Bud and Jeff’s Excellent Adventure—New Zealand
January 30, 2005—Beam Me Up Scotty or Time to Take A Napa: Chesterfield limo service comes on time at 6:55 and we are off to the airport. We get to take off our shoes to go through security (and when I unpack this evening, I see that the TSA has put a notice inside my duffel saying that its contents have been inspected).
The flight to SFO is uneventful. Jeff iPods and I read the first 131 pages of The October Horse. We get into SFO 50 minutes early. We each have Enterprise rentals and, after discussing where each is going and me getting directions on how to get over the Golden Gate, we are on our way.
I drive through the city and over the bridge and up 101. At Petaluma, I cut eastward toward Napa. There I grab a quick lunch in “historic Napa” and head up to Clos du Val. I start the wine tasting and then tell them that I am a member of their Cellar Club. Well, besides the regular wines they were offering for tasting, they pulled out some of the higher-end wines and reserves for me to drink. Good thing I had just had lunch and coffee! I put together a case of different wines for them to ship back home.
From there I meander up the valley, cut across to the west on the Yountville cross road and then up through some back roads to Oakville. Beautiful vineyards. Lots of yellow flowers growing between the rows. All the vines are cut way back ready for this year’s growth.
I head north through St. Helena and Calistoga and then west over the Petrified Forest Road over the mountains and down into Santa Rosa. Beautiful route with lots of twists and turns. I am not sure how to find the Vine Hill Inn where I am staying, so call them, ask directions, and get there in about 15 minutes. I am the only guest here tonight, so the innkeeper gives me the choice of what room I want to stay in. I choose the one I had specified beforehand, but, since it has only a tub and no shower, will take a shower tomorrow in another room.
The owner is Kathy Diechmann who was raised in Webster Groves, went to Nerrix Hall, worked at Camp Pegnita, and went to college at SLU. For many years she lived with her husband in Carbondale. They are now divorced and she has been in California for eight years. We talk about who we know in common.
Timi calls and says that instead of my coming over there for dinner, they will pick me up and we will go to a place in Sebastopol. And she tells me that Michael and she spent the night here the night before they were married in August of 2002.
They arrive at 7:00. We drive into town and stop at Lucy’s for dinner. When we get out, I see that they have a Scotty in the back seat – 16 years old – who they cover up and who sleeps through our dinner. Good food. Nice wine. Wonderful conversation. Both Timi and Michael are fun to talk with. About 9:00 it’s back to the inn. No TV in the room, so it’s just this computer and me.
January 31, 2005—Eggsaggerate or Who Won the Sebastopol?: Get up about 7:00. It’s cold. It was okay when I was under the covers, but it’s cold now that I am not. I brush my teeth and go across the hall to another room which has a shower. Nice, but not much volume. But I do warm up a bit. I sort of get all my things together and go downstairs for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, toast, OJ, fruit with yogurt, coffee. Kathy and I continue conversations from last night again talking about people we know or our grandchildren.
I go outside and walk around the grounds. The land next door is leased by Gallo and Gallo also has several hundred acres of land they own right behind. So everything is beautifully pruned and you can see the structure of the trellises that hold the vines and the drip watering system.
About 10:30 I load up the car and drive into Sebastopol. I crank the heater up to broil since I am still a bit cold. Given Kathy’s directions, I drive down a street where a local artist has pieces on about everyone’s lawn. Really neat folk art made with found items. See pix to get an idea of what they look like.
Then on to Timi and Michael’s for brunch. Holly and her significant other, Pat Hunt, are already there. We have a wonderful time talking, sharing stories, eating, seeing the property. The meal is, you guessed, scrambled eggs, fruit with yogurt, toast, coffee, and potatoes. Good meals are fun to have twice! This is a good meal. About now, Pat’s daughter and her roommate join us. After eating, Timi takes us outside to walk around their acre and look at the assortment of outbuildings that they have and really have not decided what to do with.
I leave the Near/Porter’s around 2:00 and head through Sebastapol and Santa Rosa onto highway 101 and go north to Healdsburg. Up the mountain and I am at Russ and Arlene’s. Their daughter, Ali, is home for a while, so I get to spend some time with her as well. Russ and I walk uphill (and I mean UPHILL) to a cabin that’s on a new five acres they have purchased. It’s right over their house and they were worried about how it would be developed if someone else bought it. It will become a guest cottage. A workman friend was up there tearing off the old roof. Beautiful views 360 degrees from the cabin.
We while away the afternoon in the living room. Dinner is about 8 since we are waiting for Ali. So we drink wine and eat veggie sushi until then. Dinner is wonderful and there is more wine, too. A lovely day with friends.
February 1, 2005—Flat Tired or Zins of Our Fathers: I am up about 7:00 and take a shower, get dressed. Russ is in the living room and I join him for coffee. Arlene has some nice oatmeal she had made the day before which heats up in the microwave. I have that and a huge cup of coffee. Afterwards, we go outside and sit in the sun on big yellow Adirondack chairs and talk.
Then it’s up to the cabin to talk with the carpenter and a walk back to the house. I put all my stuff in my car and follow Russ down the mountain. We go to two wineries to taste zinfandels—Ridge and Mauritson. Both are really nice and I send some bottles back to St. Louis. We leave the wineries and go into Healdsburg to eat at the Charcuterie—Ali joins us.
A bit before 1:00 I head down south on 101. Right after I cross the Golden Gate Bridge, Jeff calls to tell me he has run over some metal and has a flat—so he might be late for our meeting up. But, by the time I get to SFO, he is only a couple of minutes behind me. We put his luggage in my car and he returns his.
We go over I-380 and down I-280 to San Jose getting there about 4:00. The De Anza hotel is an old landmark that has been beautifully restored. We have a lovely room. About 4:30 we walk several blocks to the San Jose Rep on Second Ave. Timi meets us in the lobby and we get the rooftop to basement tour. It’s a really super facility. I like how it gives the feeling of intimacy of a thrust stage while having a proscenium. It’s all well thought out and seems to be a success. Timi is busy, so we plan to meet at Stratta for dinner in about an hour and a half. Jeff and I walk around for about 30-40 minutes and then go into the restaurant and sit at the bar until Timi arrives.
Her associate director, who is directing “Enchanted April,” is sitting next to us. He was born in St. Louis, went to Brentwood High and Parkway West. He did a masters at Webster which is where he met Timi when she was in directing for The Rep. We talk Rams and Cardinals.
Dinner is the three of us and it’s wonderful. Should I tell you about the tuna two ways or the bruschetta? After dinner, we all walk a way and then Timi leaves to go home and Jeff and I go to the hotel.
We had hoped to go on the Internet since there was a nice broadband connection in the room, but it’s as slow as anything we have ever seen. Even with a call to tech support, it does not get better. So, after trying for over an hour, we give up. After “NYPD Blue” and the news, it’s time for bed.
February 2, 2005—Day’s Gone Bye or Pardon Me, Roy: I was having trouble sleeping past about six, so get up right at seven. After morning ablutions and looking at Katie Couric’s new Botox brow, we go down to the restaurant for a buffet breakfast. Then it’s off to Kinko’s to FedEx our California laundry back to St. Louis and to use their Wi-Fi to get mail and upload pix and trip notes to my Mac site.
It’s really warm and sunny. While it got down to the 40s last night, it’s about 70 as we walk back to the De Anza Hotel. We pack, take stuff downstairs, and are off to the north on I-280. In Foster City we get off the freeway and get gas, drive over to where Jeff lived when he was out here, and got needed stuff at a GNC (more flax seed capsules) and Albertson’s (big bottles of water). [Factoid: it takes 14 flax seed capsules to equal one Tbl of oil.] Onto the freeway again, we drive north through the city and Golden Gate Park and go to Ton Kiang (we think) Chinese restaurant. We meet Jeff’s friend, Karen, and have wonderful dim sum. The whole routine is very funny. Servers come up with dishes on their trays and tell you what one, two, or three things are there. Karen has to translate for me at times due to how rapidly they speak and my lack of hearing some people. The servers keep pushing you with lots of dishes. It’s all fast and furious. Each purchase is noted on your check so they can keep tabs. It takes less than a half hour for us to be stuffed. Karen is fun to be with and a very gentle person.
From the restaurant, we head east to go to the San Francisco MOMA to see the Lichtenstein show. We go way past it and have to double back. We park about two very long blocks away and go over to the museum only to find out that it’s closed on Wednesday. Ah, well. So we go to the Sony Metreon to look around. We toy with the idea of buying a stuffed Krusty the Clown or a big plastic Gonzo to take around and be in all our pictures, but, in the end, we decide either is just too big to drag around (much less pack) with us.
So, it’s back into the car and down 101 to SFO and return of the car. It’s only about 4:00 and our flight does not leave until 7:30. We take the Air Train to the International Terminal. The check-in line at Air New Zealand for our flight is already pretty long, but they have lots of counters open and we get through quickly. The flight boards at 6:45 and we decide to just go through security and go to the gate. And, it’s off with the shoes, unpack the laptop, and we’re through.
Down at the gate it’s starting to turn to dusk as we wait. I think about this morning when I took my Wednesday pills. The next pills will be in the morning in NZ, but it will be Friday. I never do get to take those Thursday capsules. Hmmmm.
February 4, 2005—All Eyes Turn to Mecca or Wednesday’s Child Is Full of Grace; Thursday’s Child Is Lost in Space or My Cup Runneth: We take off about 7:30, as scheduled. It’s about 13 hours. It’s only three hours earlier in Auckland, but a day later. Thursday disappears somewhere around the International Date Line. The flight is fine. Dinner is passable, but I am hungry and eat it all. There are four movies. Jeff watches all or part of all of them. I only catch part of the fourth. Ambien about 8:30 and I have a reasonable amount of sleep—say about six hours. I get up about 2:30-3:00 and am up for breakfast and our arrival in Auckland a bit after 5:00.
We go through immigration and customs. They are VERY particular about what you bring into the country. I had to put down that I had been in contact with animals other than cats and dogs (they don’t want any clothing or boots that were in contact with, say, horses). Jeff had to surrender his turkey jerky to be trashed.
There is a driver out there in the lobby who takes us to the Sebel Suites near the harbour. As we leave the airport, dawn is just breaking. It’s only six something when we get here, so, naturally, our room is not ready. Also, even though we are to have a room with two beds, if they put us in one, it would be on the back side of the hotel instead of the harbour view we reserved. So, they end up putting a roll-away bed in the living room of our suite.
Jeff and I go right outside to the harbour and eat breakfast at Mecca—smoked salmon, capers, cream cheese, toasted bagel. Good NZ breakfast. Stores don’t open until about 9:00. So, we walk down to Queen St. (shopping street) and up and over to the Sky Tower, arriving a few minutes before they open at 8:30. We go up the elevator to the first observation level and then up to one that is 220 meters high. Great views over the harbour and the city. We can see the majors hills that form Auckland. We are almost all alone due to the fact that we are the first customers of the day.
Down we go and back to Queen St. to find a day pack and a wrist strap for my camera. Then it’s back to the hotel where we find our room is ready. Nice room with living room, kitchen, washer and dryer, etc. We clean up, call the local liaison for the trip to see where our trip documents are (they arrive about 10 minutes later), call folks in StL, etc.
Around 11:45 we go downstairs and outside to the docks to take a two-hour trip on NZL40, a sailing yacht used in the America’s Cup. The wind is light, but we get a good cruise. The crew is all young guys who are friendly and have lots of stories to tell about the cup and about the area. Jeff and I each get to take the wheel. Pretty neat. The crew has a wonderful sense of humor and keep bragging about the NZ win of the cup in 1995. We meet a couple from Wales and talk about where each of us has been. The wife, Sandra, tells me that NZ is as far away as you can get from the UK—any farther around and you’d be closer!
We get back around 2:00 and grab a bite to eat on the waterfront: burrito and quesadilla—other pure NZ treats. After a stop in the room, we take a taxi over to the Auckland Museum. Lots of Maori stuff and history of how the peoples moved in the Pacific region. The third floor is all about the wars that NZ has been in. There are even two fighters and a Nazi V-1 rocket. In one small corner is a Holocaust memorial room. It’s one of the most powerful ones I have ever seen. Jeff and I cannot talk when we emerge. It’s now raining a bit (it’s been threatening all day) and we taxi back to the hotel for a break before dinner. We are pooped having been up for about 14 hours now and the plane trip and….where the heck is Thursday?
Tonight we eat at the Belgian Beer Café—from a recommendation in the NY Times from October. Specialty is green lip mussels—and beer. We get there and it’s a zoo. Hot. Zillions of people. Noisy. So we continue to walk up the small street it’s on to High St. and walk along there until we see the Dolce Vita whose menu seems good. Nice Italian dinner—including an appetizer portion of green lipped mussels. We drag ourselves back to the hotel. I shower. Jeff does a load of our laundry. It’s now about 10 and we are exhausted.
February 5, 2005—Singing in the Rain or Red Green, Tom, Ginger, and Judy Garland or Play Misty for Me or Forever Amber: [Factoid: coffees here are short black, long black, flat white, espresso, cappuccino, latte.] Jeff and I are both glad to be leaving Auckland. Our time here is just enough, but we really want to be out in the country. We are up at 7:00, have breakfast in our room (ricotta and fruit pancakes). Last night, the revelry at the harbour (lots of restaurants all around the hotel on the water) goes on late, but neither of us hear is as we crash to sleep. We are out of the hotel at 8:00. We tell the cab driver we want to go to Budget Rent a Car on Beach Road. He hears “b” and not “B” and attempts to take us to several low-end places until we repeat what we want and the exact address for about the third time.
We were told by the local travel agency liaison yesterday that we should leave Auckland around 8:00 in order to have enough time to get north, check in, and then go to the cruise (swim with dolphins) at about noon. Two things seem to work against this. First, the weather is cloudy and showers. Second, when we get to Budget and go to the counter, we are told that our car will not be ready until 10:00, the time it says on our voucher. Certainly it’s not Budget’s fault—it’s high season and they have no extra cars at all. So, I call the cell phone number of Southern World and talk to a nice gentleman there. He says that he will cancel the boat trip (and that it probably would not go out today given the weather anyway) and get us a credit. While we wait, we hear a Jewish couple from the eastern US right out of central casting that deal with the rental car people. They complain about this and that.
About 9:00, they get us a car—full-sized instead of intermediate—a Holden (GM product) Commodore. We are off on a rainy 350 km journey over the next 9½ hours. We head out of town on the Northern Motorway (Hwy. 1). It’s four lanes for quite a while. Then it goes down to two lanes with an occasional third lane for passing. The speed limit is 100 km/hr pretty much everywhere except in curvy roads or in towns where it drops to 70 or 50. Even though the limit is 100, it’s hard to keep at that speed both because of slow traffic ahead and also because of the terrain. We also have a GPS device called Kruse which plays a talking guide though the radio—it knows where we are through the GPS system and then gives us narratives about history or location or sites to see as we drive. Pretty neat.
South of Whangarei we head west on Hwy. 12. First stop is at the Kauri Museum where we learn all about both the logging of the wonderful kauri (a huge conifer) and also about the gum that comes from it which is like amber. It’s a good introduction for what we do the rest of the day. And we both buy pieces of the kauri gum.
To the west, we stop at the Blah, Blah, Blah…Café in Dargaville for lunch. Really good food. We circle around out of town and go north on 12 to the Waipoua Kauri Forest. We make three stops. First we drive up a rock road to a lookout tower. It’s been misty rainy all day so the view is muted by the weather. Then it’s down and along the road to another turnoff. We pay at $2 security fee to a guard to watch the car (lots of break-ins, they say). It’s about a 15 minute walk to the Father of the Forest, the second biggest kauri tree in NZ. This is lots like the redwoods in the US. There were over a million acres of kauri in NZ and they were mercilessly timbered. To get to the Father of the Forest, we walk along both trails and also boardwalks over fragile root systems. The boardwalks are covered with a plastic mesh that keeps you from slipping since it’s all pretty wet.
