Crime authors and whales: quite a contrast

Trip Start Oct 12, 2005
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Trip End Mar 23, 2006


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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Just recovering in the internet cafe at Kiakoura from an upset middle, caused by a very bumpy, rough, wobbly whale-watching trip. Plain crisps and ginger ale are helping.

Yesterday morning I was in Christchurch and the first job was to take the car to get its booming silencer fixed. The hire car people lent me their large estate car, which was somewhat bus-like to drive, even compared with my hired saloon car. I had an 11am appointment to see round Ngaio Marsh's house so just went straight there and sat on the steps for nearly an hour, making friends with the local pussy cat.

My interest in Ngaio Marsh is that she wrote detective stories: Inspector Alleyn is her detective & most of the books are set in the UK. Potted history: Mr Marsh (pere) moved from London to Christchurch, New
Zealand where he met the future Mrs Marsh. They married and produced
Edith Ngaio Marsh, an only child. In 1907 the family moved to a house
in Cashmere, a couple of miles out of Christchurch, where Ngaio lived
until she died in 1982, except for a period of about 4 years in the
1920s-30s when she was in London.

When she died the contents of the house were packed away and the house
was let for 12 years, eventually coming into the possession of the
Ngaio Marsh Trust. Which opens to the public (advance booking
essential, and a bit of a contract: much better to book a couple of
weeks in advance because the guides are only there on demand and bookig
is via an answerphone which seems to be checked once every day or two).

The Trust unpacked all Marsh's stuff and arranged her house much as it
was when she lived in it at the end of her life: her furniture, books
(lots of), pictures, even kitchen bits & bobs.

It's a fascinating look at how a well-to-do novelist, theatre director
& painter (she seemed to be excellent at all three) lived; the books
brought money which allowed her to direct for free, extend the house
and to buy some rather good antique furniture. The tour starts with a
video about Marsh and her life, including an interview with her in her
late 80s, which was fascinating as I'd never really had much idea of
Marsh as a person - I just read the Alleyn books which I quite enjoy
but am not obsessive about! It's obvious where Troy's painting talent
came from: Marsh was at art school during WWI and some of her paintings
are very good and in the house.

The lady who showed me around knew Ngaio Marsh, though not well: her
late husband was the local pharmacist and NM discussed with him methods
of killing people (for the novels of course!!).

It's a very well kept house with a fantastic view to the other side of
the Canterbury Plain and the mountains over there.

Then I had lunch, picked up the now quieter hire car and set off north for Kiakoura. As well as being about half way between Christchurch and Picton Kaiakoura is the whale-watching capital of New Zealand. The drive was nice: the Canterbury Plains giving way eventually to hills full of sheep and covered with scrubby grass. I drove down to the se and along an unexpectedly long stretch of gravel road out to the highway, visited a place where the rock is eroded to a cathedral column-like shape, stopped at "one of the best swimming beaches in New Zealand" on which there were 3 families and 1 elderly couple, and arrived in Kiakoura late afternoon.

Kiakoura has a beautiful situation: facing a large bay with mountains on the other side. It also has take-aways which close by 8pm, a restaurant which is happy to have you sit there for 20 minutes before telling you that there's an hour's wait for food and no Chinese takeaway at all (must be the only town this size in the world without one!!). Eventually went to a late-night corner shop which was actually open to acquire sauce to go on pasta!

This morning dawned without any wind and I thought the sea should be fine for whale watching. It seems it doesn't need much wind for the swell to get up! The people at the ticket desk warned us about seasickness & I took the ginger tablets they were selling. And mints. But never having been seasick I wasn't too worried... At times it was more like a rollercoaster ride than a boat trip! Definitely not one for the over-eighties!! Thought I was going to be able to hold out but the sickness overcame me just as we turned for the harbour. Whales? Yes - we saw 2 sperm whales: as big as the boat, grey, swimming along 20m away. Good to see but I don't think I really appreciated them as much as they deserved because of the aforesaid seasickness. Ah well.
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