As we paid for our lunch yesterday, the waitress asked us where we were off to today. Probably a standard question, given that we were at a cafe in Springfield, a town whose only claim to fame (other than the giant pink doughnut) is that it’s on the way to a lot of places. But unlike the rest of her customers, we didn’t give a standard answer. “No idea. We’re exploring.”
Which is another way of saying that lytteltonwitch, rarsberry and I were out bookcrossing, geocaching, geodashing, letterboxing, war memorial hunting, and generally expeditioning again. There was a plan, sort of. And we did have a few destinations in mind, sort of. But as usual, the main part of our plan was “let’s see what looks interesting”.
The first mission of the trip (and the official “excuse”) was a geodash point near Charing Cross (places named after somewhere on the other side of the planet was to become the theme for the day). Geodashing sounds like a great idea (each month a selection of random coordinates are chosen by a computer, and the aim is to get to within 100m of as many of them as possible), but, as we’re rapidly discovering, it fails utterly in NZ, where there’s a pretty fair chance any random location will be half way up a mountain and a very long way from any road. But despite repeated defeat (so far our team has earned a whole 1 point) we still try to get to any that are within a day-trip of Christchurch and look accessible. And the Charing Cross one looked very accessible. Close to Christchurch, and according to Google Maps, near a couple of roads, on the flat – how hard could it be? We really should have looked at the satellite images. Yes, the point was near a couple of roads – about 250m away from each of them at their nearest point. And we could even see exactly where it must lie: in the middle of somebody’s garden. We did briefly contemplate going and knocking on their door, but what exactly would we say? “Hello, would you mind if we came and took a photo of a random spot on your lawn? It’s for the internet.”
So, mission one abandoned, our next objective was the supermarket in Darfield, for plastic bags for releasing books (guess who forgot to pack any? My excuse is I was distracted by figuring out how to put a PayPal button on the registration page for the convention. Dunno why I didn’t think of it sooner, really – it’s a much simpler solution than people having to contact us for account details!). Mission accomplished, and a couple of books released (Chasing Women by Pamela Longfellow and Future History by Jerry Pournelle), we headed for Sheffield, in search of a geocache.
As we approached Sheffield, large advertising signs extolled the merits of the pies to be had there. It was only 11.30, but suddenly we all had a craving for pies for lunch, so we decided to find the geocache then have an early lunch. The geocache was one where you had to get clues from the listed location to find the coordinates of the actual cache. One of the clues was the number of letters in the first name on the west side of the war memorial (Rising Sun by Michael Crichton). And lytteltonwitch’s GPS doesn’t work very well as a compass – it was swinging around all over the place and refusing to say which way west actually was. Eventually we decided to work on the theory that the mountains should be west-ish of us… except that didn’t entirely clarify things, as two sides of the monument could equally have been said to be facing the mountains. And then there was the little matter of what exactly was meant by “first name”. Did they mean first name as in given name? Or was it the first of the names on the list? And if so did they mean the whole name or just the surname? In the end, we decided the answer was definitely 6. Or 8. Or 0 (one of the sides had no names at all). Or maybe 5. Or it could have been 1. It was definitely a number somewhere between 0 and 8, anyway… probably. Lytteltonwitch said it didn’t really matter, because the rest of the clues were enough to get us within a few tens of metres of the coordinates anyway, but I reckon if only we’d had a proper compass we* wouldn’t have spent the next half an hour or so unsuccessfully scrabbling under bushes… or at least we would have known which of the bushes we were actually supposed to be scrabbling under.
(*Ok, this is a complete lie. “We” didn’t actually scrabble under bushes. Lytteltonwitch did, while Rarsberry and I stood back and gave helpful suggestions about where she should scrabble next. My interest in geocaching definitely starts fading as soon as we get to the scrabbling under bushes part of it. Too much spider potential.)
Finally we gave up and headed over to the pie shop, very hungry for our pies by this point. And it was closed! There was a notice on the door giving their Christmas hours, and for some weird reason, despite being open on Boxing Day and on Sunday, they were closed on Saturday. We weren’t the only ones who were disappointed, either – while we sat in the carpark and surveyed the map for our next move, several more cars pulled into the carpark and passengers leapt out with expectant expressions, only to be turned back at the door.