The Father of the Forest is 16.4 meters in girth, total height 29.9 meters. It’s about 1,200 years old. The trunk goes way up with no branches. All the branches are at the top.
We drive a bit down the road and walk about 5 minutes to the God of the Forest. It’s the biggest tree in NZ and is 51.5 meters high, girth 13.8 meters, and is about 2,000 years old. Pretty unbelievable.
Possums/Opossums: Seems like someone introduced possums from South Australia in the 1800s to have as a skin trade, but they multiplied and ate everything in site. They are bringing disease to the cattle. And they destroy things like power and telephone wires. So all the power poles have a metal sleeve around them about three-quarters up so the possum cannot climb any farther. Also, there is a brisk business in clothing (socks, gloves, sweaters, hats) made from a blend of wool and possum or one of wool, possum, and silk.
We have driven through flat farm land and twisty mountains. It’s the twisty part here. We drive westward through the mountains until we go down along the coast by a huge inlet/harbour. It’s now about 5:00 and it’s time to get going toward our evening’s accommodation. We head east (still on 12) until we get to Hwy. 1. Then north on Hwy. 10 with a turnoff to Paihia and the Paihia Beach Resort.
It’s really smaller than the picture we have since the picture is what it’s supposed to be when it’s all built. Right now, it’s four stories with five rooms per floor. The lady at the desk makes us right at home and gives us a good suggestion for dinner. The room (201) is a suite with bed, sofa bed, kitchen, table and chairs, living room, and balcony looking over the water. We eat a good dinner at Only Seafood about a mile or so from here to the south. Jeff helps me knock off most of a bottle of NZ merlot cabernet sauvignon.
In all, the weather, although misty rain all day, was okay and we enjoyed the sojourns into the forest to see the kauri trees probably more than we would have enjoyed another day on a boat. So, it all worked out well.
February 6, 2005—Cape Crusaders or Soggy Bottom Boys: Shall I start with the lamb at dinner or the dessert with chocolate mousse and gelato with blue cheese? How about not finding any place in town where you can take your own laptop and get on the Internet? Or, perhaps, going way up to Cape Reinga…well, you’ll see.
We are up this morning about 7:00. After attending to what we needed to do in the room, we have breakfast in the hotel restaurant about 9:00—English cooked breakfast, as they say. The yogurt here is thinner than we are used to. The coffee is all either French pressed or espresso.
It’s Waitangi day—the “celebration” of the treaty between the British and the Maori. Sort of like Columbus Day if the Indians were still around to deal with it all. But it’s right here to the north of Paihia. Lots of folks coming in for the day to go to an open market, feasts, etc.
We leave here about 10:15 for our 430 km, 8 hour trip. We go up hwy. 11 to 10, south on 10 to hwy. 1 and then north. We are heading to Cape Reinga where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific. It’s about the most northern part of NZ. The day is misty and rainy, but we see hints of light, a glimpse of blue sky, a peek of the sun as we head north. The way is both over pretty straight roads and some twisting roads over the mountains. It ends with a 20 km stretch that is unpaved and often muddy—as the rain increases to a downpour. We hope against hope that it will clear up by the time we get to the cape.
The drive is beautiful. The last 20 km is not fun to drive at all. We get out to the cape. It’s pouring and totally fogged in. Where we had expected to see the two oceans meet and the different colors of the waters, as we stand at the lighthouse all we can see is the nose in front of our face. We are sopping wet from the walk down from the car park. It rains horizontally. Everything below our waists is soaked. The few who are there with us all laugh at the absurdity of it all. After gazing into nothing for a while, we go back to our car, head back south. We stop at a place about 2:00 for fish and chips and coffee. It’s about 6:00 when we get back to the hotel.
In both today’s and yesterday’s drives, we look at the rows of trees that have been planted for wind breaks. They are large evergreens that go on for great lengths. There are also lots of hydrangeas along the road – white and blue. And there is almost no traffic. We see very few cars at all going either direction today.
Car beeps: if you drive over 110 km/hr, the car beeps to warn you. Also, it has proximity sensors when you back and beeps really loud if you get too near something. And, let’s talk about Tom (Kruse)—he repeats himself about some of the stories (creation stories, Maori stories, etc.) but still is useful for new stuff (love it when he talks about the English getting walloped by the Maori) and for the history of places we come to. But the background music that plays when there is nothing to say is starting to bug both of us.
We only take a few pictures over the day given the weather and download them in hopes we can find an Internet café or connection somewhere in town. We go to all three places where one is supposed to connect only to find that one has to use their computers and not your own. So, we head to Bistro 40 for our dinner reservation about 7:00. It’s back to the hotel abut 9:30 to pack up for our flight tomorrow.
We are now away for a week—if you count the Thursday we never had. Three weeks to go.
February 7, 2005—What’s a Matamata U? or The Early Bird Gets Locked Out or Talia’s Neighborhood or Down the Hobbit Hole: In this country, the restrooms are called toilets. Yeast infections are vaginal thrush. And most toilets (the things in toilets) have both a half flush and full flush. In restaurants, you get an entrée and follow it with a main. And you get your entrée about 5 minutes after you place your order. A short black is a single espresso.
It’s another carefree and leisurely day for the Hirsch boys. We are up at 6:30 and down for breakfast at 7:30. We leave the hotel at 8:00 and head over to the Kerikeri airport about 20+ km away. We get there about 8:20 for a 9:30 flight. We are the only people there. The terminal is locked. We are way, way too early for a commuter flight. About 8:45 an Air NZ person comes and we check in. The plane only holds 19 people and there is none of the rigmarole we have become accustomed to in the US—no picture ID, no X-ray of luggage, no screening through detectors, no taking off of shoes. Can’t say we miss it! The flight takes about 40 minutes from gate to gate. We get into Auckland at about 10:15 and pick up our Nissan Maxima from Budget and are on our way.
We only travel 240 km today and the roads are quite straight so I can easily go 100 km/hr in most places. And this car does not beep at me when I go over 110. We start out on the Southern Motorway (Hwy. 1) and then onto Hwy. 2 east (the notoriously dangerous highway 2—lots of deaths through crashes). Then it’s onto 27 south to Matamata. We get into town about 12:30 and grab a fast lunch at what turns out to be a cafeteria. At 1:00 we report to the tour office for our Hobbiton tour.
There are three brothers on whose farm all the exterior Hobbiton shots were done. Jackson and the crew were there for three months. In the end, the brothers were allowed to keep the remnants of 17 of 37 Hobbit holes and run tours out to their 1,250 acre sheep farm. At NZ$50 per head, they seem to do a good business. But it’s very interesting and the only remaining set from the movies that is left.
We are picked up in Matamata by a bus with the driver acting as guide. He tells us the whole story of how the place was found and everything about it and the brothers’ negotiations and relationship with Jackson and New Line, etc. At the site, he leaves us with a guide who is on the bus with us—Teresa. She tells us all the details as she leads us around the site. You have to watch your step since there is sheep poop everywhere. All in all, we have a good time. I get a little antsy when things seem to be dragging. The whole trip from town and back to town is 2½ hours.
From Matamata, we drive the remaining 80 km to the Rotorua area. We are at the Kotare Lodge. Makes you think of some game preserve or some big fancy place. Actually, it’s a B&B with one room in the main house and our room en suite attached to the garage. It’s half way around Lake Rotorua from the town and we find it by using Jeff’s basic instinct about directions given the address of the place. The house is set right above the lake. Murray and Kate Pollard, the proprietors, are very friendly. I get an afternoon cup of tea and some cookies. We get directions to all the sites and events we are going to over the next couple of days as well as suggestions for dinner tonight in Rotorua.
About 6:00, we head into town half way around the lake. We stop and buy a bottle of wine (Otago region pinot noir), look at menus outside of several restaurants, and settle for Freos. We have rare rack of lamb. Well, we are in NZ. My dessert is lemongrass and sweet chilli brule. Naturally, I have a short black before our 18 km drive back around the lake to Kotare Lodge. When we get back, Murray has left us a note telling us the score of the Super Bowl. It was on live in NZ at Noon on Monday. Too bad for the Eagles.
February 8, 2005—Everybody Must Get Scones or Away Go Your Troubles Down the Drain or Why Not a Papaya? or Hangi Ten: Some non-sequitur tidbits: Yesterday, I had a scone in Matamata—sultana one. So bad I pitched in the trash. Today I split a cheese scone with Jeff—good one, but nothing compares to Linda’s. The car we have takes premium. Fuel prices today were 78.9 for diesel, 118.9 for regular, and 125.9 for premium—and that’s per liter. I put about NZ$50 to fill a half tank. So, we have not much to complain about at home. We notice lots of places like the cafeteria we were in at Matamata. They seem to be called bakery cafés. They have very large trout in the volcanic lakes around here—all introduced from American species and growing to very nice size (Murray showed us one he was smoking). There are lots of man-made forests around here—the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. Radiata pines (developed from Monterey pines) grow to full maturity in abut 27-30 years instead of 50+ in US. They form the basis of a huge industry here. Bread is something special here—you order it as an appetizer. The Kruse thingy in the car is driving us a bit bats. We hear some of the same stories over again and again and the background music makes you want to hit the doggone thing.
We are up at 7:00 and have breakfast at 8:00. The other guests are transplanted Scots who live in Melbourne—a retina specialist. Nice breakfast and our hosts are really wonderful. We drive around the other side of the lake (we are about half-way around, so going either direction takes about the same time) and go to Waimangu Volcanic Valley arriving about 9:30.
The valley houses the remnants of a huge volcanic eruption/explosion in the late 1800s. The top of Tarawera mountain (which overlooks the valley) decimated about everything around here in this latest eruption. It took a long time before anything grew here. Many villages in the area were obliterated.
Now, it’s a lush area interspersed with crater lakes, hot springs, some small geysers, silica terraces, and lots of steam. There is a trail from the top of the valley all the way down to the bottom (the shore of Lake Rotomahana). It takes two hours to walk downhill. Got our cardiovascular exercise today! The vegetation is tropical and thick. There are points along the way that are explained on a guide sheet we have—and we take lots of pictures and some videos. People at home had told us that it does not compare to Yellowstone. But it’s so very different that there is no comparison to Waimangu. And since it’s all so new geologically speaking (nothing like this was here before the eruption), they sort of compare it to the beginning of life—it moved from a barren landscape to this verdant forest and keeps changing. It’s one of the few places where geologists know the exact time (June 10, 1886, somewhere around 1:00 AM) when all this happened and the valley was born.
Some of the areas are quite exquisite with silica shelves and green algae. There are plumes of steam everywhere. In the background, on the other side of Lake Rotomahana, is Mt. Tarawera where all this started.
At the lake, we get on a boat and take a 45 minute guided tour. The lake itself was formed in the six hours that the volcano was active over 100 years ago. Then we get on a bus at lakeside and are taken back to the top. It’s really too steep for us to even contemplate walking—not to mention the several hours it would take us to trudge uphill. Lunch is at the café on the grounds.
We drive back into town in search of a place we can connect our laptop to the Internet—and, happily, find one. We spend an hour and a half uploading a couple of days’ worth of pictures and trip notes and answering email. We decide to drive back to the lodge and I have a cup of tea and some cookies and we shoot the breeze with our hosts outside overlooking the lake.
Rotorua is the geographical center of the North Island. It’s also the cultural center of the Maori. The city has some size and, unfortunately, there is traffic to contend with and sparse parking places in the city centre.
At about 5:15 or so, we head back into town and go to the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute where we see the Mai Ora (a cultural experience and feast). Lots of artists here to study--including carving jade. It’s a wonderful evening with lots of traditional Maori ceremony, dances, and song. Yes, we get the great tongue sticking out with bulging eyes. They do a good job telling us about their culture and traditions. We start off with a greeting ceremony outside the meeting house. This is followed by a presentation of dance and song. Then it’s to a dining area where we eat a hangi feast—some foods cooked in traditional ways. To choose from—mussels (hot and cold), smoked fish, venison, pork, chicken, lamb, kamura, corn, desserts. The whole evening is over three hours in length.
At the end of the evening, guests from different countries are asked to sing a song. First up is the US. A group gets to their feet and sings the “Star Spangled Banner.” We don’t join them. It was so out of place. The UK group do “Yellow Submarine.” The Dutch do a folk song and danced in a circle. The French sing something interminably long. The Koreans and the Japanese are shy. The Americans are jerks.
It’s been another full day. Thankfully, the weather has been improving. It was overcast while we were in part of the valley, but got progressively more sunny as the day wore on. We hope that good weather is here to stay for a while. And we love our hosts, Murray and Kate Pollard. We highly recommend staying with them.
February 9, 2005—Marian Would Hate This or Marian Would Really Hate This or Holy Crap! or Cratered Out or Tarawera Has My Little Doggone?: We are up at 6:00. Murray has fixed us a nice omelet with potatoes and asparagus. We leave about 7:30 and drive toward town to the base where our day’s adventure begins. There we board a 4WD bus along with a dozen other souls. It’s 40 km on paved roads and then another 10 on a very rough mountain track (first built by the U.S. Army in WWII) up Mt. Tarawera. Our guide keeps a running commentary about the area geologically as well as all the myths and stories from Maori legend. He also tells a string of really funny Aussie jokes (e.g., there is only one thing wrong about Australia—it’s above sea level. Know the difference between yogurt and an Aussie? One has a little culture).
Remember, this is the mountain that blew up in June of 1886 creating the whole thermal area around here. It’s owned by the Maori and managed by a private company. We go as high as possible, park, and get out. The only way you can see the mountain is with the managing tour company. There is a large car park up at the top, but it has been closed to public access since 2002 due to people breaking into cars, desecrating sacred sites, etc. And Tarawera is a very sacred site to the Maori. After getting instructions from our guide, Art, we grab a walking stick and follow him up from the car park to the edge of one of the biggest craters. We are sucking wind by the time we get to this “starting” point. It’s hard walking over the loose rock path.
Art then tells us how to slide down the scree to the crater floor. It’s all very loose small stones (gravel to pretty good sized pebbles—some of which find their way into our shoes). You lean back on your heels and shuffle your feet never lifting either off the ground. The rocks are deep and if you lifted your foot, you would fall down. Our Merrells are well broken in from this experience. In this manner, you slide downhill at a somewhat measured pace. Ah, keep those knees bent. Don’t lean forward. And off we go—for a pretty long trip downward. Art stops a few times to see what’s going on behind him and to offer advice to those having trouble. I am right behind him with Jeff right behind me. You’ll have to see the video that I took to see how it went. Yes, I videoed whilst sliding downhill.
We get all the way to the crater floor and spend quite a while taking pictures. It’s all pretty neat. The guide tells us more about the crater and its composition. There are lots of rocks of many hues, but they all have something in common—silica. Most of the eruptions here and the oozing through thermal spots are silica laden. Then, we have to climb up and out! It’s a bear. I stop two times to catch my breath. Talk about your cardio workout! Heart’s a pounding. Lordy. I keep looking at my feet and not how far it is to the top. But it’s all worth it. Another adventure story.
We get in the bus. After a brief pit stop at the mountain’s base camp, we go down the mountain back to Rotorua. Art tells us about how tree plantations are managed. Alongside the road you see clear-cut areas with unusable branches and scrub left to rot back into the soil—and there are new seedlings nicely planted among all of this for the next generation of trees. About everyone is asleep by the time we are on the paved roads. Jeff and I retrieve our car and go into town for a nice lunch (and a long black) of fish and chips. We also stop at Lady Jane’s Ice Cream for a premium ice cream cone (I have espresso). Then we head out of town towards Taupo.
