checkout time), and we had to get out of the park. We drove to a side street, alarm sounding the whole time, and parked, hoping to figure this out. We were stumped, but, since we wanted to walk around Geraldine a little anyway, we climbed out of the van. And that's when we noticed the retractable step on the side of the camper was still out. Problem solved (and much relief).


Main street, Geraldine. No Farmer's Market today.

Main street, Geraldine. No Farmer's Market today.

Now that we'd taken care of that, we walked around Geraldine. Samantha (who's a bit of a farmer's market junkie) was looking forward to checking out the Geraldine Farmer's Market held every Saturday. But, her hopes were crushed when we learned it didn't start up until later in the spring (October). Still, there were a few vendors who'd set up and plenty of other shops to check out, like Barker's (makers of fine jams, jellies, and juices), Bull Rush Chocolate, and, to Jackie's delight, Grandpa's Toys.

Jackie pointed out that she didn't have any toys to play with and made the convincing argument that she, as a 7-year-old, should have some toys. So she picked out two Minecraft toys: a Creeper (with TNT) and an Enderman (with a block of dirt).

Giant Jersey of Geraldine

That's one giant jersey!

That's one giant jersey!

We walked over to see the Giant Jersey of Geraldine, one of the town's big draws. As you can see, it is, in fact, a giant jersey; it even holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. And, as if holding one world record weren't enough, this small shop in this small town holds two. The other is for 1066: A Medieval Mosaic.

1066: A Medieval Mosaic

The beginning of Michael Linton's hand-crafted re-creation of the Bayeaux Tapestry with millions of pieces of spring steel. Image from the 1066: A Medieval Mosaic website (photos couldn't do this work justice).

This is a recreation of the Bayeaux Tapestry (the original is on display at Bayeaux, Normandy, France), which tells the story of King Harold's defeat to William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Creator Michael Linton broke off millions of small metal tines from weaving machine discs, attached them to masking tape, polished them, then painted each tine, one by one, with a small nylon brush, copying the story depicted on the tapestry in the tradition of illuminated manuscripts.

This was an impressive piece of work, and it's taken Linton (with the help of his daughter) nearly 30 years to complete. Just read this passage from how the mosaic was created:

"The first stage of the project was to break off the teeth from these disks, one at a time, until the required 1,500,000 pieces had been collected."

Turns out 1.5 million tines wasn't enough. After finishing the recreation of the tapestry in 1999, Linton then added a whole section of the tapestry that's gone missing, and (as if that weren't enough), then added an entire new section telling the story of the Battle of Fulford Gate, where King Harold rode north to battle a Viking invasion before riding back to battle the Norman Invasion.

The whole thing is 30 centimeters high, some 64 meters long, and, because Linton is a cryptography buff, contains a complex mathematical puzzle made up of a series of smallermathematical puzzles hidden throughout. To date, no one has solved the entire puzzle, but a local boy (11 years old) has cracked the code and is well on his way to solving it.

Linton sells the entire tapestry digitally, with a ton of extras — like identifying each person in the tapestry (really!) and relating their biographical information, a great collection of reference books and illuminated manuscripts (including the entire Book of Kells), and a whole bunch of hands-on cryptography puzzles to solve — as a single 8GB USB thumb drive. We didn't buy one, mainly because I'm not sure we can keep track of it for the next year, but I'm going to pick one up when we get back home.

You can view the entire project as a scrolling story at 1066: A Medieval Mosaic website (it may take some time to load).

After we'd thoroughly explored Geraldine, we had a bite of lunch and then got into the camper for the drive to Oamaru. The drive itself was short, and relatively uneventful, except when we crossed the 45th parallel south.

45° South

Halfway between the equator and the south pole.

Halfway between the equator and the south pole.

It was a pretty understated marker, and we almost missed it. We blew past it at 90 kmh, and, by pure chance, I looked to the right as we went by. Of course we couldn't let such a monumental occasion pass undocumented, so I turned the van around and drove back to snap a few photos.


Shortly after this, we arrived in Oamaru and checked in to the Oamaru Top 10 Holiday Park. We relaxed a bit while we waited for our tour guide from Head First New Zealand to show up a few hours later. The girls, of course, spent most of this time on the trampoline.

Our guide, a friendly gent by the name of Ralph, took us around Oamaru, showing us a few of the sights, explaining why many of the buildings were built of sandstone, giving us a quick tour of the town's famous Victorian district, and telling us about Oamaru's history.

Oamaru overlook. The blue penguin colony is below to the right (slightly out of frame).

Oamaru overlook. The blue penguin colony is below to the right (slightly out of frame).

When dusk arrived a short time later, we drove over to Bushy Beach, where the yellow-eyed penguins nest, and Ralph spotted one straight away.

At Last ... Penguins!

That's a penguin! (Click to enlarge.)

Despite the early penguin sighting, there wasn't much penguin action yet, so Ralph took us down a narrow path on the opposite side of the penguin viewing hut. There was a brisk wind blowing off the ocean, and I was afraid the wind would blow Jackie right off the cliff. As we got near the bottom, there was a seal just hanging out on the path. We got pretty close.

A seal.

A seal.

We walked back up to the penguin viewing hut. Ralph gave us the lowdown on yellow-eyed penguins. Penguins still weren't showing up, so Ralph walked down the path looking for hidden penguins in the paths that run through the brush lining the hillside. In short order he signaled us, and we got to see a yellow-eyed penguin — well, most of one, anyway.

Yellow penguin.

Yellow penguin.

We stayed around for a few more minutes, but the penguins weren't cooperating that night. So we headed off to the blue penguin colony. We sat in sea-side bleachers under sodium lights (which the nocturnal blue penguins can't see) and watched rafts of penguins (when they're in water, groups of penguins are called rafts) come into shore after a long day of sea fishing.

They'd walk up a concrete ramp and stop for a while, waiting to cool off from their long swim and let some of the water drop off their feathers before heading home to the man-made penguin burrows (that looked a lot like Hobbit homes) for the night. They were so cute as they swam in, and we felt really bad for them when they got hit by a big wave breaking on the beach before they got to the ramp.

We weren't allowed to take photos of them, but they looked a lot like this:

The elusive blue penguins.

The elusive blue penguins.

The official penguin count that night was 42, but we saw (at least) another eight that arrived before the counting began (the night before they'd counted 113).

When the penguins were done arriving (and when we were really too cold to sit there anymore), Ralph took us around to see one last thing, a night-time running of the steampunk train outside Steampunk HQ. On the way we saw a few other penguins that didn't live in the colony coming in for the night. There are a lot of blue penguins in Oamaru (they estimate in excess of a thousand).

The Steampunk Train spiting fire in the rain.

The Steampunk Train spiting fire in the rain.

The night was getting late, so we headed back to the camp. As Ralph dropped us off at the camp, he invited our girls to visit his place the next day to help his daughters feed the new black sheep that had just been born.

Notable Statistics

  • Kilometers driven: 120
  • iPadographers: 1
  • Penguins seen: 52
  • Farmer's Markets attended: 0
  • Toys bought: 2
  • Juices sampled: A lot

is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. He also drinks coffee.

Read more of Tom's posts.

Below the 45th Parallel: A Big Day in New Zealand
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