Monday, January 23, 2006

drama of larnarch castle and yellow eyed penguin tribe

New to the area, and having first of drinking binge to attend at 8pm, money was of less object in setting up tour of the city than money when visitng the information center.
It was already 10:40am, the information center was swamped with people, and the helper lady just told us there are penguin tour bus at 2:30pm and 3pm, returning at 6:30pm and 8pm respectively at hefty cost of $80 NZ dollar.

Far from Christchurch, the biggest town in south island, and Queenstown, where Lord of the Rings was shot at, I really wanted to go check out the country's only (possibly) castle, and the gangs were not going to miss a chance to view penguins. $40 for Castle and $80 for penguins, the sleepy town with low food cost and some 65% conversion rate just swallowed $120 NZ dollar (about $90 USD?) instantly.
It was worth the money, the convenience and a nice tour guides explaining history and some hidden details at both place.

I did find out later that local/city bus would run to both spots, probably slower and without the guides, for $6-a-day pass.

The morning tour to the castle was at 10:45am and as we were buying the tickets the bus was posted outside the city centre, ready to embark. 30minutes ride to the castle, the bus driver was acting both as driver and tour guide, and poured out his knowledge and opinions on local info. Through him I learned there are 3 cruise ships came in; that explains lots of old folks in town that don't seem to be penguin geeks. He also explained the suburbs we drove through, the local business and such as he climbed up the hill to the castle.

The peninsular was pretty slim, and as he drove up the hill I could see the bay toward Dunedin on my left and at some spots I could see pacific ocean on my right, making me quiet envious of locals living in a green pasture with sheeps and cows every where, with short 10min commute to the city centre. He also pointed out a monument of a small boy who went to fight world war.

As we were getting through the entrance gate, he gave us some brief history of how the house was built, by a successful banker & politician William Larnarch, who married three times, to 2 sisters then their cousin and had 5 children. He also made us all laugh when he said it was then passed down many hands including 'lunatic asylum' and hospital before bought by current owner who restored the building and opened for public admitance.

After dropping off some 20 of us, he parked the car while we toured the vast garden, returned and took us to the 3 story building ground up. It was interesting to see 'ladies room' and 'gentlemens room' separated by entrance hallway, and the guide was humorous about adding notes that each room had vent and fireplace, and that 'ladies room' had screen by fireplace to allow ladies to escape direct heat that would damage their carefully applied makeup. It was a bit odd in my mind, the fact that ladies tend to dress with more exposure in their dress and yet have to subject to less heat. It was sorta fascinating that Mr. Larnarch was so rich to the point he could chop up local tree, send it to London to be carved into piano, and be shipped back to be in his entertainment room. I was told building the house took 15yrs+, and it was believable, too, with all the detailed wood carving & painting on ceiling. As we climbed to 2nd & 3rd floor we saw each ladies' room, as Larnarch kep different room for each of his wives and yet a separate room for himself according to the customary of the time. The beds were tiny, suggesting how short and small people were back then. The guide wasn't shy to point that there's no shower nor tub other than the italian marble tub on 3rd floor, for this large sized family, and that there's no toilette and that there's bucket for it next to the bed. 3rd floor had nursery, sun room, and nanny's room, and both nursery and nanny's room were pretty tiny, which invoked many questiions from tour group folks; they had 5 kids and yet they have a tiny room with 2 cribs on 3rd floor? that's it? In his 3rd wife's room on 2nd floor we also saw wedding gown and other portraits, hiar brushes, other sample clothings. it was a bit eerie to see this figure hung on ceiling with ladies' underwear, i thought it could be better displayed than to be hung in a dark room like that.

The guide was telling us about how Larnarch, a well-to-do politician, changed law to marry half-sisters (either his 2 first wives were half-sisters to each other, or were his half-sister) and 1st cousin as his 3rd wife. I was keep hearing how his 3rd wife had an affair with douglas which lead william larnarch to shoot himself to death. i had to wonder why not kill douglas, instead of killing himself, but had no time to investigate it.

from evening's stop at the castle on the way to penguin farm, the mystery got solved; douglas was one of his elder son of 5 children from previous wives. his wife and son in an affair could be problematic, i guess.

After 15min stop at the castle for a garden tour, we finally headed up on peninsula, past portobello where penguin farm's headquarter is located. 4 of us got dropped off, joined by about 4-5 more people. first we were ushered into a hut with maps/photos, where the guide lady gave a brief history and current state of penguin raising. then she put us into penguin farm bus, drove us to the other side (east-coast) of peninsula, better known as 'penguin beach'.

the guide did warn us that yellow eyed penguins are territorial and that they don't stay in a large flock; only a couple with chicks in each territory. there are 64 of them in their farm, and each do swim back from ocean after day's fishing to feed chicks in turn, the other penguin would make fuss if coming on shore at the same time.

the guide & we were pleasantly surprise to spot a chic right away as we start walking the trail. what the folks at the farm have done is that they've built low forests around penguin beach with hidden viewing fortress bunks and built tiny wooden roofs for penguins to build next, making it look like some army training camp. we also were lucky to see a grown up couple feeding 2 chics. for summer the penguin chics are still young to be fed, and the adult penguin couples are supposed to take turn in fishing and feeding,, and not supposed to be in at early hour of 4:30pm while sun's still high in sky. we were lucky to view the whole family, and the guide who's seen the whole farm growing in family also shared with us some penguin scandals as well. that each penguins have name like ted, tim, angie, and the couple we saw actually weren't couple last season. inside one of viewing post, i saw charts of names, size, and birthing history as well. according to the guide, the female penguin was coupled with another male penguin, but they broke up and now she made a nest and have 2 cute chics with this another male penguin. she also said that not all penguins mate for successful chic rearing, some stay together year after year, some break up, and there's one female penguin not mating successfully for years. haha! what a penguin soap. we also saw another female penguin that is suppose not to have gone fishing, and the guide was slightly concerned as the female penguin's got 2 chics to feed; the guide said that penguin's male counterpart is a good fish hunter and if she goes out to sea the next day perhaps chics wouldn't go hungry. not so close up, but we got to see quiet a few grown up penguins and a few chics, including two sibling chics swiming by pond and playing with each other.


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