It’s an easy drive over pretty flat roads over this volcanic plateau. We pass a geothermal power plant and a wood pulp mill that runs mostly off of geothermal power. Taupo is only 80 km. We get there around 3:30 and meet our hosts, Barbara and John, at Paeora Lakeside Homestay on the shore of Lake Taupo in the Acacia Bay section. The house is lovely and the hosts are nice. Barbara is a travel tour guide and takes groups on trips to the northern hemisphere in NZ’s winter. John is a retired sheep farmer and we talk animals. They moved here eight years ago. At the farm, he had 4,500 breeding ewes. They ate mutton and lamb every day. They used horses to do rounding up of the stock (sheep and cattle). One daughter and her husband have a farm over the mountain where they have a large-scale parsnips and Brussels sprouts operation. Another daughter lives in Australia. A third is in Christchurch.
After cleaning up from the day’s activities, Jeff and I head through town to Huka Falls, one of the most visited sites in NZ. The water coming up to, over, and past the falls is the purest blue you have ever seen. We spend time taking pictures and videos. Then it’s down to the waterfront. The town is deserted. Shops are closed. There is NO traffic on the streets. No one is really walking around, except for a handful on the lake shore. We park and walk around looking at restaurant menus. That’s the way to decide where you are going to eat around here—look at menus posted on the street. We find one we like at a place Barbara recommended, Villino. We split some tempura oysters and both have the special—salmon over crab risotto. I get a couple of glasses of a nice sauvignon blanc. Oh, and a short black. We get back to the B&B around 9:00, have a chat with our hosts, and stay up until near 1:00 doing our technogeek stuff with downloading pictures, organizing galleries, and writing trip notes. Now it’s to bed. Hot springs bath and massage tomorrow!
Other things: Even though the roads are two lanes (except in and around cities), there are passing zones with a third lane so you don’t have to stay behind a slow vehicle for too long of a time. The warm and friendly folks here greet you with “Hello, dear” and a hug (like from our host, Kate) is a cuddle. In dealing with differences in seasons between here and, say, Europe, one would say “northern summer” to compare to just “summer” here. There is no need to dress for dinner. I wear a t-shirt and jeans and am as dressed or more dressed than all the other men. So far, I have not found a restaurant (and we are eating in good ones) where I am improperly dressed. Insofar as sleeping arrangements, the two B&Bs we have been in both have twin-bedded rooms. The hotels didn’t.
February 10, 2005—Mordor, He Wrote or Taupo Gigo or Hot Springs Eternal or Whakapapa’s Got a Brand New Bag: We are up about 7:00 and join Barbara for breakfast about 8:00—muesli, fresh fruit, yogurt, scrambled eggs, toast, coffee—something light to start the day. Barbara is going to do our laundry and fold it! We leave about 9:00 and head south on Hwy. 1 to 41 to 47 down to Tongariro National Park. This is home to Mt. Tongariro, Mt. Ruapehu, and a third volcanic mountain. All are on a plateau. Ruapehu is the site for Mt. Doom of LOTR filming. And a part of the park we did not see was used for lots of the horse riding of the Rohan (in the northern desert part of the park). Where we are was used to film two sequences: Sam and Frodo’s journey down into Mordor through the Emyn Muil as well as their climb up Mt. Doom near the end of the third movie.
We drive up the mountain as far as we can to near the Whakapapa ski fields. Two different chair lifts take us up as far as we go. I get a long black at the café at the top. We watch a helicopter taking supplies up and down the mountain. It’s a hike over ice and snow to get higher, and we are still pooped from yesterday. Also, we really don’t have the time we would need to do this. So, we stay up top as long as we can and take pictures. Then it’s down to the hotel area a bit lower and a fast lunch. We also mail our postcards.
It’s about 100 km or more back to Taupo. We fly along since we want to be back in order to go into the hot springs before our massages. Tough, huh? Jeff dozes as we drive. We stop a couple of times to take pictures. We are back in Taupo at 2:00 and go to Taupo Hot Springs. There we climb into a thermally heated pool (water is green) and soak for about 40 minutes. At 3:00, both of us get a massage. We need it. Our quads are still screaming from the scree slide.
Emerging stunned and relaxed, we drive over to Craters of the Moon. This is a huge open area (not a spot of shade) where there are fumaroles, craters, and some boiling mud. It’s a long and very hot (sun and steam) walk around the area. It’s interesting, but a bit anticlimactic given our time in Waimangu. We do find a cloth badge (patch), though. They have been few and far between.
When we finish, we drive back into town, get some petrol, and go to dinner at Plateau. We split a Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc. Jeff has seafood chowder and risotto with mushrooms, pine nuts, chicken, rocket. I have the same risotto as an appetizer and have wonderful rack of lamb. They give you seven or eight chops when you order a rack—and it’s not that expensive: NZ$28 or so.
Back at the B&B, we do digital stuff on the deck. We attract our hosts and another guest as Jeff finishes his 360° panorama of the crater at Tarawera (soon to be posted on line). So, we get to talk technogeek with everyone for a while. Then I download my pix. As it gets dark, we take sunset pix and ones of a rainbow across the lake. When it’s completely dark, Jeff takes pictures of the stars.
February 11, 2005—Make That a Double or Tyred Out or Hastings Pudding or By the Napier of Our Necks or What Goes Bump in the Day? or to Napier to Hastings in Nothing Flat: You can tell something is up by our titles, yes? Let’s just say at this point that all ends well. We are up at 3:30 and then again a few times more until 4:00 due to a faulty smoke alarm in Barbara and John’s bedroom. The alarm goes off at 7:00 and we pack up and have breakfast at 8:00. We call Gay for her birthday (it’s only the 10th back there) and also talk to Robin, Tracy, and Sylvia. We eat muesli, fruit salad, yogurt, stewed plums, scrambled eggs, chicken bacon (you heard me right), and grilled tomatoes.
Today’s journeys are over 500 km and, as is explained below, start about 9:00 AM and end in Wellington about 8:30 PM. We head out of town on Hwy. 5 and go to the east coast and Napier. Napier is on the Pacific and has a wonderful array of art deco buildings from the 1930s—the city was rebuilt after an earthquake and they decided on art deco. So, we wander down the sea front and are amazed by the blue-green of the clear ocean water. Then it’s down and back some of the streets to see the buildings. Really a nice town—one of the few that you go to for the town itself rather than for some activity or natural scene in or around the town.
This area is Hawkes Bay and home to lots of really good wines, especially whites. It’s also the fruit basket of NZ. We leave Napier and head toward a winery that Barbara recommends for lunch. As we round a bend near Hastings, we hit something in the road. It was a terrific clunk. Must have been a large paving stone or piece of metal. I can see it bouncing away behind us. We pull over to the side of the road to see what damage has been done and find that we have blown both tires on the right side of the car. Nothing to do except to get help. I take out a handkerchief and wave it for a while before someone stops to help. A guy about my age in a very old Toyota van gives me a lift to a nearby house on a farm where he works part time. The van has no front seat for a passenger, so I sit on his bed in the back (and notice that there is a large butcher knife loose on the floor!) He looks like what we would say is an old hippie (big, burly, white hair, beard, pony tail, twinkle in his eye) and is extremely nice and helpful. We use the phone and call the 0800 number for Budget. After some waits and false transfers, I talk to the office at the Napier airport. They, in turn, talk to a tire company. My host tells them exactly where we are and takes me back to the car and leaves. Over time, several people stop and ask if they can help. Jeff, in my absence, has been using the laptop to do fine tuning on some of his pictures, especially the panorama of Tarewera crater.
In a bit over a half hour, around 1:30, the tire repair truck pulls up. Both right side wheels are removed from the car. He takes them into Hastings telling us it will be no more than a half hour until he is back. In about an hour and 45 minutes another truck from the same company pulls up. By this time, we are exhausted, sun scorched, and very thirsty. The driver tells us that the tires he was able to get (and they had to send out for them) are different than the ones we have on the car. So, he will put the two new tires on the right side of the car, but we will have to follow him back into Hastings so he can put the car on the rack and put the new tires on one axle and the remaining old tires on the other. So, it’s about 10 km into and through Hastings back to the shop. Jeff and I use the facilities and drink several glasses of cold water. It’s now about 3:45 and we are hungry and grouchy—actually we are in a far better mood than either of us deserves to be given the events from about 1:00 through about 4:00. We drive into Hastings where traffic is terrible. Seems like they reconstructed the town in the 1930s after that same earthquake, but put in an American style street system (regular blocks and traffic lights). It’s all snarled up. We grope our way around town and find a nice bar/café where we get the equivalent of a grilled chicken hoagie.
At 4:30 we are on our way for the 300 km—yes, 300 km—to Wellington. We head over Hwy. 2 from Hastings to 3 in Woodville and 57 to Levin where we picked up 1 and drive down the west coast into Wellington. The northbound traffic looks horrible as people are commuting home or getting away for the weekend. Once in the city, it is a puzzle to find our B&B (Sommerville House) in the Kelburn section high on a hill overlooking the city. Even with Jeff’s good directions and a map, we get a bit lost. It’s all twisty and roads go in every direction. We stop and ask a taxi driver who gives us good directions and we find our destination. I think of my father’s old story about hiring a taxi in Seville that he can follow in his car to the hotel.
Wow. What a terrific place and wonderful hosts (Wally and Lynda Sommerville). We have the entire second floor which consists of a bedroom with twin beds, a huge closet, and a very modern bathroom; a sun porch overlooking the city; a living and dining area; desk space; a full kitchen; and a rear balcony. It’s been raining now for a few hours and it’s really very windy, so we don’t go outside. Our hosts are very kind and, rather than making us go out into the weather, fix us a dinner of quiche, salad, minted new potatoes, corn on the cob, fresh bread, wine/beer, and fruit salad with ice cream. They sit with us at the dining room table and we learn all about each other. They have a daughter and son who are both in the US on student visas and working at ski related jobs. He is a mortgage banker with the Bank of NZ. Lynda is native to the South Island and Wally to the north around the Kauri Coast area that we visited. Their house is beautiful and has windows everywhere on both floors that overlook Wellington.
We talk Peter Jackson and LOTR. Wally offers to take us on an hour-and-a-half drive all around the city to see where Jackson lives and to get a good feeling for the city. We will do this tomorrow or Sunday AM depending on how fast the nasty weather passes through. So, it’s a very soft landing after a really tough afternoon. We are well fed, our hosts are lovely, and their house is dreamy. We look forward to a couple of days here.
Froufra: Charles and whatshername got engaged today. Woo hoo. Have driven about 1,300 km since we picked up car at Auckland airport after visit up north. Drove at least 700 km up there. The total translates into about 1,200 miles. And then there are pictures. I have taken 960 through today. Jeff has taken even more. They have heated towel racks here in all the bathrooms. They are really nice. Each place has nice bathrobes, so one does not have to bring any with you. Rod Stewart is giving a concert tomorrow night, I think, in a winery near Napier. Over 22,000 seats have been sold (according to the man who picked me up on the highway near Hastings).
February 12, 2005—We Have No Beef with Wellington or Monkeying Around or Oh Weta Beautiful Morning: Jeff is up at sunrise to take pictures out of the many windows that surround our second floor suite. I get up about 7:15. Breakfast is the normal too much food version of NZ. Afterwards, Wally takes us for about an hour-and-a-half drive.
We go down from Kelburn and through downtown, by the waterfront, and then up and up and up on Mt. Victoria to a lookout at the top. From here, you can see the whole sweep of Wellington and its harbour on one side and the airport, another part of the harbour, and the residential section Seatoun (very upscale) on the other side. Jeff sets up and takes a panorama.
From here we go down to a dock where there is the boat that Peter Jackson is using for “King Kong” for when Kong is brought back to New York. It’s interesting to see how it’s been weathered and retrofitted (e.g., a smokestack has been added to the boat—it never had one before). Wally also drives us past Weta Digital and other Jackson sites—all of which are non-descript old buildings with little or no markings on them to denote what they are. We see the block that Jackson owns and lives. First, as with the Weta buildings, his house(s) are normal. Second, we are told he is building a much bigger house in another part of town. We see the Chocolate Fish, a waterfront café that Jackson’s cast frequented. Wally and Lynda have both told us how all the people who worked on LOTR endeared themselves to the local folk by attending local events and being just regular people.
We stop at a wool store and buy merino and possum socks for Russ (he asked me to get him a couple of pairs). Wally drops us off in town at the Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand, and he returns home. Jeff and I start at the top of the museum and work our way downward. The inside of the museum has wonderful spaces—lots of vertical and horizontal room. On the 5th floor, we see art of NZ from 1940 onward. Then we go into a section dealing with life in NZ in the 70s. In other parts of the museum we see the story of migration here, displays on sheep and wool, Italians in NZ, the Waitangi Treaty, and one on a Maori tribe and their history. There really is too much to see in one visit. Naturally, we finished with the museum store.
From here, we walk to the waterfront and wind our way around to a unique bridge that crosses over traffic to the main municipal buildings. The bridge has lots of Maori symbols and ends in a big square by the city buildings where there is a huge suspended silver fern sculpture (a sphere). We go inside to find out about Wi-Fi spots around town and have a nice lunch (stuffed kumara, vegetable samosa, vege (that is the way they spell it here) pizza, and … yes, a long black.
After lunch, we get directions to the cable car and walk through the main shopping district to the lower terminus. We take the cable car up to its last stop at the Botanical Gardens, cut through the gardens, and go downhill a way back to Sommerville House.
Lynda gets us on line and we look for Wi-Fi spots based on a brochure we got at the city information centre where we had lunch. Seems like there are hot spots about everywhere around town for this network. So, we gather up the computer and walk downhill accompanied by Lynda who is off on a shopping expedition. Jeff and I sit in the lobby of James Cook Hotel and log in. Two hours later we both have uploaded all our pictures and trip notes files and dealt with emails. Too bad we cannot find more places around to do this since it means that we have to spend a long time doing stuff each time we do get into an area that has shared broadband.
It’s late by the time we are finished—about 5:40 and we are due at Pamela and Rich Nelson’s at 6:00. We take a lift down from the hotel to the level where the lower terminus of the cable car is and take it up like we had earlier in the day. After a quick change of clothes, Wally (bless his soul) drives us uphill to the Nelsons’.
Pamela and Rich have a wonderful house right under the Botanic Gardens—so about as high as you can go in Kelburn. They have lived here for 10 years. Rich shows me around the house which they have extensively renovated. In their wonderful garden is a Jim Eaton sculpture (like the one we have in our sculpture garden). Along with the clothes on their backs, this was the only thing they brought from St. Louis when they moved here.
We sit in the living room, trade stories, drink wine and eat cheese and pâté. About 7:30, they drive us into town for dinner at Juniper where I have Taraki, a local fish, and Jeff has a seafood fettuccini. We all share an Oyster Bay “sauv blanc,” as they say here. We all have wonderful conversations bridging lots of subjects including politics. Dinner over, time for a short black.
Rich drives us around the waterfront and into the Courtney section of town where there are lots of clubs and bars. In downtown, it’s empty. In this section, lots of folks are around on the streets. They drive us to our lodgings and come inside to see—and tell us how lucky we are to find such a place. We agree.
Miscellanea: Jeff says that last night’s sleep is the best he has had in NZ. There is a busker festival in town this week—we see jugglers on the waterfront. There are some houses that are only accessible with private cable cars. Imagine forgetting something in the car parked way down there below. In the hotel where we do the Internet, a cricket match is on the plasma TV screen right over our heads. As much as we try, cricket makes absolutely no sense to either of us. Gardens seems the norm here with beautiful ones behind where we are staying and at the Nelsons’. Wellington is very compact. Shopping, offices, theatres, museums, etc. all packed into a small area and it’s easy to get around by foot. And, as with other places here, the color of the ocean and harbour water is beautiful.
