Awakened around 4:30 and got up and dressed. No shower or shave. Cold outside. Went across the street and took some pix of the full moon and mountains. Ata bit before 6:30, the bus for the boat company picked us up and we went around to the harbour. On the way, the driver (who was also the captain of the boat) told us that the snow in the mountains was quite unseasonable and very fresh.

I have also learned the difference between a short black and a long black. I just thought one was taller than the other. A short black is a double shot of espresso. A long black is a double shot of espresso with some hot water added.

So, we all boarded the boat. While it was a pretty calm sea, there were several of our group who felt ill on the trip. You sit in the cabin while the boat is in motion. Then, when it’s animal time, you go onto the deck, climb up around the cabin to the bow or stand in the stern depending. We were out to see albatross and dolphins and saw many many of each. I took well over 600 pix during the trip.

The albatross are lured to the boat by putting out frozen fish to flat on the water. And they come as do other sea birds. Really fun. But the big deal is the dolphins. The captain finds a huge pod and the dolphins jump out of the water, are right under your noses at the bow of the boat. The boat the the dolphins sometimes go at the same speed so they are right under you for several seconds. Great fun.

The trip lasted until around 9:30. We returned to the motel, packed up our luggage, put it into the bus, and headed back into town to the Why Not Café to get take away stuff for breakfast and for lunch. Then we were on the bus (with a couple of stops) until near 7:00 getting over to Punakaiki.

One stop was in Waiau where we got ice cream. I had boysenberry. We drove across the Marlborough plain and up across the Southern Alps at Lewis Pass. Beautiful countryside all the way up into the mountains. Then north to Graymouth for a potty stop at a very unusual facility and shopping at a grocery for dinner and for breakfast tomorrow morning.

When we rolled into Punakaiki, we went right to the pancake rocks for pix. Jeff and I missed this last time since it was pouring down rain both when we arrived and the next morning as well. Neat formations. Around 8:00, the van picked us up and took us to the motel, the same one Jeff and I staying in in 2005, but the rooms are upgraded and nicer. Long day. Tired. Probably took 850-900 shots today. When those dolphins are swimming right under you, nice to shoot 15 frames per second to try to capture a good shot or two. Of course, I have not had time to do any more than just download the pictures.

Would like to get on the Internet here, but it’s a bit pricey. We shall see. Eating “dinner” in the room – chicken and cranberry pate, cheese, crackers. Yum.

Tomorrow, Phillip and some of our band are going back to the rocks at 5:00 am to catch the morning light, which might be tough since it’s really cloudy here and we’re on the west coast. We leave here at 8:00 for Fox Glacier.

We got up at 5:00, but, as expected, the weather was too rough for us to go out. So, I went back to sleep until 7:30. After morning ablutions, dressed and went outside. Cold! Very cold! I went back in and added a layer – the fifth layer – and put on gloves as well. Stiff wind, a “southerly” which means out of Antarctica to our south. To my surprise, since it had been so cloudy last night, there is a mountain range which we can see across the bay. Took some pix, of course.

About 8:30, we took our van into the center of town (around the bay). Had breakfast at the Why Not Café. Very nice place … had lunch there after 2:00, as well. Then we drove up into the Puhi Valley and the Jordan Stream. The mountains are all covered with snow. As with most, this river bed is very wide from alluvial flows … lots of small stones and just narrow bands of water. Spent the whole morning at one spot moving tripods from here to there, changing lenses, playing with speeds, focus, polarizing filter, HDR shots, etc. Took over 300 pix.

On our way back down to the city, we stopped at a nice cottage with an exquisite garden and asked the owner if we could walk around and take pix. In her Wellies and with a weed whacker in her hand, she readily agreed. Lovely place. Beautiful flowers.

Then back into town for late lunch. We returned to the motel for the rest of the afternoon. Took until we had to leave for dinner at 6:30 just to download the shots I took today and to do about 15 HDR shots. No time to really edit, pick the “good” ones, etc.

Dinner was in town where we all went where we wanted. Many of us ended up at a pub and had a reasonable meal. Then back to the motel. VERY early and long day tomorrow. Not only are we up at 5:00 to leave here at 5:30 for three or four hours on open ocean looking for Dusky Dolphins, but we then have to drive 4.5 hours all the way over the Alps to the west coast for a one-night stay at Punakaiki.

The Panorama Motel is just a tad better than “OK.” Barely a tad. And even though there is supposed to be WiFi, it comes and goes … mostly goes. So, except for a few minutes when I’ve been able to get my iPhone to connect, it’s been pretty much zero from the laptop. Frustrating.