I left a book (Colonies in Space by TA Heppenheimer) in the doorway, and we decided we’d continue on to Springfield and find some lunch there instead. But first, we had a little detour. I vaguely remembered someone mentioning a walk to be done somewhere near Sheffield, that might have involved a waterfall. And the directions possibly involved the intersection of SH73 and some other road. An examination of the map led us to select a road that seemed promising – there were hills, and a river, and surely the combination of the two must mean a waterfall. And at the very worst, it looked like it was a back way to Springfield. So we set off. I’m surprised lytteltonwitch ever lets me navigate, really. Not only do I show an amazing inability to remember vague directions (In my defence, I’d just like to say that there are a lot of towns starting with S in Canterbury, plus quite a few different highways starting with 7, so it may just possibly be that I got them slightly wrong…), but I’m also not so good at remembering that what would be a short distance on one of those nice straight yellow-coloured roads with numbers isn’t quite so short on the windy white-coloured ones with names and no tarseal. Even I started to doubt my navigational ability when the signs started to point to Whitecliffs and Coalgate. But it was all worth it in the end, because suddenly in the middle of nowhere we came across a sign telling us we were on Pig Saddle Road. And what did I have in my bag? A copy of The Pigman’s Legacy by Paul Zindel. So our long and pointless detour did turn out to have a point after all: a perfect themed release! The sign-post even had a nail sticking out of it to hang the book from!
We did eventually make it to Springfield (20-odd km later – this to reach a town that’s only a couple of k down the road from Sheffield), and stopped at a cafe whose sign promised “Yummy food” (well, we had to, didn’t we ). Rarsberry wandered off, and seemed to be taking photos of a paddock. Except when we rounded the building we discovered that in the middle of the paddock was a giant pink doughnut. Apparently it was a gift from the makers of The Simpsons.
The cafe wasn’t very full, but the staff seemed to be in chaos. They were all racing around looking flustered, and the woman who served us seemed utterly confused. She wrote down our order wrong, didn’t know if there was any trim milk for lytteltonwitch’s coffee, and me asking if they had peppermint tea (I don’t do caffeine) totally threw her – she had to go away and rummage through a cupboard for that one. The food, once we got it, did turn out to deserve the description “yummy”, though I can’t say the same for my tea – it had been left to stew for so long while they tried to get their heads around lytteltonwitch’s trim milk request that it was utterly foul by the time I got it. While we ate the staff continued to run back and forth, messing up orders and losing whole tables of customers (there seemed to be no system of numbering orders or tables, so they matched food to customers by wandering around vaguely asking people if this was what they’d ordered).
It was as bad when we came to pay (the first waitress hadn’t let us pay when we ordered, because of the trim milk uncertainty). Our usual arrangement on these trips is that rarsberry and I split the cost of lytteltonwitch’s lunch, seeing as she pays for the petrol. But the woman serving us (who wasn’t the one who’d served us originally) looked so panicked when I started to explain how we wanted to divide up the bill that we ended up just splitting the whole thing in half and working out the difference later. Even that was a bit confusing for her, because she claimed the EFT-POS machine couldn’t do the exact split, so she charged me 10c more than rarsberry. I’m sure it all made sense in her head…
I left Riding the Snake by Stephen J Cannell in the cafe, and The Moment of the Magician by Alan Dean Foster in the phone box opposite, then we headed up the road to have a look at the Rewi Alley memorial (Twilight at the Well of Souls by Jack L Chalker, The Shrouded Planet by Robert Randall, and Animorphs: The Predator by KA Applegate). We followed a sign pointing to the Kowai Pass Reserve, thinking it might be a patch of native bush, but it turned out to just be another domain and campsite (Holiday Hostess by Ivy McKnight). We continued down the road towards Kowai Bush, thinking maybe the actual reserve was there (and lytteltonwitch was quite keen to continue on even further to Staircase so we could release The Thirty-Nine Steps there, until I pointed out there isn’t actually a road there – it’s only accessible by train or a very difficult tramp), but all there was were a couple of houses at the end of the road… and a war memorial that we think doesn’t appear on the offical list! So we took photos (and released books: Angel: Solitary Man by Jeff Mariotte) which lytteltonwitch will send to the site. That’s the second one we’ve found now that they didn’t know about.