February 13, 2005—Try to Blenheim or Head South, Young Man or The Son’ll Come Out with Kumara: I am up early and take some pictures of the sunrise. We have our usual wonderful breakfast. No doubt that butter and eggs are superior here—and the produce is 1,000% better (much more fresh and good tasting). We converse with Wally and Lynda; they recount the party they went to last night to celebrate the 21st birthdays of two of their daughter’s friends and we tell them about our evening with the Nelsons.
About 9:30 we head uphill toward the Botanic Gardens and spend the next hour and a half wandering up hills and down into valleys within this wonderful park. By the way, all public parks and museums are free. We start at the rose garden and then the begonia house. We climb up to the herb garden and the on and on until we end up at the top near the cable car station. We see a wonderful Henry Moore sculpture. Wally runs through all this area—and it would be a strenuous place to run (or walk!).
When we are done, we go back to the house. Lynda fixes us tea and heats up some blueberry muffins. Reluctantly, we say goodbye to our hosts, load up the car, and drive toward the airport. We have to revise our route due to street closings as part of a concert that will take place around 2:00 on a barge on the waterfront. We turn in the car, check in. The only “security” is the agent looking at our passports. There is no screening of passengers or X-ray. I guess if you are in a country that does not piss off most of the rest of the world, you can be a bit more secure. At least that is what I hope. Next we rent a cell phone. We figure that if we are ever in a situation similar to the one we were with the shredded tires that we would want to be able to contact help.
We board the plane 10 minutes before takeoff. It’s a 19 passenger jet prop Beech like we took down from Kerikeri. It’s not full. And the flight to Blenheim is only 15 minutes—mind you, a bit bumpy, but it beats four hours on open water on the ferry. In our flight out of Wellington, we can see the harbour, Mount Victoria lookout (where we had been yesterday), the rose garden we walked in this morning, and Sommerville House. As we approach the South Island, we can see rows of mountains and a flat valley covered with vineyards.
We pick up a Toyota Rav in Blenheim and drive to Picton. It’s all through the Marlborough wine region (mostly sauv blanc and chardonnay). We arrive at the Waikawa Bay Seafront Apartments and are shown our lodging. It’s two stories with three bedrooms, a bathroom, and laundry area downstairs, and kitchen, dining area, living room upstairs.
We go into town, shop, and go to a market and get food for breakfast over the next two days. Guess what we get? Yogurt, eggs, muesli, juice, bread, butter, kumara. We put our groceries away and call home. Marian fills us in on all the festivities around Janice’s 60th. We are sorry to have missed it and send our love to all.
We then head into Picton. The manager here (who is 8½ months pregnant) gave us dinner recommendations when we checked in. As is our norm, I drive up in front of the first one. Otherwise, we would drive to the next and check it out. The first place we stop is Shaitarna’s and the menu looks good. The waitress suggests a sauv blanc from the area (Shingle Mountain). We split the Queen Charlotte feast for two: raw oysters, grilled oysters with bacon, fried calamari, cold shrimp, garlic shrimp, green lip mussels, four different kinds of fish, French fries (chips), salad, and a half a crayfish (the equivalent of a lobster tail). It’s wonderful and we finish all of it and our bottle of wine. We split a Pavlova, a local NZ delicacy: meringue with vanilla ice cream on top and a passion fruit syrup. I have a short black. We drive back to the apartment and do our nightly computer work.
Folderol: When you buy something in any shop in this country, the salesperson folds over the top of the paper bag that contains your goods and then places a piece of cellophane tape over it to seal it. Almost all the wines we drink, and they are good ones, have a screw cap and not a cork. Tipping is almost non-existent. Most credit card slips come back without a tip line and the waiter stands by you while you sign. Last night in Wellington, I asked Rich if we should tip—he said “No.”
February 14, 2005—Charlotte’s Wet or Abalone Has a First Name or Anakiwa, Anakiwa … or Roaming with Juliette: Both of us are up a few times during the night, but get right back to sleep. We get up for good about 7:00. I fix breakfast—overdoing the kumara a bit in the nuke oven. We have our norm, but you know what that is by now (only this time we had to cook it for ourselves).
Since we don’t have to meet our guide until 11:00, we use the phone, read, write postcards. And it’s Valentine’s Day here (a day before it is there) so we open cards and think of all our loved ones. At about 10:30, we head into town and up onto a twisty, winding road to our destination. For those of you who have driven to Hana on Maui, it’s like the old Hana road, but you are driving on the left. The speed limit is 100, but it’s hard to go over 40 or 50 km/hr. In a little under 30 km, we reach the turnoff for Anakiwa. We are a bit confused whether we are to meet our guide right at the turnoff or go to Anakiwa (a few km down the road) and meet there. Since there is no one at the turnoff, we go up to the trail head. There is no one there. We use the public phone and call the 0800 number for the guide in Picton and find out that she is in a black 4WD waiting for us at the turnoff. So we head back there and intercept her coming up looking for us.
Her name is Juliette, a sunny blonde in her young 30s we guess. We go to the trail head for the Queen Charlotte Track and put on our day packs and cameras for the hike. Queen Charlotte was the wife of good old George III and this big bay was named after her by Captain Cook in the 1870s. Usually hikers or mountain bikers take a water taxi out to the other end of the track (which is actually the beginning) and hike/bike back over 3-4 days (which can include days where you kayak). I learn later that our half-day trip, sort of backwards on the track, was a special booking by Southern World. Originally our itinerary called for us to be staying in Nelson, not Picton. And Nelson is a good hour and a half away from the Anakiwa turnoff. If they had known we were staying in Picton, not only would we have started earlier in the day, but also they would have picked us up. As it happens, Jeff and I both enjoyed the drive over the twisting road doing it ourselves.
We start the hike at about 11:30 and it’s a full four hours later that we get to Mistletoe Bay where we are picked up by water taxi and taken back to Anakiwa. The hike is about two thirds uphill and one third downhill. Most of it is in native bush, as they say here. Lots of tree ferns (silver fern that is their national symbol). See one rimu tree – about 400 years old, very slow growing. Juliette tells us about various flora and birds. She points out what bays we are looking at when we get to vantage points. We see areas that had burned and now the new growth is manuka and ferns. Manuka honey is treasured here.
We are very high above the water. We have places where we can see for miles into the surrounding mountains and over a big expanse of parts of Queen Charlotte Bay. Sometimes we are pretty much in the bush; sometimes there is a new view around each corner. The weather has been sun and clouds and a good breeze so we are not hot. I have to get my second wind about an hour into the walk. It’s not so much that my muscles hurt, but that I am starting to breath hard. It’s always a blessing when Juliette stops to point out a bush, tree, or bird. About two hours into the trip we stop for lunch.
Juliette pulls out bags for each of us with a nice sandwich, juice, plum, some dried apricot covered with chocolate, and a dessert that is sweet enough to make your teeth curl. She asks if we want coffee or tea. We say coffee. She takes a French press out of her pack, some ground coffee, and a thermos of hot water. I must say that I laugh at this—who but people like these would do such a thing. And the coffee is strong and delicious.
After about 20 minutes or so, we are back on the track. We stop at one point so Jeff can take a panorama picture of the bay. Then she picks up the pace (mind you, the pace was quick before this) so we can make it to the jetty in time to catch the water taxi. I have to get my third and fourth winds. About this time, we hear thunder. We don our raingear none too soon as it rains for most of the rest of the walk. It’s not too bad (nothing like the horizontal rain at Cape Reinga). We pass out of the bush onto some hilly farm land. She points out the bay where we are to meet the boat. It’s a very long way down there.
At about 3:30, we make it to the boat landing. We are the last passengers the boat was waiting for. It takes about 15-20 minutes to get back to where we started four hours earlier. We take pictures of us with Juliette and thank her. She is very easy to be with and a very good guide. We use the loo and head back to Picton over the winding road. Along the way, we stop for pictures from a scenic lookout and meet a couple from London. The man asks us what accent we have. We tell him the middle of America. He says that he has no accent since he is from London, and I must say his speech is wonderful. We have a nice conversation about their trip and ours and we are both on our ways.
Jeff and I are both a bit sore, but in different places. Jeff’s foot has been bothering him. We both know we have been there and back.
About 7:00 we drive into town. We want to eat at The Quest, but it proves to be an impossible dream since they are “fully booked.” So we eat at Le Café (BIG green lip mussels, rack of lamb, fruit tart/blackberry ice cream… and a short black). We come back to our lodgings after 9:30 and run loads of laundry. It takes close to forever for things to dry.
Flotsam: Abalone is paua over here. When we were at the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and had to take off our shoes to go into the meeting house, someone from Merrell should have been there since lots of folks had their shoes. It could have been confusing which pair was yours. While the area we are in is best known for sauv blanc and chardonnay, the most popular new plantings are pinot noir. Even though Picton is on the water, they do not get a lot of local fish. Blue cod and mussels are local—most everything else is not. Plants that always grew here are called native; everything else is called exotic. While the pine industry is important to NZ, the wind carries pine seeds into native bush and, since the pines put down such a heavy needle base on the forest floor, about everything else dies out. So, there is a downside to the timber industry.
February 15, 2005—Abel Bodied. See, Men? or A Full Nelson or Bark, Bay, or Just Cry or On the Beach : We are up at 7:00, fix and eat breakfast, fold the last of the laundry, pack up, and are off at 9:00 on our 250 km jaunt of the day. We drive south from Picton on 1 toward Blenheim. A crossover shortcut takes us to 6 heading north for Havelock and then toward Nelson. We have been told it’s two hours to Nelson and it is. Our trip takes us through what we now expect—ever changing terrain. One new thing is the clouds which hang at about the level we are driving. So, we get some interesting views of what is around us.
We pull into the California House in Nelson, meet our host, Janice Evans, and drop off all our luggage. She calls ahead to the tour operator in Kaikerikeri where we are going to tell them that we are on our way. It’s only 50 km, but it takes an hour to get there. Nelson and the surrounding towns are busy with commerce and traffic. Nelson, for one, is a huge fishing port.
An hour after we leave California House, we pull into the parking lot. The water taxi for our transportation out on Abel Tasman National Park is scheduled to leave at 12:15 and it’s 12:05. We have no clue from the voucher or itinerary which of the booths along the parking area to go to. It turns out that our first choice is the one we are supposed to be with. We go into a general store kind of place and grab two sandwiches and some dried mangos.
Yesterday the water taxi picked us up and delivered us to docks. Today, we take off our shoes and socks and wade into the water to climb onto the back of the boat. It’s an open launch with only the first couple of rows of seats under the convertible top in front. We are last on board, so we get the seats all the way in the back. The skipper takes off at breakneck speed. Within a couple of minutes, I am wet and cold. I put on my rain jacket, but am cold most of the way until I can move up under cover. And to say it’s windy would be putting it mildly. I am buffeted. Jeff is on the same row that I am, but more to the center of the seat. The water trip is about 40 minutes.
While it’s cold and wet, the scenery is beautiful with a open bay, tree-lined hills, and golden sand beaches. The boat stops at one of the beautiful beaches along the way and some of the passengers get off. The next stop is Bark Bay, where another water taxi will pick us up at 3:40—more get off and I move up under cover.
We now go out into the bay to see the Tonga Island seal colony. We stop there and all look at the few seals that are sunning on the rocks. Then it’s to Onetahuti Bay where we disembark into the water and up onto the sand. We find a picnic table and try, to the best of our ability, to brush the sand off our feet and to dry them. No one told us that we needed to have a towel with us (and we thought we would be going from/to a dock like we did yesterday).
It’s about 1:30 and we have about two hours to do the two hour hike to Bark Bay for our pickup. Before we got off the boat, I told the skipper that we would indeed be there for the 3:40 pickup and would not wait for the later, 5:00, boat. We split one of the sandwiches we brought along, drink some water, and are off onto the trail.
The trip does take about two hours. The first half hour and the last half hour provide the best views. The middle hour is pain and torture. Juliette, our guide from yesterday, told me that Abel Tasman is a piece of cake compared to the Queen Charlotte Track. Horse hockey.
The first half hour is a gradual climb and we see wonderful views of the beaches, water, and nearby islands. Then we are into the forest (lots of ferns, manuka, vines, etc. like on Queen Charlotte). We climb and climb—then go down, down, down—then climb, climb, climb. I get a second wind about an hour out. Our pace is pretty good considering the terrain and our condition from walking four hours yesterday. I stop to get my breath. I stop to let my screaming calves calm down. Jeff is doing well—his foot does not seem to bother him too much.
We get to a very steep downhill. I hope that we are near Bark Bay and will not have to do any more climbing. Both of us are pooped. And it is. The last half hour we take at a pretty leisurely pace as we see waterfalls, inlets, good views of the water, people in kayaks, etc. We emerge onto the beach at Bark Bay. Our water taxi is waiting. We take off our shoes and socks and wade on board. We grab seats way up front under cover. It takes about 40 minutes to get back. As with the trip out, the taxi stops at a couple of beaches to let people off. The water is rougher on the return trip and we really slap it from time to time. The folks sitting where we were on the outbound trip are soaked by the time we get back to Kaikerikeri.
We are weary. We stagger onto the beach, find a bench, and go through the foot de-sanding and drying routine again. The “adventure” is worth it overall (and we can say we did it and survived). The first and last half hours make the middle hour worth it all. Before we leave, we go back into the general store. I buy a box of tissues for the car (Marian would be so proud). We slowly make our way back to our car. It’s an hour’s drive back to Nelson—and Jeff falls asleep about as soon as we get back and naps until we leave about 8:00 for our dinner reservation at the Boat Shed.
It’s semi-organized mayhem and chaos at the restaurant, a small establishment that hangs over the water. Jeff, with his good sense of direction, finds it like a shot. After about 15 minutes of standing around, a waitress takes us upstairs out of the din into a small room with only a few tables and a single window looking out on the water and the setting sun. A nice couple from Ottawa sitting at the table by the window lets me come over there to take some pictures. Jeff goes down to the street and shoots some wonderful shots of sunset and the moon. I know that I am not supposed to go into details about what we eat, but this rates a change. Our entrée is steamed mussels, cockles, scallops, and clams, all in the shell. We have ordered the special for the evening which is supposed to be a “gourmet size” (read that as “pretty small”) crayfish (what we would call a rock lobster, but different in taste), some prawns, and new potatoes. What we are told later by the waitress is that they took a huge crayfish out of the tank (and I mean huge) and gave us each half. Besides more crayfish than you can imagine, there are four or five huge prawns. We have our bottle of sauv blanc (a local Nelson vineyard) and dig in and dig in and dig in and… It’s almost too much to eat. The tail meat is more than I have ever seen and there is tons of meat in legs, claw, body. The taste is somewhere between lobster and Dungeness crab. Andy would be in hog heaven eating this. Of course we have to have a rich dessert to cut the richness of the crayfish…and a short black.
At near 11:00, we make our way back to California House. I fall into instant coma (and Jeff tells me that I was sawing logs big time). He stays up and downloads his pictures from the day (I have downloaded mine when he napped earlier). The bed is wonderful. We get a good night’s sleep. And we are glad we don’t have another hike tomorrow!
February 16, 2005—Your Blowhole, Buddy or Oh, Sea Can’t You See or Don’t Get Punakaiki with Me or Coffees in Berlins: Janice, who, along with her husband, Ray, are our hosts at California House, has a plethora of information to share both in writing and orally. A book in our room gives three pages of family history, all about the various delicacies for breakfast, what toiletries they offer and where to buy them, etc. A book in the hall has all their restaurant recommendations in sections (e.g., ethnic, waterfront, bar) and most of their menus. When we arrived yesterday and during and after breakfast today, she is a little dynamo of energy with lots of things to talk about. Last night they went to a crepe party at her Alliance Frances. That was after she had run several miles and biked 30 miles—she is in training for a triathlon. They also grow their own fruits and veges and make their own jam and …
Other stuff: This is a big apple area with orchards all around. Also some good local wines. We had one last night. Nelson is surrounded by mud flats that are covered by water at high tide. On our way to Abel Tasman yesterday, we saw some areas where people had spelled out names, graphics, or messages (sort of natural graffiti) in rocks (love notes, “next year in Jerusalem,” a very large snail). Even when the water came in (it was up on our way back), you could read the messages. There is a prevalence of American pop music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s on the radio and played in restaurants.
