Queen's Birthday weekend saw us take off for the Deep South - Invercargill, to be precise. The reason was to attend the NZ National Final of the Rose of Tralee as representatives of the Hutt Valley Irish Society and of the NZ Centre for the International Festival.
We stretched the term 'weekend' by a few days either side - Thursday morning to Tuesday evening.
The trip down was cold but through mostly clear weather. The alps are already snow-covered (in fact South Island ski-fields opened the same weekend), but the lay-over in Christchurch was under a curious layer of cloud, which produced tempting glimpses of the Alps, but left us feeling gloomy!
We drove from Dunedin airport south, but took the 'long way' around, by detouring through the Central Otago road as far as Raes Junction and then turning south so as to be able to stop at the Crookston Cemetery, on Mathesons Corner Rd, where Desiree inspected the condition of the Edie family memorial.
I took a few moments to look at the falls at Mataura, as I can remember visiting the building on the right when it was a paper mill and seeing markings on doorframes to indicate the height floodwaters had reached - and they were my head height!
Friday in Invercargill we did some sight-seeing, including Queen's Gardens, with these impressive gates. Feldwick was apparently an MP for the area for many years.
During our perambulations we were watched by a disdainful wood-pigeon - unusual as the park is in the middle of the city!
We also visited Bluff, as Desiree hadn't been there before. The 'start of the highway' signpost is one of those iconic signposts, which everyone has to photograph, so we did!
Friday and Saturday evenings were marked by colourful sunsets, and then a clear 'big sky'.
A Saturday stroll through the town persuaded us many of the shops were shut, although I suspect they just had their doors shut to keep the warmth in!
We did find a small art-gallery with an exhibition of local school student's art, including one work by a relation (although I don't know just what the relationship is!)
The return trip on Monday was, again, via a 'long way around', but this time by way of part of the Southern Scenic Route, specifically, the Catlins Coastal. The weather was dreadful - bitterly cold and wet, but we had no choice about the day, so just had to make the most of it.
The route wanders around the southern coast, heading for Owaka before turning inland to Balclutha and re-joining Highway 1 back to Dunedin. En route we diverted to Curio Bay, although given the weather we didn't loiter!
The centrepiece of the trip, however, was to turn south briefly at Owaka to visit Surat Bay. The Bay is the place the Mulligans came ashore in New Zealand - inadvertently, as it happens! Their ship, the Surat, ran aground on New Year's Eve, 1873, and the passengers abandoned ship (eventually) in the early hours of New Year's Day, 1874. Amongst those passengers were brother and sister James and Margaret Mulligan.
Having completed the sight-seeing, we got back onto Highway 1 and thence to Dunedin. Once there we kept warm (not easy), and on Tuesday visited Greg and Celia and their new baby Devon Rachael, as well as visited the Otago Settlers Museum and the Hocken Library.
Oh, and the Rose of Tralee? Great fun with good company, great contestants, and fun events. I think the judges made a mistake in not selecting the Hutt Valley Rose, Ashley MacKenzie-White (although they have saved us from the burden of running next year's event!), but I'm also sure the winning Rose, Elizabeth Sara from Dunedin will represent New Zealand well in Tralee.