So far, we’ve had two long shoots. First, there was the fur seals. Second, there was the Puhi Valley. And we’ve gotten to know each other along the way. My roommate, David, is very nice and it’s working out well for both of us, I think. So far, we’ve been in rooms that have two separate places to sleep. That also means two separate places to spread out luggage and cameras and computers and and and. We shall see if we are so lucky in the days to come.

The one drawback is all the time we spend on the van getting from here to there. And it’s the place where Stewart and Phillip like to give us talks, let us know what’s happening,  etc. But sometimes that’s sitting by the side of the road rather than moving … and I get “cabin fever” and just want to get out onto the ground. Ah, well. That should be the worst of my problems.

 

Sleepy with food and wine and time of day (LA time), I watched and dozed through “Ice Age.” But really saw all/most of it. Somewhere around 11:00 NZ time I turned everything off, took a sleeping pill, slept for awhile, awakened, slept, took another sleeping pill, slept, etc.

Somewhere around 4:00, I started to watch “Madagascar 3.” Wanted to doze on and off and did. And around 5:00 am I gave it up … just in time for First Breakfast (oh, that’s a Hobbit thing, of course) of fresh fruit, granola, yoghurt, and, dare I say, a hot, buttery, flaky croissant with jam. When this was done, we had Second Breakfast where I chose the three-cheese omelette with chorizo sausage, potato wedges, and spiced tomato relish. Could not finish all that.

Meanwhile, since I am sitting on the left side of the plane, I saw sunrise and, I hope, got some good pix of it and the clouds. For a while, I couldn’t figure out why, when flying southwest, the sun was coming up on my side. Referring to the video screen showing flight progress, I figured it out … east, sort of, is on my side of the plane. Duh.

Pat O is sitting right behind me. She said she got in about six hours of sleep. Can’t say I did altogether, but I’m not dragged out right now (it’s 6:30 am), but we shall see as the morning progresses.

Got into Auckland on time. Passport and customs were not long. Rechecked bag in international terminal and then walked, what was supposed to be 10 minutes, to the domestic terminal. Took about 20 and I was pooped with my backpack and computer bag. Waited for our Christchurch flight and worried again about the 15 pound limit on carryon since they kept announcing it. Seems as if we’re exempt since we came over on an international flight.

Took about an hour to fly to Christchurch. Stewart was there with the van and a trailer and our driver, John. Along with the four of us that had travelled together, we were joined by Usha and Kumar from Texas. City Centre Motel is nice; plain but nice. David M. and I have a two bedroom suite. Too bad it won’t always be this kind of a room.

Went to lunch near here. Then, Pat, Fran, Chuck and I walked over to the Botanic Gardens to marvel at the flowers, the huge rose garden, the Avon River, and, especially, the trees, which are huge and magnificent. From there, we walked over the city centre and went to the area where they have set up a whole set of shipping containers converted to restaurants and shops. Very colorful, original, and interest. The other three took a bus back; I walked. Long walk! And I never did get close enough to the central square to see the ruins of the cathedral, but there are ruins and rubble everywhere in the city.

Dinner was at a neighborhood Indian restaurant, Himalaya’s. Excellent food and we met Phillip, our other guide/teacher. Stuffed, we came back to the motel. Are heading out at 9:00 am tomorrow. I hope I sleep through the night since I am exhausted.

I don’t think I said enough yesterday about the destruction in Christchurch. It’s everywhere, not just in City Centre.  Just a block from here is a church with rubble all around it, chain link fence surrounding its patron saint statue. The surviving part of its steeple sits on concrete blocks on the ground. We saw several cases of that for big and small buildings around the city.  Next door to the above church, there is nothing left but a pile of timbers for whatever was there. Walking, as we did yesterday, means finding blocks where totally fenced in where you have to detour just to find a way to walk past. Barbie told me she had gotten close to the center square and saw the front of the cathedral. Not sure I really wanted to see that, but sad I missed it, too. My pictures will only hint at what’s around.

Sun comes up early (around 6:00) and doesn’t set until well after 9:00. The further south we go, the days will lengthen even more. Went to bed last night about 10:30 and slept soundly until about 4:00, then dozed off and on until 5:30 when I gave it up and did my ablutions and dressed. I had set the alarm for 6:30, but … Dave also was up early.

Oh, the panic yesterday was that Val had left her purse (with her passport, credit cards, money, and meds) on the airplane from the North Island. She was, as you can only imagine, quite upset. Stewart called the airport here and got to live voice who checked and found they had the purse in their safe, someone had seen it under Val’s seat when they were cleaning the plane! So, a trip to the airport and back and Val had her purse. Only in NZ could this be handled so well and so informally. Disaster of the moment avoided.