We have breakfast at 8:00. All the guests in the inn are there and Janice has lots to tell us all. We talk to a couple from The Netherlands, a woman who works in corporate communications in Atlanta. We give the woman ideas of what to do in Rotorua. Later, Janice thanks us for being so enthusiastic about all there is to do in Rotorua since some of her guests are blasé about it or say there is nothing to do. Rotorua is the place we walked down Waimangu Volcanic Valley, did our crater walk on Tarawera, and went to the Maori ceremony and feast. Nothing to do?
Luckily, our hosts have a DSL line in the inn and it’s available for us to use. We have to be off by 11:00 since Janice has a piano lesson to give (think this person is active?). So we spend about an hour and a half uploading pictures and trip diaries and dealing with email. At about 11:00 we load up our car and head into the center of Nelson. We park and start our walking tour at the Anglican Cathedral. It’s a beautiful place with a very nice rose stained glass window in the transept. The organ pipes are suspended above the floor and their housing is made of rimu wood.
From here we walk around and visit various galleries and jewelers. We go to Jens Hansen Gold and Silversmiths, the firm that fashioned The One Ring that Frodo deals with in the LOTR movies. It is available in various forms: silver, various purities of gold, and platinum. Gold starts at NZ$495. It’s really a simple ring with nothing on it, as appropriate to Tolkien’s descriptions. From here, we go to a gallery that has glass—wonderful stuff. And to another glass gallery in a nearby hotel where a Swedish style glass is displayed. There are fiber galleries, ceramics, etc. We walk around for about an hour and a half. We find a nice place for lunch near the car park.
Around 1:00 we head south and west toward the west coast and Punakaiki. It’s a four-and-a-half hour drive. Much of the trip is along and between ever higher mountains. Some of the mountains remind me of the White and Green Mountains in NH and VT. Some are quite different in how the ridges run and what the tops look like. Most are covered with planted pine forests—part of the big timber business here. Some of the road is fairly straight, and some of it is twisty and winding. There are few passing lanes (less on the South Island than the North Island). Lots of one-lane bridges with indicators which direction has right of way.
The last hour is tough. We are tired and stop at a small mining town, Berlins, for a long black and some pastry at a roadside café. And it’s raining. The clouds hang over and down the sides of the mountains. Everything is shrouded in mist and fog. The rain continues and gets worse and worse as we clear out of the mountains and get to the coast. Driving is tough due to the twists and turns and now the rain as well.
We pull into Punakaiki hoping to see the famous pancake rocks and blowholes. We see furious surf, but not much else due to the heavy rain. Hmmm. Wonder if we are not supposed to be on seacoasts here (remember Cape Reinga?) When I register, I am told that our room is on the other side of the highway (Hwy. 6 all the way from Nelson). We can park only on the side of reception. So we park, use a tunnel under the road, and get to our room with everything a bit soggy. It’s a nice room with a nice view, we think, if it were not raining.
Dinner tonight is at the hotel’s restaurant (there is about nothing in this blip on the road—not even a gas station). Our dinners exceed our expectations and are quite lovely. The horizon is gray as we gaze through the windows. No sunset. Just gloomy skies.
February 17, 2005—Punakaiki Rocks…Not or Rolling with the Panchos or Foxy Love or in the Winter Olympics, It’s Deluge: Toilet seats here are thin plastic so you move around a bit while you sit. Bathrooms in B&Bs and inns all seem to have floor drains. When you are on the road and someone wants to signal you that it’s okay to pass, they turn on their left blinker. Eggs are kept in cupboards and not in refrigerators. We use the Kruse GPS system less and less as the days go by. And when the narrator tells a story that involves, say, shooting a dog or killing people, there are sound effects that are too graphic.
I get up before 7:00. We go over to breakfast around 8:00. It’s raining. It’s been raining all night. We put our luggage in the car before eating so we will save another round trip through the tunnel under the highway in the rain to retrieve our stuff. Bread seems an interesting premium here. If it’s not mentioned in the breakfast dish, you don’t get any. I have an omelet with hash browns. No toast or bread. And the omelet is big enough to feed two.
This area is well known for the rocks that are along the coast—pancake rocks with interesting thin layers. And there are blowholes as well around these special rocks. They are located only about 1 km from the hotel. Breakfast over, we decide that the rain is at an acceptable level and we will visit the famous rocks. We park the car and walk out to the viewing areas. It’s raining. We see one view and move to the next. It’s raining harder. We move to the next and it’s a deluge. We are soaked even though we have on our rain gear. By the time we get back to the car, we are miserable. Both of us have screaming shins on the forced march back to the car. Neither of us is a happy camper. Are we cursed being on the coast?
Yesterday’s drive was 270 km and today’s is 240. Part of it is straight and part is twisting around mountain edges. And there are interesting one-lane bridges, some of which are shared with railroad tracks. We even have some areas where the road is flooded by the rain. When we cross bridges, we see torrents coming downstream, streams over their banks. And it rains and rains. I mutter and sigh under my breath. Jeff sleeps whenever he can. We struggle southward. Before we left Punakaiki Rocks Hotel, I called the tour guides in Fox Glacier to ask if trips were going out today (all trips were cancelled yesterday). I am told that the decision about our 1:30 trip will not be made until 1:00, but the morning trip has been cancelled. As we head south in the rain, I am convinced that our trip will be for naught with all washed out.
It takes three and a half hours to get from Punakaiki to Fox Glacier and the last 20 km or so is the worst with hairpin turns and narrow roads. It gets sunny—we are thrilled. We pull into Fox Glacier about 12:30 and go to the office of the tour company. We are told that there will be no glacier walk today. Seems as if all the rain over the last day has caused an avalanche of rocks onto the glacier and it’s really unsafe to go on the ice. So we opt for the three-hour eco-tour that really covers about all the area that would have been on the half-day walk, except no glacier walking.
We eat lunch and wait for our tour to start. This is one heck of a trip and not to be missed. They issue us mountain boots, thick socks, and rain jackets (if you don’t have your own). We board a bus (18 in all plus two guides) and drive up to the car park below the glacier. From the car park, it’s about a half-hour walk up to the base of the glacier. My calves have about given up. I lag. I am pooped. I wonder if I can do all of this. Then we separate from the unescorted hordes and start up a steep set of steps to above the glacier. Each step is 12-18 inches high. The steps are combination of big rocks with some boards to hold them from falling. I follow right behind Gill, one of the guides, and have absolutely no trouble. Different muscles, I guess. We climb for 45 minutes. We go through a rain forest and then up along the rocks over the glacier. We go over some plank bridges—one foot in front of the other. At one point, we climb an aluminum ladder and then go along a path that has a 50 meter drop on one side. We hold onto a chain that is attached to the rocks on the other side, never letting it go, hand over hand, as we go up more steep steps, along an edge, and the down steps, and then up some more.
Finally, we are at a vantage point over the glacier. The ice is a remarkable color of blue—specific refraction of light. All of this is well worth the climb. We can also see people from the tour company working on reestablishing a path and chains and ice steps on the glacier in the area where there was a rock slide. We take lots of pictures. The downward journey is over a jumble of rocks (no steps like the upward climb). We are really high up. People down at the edge of the glacier (called the terminus) seem the size of ants. We wend our way downwards. When we get to the terminus, we look at the tunnel of ice where the glacier meets a fast flowing stream of melt. This is one of the few glaciers in the world, along with it’s cousin the Franz Joseph about 20 km away, where the glacier is growing rather than receding. As we stand near the terminus, a huge piece of ice crashes down inside the ice tunnel and pieces of it, the size of huge boulders, come floating by. The walk back to the car park is rocky and steep at times. Lots of tourists come down to where we are and we are amazed to see the kinds of footwear they have on, especially the women. There are floppy sandals, very nice sling back heels. And the folks stumble around on them damaging feet and shoes. Speaking of walking, both of us have a blister on our right big toe from the last half hour going downhill to the car park to get the bus—our special mountain socks rub us the wrong way just when we are finishing. We return to the bus and then back into town.
The B&B, Misty Peaks Boutique Accommodation, is a few blocks from where the tour headquarters are. We drive over, meet our hosts Dave and Lea, and move into our wonderful and huge room right off the living room. The room is really the master bedroom where our hosts live in the winter, but rent out in the summer. The place holds 10 altogether and I think we have the biggest quarters. There is a couple from Wisconsin (the wife loves visiting Branson), two couples from Germany, and a couple from the UK (somewhere near Portsmouth and they had a cottage on the Isle of Wight). The hosts serve complementary wine and cheeses at 6:30. There is a menu to choose from (and a nice wine list). Jeff and I split a whitebait fixed in eggs. We each have a rack of lamb. We split a Pavlova for dessert. Also, we drink a bottle of nice pinot noir. Dinner is really excellent—restaurant quality in all respects. Imagine doing this for your guests during a whole six-month tourist season.
During dinner, we talk to the British couple. The American couple has gone out for cheeseburgers or the such. All the other eight guests are at the table. We have a lovely conversation that covers new laws outlawing hunting in the UK, train trips we have taken, their part of the UK, and they try to explain cricket to us. Even for a second it did not make sense to me.
We marvel over the fact that our hosts are really running a restaurant beside a B&B. There are about four choices for entrée and another five or six for a main course. Since the menu is dated today, they must change what the offer daily. And they cook it while we watch and serve it. Besides the main course, the offer a salad with homemade dressing and new potatoes. And they hang around to converse with the guests. All of this goes on from November pretty much through April. Lea also runs a café a few km from here.
Characters of the day: Our waitress at breakfast was so shy we thought she would melt if you asked her anything. There was a very high-maintenance woman (eastern US Jew) who needed all sorts of special attention and asked questions where we cringed.
February 18, 2005—To See What We Can See or Dinner’s deLUX or Haast a La Vista or Hawea? Just Fine, Thanks: We are sitting looking out of our balcony window at the last light over Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. It does not get fully dark here until well after 9:00 PM.
This morning we have breakfast with the other guests at Misty Peaks and a good conversation with our host, Dave. Among other things, he tells us of a good vantage point to take pictures of Mt. Tasman and the Fox Glacier (pronounced glassier here). About 10:00, we start our 350 km drive to Queenstown. We go along the coastal highway. While we are near the Tasman Sea and to the west of the Southern Alps, the mountains are thick with greenery up to their tree lines. We drive with pastures on both sides of us, but huge mountains rising up above those on our left. The road is mostly straight and we make good time. Towns are few and far between, so we judge where we want to stop for fuel, snacks, and lunch.
At Haast Village, we stop at the Fantail Café for a snack and short black. It’s jammed—probably about the only place for miles. From here, we head into the Haast Pass to go through the mountains. It’s about 30-40 km long and a gentle road winding past beautiful hardwood and pine forests, lush greenery, lakes. When we emerge on the other side, the scenery really changes. This is the leeward side of the mountain range. So, mountains on both side of the road are now barren of trees and have brown tufts of grass or no grass on them. The rain falls on the west coast and the western part of these ranges, not here.
We pass by two huge and gorgeous lakes: Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. In the town of Lake Hawea, we stop for a nice light lunch. Then we take the shortcut, but more scenic, route to Queenstown. It’s through another mountain range. About 25 km from Queenstown, we emerge onto a plateau where we can see all the way to the city. Then it’s down a set of narrow switchbacks into the valley and onward to Queenstown.
We arrive at Chalet Queenstown, a small B&B with six rooms, about 4:00 or so. We unload the car and walk downhill (and I mean DOWNhill) to the city center. Some observations: Lots of Asian tourists here (mostly Japanese) – as compared to places like Abel Tasman where there are a lot of Germans. Motorists don’t seem to care too much about pedestrians in this city even though there are strict laws about stopping for them. We see more smokers here than anywhere else. There is a huge amount of building going on here—too much and some of it looks pretty cheap. Way too much tourist activity here—it will swamp the city.
We find a bar where there is Wi-Fi and spend a couple of hours uploading pictures, trip notes, and checking email. Jeff has to contend with some bozos from Iran who hacked his web site for the second time and left nasty messages. When we are done, we walk down the street to DUX deLUX, a vegetarian/seafood restaurant, where we have a lovely dinner and bottle of wine and dessert and a short black. Then it’s UPhill at a very slow pace—my calves are still sore—and back to our room. Henry Dubinsky has left word about meeting them for dinner tomorrow night at a very nice restaurant in Arrowtown nearby. We stand on our balcony and watch the sun change the color of the clouds over the lake.
February 19, 2005—How Does Milford Sound? Doubtful or Bedeviled by the Tasman or Slings and Arrowtown: Breakfast is in a common room and is nice, but minimal compared to other places. This is a nice place, but spare in size and accoutrements compared to other B&Bs on the trip. What it lacks in facilities is made up by Murray, our host, who is engaging, informative, and has a good sense of humor. He is also quite a photographer, so we have lots of discussions about his work and ours.
We have a notice from the tour operator that is supposed to take us via airplane to Milford Sound today for a cruise on the sound—the weather at Milford Sound is poor and expected to get worse. We call at 9:00 as they ask us to do and find out the 10:00 trip (one we were to be on) is cancelled. They book us on the noon trip, but tell us it’s really doubtful.
A little after 9:00 we drive into town, park, and walk around shopping. It’s empty. Last night it was jammed to the gills with tourists. At 9:30, all the shops are open, but there are hardly any people on the streets. We go to the waterfront where there is a little market of craft goods going on. We watch a vintage coal-fired lake steamer leave for a cruise. I buy a beautiful hand-colored etching at the Bonz Gallery and have it shipped home. After walking around town some more (it’s not that big of a place), we return to the car, call the tour operator to find out that the noon trip is cancelled, and that the weather at Milford Sound is doing nothing but getting worse.
At breakfast this morning, there were two couples, one from NY and one from near Chicago. They paid absolutely no attention to us until we physically inserted ourselves into the conversation. We run into the Chicago couple a few times during the morning’s walk and they treat us like old friends. Very conversational. Perhaps they had not had enough coffee before we sat down.
We decide that we want to get massages this afternoon and go to one of the two places that our host, Murray, has recommended. The place we pick, Earth-Fit Centre, is part of an osteopath’s office and has flotation tanks as well. We make 2:30 reservations. From here we drive to the base of the Skyline Gondola. It’s a very swift and steep ride up to the top in an enclosed gondola. The view is wonderful—you can see the entire city and lots of the lake below and all the surrounding mountains. The facilities at the top are complete (very nice gift shop, sit-down restaurant, coffee shop, meeting rooms, etc.). Jeff sets up and takes 360 degree panorama of the scene. There are hordes of Chinese and Japanese tourists up here. The most common sound we hear is the beeping of digital cameras being fired. Canon here, Sony there.
After getting our fill of the view and taking a few zillion pictures, we go back downhill, get our car, and park near where we will get our massages. We go to Little India for a wonderful “light” (yeh!) lunch. Besides two nan/kulchas, we split an appetizer plate consisting of two each of the following (sorry about the details, but it was a good lunch): vege samosa, fried chickpea and onion fritter, and tandoori chicken, lamb, and lamb chop. Boy, those tandoori lamb chops were wonderful. We waddle out of the restaurant and walk a few blocks here and there a bit aimlessly. Well before we are due at the spa, we show up and relax until they are ready for us. Both of us have super massages—really deep tissue work on all our aching leg muscles. Jeff’s therapist gives him suggestions of NZ music that he must get.