Next we decided to search out another geocache, in Glentui. On the way we stopped off to release books at the Waimakariri (Cyber Way by Alan Dean Foster) and Eyre Rivers (Dilly Goes on Holiday by Tony Bradman), and at the museum (The Little House and Zelda’s Cut by Philippa Gregory) and historic jail (Merlin: The King’s Wizard by James Mallory) in Oxford (where the streets are named things like York, Bath, and Cheapside). On a display of walks in the area, lytteltonwitch found one where there was a geocache, so we detoured again to find it.
Actually, it was just nice to walk in the bush for a bit, because it was turning into a stinking hot day, and Oxford, in the shelter of the hills, gets particularly warm. While rars and I were releasing books (A Difficulty with Dwarves by Craig Shaw Gardener and Spirit in the Rainforest by Eric Wilson), lytteltonwitch raced on ahead to find the geocache. We weren’t sure which track she’d taken, but we weren’t too concerned, reasoning that as the track did a loop, we’d have to meet up eventually somewhere along the way. We were almost back at the beginning by the time she found us – she’d taken a side turning, and had ended up behind us, so had been racing along trying to catch up with us, while we were just wandering along enjoying the bush and not worrying about her at all. (Great friends, aren’t we?)
The trees were covered in honeydew, which was being taken full advantage of by bees.
Some wonderfully striped bracket fungi growing on a fallen log.
Lytteltonwitch led us back up the side track to the geocache, so I could leave A Hilda Boswell Little Treasury in it (I’d brought along the tiny book hoping there’d be a cache big enough to hold it), then we got back in the (very hot by this time) car and drove back to Oxford for icecreams. We sat in the shade in front of the town hall to eat them (and released a couple more books: Hawke’s Cove by Susan Wilson and The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (which I found a perfect set of steps for)). Then it was off towards Glentui again.
We stopped briefly at Ashley Gorge, but it was packed with holidaymakers, so we just stopped long enough to release another holiday-themed book for the BCNZ weekend challenge (Pack Up, Pick Up, and Off by William Taylor) and carried on up the valley at Glentui to the start of the Richardson Track. Luckily the cache we wanted wasn’t on that track (3 hours), or the dauntingly named Blowhard Track (4 hours), but on the much gentler 15 minute Waterfall Track. At the lookout point, we released a few books (Animorphs: The Invasion by KA Applegate, An Excess of Enchantments by Craig Shaw Gardener, and 101 Magic Tricks by Guy Frederick), and discovered that once again, the geocache coordinates didn’t actually point to the cache, but only to a clue. And guess what? We needed a compass again! The clue gave a bearing to search on, and how far away the cache was, but the GPS wouldn’t cooperate. Eventually we managed to have a wild guess at north, and I dredged out the navigation skills I learnt for 7th form tech drawing, and guestimated where the cache would be. Next time we are definitely bringing a good old fashioned magnetic compass with us!
Once again, lytteltonwitch set off scrabbling under bushes, while rars and I admired the waterfall. She managed to find the cache this time, and it turned out to be quite a large one, that we could fit a couple of ordinary sized books into (Wyrldmaker by Terry Bisson).
The afternoon was drawing on, so we decided it was time to head back home. As we were now on the wrong side of the Waimakariri, that meant going through Rangiora (where we only got slightly lost while trying to find suitable places to release books – Children’s Children by Maisie Mosco) and Kaiapoi. In Kaiapoi, we dropped in to see lusks, but they were about to have dinner, so it was just a brief visit. Hopefully we’ll meet up with her again when Sherlockfan is down.
We decided we’d get something to eat in Kaiapoi, but then discovered it’s a town sorely lacking in places to eat. A sign saying “Cafe Open” turned out to be a lie, and the curiously-named The Theme Bar (which didn’t seem to have any sort of theme) didn’t look at all appetising.
The mysteriously themeless theme bar.
Eventually we found a fish and chip shop, and sat down by the riverside to eat our chips, accompanied by a large contingent of ducks and seagulls. One of the ducks got the beetroot out of my burger (I’d asked them to leave the beetroot out, and they’d even written “no beet” on the bag, but it still had beetroot in it – grrr!), and ended up with a particularly gory-looking beak with red dripping from it. Kept us entertained, anyway
Then it was time to release our last few books (The Seventh Princess by Nick Sullivan and Dodie by Finola Akister), and back to Christchurch, and left-over pavlova for pudding at my place.
Another highly successful expedition complete.