Geraldine and Peel Forest

The weather was bad so we decided not to go up to Arthur’s Pass this weekend. Instead, we went to some place we’d never heard of but our friend Megan suggested – Peel Forest. We think she mentioned this place only after we’d said we weren’t big-time hikers but preferred smaller hikes of around an hour or two.


Betsy found a “farmstay” – somebody with a farm and a cabin with a number of bunkbeds in it – where we’d stay the night for very cheap. We didn’d know if they’d have any bedding so we stripped our own beds and loaded up the car and off we went. The nearest town was a place called Geraldine, where we stopped by a shop that had a Guinness Book of World Records advertised for the world’s largest knitted jersey. We took a look at that and wandered on, when Johnny mentioned that the same place had another Guinness World Record thing and he wanted to check it out, so we went back. It turned out to be a rather astounding work – a replica of the entire Bayeux Tapestry done in tiny pieces of steel painted with enamel paint. Talking with its creator we found it took more than 33 years to make out of millions of these tiny pieces. The artist is also a puzzle-creating genius who has made a number of baffling mathematical-type puzzles. We had to buy his DVD which contains not only everything about 1066 and the Bayeux Tapestry and tons of these puzzles, but an entire Planetarium application, dozens of photos from the Hubble Telescope, a high-resolution replica of the Book of Kells, and many other things besides. A genuine treasure trove.

Geraldine is also the home of a great playground, with a fantastic skate park and other amenities that kept Johnny busy for a while.


We ate Chinese Takeaway (he had a Burger and Chips, not recommended!) while watching some local buys perform daring tricks on their BMX bikes at this park. We walked a bit in Peel Forest, saw their famous Big Tree (A 1000 year old Totara tree) in woods filled with gorgeous birdsong.

The backpacker’s hut at Peel Forest was a great place run by an eccentric family and their sheepdog, Chopper, who was alternately mellow and a fence-hopping lamb-terrorizer. I woke up in the middle of the night and went outside and found the sky full of bright southern hemisphere stars, with a Milky Way more visible and distinct than I had personally seen in decades. I woke up the family to their initial consternation. Why the stars seem so much bigger and closer in the southern hemisphere, I don’t know, but it has seemed that way to me every time I’ve been so fortunate to see them there. The last time was on a 48-hour bus ride from Huancayo to Cuzco, Peru, on my way to Macchu Picchu many years ago. I thought then it was because of the altitude, but had the same experience here last night much closer to sea level.

Today we took the “inland scenic route” back to Christchurch, but unfortunately it was raining and not so scenic. On the off-chance of some better weather, I chose an inland route higher into the mountains, on the way to the scene of “Rohan” in the Lord of the Rings movies. We were lucky to find a break in the weather at a place called Lake Clearwater, a lovely “piece of water” (as Betsy called it) with views of Mt Taylor and Mt Cook in the distance, and an odd collection of teensy vacation homes perched along one side of the lake. It’s a great place for water-skiing, apparently, but mostly deserted off-season. On the way home after that we passed by the very lovely Rakaia Gorge but mostly it was raining and we didn’t see much else.


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