When we are done, we drive back to the Chalet and do laundry—$8 a load (half for the washer and half for the dryer). We get all our loads done before we have to leave—even putting one set of my stuff on the outside line to dry. Murray takes it in while we are away since it started to sprinkle.
At about 6:00 we drive over to Arrowtown, an old gold mining area, about 20 km from here. We meet the Dubinskys, Scotts, and Richardsons (Dan Richardson was Russ Messing’s roommate in college) for dinner at Saffron on the tiny main street in town. We have a lovely dinner and wine and conversation. The three couples treat Jeff and me to dinner, which is really quite nice of them. They are here as part of a seminar they are going to that takes place in three places in NZ. As the light is fading from the sky, we cross over through the mountains back to Queenstown.
Arrowtown and its environs seem upscale from Queenstown. The couples we dined with are staying at the Millbrook Resort and there seem to be very nice restaurants along the way to Arrowtown and also in the tiny town—reservations a must, but you can still come in blue jeans and a t-shirt. The space between the two cities is really beautiful farm land with green mountains above. Would make a nice extension of Hacienda de la Piña.
More comments about traffic here. Drivers in Queenstown seem oblivious to both other motorists and who has the right of way and to pedestrians in general. When driving, I assume that some jerk is going to come barreling into a roundabout no matter who has the right of way. This would be like someone running a four-way stop sign in the U.S. And I nearly get mowed down when crossing a street—even though there is a strict law about turning traffic yielding to pedestrians. Glad other parts of NZ are not like this city.
February 20, 2005—White Men Can Jump or Jeep Thrills or Jostling the Elder or Simply Remarkable or He’s Got a Ticket to Ride, and I Don’t: Yes, he did it. No need hiding this until later in the story. All 134 meters down (and up and down and up and …). But that comes later. We are picked up at 8:30 by Nomad Safaris for their morning LOTR tour. It’s a Land Rover with six tourists and a driver. There is a woman from the Berkshires (who teaches psychology), a young Swedish couple (psychologists), and a woman from the UK who was always too cold even when it wasn’t.
It’s about a four-hour trip that includes regular paved roads and one-lane steep ones as well as driving through rivers. We start out going up part of the road to the ski area on the Remarkables (a set of mountains with spiny ridges at the top that are aligned north to south). We get a good view of the city, Arrowtown, the airport, and Deer Park Heights, where many LOTR scenes were filmed. Then it’s down past the A. J. Hackett bridge jump site (the original bungy jump site) to a ravine where the Pillars of the Argonath were shot (first movie). From there it’s along past some wineries and over to Arrowtown. Lots of gold mining in this area and our guide, Deano, gives us the full history. The next part of the journey is crashing upstream on the Shotover River—in and out of the water, over rocks, over what can only be laughingly called a known track. We stop for tea along the river near where the Ford of Bruinen was filmed (Arwen and Frodo escape the Ringwraiths in the first movie).
After a potty stop in Arrowtown, we are off up the road to Coronet Peak. It’s about here that I was getting to feel a bit queasy. Jeff and I are sitting in the jump seats in the back—sideways. While we have more room than the others, it is a rougher ride. The first part is paved switchbacks. Then we are on a rock road—one lane. We wind up and over the saddle and look out over Skippers Canyon—completely different landscape altogether. I am really glad when we stop to take pictures at Lighthouse Rock.
Then it’s back up the Skippers Canyon road and down from the peak to a lookout over the entire area where we could see the entire route of the morning. Then onto the main road back to Queenstown. We are dropped at our B&B. We got into our car and drove into town. First stop is the Shotover Jet office. We are supposed to take the 2:00 jet boat ride on the Shotover River. We decide to cancel for two reasons: (1) our stomachs are not up to doing 360s at high speed on a river, and, more importantly (2) Jeff is going to do THE bungy jump. We book it for 3:30 (one jumper and one spectator) and go to have lunch. On the way, I buy a fleece jacket from Nomad Safaris with their LOTR logo on it for dear Sylvia to sew my cloth patches on from the trip.
After lunch, we go back to the Chalet and download pix from this morning. Then it’s time to head back into town to check in for the bungy jump. And now, here is the voice of Jeffrey Hirsch to tell of his adventure:
At 3:30 we check in for the Nevis Highwire jump. At 134 meters, it is the highest land based jump in NZ. (More on Nevis in a moment…) I am weighed so they can calculate proper settings for the bungy cord, and then we wait with the other jumpers and spectators to take a bus ride out to the site. I am excited, only slightly nervous, and full of great anticipation. There are a number of other first time jumpers, and several folks comment on their amazement that we would go for THE BIG ONE for our first jump. (Hey, if I’m gonna do this thing, I’m gonna do it full-on.)
The bus ride out to the Nevis River Canyon is about forty minutes and the driver is playing U2’s “Achtung Baby” at high volume on the bus stereo. Good music to get psyched up for the plunge. Our group consists of people from Israel, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Germany, and the U.S. We reach Nevis and immediately get strapped into harnesses (spectators and jumpers alike.) We are then given more detailed instructions about the jumping process. What to do, and when…
A description of the site is called for at this point. The Nevis Highwire Jump is taken from a platform on a big metal pod hanging out in space, suspended on high tension wires across a very high canyon. (Looks like a very large gondola or crane platform.) A smaller gondola ferries us out across the wire to the pod where the jump platform is located. We are clipped on to a safety line in the gondola for the ride out. Dad comes along out to the pod so he can watch and take pictures of the flying leap his son is about to take.
Our jump order is determined by weight. They start with the heaviest and work down to the lightest, adjusting the cords for each jumper. A few jumpers go before me, and then it’s my turn. (Gotta cut back on the wine and desserts!) When we get out to the pod, cuffs are strapped tightly around my ankles and I am moved into position to get hooked up to the bungy cord. At this point, I have to remove my glasses for fear they will be lost during the jump. Everything is a blur! I sit in a chair next to the jump platform while the operator straps me to the bungy cord and gives me last minute instructions. The most important thing, he tells me, is to dive out as far forward as I can – like a swimmer’s racing dive. This insures I will have a smooth ride and minimizes the chance of hitting the cord at all during my descent. I smile for the camera mounted above my head and then it’s time to creep out on to the dive platform. My ankles are bound together by the cuffs, so it’s baby steps to walk out on the ledge. I have been told to focus on a tree straight out in the distance and not look down. Without my glasses, I find it hard to focus on anything, but I do keep looking forward as instructed. I creep ever so slowly toward the very edge, and before I know it, the operator is counting down 3...2...1…BUNGY!
I bend my knees and leap out into empty space doing the best swan dive I can manage. The rush is incredible and I am plummeting straight down through the canyon toward the river below and screaming with sheer joy. (You can hear me screaming on the DVD of my jump!) It’s a blast and I drop like a rock, enjoying every second of the plunge. The speed at which I fall really amazes me. A few seconds of free-fall and then I reach the bottom of the bungy length and begin my first bounce back up. It is far gentler than I had imagined when I spring back. What a pleasant surprise! Each time I bounce back up, there is a brief moment of weightlessness. It is heavenly. On the second bounce up, I have been instructed to pull a release cord near my left knee that will unhook my ankles and turn me upright to be hauled back up. (It’s best not to be dragged upside-down back up to the platform. Not very dignified as a previous jumper demonstrates.) I manage to find the cord and pull it as I am at the top of the arc on my second bounce. I am now hanging upright by my harness – fastened at my midsection – and take the opportunity to lay back flat on my back and enjoy the view from the end of the cord. I arch my back to look down at the canyon below. It’s quite a vantage point. A couple of more bounces and I am high enough for the power winch to kick in and I am hauled back up to the platform on the pod.
The operator pulls me back in to safety and asks how it was. “I’m ready to go again!” I say. He laughs, tells me I’m mad, and the other operators give me kudos for doing a good job and following their instructions. (Proper form on my swan dive, pulling the release at the right time, etc.) They unhook me from the rig and I put my glasses back on to take a look at the pictures dad has taken from his vantage point in the jumping pod. My favorite is the one just as I am jumping, knees bent ready to dive. I can’t believe how quickly it all goes. About two minutes from being corded-up to being unhooked at the end.
I have a smile a mile wide and it doesn’t leave my face for quite some time. We ride the gondola back to the top of the canyon and go inside the base where they have already finished burning a DVD of my jump. We watch the jump on one of several monitors and I get a repeat rush as I see myself making the leap in instant replay. Holy smokes! Did I just do that? We also get a look at three still photos that were taken. We will pick those up in town tomorrow. I am handed a certificate for having completed the jump and we watch videos of the other jumpers in our group. I talk animatedly with them about each of their jumps and laugh at the great pictures. All of the jumpers are ecstatic and full of adrenaline. We are PUMPED!
A few minutes later, we all pile back into the bus and head back down the steep road toward Queenstown. 40 minutes pass and we are back in town – happy and full of energy.
The folks at AJ Hackett (the bungy operators) are incredibly professional, and at no time do I have any worries about my safety. The gear and instructions are top notch. They are world-class bungy experts and have been doing it longer than anybody else in the world. (Hackett is credited with inventing the sport, and earlier in the day on our Rings safari we passed by the bridge where his original jump site is still in operation.)
I am so glad I decided to make the jump. It was thrilling beyond belief, and I would have surely regretted it if I had not. I’m sure I will be replaying it over and over in my mind for weeks to come as well as repeatedly watching the DVD of the jump. (Screenings available for anybody interested when we get home from NZ.)
We now return you to your regularly scheduled trip diary. Take it away, Maurice…
We walk from the bus down to the waterfront and try to get into one restaurant (I’m sorry. We’re fully booked) and go to another close by—19th. We have a really lovely dinner (mussels, salmon, lamb, dessert, Chard Farm pinot noir, and …). Jeff tells me that he both likes my neutrality about his decision to jump and that it is also a bit unnerving. Not sharing my reactions with him (do it, don’t do it, should, shouldn’t, sounds wonderful, sounds crazy) both keeps the decision all his (no opinions, no pressure), but he wonders what I think. I tell him that I am glad he did it, that if he had not, he would have second-guessed himself for a long time, but it was entirely his decision to go or not go and I would have supported either.
We walk back to our car, drive to the Chalet, download my pictures of the event and watch the CD footage a couple of times. As with Jeff, I never had any qualms about the jump. I marveled at the experience and had absolutely no desire to do it myself. And tomorrow we again test our Tasman luck.
We talk about how we really like the place we are staying. While it’s more spare than other places, we meet really nice people from all over and Murray, our host (who bought this place about a year ago) is congenial and very helpful.
February 21, 2005—Milford Sound’s Great or If At First You Don’t Succeed or Back to Nature or Bell Bird and Candle or And Don’t Skimp on the Pate: We are picked up at 8:00 by a guy right out of central casting: about my age, safari shirt and hat, green fleece vest, wise and wizened face. It’s Richard Bryant of Guided Walks New Zealand for a lakeshore, forest, and birds hike. When we get into the nice new 4WD van and he starts talking (telling us stuff we have already heard a few times), individually we mentally roll our eyes in our head—is this going to be a really boring time?
We are pleasantly surprised that we have a wonderful time. He is knowledgeable, a good photographer, and shares his own story with us. We drive about 15 km up the road by Lake Wakatipu toward Glenorchy and park. He leads us down from the road to an old bridle path along the lake. This was the way that people traveled before the road was built. It’s overgrown and one could not ride a horse here anymore (you would get knocked out of the saddle by tree limbs across the track), but it still has vestiges of the old days including old metal telephone poles with a single wire attached.
The area we start off with is underbrush between the road and the lake. He shows us different native and exotic bush and we see and hear lots of bell birds. From here the path leads into a forest section with beech, eucalyptus, and other stuff. Then we get into another area where it is thinner and there are manuka, wine berries, etc. Also saw wild herbs. The walk is quiet except for the airplanes overhead all headed for Milford Sound. More on that later. So, we wind our way around the lake and a cove (Bob’s Cove) and then out onto a peninsula and up and up to a lookout over the lake. I am huffing by the time we reach the top. Time now to sit down on a rock and have some tea and a biscuit—and to discuss digital photography (he is a good photographer), the fact that his great grandfather settled in Queenstown in the 1800s, had a hotel, did tour guiding, some discussion of his three children (all a couple of years younger than ours) and the six, almost seven, grandchildren. Jeff and I stay at the top while he goes back to get on a bike he has hidden along the road, ride to where the van is, and then bring the van back to a car park about a 15-minute walk away to pick us up. On the way back to town, he shows us some of his excellent photos and gives us a tip of where to get some good pictures on a side road coming down from Mt. Cook. He drops us off at the Chalet around noon.
Jeff and I get into our car and drive into town. He picks up his pictures from the bungy jump and grabs some sandwiches for us. We go back to the Chalet and eat our lunch. Yesterday I had called the tour operator for the fly/cruise/fly to Milford Sound and booked us on the 2:00 flight. I call them at 1:00 today to reconfirm that the tour is going. I knew it was since there have been flights all morning from the local airport toward Milford Sound. We are told we will be picked up at 1:20. Sure enough, a Queenstown Taxi pulls up then. We go and pick up two couples from another hotel (both from the SFO area) and head out to the airport. We check in with the tour company and then wait until about 2:00 to board. While we wait, we talk to the two couples from SFO. One of the men asks if we are brothers. Even when I tell them we are father and son, I don’t think it registers how old we are. They are just starting their trip and going from south to north. We tell them about places to go and places to eat. One of the women takes careful notes in a spiral notepad.
All of us are divided into groups of four or five. We are in a group of five that gets into a Cessna 207 single-engine aircraft. The day has been busy—this is the pilot’s fourth trip today. He is a good pilot, young, and full of energy and good cheer.
If you are going to Milford Sound, doing the fly/cruise/fly option is THE only way to do it. We fly both ways in sunny, clear skies at about 6-7,000 feet. The mountains are all around us with peaks below, beside, and above us as we fly. We go over entire ranges of mountains, see glaciers with melt lakes that one could not see if not in the air, parts of the Milford Track, the biggest waterfall in NZ, and one of the largest lakes. In the distance are Mt. Aspiring and a number of other individual mountains and ranges. It’s breathtaking. Jeff sits by the pilot on the way up and by me on the way back. The pilot gives us a running commentary on what we are seeing (we are wearing headphones). We find out that this is an exceptional day for weather. Usually they cannot fly this low due to terrible wind—we have a really smooth flight both ways. We both smile at each other—glad we waited for the right day to go.
In about 40 minutes, we land at Milford Sound. We bank around the valley between the mountains behind the airstrip and land. There have to be 15-20 single- and twin-engine planes on the ground. We get into a shuttle bus and in less than five minutes we are at the boat terminal. Our pilot gets us our tickets and we get on a very large boat for the hour plus tour of the sound. One other large boat leaves just before we do and there is another one already out in the sound.
Milford Sound is magical. The formations that rise out of the water are like you see in fantasy drawings or the idyllic Bali-Hi. Jeff and I climb to the top deck and go right to the bow. Everyone else on the deck is sitting. We want to take pictures. No sitting for us. As the boat turns around and heads into the sound, we are buffeted by the wind. It’s almost too loud for us to hear any conversation (or what the boat’s crew is saying about what we are seeing). The whole way out to the head of the sound, where it joins the Tasman Sea, we stand in the wind and take pictures. I think Jeff takes over 200 and I take about 150 of stuff during the flights and on the water.
There are waterfalls (lots of them and huge ones), snow capped peaks, conical islands rising out of the sound, straight cliffs going up hundreds of feet. Even fur seals basking in the sun. The sound is pretty wide and we go down one side going out and the other coming back. The captain stops by one of the huge waterfalls for us to take pictures. A rainbow forms in front of the bow from the waterfall’s spray. There is no wind in our face on the way back—it’s behind us. So, we can hear each other talk and it’s pretty quiet overall. As we get near port, we bump into a woman who was on our Safari of the Rings tour yesterday. She tells us that she took the afternoon tour towards Glenorchy and it was long (over 200 km) and boring. Good to know. Glad we didn’t go.