We’re going to Pepperberry for breakfast this AM, same place where we had lunch yesterday. Met there at 7:15. Then we gathered and waited for the van. Left about 9:30 with our luggage in a trailer and other stuff in the van. It took until 1:50 to get to Kaikoura, which is only 2.5 hours away from Christchurch. First there was a stop at a grocery store in Christchurch for people to get snacks and whatever. Then there was a potty stop in Cheviot. Then we stopped again along the road to take pictures of a bush called broom which covered the hills in yellow flowers. Finally into Kaikoura, we stopped for a nice lunch while the driver and Phillip went to the motel and got our luggage into our rooms.

Lunch over, we drove up the coast a few miles to a point where there were lots and lots of fur seals on the rocks. There were families of seals, new-born pups, males tussling with each other, seals in the water fishing. Needless to say, I took literally hundreds of pictures of the animals and the rocks and the kelp beds and the ocean and the seashore and the breakers and and …

Got back into town and the motel (Panorama Motel --- nothing to rave about --- lousy WiFi --- plain rooms) and had about a half hour before getting back on the van (it was now drizzling) and going to the Green Dolphin for dinner. Elegant and expensive dinner with good NZ wine. Laaaaaammmmb!

We’re supposed to get up at 5:00 am tomorrow and it’s around 11:00 as I finish this. The weather is cold and rainy. If it’s smooth out to sea, we’re going out to look for Dusky Dolphins and Albatross. We’ll know about 5:15 whether we’re going, which we all doubt given what’s going on outside. If the trip isn’t tomorrow, then we’ll try for Saturday morning … so have to get up really early two days in a row.

Finally, Phillip showed all manuka trees along the way. And he said that the Australian tea tree is really about the same thing, but goes under a different name there.

 

Awakened about 5:00 AM with my mind racing ahead. Did get back to sleep for another hour or so before the alarm. Then it was morning chores/fun with feeding me, the critters, and then cleaning stalls. Took Sabrina over to Wendy’s. She knew something was up and sat shaking in the car all the way, but was very glad to see Wendy.

Back at the house, I changed into my trip clothes, put luggage in Marian’s car, and sat around with her until about 11:00 when I had a leftovers snack. Turkey and cornbread dressing! Around 11:15 we left for the airport. Checked my rolling duffle at the curb and then went inside. Lots of work going on still to renovate as well as to finish repairing from the tornado.

TSA had a long and winding line … Disney World with a fun ride at the end! When I got through the human scanner, they were discussing my backpack by the thing scanner. So, I was asked to gather my stuff and come over to a side table. “Do you have anything in here that is fragile or sharp?” “Lots of camera equipment.” “Was that a monopod we saw?” “Yes.” She told me that once she opened the case I should not touch anything. So, she pulled out the monopod to assure herself that was what they saw. Then she swabbed the entire inside lining of the case looking for chemical residue. They do this as a matter of course when they do a hand search. Nothing found, I was sent on my way down the concourse.

I met Pat Oberkfell and Chuck/Fran Mannis at the gate. When they had come through TSA screening, it was no problem that Fran had a hip replacement, but they did a hand search on her stuff and the chemical swab kept coming back positive. Took them about 45 minutes to decide they had no clue, but there was nothing dangerous in there.

Flight was uneventful. I do wonder at the people who, on boarding with a long line of people behind them, stop in the middle of the aisle and block everyone for five minutes. A couple were separated by several rows. They knew this before they got on the airplane. But the wife had to stop in front of me to trade things in and out of hers and her husband’s carryon pieces before she moved back to her seat.

Got in early, but sat on tarmac for a while before getting to a gate. Then the wait for luggage. Once our flight’s stuff starting coming, mine was out pretty fast. Outside it was a zoo. I had a hard time finding the “red sign” for hotel pickups. Then I called the hotel for their shuttle. With the traffic and accidents and whatever, it took 30 minutes for the shuttle to arrive. Fran/Chuck/Pat all were in the taxi line .... yikes! It stretched for a block! Their hotel didn't have a shuttle. I bet they waited longer than I did.

I am at the Hilton Garden Inn LAX/El Segundo. I'm in a suite, an upgrade for free. That's the good news. The other side of the coin is that it's at the end of a very long and winding hall. Good thing my duffle has wheels. So, it's about 5:00 out here. And Jill gets in after 7:00 says my flight tracking app.

Oh, while it's 19 hours difference between STL and NZ, it's 21 hours from Los Angeles. Wrap your brain around that.

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