When we get back on the dock, the hordes on the boat disembark. Those of us on our plane all find each other and take the shuttle back to the airport where we meet our pilot for the 40-minute flight back to Queenstown. Again, the flight is wonderful and it’s a way to see the breadth and depth of the mountain ranges from a quite different perspective than one usually has.
We get back to Queenstown and our hotel about 6:15. The airport is closed when we arrive, but there are taxis waiting for all of us. We drop our stuff, get the laptop, and head into town. We find a parking spot in the center of town (usually we have parked on the edge in a big lot). We go to Brazz for dinner (duck pate, venison, porcini risotto, Waimaru Valley sauv blanc, and for both of us …). We then go to an Internet café where we plug into the web and upload stuff through yesterday and check our email. It takes a bit over an hour and a half. Then it’s back to our B&B to download the zillion pictures and videos we took today.
We discussed our impression of Queenstown today. The place is sort of like Aspen—busy, full of lots of young people doing all sorts of things, too much traffic, too much building. In many ways, our first thoughts were a bit like those about Chalet Queenstown—we had been in much more intimate places with fewer tourists and had stayed in people’s houses. This is the tourist center of NZ. It grows on you. And as soon as you leave the immediate environs of the city, you are out in the countryside.
The morning sport around here is watching the tour buses leave. If you stand on our balcony, you can count dozens and dozens. Lots of people come in only for one night. We certainly don’t see the point of that since there is so much to do here as our stay attests.
What not to bring to NZ next time: dress shoes, dark socks, khaki pants—never wore them anywhere. What to bring next time: third pair of jeans, chamois or other sports towel. Our gear (rain, cold) was great. Jeff had not brought a hat with a brim, but needed to get one. We bought a day pack here, too.
February 22, 2005—Aoraki Mountain High or Breakfast of Epiphanies or He’s Just Pining for the Fjords or Jimmy Buffeted: We drive about 200 km today to get to Twizel and another 150 touring around the area. Normal breakfast at Chalet Queenstown, say goodbye to Murray and Sebastian (the wonderful white cat that follows us around the place), load up, and are on our way near 10:00.
Musings: Most of the waiters and waitresses wear long black aprons here—everywhere. I don’t seem to remember most of the names of lakes or mountains or towns (which are mostly Maori names) and substitute ones I know from the US—Wanaka becomes Winnetka, for example. Richard, our guide from yesterday, used a small piece of foam packing peanut, which he wetted in his mouth and rubbed across the edge of a glass jar to use as a bird call. Deano, our LOTR 4WD guide, after asking where everyone was from said: “My name is Deano. I’m a recovering xenophobic.” There is a significant highway safety campaign going on here. Before a sharp turn, there is a sign SLOW DOWN NOW. There are billboards along the way with messages like To: Morgue, From: Speeding; visuals like showing the clutch, brake pedal, and a casket where the accelerator should be. The number of visitors to Milford Sound is about 500,000 a year with up to 2,500 a day. The boats go out rain or shine. Most people come by coach (290 km from Q’town—over four hours each way). Planes were not flying again today due to fog at the Milford Sound landing strip. So we were lucky yesterday. Lots of interesting fences around here. One was adorned with bras. There was another one made of bicycles. Also, stone cairns seem to crop up for no apparent reason. And when we are driving right after breakfast or lunch, Jeff naps.
As with other drives, the scenery changes about every half hour. We go out of Q’town on 6 and join 8 in Cromwell. Leaving Q’town, we go through a green gorge, by wineries, by the bridge bungy site, and by the entrance to the Nevis bungy site. We enter the Otago wine district which extends to the coast, I think. Much of this part of the drive is through flat country that is pretty dry. The surrounding mountains are just as dry and covered with brown grasses. We do not see any sheep in these areas although the land seems fenced. It’s just flat around here—and we are driving to see the highest mountain in the country.
As we approach Twizel, the town where we are staying, it’s just flat (like eastern Colorado), but you can see the mountains which are about 50 km away. We check into the MacKenkie Country Inn, sort of an upscale multi-story motel and conference center. Not much in Twizel at all. We go into town and have fish and chips for lunch.
After lunch, we drive the 60 plus km to the town of Mt. Cook, which is at the base of the mountain and the whole range. When we were on the west coast at Fox Glacier, we were on the west side of all these mountains. The Southern Alps have more mountains and area than all the Alps of Switzerland, Austria, and France combined. We pull over at Lake Pukaki to take pictures of the lake and mountains in the background. Know the color our pool used to have and the chalky substance that used to come off it? That’s the color of the lake—the same cloudy green. Then we continue down the road, which is almost straight as an arrow, to the town of Mt. Cook.
These mountains rise right off the flat plain. It’s pretty weird altogether. As we drive nearer, we see Huddleston Glacier above us. Then we can see Mt. Cook (Aoraki) and the mountains around it. It’s all pretty spectacular (but, what isn’t here?). We drive into the village of Mt. Cook and up to the Hermitage Hotel. Its rooms have a direct view of the mountains. We were supposed to have been here, but a screw up by the U.S. travel wholesaler made us lose our reservations. Thus, we are in Twizel 60 km away. Ah, well. So be it.
We visit the information center and find out that our tour tomorrow morning sounds quite exciting. Then we drive up the Tasman Valley road (rock, narrow) for about 10 km to its end and then back a way to take pictures and set up a panorama shot for Jeff. The valley is really wide and flat. The mountains surround its sides. You can see part of the Tasman Glacier and Mt. Tasman. Remember that we could see some of Mt. Tasman from the Fox Glacier side of these mountains. Then it’s down the Hooker Valley road for views and pix. Around 4:00, we head back to Twizel, about 45 minutes away.
When we checked in, I was handed the menu for tonight (ala carte and the buffet). It all looked good on paper. We made a reservation. This place is a tour stop. So, lots of the tables are big and full of all the folks who got off buses and are staying here. The buffet was fair, at best. And the wine we chose was no better. We are definitely spoiled. Here we are in the first of our last two stops—hotels rather than the B&Bs or inns we have been in—in the middle of absobloominglutely nowhere—so, what should we expect? We do decide not to eat here tomorrow night. When the restaurant manager asks if we are having breakfast with them in the morning, I almost tell him no. It’s a buffet.
February 23, 2005—Sweet Moraine or The Iceberg Cometh or Basal Faulty or The Moraine Rain Drains Mainly on the Plain or Glentanner `88: We have run out of superlatives. What can you say about a day when you are in a boat on a glacier lake with icebergs floating by and later fly by helicopter and land in the snow on top a mountain at Richardson Glacier? Another low-key, laid-back day, I guess.
We have the breakfast buffet at the hotel. Luckily the big tour groups have already left so we have the huge dining room mostly to ourselves. The meal is fine. At 8:45 we are on the road for the 45-minute drive to the village at Mt. Cook. We arrive, buy some water, and, right at 10:00, board a bus for our Glacier Explorer trip. There are a total of 12 people plus two guides. Ben, our guide, drives us about 15 minutes up Tasman Valley to the end of the road. We had driven here yesterday when we explored the area. The other guide took a four wheeler in with gas for the boats.
Now is a good time to explain a little about the area. The Tasman Glacier extends down from Mt. Tasman. About 16,000 years ago, it extended all the way to Twizel (where our hotel is) about 70 km away. As it retreated, it first left Lake Pukaki (that I talked about in yesterday’s notes). As a glacier advances, it pushes rocks (called the moraine) in front of it. It scours the land as it moves. So, moraine builds up on both sides of the glacier and in front of it. In fact, the valley floor has filled up 400-500 meters from moraine from the glacier. Thus, the big flat expanse we now see was once a very deep valley. (To give you an idea of how deep some of the places are around here, Lake Wakatipu (the one by Queenstown) is 1,200 feet deep.) And all the walls of the valley were formed by moraine being pushed up by the glacier all those years ago. Mountains and valleys are the result of the movement of tectonic plates and glaciers.
About 25 years ago, when the glacier receded, it had left behind enough of a moraine wall on three sides that the melt from the glacier formed a lake—Lake Tasman. The lake grows daily as the glacier continues to retreat up the mountain. With all this as background (and my head is swimming with all the facts we are told), let’s talk about the trip today.
We get out of the bus and walk about 25 minutes from the car park near the camping grounds up to the edge of Lake Tasman. We divide into two groups with six each getting into yellow plastic boats (after we have been given a safety lecture, donned life jackets, and signed a waiver). We motor out into the lake. All around us are icebergs—flakes of ice that have split off from the glacier. In fresh water, only 10 percent of the iceberg is above water with the rest hidden. Icebergs that have been exposed for awhile are opaque, dirty, and have lots of moraine on their tops (as ice has melted around it).
We stop by some of the icebergs and Ben chips off pieces. The ice is huge crystals that have been formed by the pressure of the glacier. They are so strong, that they can bend and not break as the glacier moves. Ice that has not been exposed to air (called basal ice) is as clear as glass. Some of it is floating on the surface and Ben brings it into the boat. It is amazing with small bits of rock and moraine dust encapsulated within. This is pure water—the ice that is at the bottom of the glacier comes from snow that fell 500 years ago (before the Industrial Revolution). It’s beautiful, like an abstract piece of glass or crystal.
We motor around the lake and approach bigger icebergs. The guides come out and grade the icebergs daily to see which ones seem too dangerous to get too close to. If a big flake breaks off the glacier, you don’t want to be anywhere near it as it causes a wave about a meter high or more. Ben shows us crevasses where the glacier face has cracked and where, as time goes on, the lake is expanding.
We motor up to the edge of the glacier and into one of the bigger crevasses. The whole lower third of the glacier above ground is covered by about 3-4 feet of moraine. And when we are in a crevasse, there is 300 feet of glacier beneath us. Along the edge of the glacier and on all the icebergs, there is a thermal notch. The water at the surface is about 35F, but just a few feet below is barely above freezing. So the surface water notches the ice (remember that only 10 percent of the iceberg is above water). As the notch grows, a bigger and bigger overhang (shelf) of ice forms which eventually falls of its own weight.
All around us are the mountains. At this point, it’s only 30 km to the west coast where we were at Fox Glacier. If you could get high enough right here, you could see the neve (bowl where snow falls and collects over time so the glacier is continually generated and moves downhill every minute) of the Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers and could see the beaches on the west coast. When we flew from Q’town to Milford Sound, it was about 80 km across the mountains down there. Above us is Mt. Cook, Mt. Tasman, and Mt. Sefton. All are snow covered. We can see bits of several glaciers as we motor along on the lake.
After over an hour on the lake, we motor back to the jetty, walk back to the car park, and make a much-needed stop at the public toilets. When we are dropped off at the Hermitage Hotel (where we were picked up), we get in our car and drive 15 minutes (at 100 kph) to Glentanner, the base of operations for The Helicopter Line. We grab lunch at the little café there. Imagine going into a small café and finding a delicious pre-made sandwich consisting of smoked chicken, cranberry sauce, brie, and lettuce on wheat bread and someone who knows how to make a good cappuccino. Well, that’s what we found and it’s pretty common in NZ.
At 2:00 we depart on a half-hour helicopter tour. The route we take is up from Glentanner and a landing on the snow of Richardson Glacier high in the Ben Ohau mountains. We walk around in the snow, climb rocks, look at mountain peaks right at our level, take pictures, and marvel at being here at this remote location. Back in the air, we get a view of Mt. Cook Village, fly by Mt. Brown, and get a lovely aerial view of Lake Pukaki as we head back to Glentanner (which sits right beside the lake). Not bad and it’s only 2:45. Satiated for the moment, we drive back to Twizel and the hotel.
About 6:00 we go out to “town” to Shawty’s pizza restaurant. Jeff gets this recommendation from a waiter there when we fill up on gas upon returning from Mt. Cook earlier. We have two lovely pizzas (roast lamb and mixed seafood) and beer.
End of day brain drains: Jeff and I have had dinner each night in a different way than I usually travel. Instead of making reservations (which we only had to do a couple of times), we just look at menus posted on the street and pick a restaurant. Almost all of the time we can get in without a reservation. Around here in the Twizel and Mt. Cook area, the ground is so porous from all the accumulation of fine dust and bigger stuff (moraine) that rain just goes right into the ground never puddling. We have a sprinkler running outside our hotel window that goes 24 hours a day due to this problem.
February 24, 2005—Fairlie Obvious or Two Moules for Sister Sarah or Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore (dum, dum, de, dum): Both us went to bed early last night, so are up early today. We go down to the buffet breakfast. The crew in the dining room is recovering from the occupants of three tour buses that just finished breakfast and have departed. We are the only ones in the huge dining room. When we go to get cereal and put yoghurt on it, the manager tells us they are out of it, that the tour people went through 40 litres of it this morning, and there would be no more until 10:00. We have a funny conversation with him and with a waitress about the tour people and the weird combinations they put together (chocolate cake and gravy—whoa!).
We check out and begin our 280+ km drive to Christchurch. Altogether, we have driven about 2,100 km on the South Island by the time we turn in our car in Christchurch. The beginning of the drive parallels Mt. Sefton, Cook, and the string of mountains we have been seeing over the last few days as well as Lake Pukaki. When we leave the region, we are in a very dry area with all the hills and fields straw colored. Then over another pass and we are in green fields again with row crops and sheep, alpaca, red deer, and cattle. We make our turn toward Christchurch at Fairlie.
When we join Hwy. 1, all the nice scenery stops. It’s straight as an arrow. For the first and only time in NZ, I use cruise control. There are two-lane bridges (what fun is that, I ask) and passing lanes every 4 km. And there is nothing to see on either side of the road. Just flat nothing. The last 80 km or so are worse in that we get held up by a traffic accident and again by bridge repair. And traffic picks up. About 20 km outside of the city centre of Christchurch, we are on four-lane divided highway. You don’t see four lanes anywhere except in and near the biggest cities. The road takes us though all the industrial and commercial suburbs and finally into the city centre.
It’s odd and somewhat disturbing to come out of the countryside and into a big city. Jeff and I feel closed in on and depressed by the whole city environment. We have just come from the Southern Alps and the biggest mountain in NZ. Now we are fighting traffic, going through a built up urban area.
Jeff routes us through the maze of one-way streets to get us to Cathedral Square where we arrive at Warner’s Historic Hotel on the square about 1:00. It’s a wonderful place. We get the Moore Suite (the reception person, Sue, tells us they have upgraded us) which looks out on the cathedral and the square. We are so glad we are here instead of one of the huge other hotels that loom all around us.
We put our stuff in the suite and then, following Sue’s directions, drive our rental car back to Budget and drop it off (a day early since we won’t need a car here). We walk the several blocks back and go to the hotel’s café for lunch right before 2:00. We order a kilo of mussels each as well as an order of kumara chips (fries) to share. A kilo of mussels is about 22 of the huge green lip guys and each order comes with two huge slabs of wheat bread. Woo hoo. And the kumara chips—pure heaven with sour cream that is as close to butter as anything I have seen. We finish gorging about 3:00, waddle upstairs to get the computer, and go to a place about a block away to do our uploading. Then it’s back to the room for some rest and a decision about where to dine and when. Jeff naps.
Around 7:45 or so we go downstairs and ask the woman at the front desk where to go to eat. She directs us toward the river (Avon) and “the strip.” We go down there (it’s only about three blocks or so) and look at menus to choose where to eat. We decide on The Boulevard. The manager tells us there will be a 30 minute wait because the kitchen is backed up and they don’t want to put any more orders in. But he gives us a table and we order a bottle of Bascand sauv blanc `04 and begin drinking. They give us menus in less than the 30 minutes they had said. We order a whitebait omelet to split as an entrée. It’s huge and delicious. I have lamb rump smoked in manuka and over an eggplant puree. Jeff has salmon stuffed with wild rice, macadamia nuts, and mangos with a side of potatoes. We split a pear tart tatin over gingerbread with flan and whipped cream. Naturally, I have a … We walk back to the hotel and take some pictures of the square at night. This city’s bars (like the place we ate) will go until 5:00 AM or so with nightlife. As we were finishing dessert, the staff was taking all of the tables out of the bar area for the crowd to come into the wee hours.
February 25, 2005—Dementors Locker Room or Oh, My God! They Shot Him or Rosebud or Hello Dahlia or We’ve Gotta Keep Meeting Like This: We get up around 7:30, get dressed, and go downstairs to eat breakfast in the hotel. We each order a bowl of muesli with fruit and yoghurt and an order of toast. It is an understatement that they brought enough on each order that three people could have shared one order. Four pieces of bread for the toast and a bowl big enough to float a dingy in for the muesli, fruit, and yoghurt. We finish and go to pay the bill and are hailed by the two couples from SFO we met on our Milford Sound trip. They are eating breakfast at the hotel and staying at another hotel that is nearby. We have a very friendly conversation about where each of us has been since last meeting and where they are going next. We also trade restaurant recommendations as we had the last time we saw them.
We gather our day pack and camera gear, put on sunscreen, and head west after getting some directions and a map from the visitors’ information center off the square. We cross the Avon and our first stop is the Christchurch Art Gallery. It’s really the main museum of the city even though called a gallery. The building itself is a sculpture—lots of glass at all sorts of angles—really unique. The exhibits are no less unique. On the first floor (ground is the floor where you come in), we enter a gallery space that has 20th century New Zealand art—it’s a knockout collection. It’s varied, creative, and covers a wide range of media and styles. We then go down the hall to Coming Home in the Dark. Talk about your dark side and Darth Vader or the dementors from Harry Potter that suck the life out of you. This exhibit is both wonderful but very depressing. We both want to run out into the sunshine. It’s a contrasting response to all the light and beauty of NZ—sort of the dark underbelly. There is no light without shadow. We go to a much brighter collection, Boom, one that is called Simplicity and Splendour (a history of the Arts & Crafts movement in NZ), and a couple of others. One of the things we both notice is the lighting on all the work, whether in a bright space or a dark one. The grid on each ceiling allows for many lighting instruments and pinpoint use of them. When we are through, we go outside so Jeff can take a pano of this neat building.
We continue to the west and to a group of buildings (at the old University of Canterbury) that are now the Art Centre. Within the buildings are 40 shops, studios, and workshops. There is also a theatre, a ballet venue, and places to eat. The quality of the stuff here is good. And there is a market in an outside space on Saturday and Sunday—we hope to come back on Sunday, our last day. We grab some lunch from one of the cafes.
We continue westward to the Botanic Gardens. About the first people we see are the two couples from SFO. We’re getting to be old friends. The gardens are immense and wonderful. We take hundreds of pictures each. Jeff takes panos, too. We tell each other to stop, but we keep on taking. As we are walking around, we hear the announcer for a prep school track meet that is taking place right over a wall from the gardens. We see parents and participants perched on top of the wall and all of their cheers. It’s a traditional meet with a gun shot to start each race. And the announcer is completely deadpan in everything he says—victories, who is ahead in a race, and who is disqualified each merit the same even tone.
There is a rose garden; there are hydrangeas in colors you never see; huge trees are everywhere including sequoias, Douglas fir, monster cedars; there are gigantic lawns for people to soak up the sun. And we keep taking pictures.
From here, we walk back to the central square. Jeff sets up and takes a panoramic shot of the cathedral, a huge conical sculpture, and everything going on around us. We walk inside the cathedral. You have to pay for about anything other than praying. We eschew the photography fee and, instead, pay to climb the 134 steps to the top of the bell tower. Most of the steps are on an old-fashioned stone spiral staircase. Near the top, the spiral steps turn to metal. And for two flights to the very top, they are regular steps, but very steep. The view is worth the effort and, guess what, Jeff sets up and takes a pano shot. From here we make our way down and go back to the hotel. We have to download pictures since Jeff has about used up all of a 1 Gig card.
Around 5:30 we leave to get some CDs of music from NZ that others have recommended to Jeff. Once that is done, we walk north on Colombo for about six or seven blocks and check out the menus on two restaurants, settling on The Seafood Kitchen. We split two entrees: a sashimi plate with salmon, kingfish, and waiharu and a calamari and peanut salad with cilantro. Both excellent. We have two entrees instead of splitting one given the advice we get from our waitress about our main course: a whole grilled crayfish with chips and a salad. She says we should split it instead of having one each and splitting an entrée. She is right. It’s a lovely dinner consumed along with a `02 Pegasus Hills sauv blanc/Semillon. Dessert is a warm dark chocolate pudding with berry sorbet, fresh berries, and crème anglaise. Jeff likes it so much he runs his fingers over the plate to get the very last crumbs and drops. And, of course, the two of us have a … I am sorry if there are readers who do not want this much food detail, but if the food is this good, it deserves to be described. One of the things we have noticed about all fried food here (chips, beer battered fish, etc.) is that they know how to make it really crisp but the outside is not dark brown to accomplish this. And nothing is greasy.
Tomorrow begins our last full day in NZ. We are bummed about having to leave. It continues to be an adventure for the two of us that alters our lives. We go outside and take shots of the square at night. We have taken over 5,000 photos between us so far.
February 26, 2005—The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, and King of the Hill or Sheep Date or Plains, Trains, and Automobiles or Mutton Jeff: We are up very early (6:00) since we are to be picked up at 7:40. Nothing seems to open around here for breakfast until 7:30. We settle for Starbucks across the square. I sure do not know why anyone in this country would ever buy espresso or a cappuccino at Starbucks since it really is quite inferior to about anywhere else in NZ.
We are picked up by our guide/driver, Ross, and meet our other two travelers for the day: Malcolm and Glennis from Wales. They are on a round-the-world, six-stops, month-long trip (special airfare from British Airways). They have been in Hong Kong, Sydney, and here (Christchurch) and will be going to Fiji, Honolulu, and San Francisco before returning home. Four days at each destination. Lordy. They are lovely people and we have a very pleasant day with them.
Ross drives us about 70 km on Canterbury Plain to the west. He first takes us on a nice tour of parts of the city’s residential area we have not seen. Going out onto the plain toward the mountains, we are in horse country—lots of racing around here. It’s flat as a pancake. We drive to Springfield where we wait at the station for the TranzAlpine train to come. It’s a narrow-gauge RR. We are ushered into the front of a car with a big window up there and a bay of seats that could hold 12 but the four of us have them all alone. Ross drives the van to Arthur’s Pass to meet us an hour and a half from now.
It’s a nice ride of about 80-90 km through the plains and then up through the mountains to the pass. We get commentary about what we are seeing over the loudspeaker system. The four of us take pictures, naturally. The rest of our car is filled with a Japanese tour group who sit in more usual train seats and look through the car’s side windows.
A bit before 11:00 we arrive at Arthur’s Pass and, along with all the others in our car, leave the train. I am not sure if this train continues with some passengers over to Greymouth on the west coast or what. Some of those on the train would take it back to Christchurch this afternoon at 3:30. Ross is there to meet us and we get back in the van.
We drive farther up the pass, through it, and then down the other side. It’s steep and twisty and there is a fair amount of traffic. We stop at several places to take pictures. At the bottom of the pass, we turn around and come back to the Village of Arthur’s Pass. On the way, we stop at a track that takes us to the Bealey Valley gorge. It’s a lovely 30-minute roundtrip walk through moss-covered trees and up and down some big rock steps along the way. The gorge is pretty. Jeff sets up and takes a pano from a bridge that goes over the river flowing through the gorge.
Ross takes us to the Chalet in Arthur’s Pass where we have lunch (having told him before we got on the train what to order from the choices they have). Only one detail—venison carpaccio. Very good. Then it’s back into the van. At this point we are about 160 km from Christchurch. We drive towards our date with a jet boat outside of Springfield where we started and stop at Castle Hill and other scenic spots for pictures.
We go off the main road for about 10-15 km and, at 2:30, arrive at the jet boat ramp on the Waimakariri River. We find out that the jet boat had been invented in these parts. The Japanese group (who ate at the same restaurant we did) are here, too. The 12 of them get into one boat. The four of us get our own boat with Garth as our pilot. It’s great fun and a neat way to see the river and what surrounds it. We go at 55 kph upriver and 65 downriver. When Garth twirls his index finger about his head, we brace and he does a 360. It’s a lot more gentle than I had anticipated. And running up the shallow river at high speed is great fun. It’s also a good test of the strap on my hat—it holds.
The trip is about a half an hour. When we get back, we go to a building above the river and are hosted by Trevor and Heather who own a sheep farm. Trevor has his dog, Cloud, move sheep at whistle commands. Then we go inside and Trevor gets a sheep and shears it for us. He tells us the whole process that happens after shearing the fleece all the way to the point where it’s processed into products. We partake of tea and biscuits, look at the wares they have to sell, and go back on the road. We are all tired and quiet from the day as Ross drives us back into town. One of the things I learn today is that there are suburban roads one can take into and out of town—so, one can avoid Hwy. 1 if one wants to. Wish we had when we arrived.
When we get back to the hotel, we do our normal pre-dinner chores of writing the log and downloading pix. We go downstairs about 6:15 and ask Andreas, the person on the front desk, where the best place in Christchurch is to have rack of lamb—it’s our last night and we want the tops. He says to go to Hay’s on Victoria and gives us walking directions. It’s only a few blocks away. While they seem to have lots of reservations, they quickly find us a table. We have a Mount Edwards Susan’s Vineyard 2003 pinot noir, split a whopping bowl of mussels in Thai broth (lemon grass, cilantro), and each have the rack of lamb. Oh my God! It’s wonderful. We purr, we moan, we gnaw every morsel from each of the tiny ribs. It’s decedent and we love it. Of course, there is always dessert—crème brule with fresh fruit. Then it’s home for a final massaging of the computer files, laying out our clothes for our last day, and contemplating the idea of reentry.
February 27, 2005—Kiwi Stay Longer? or Sunday, Sunday or Aimless in Christchurch: It’s raining this morning as we enter our two-day Sunday. We sleep late for us and do not get down to breakfast until 9:30. We are to check out by 11:00 and leave our luggage with the hotel. We will not be picked up until 6:30 tonight for our scheduled 8:30 flight. Breakfast is downstairs—they serve baked beans with the full cooked breakfast. Go figure. About the saddest thing I do is to tear the one remaining voucher from our Southern World packet—the one for transit to the airport.
We check out, store our luggage with the woman from Toronto who has front desk duty, and go over to the Internet connection we are using here: e-Blah Blah. And may I add: Ginger. As we sit uploading and doing e-mail, we see about six busloads of Japanese tourists walk by, each with a leader with a big card with a letter, like “D,” to waive to get a particular group together. We are puzzled when we see the same groups going by us in the opposite direction after only what seems like a few minutes. We run into these same groups later in the day around the Cathedral Square.
When we are done and return the computer to the hotel for storage, we walk over to the Art Centre. There is a crafts market there every weekend. What we did not know is the extent of the food booths. The crafts seem only fair to us. But the food looks wonderful, and from all sorts of nationalities including Czech, Hungarian, Thai, Lebanese, Chinese, Japanese, Irish, German, Polish, French, and so on. And it all looks very fresh and smells wonderful. And we don’t eat any of it. Instead, we go to the parts of the centre that we had not visited when we were here a couple of days ago. There is some very good artwork here. And there are also spaces for private lessons, a building for the art school of the university, some architecture spaces, etc. When we are done looking at the buildings and art, we go to DUX deLUX, a branch of the place we ate dinner in Queenstown. This one is a café type of a restaurant where you order at the counter and they deliver it to your table. We have salt and pepper squid and mussel fritters along with a draught beer each. If we could only have lamb as well we would be completely happy.
It’s now 2:30 and we have no clue what to do at this point. Our driver is not supposed to pick us up until 6:30 for the 8:30 flight. So, we do a bit of wandering. It’s Sunday, so most things are closed—even coffee houses. We go east since it’s the only direction we had not walked. As soon as we leave the central square there are no people and no traffic. We are in the business district. So we walk along for a while and then circle back to the square the long way around. We go into the hotel and use the facilities and then wander out again. This time we go over to Victoria Square where, we think, we will sit among the flowers and fountains and just relax. Well, it’s cold and windy and we both sit on a park bench with our arms crossed for about a half an hour and can stand it no longer. Back to the hotel. Into the bar. Too early to order a kilo of mussels, but we think about it. What we really want is a take-out order of rack of lamb from Hay’s! We settle for a cappuccino and a cookie. Not quite the same.
We decide to call the car service that is taking us to the airport to pick us up early—and the driver is happy to comply. We leave the hotel about 5:15 and, when we get to the airport, are glad we came out early. The check-in line for Air NZ is really long—almost all the way to the door into the terminal. We get into line and strike up a conversation with the people ahead of us all about where we have been and where they are going (the two passengers are Argentinean who are heading for Ohio—they have been living in NZ).
As we get into the part of the line that goes back and forth, a woman from security asks if we want to get our bags checked. We comply (it is really more than a question) and go over to a counter where folks in latex gloves look at our stuff. It was all very friendly, much different than in the US. We talked to the inspectors and they responded in kind. And for the bother of having the hand inspection, we were put first in line to check in, thereby bypassing the long queue. From there, it’s over to the bank booth where we each pay NZ$25 as an exit fee. I return the rented Vodaphone. We go into the international departure area. Customs is friendly. The screening of bags is friendly—again with some banter with the security personnel. We are now in the international departure lounge at Gate 30 waiting for our call to board.
Unfortunately, we have to wait an extra hour on the tarmac. Seems like there is a security problem in that a passenger decided not to fly and they have to find his two pieces of luggage to take off the plane before we depart. We get going at 9:30 NZ time Sunday night—which is 12:30 Sunday morning in LA. The flight is fine. Again, there are three lousy movies and one good one—I watch none. Dinner is roast lamb with kumara. I take my remaining Ambien right after dinner, which is about 2:30 AM LA time. Don’t know why, but I toss and turn and squirm for an hour before finally getting to sleep. I get about 6 hours altogether. Around 10:00 on Sunday morning they serve us a traditional NZ breakfast. And we get into LA around 12:30. We go quickly through the “border protection” booth and then wait for a half an hour for our luggage. When it finally comes, we breeze through customs and go outside.
We call Jill and decide to meet here over at the American terminal. Jeff and I decide to walk, even though it’s halfway around the airport—need to get the old blood pumping. So, with two carts, we are off. When at American, we check in and get boarding passes. We wheel our bags over to a TSA station where they x-ray them. They ask us to stay around since they do not have set of the TSA keys that allow them to open our locks. If they want to look inside, they will ask us to open the bags. Then don’t—just pass them through and onto the moving belt.
We go downstairs and Jill picks us up in her new car. We go to the restaurant that is in the arched area in the middle of the airport, Encounters. It’s a very nice lunch and we have fun with Jill, but it’s all to short. Jill drops us off at the American terminal and we go through security and to our gate for an on-time departure to STL. When we enter the plane, I am greeted by Hugh Barlow, a colleague from SIUE, who has been in Australia and NZ. In fact, he flew out of Christchurch this AM to Auckland and took Quantas to LAX. He was in the casino right across from Hay’s where we ate Saturday evening. He tells me he stayed at the Charlotte Jane, a place we had originally been scheduled to stay, and it is terrific.
So, we took off from Christchurch and hour late at 9:30 Sunday evening and land in St. Louis on time at 9:50 Sunday evening. Wrap yourself around that one.
This ends the entertainment portion of our trip. We hope you have enjoyed playing along.
Jeff and Bud