It’s 12/12/12 here in NZ. Some idle thoughts:

·      On the Otago Peninsula the speed limit is mostly 80 km/hr but the roads are so narrow and twisting that it’s really hard to go over about 35 or 40.
·      This is hay season in the south. Saw lots of hay being cut or already baled. They wrap round bales in blue plastic to keep it from the weather.
·      Our new non-alcoholic drink of choice is ginger beer.
·      We have never used the GPS really until today when we got lost about 15 minutes away from our B&B.
·      I think they put eggs on everything. You get a fried egg on a salad on steak on a hamburger.
·      Country and Western music is very popular in NZ. You hear it in lots of cafes and pubs.
·      Bette Midler’s “Ukulele Lady” keeps passing through my brain. I him it constantly for some reason.
·      On the trip with the three ladies, Pat and Barbie do the navigation and I just go where they tell me to. I really haven’t looked at a map at all.
·      The ladies take tons of pictures while we’re moving. There is clicking all around me during our drives.
·      I brought my new Kindle with me for reading and for the two NZ tour books I bought and loaded on it. It has never been on. That includes the flights over here.
·      When an group orders food at a café or even a good restaurant and it’s time to pay, you just take the check for the table up to the cashier, tell him/her what you had , and pay individually. It’s no problem anywhere.

Today we left Larnach Castle arount 8:30. It’s a really nice place to stay and a nice break from the motels we’ve been in. We headed down south along the Pacific coast. We followed the Southern Scenic Route (off the main highways) and even went on smaller roads, many just gravel, and most winding up and down and around. This region is the Catlins.

First stop was Kaka Point and its accompanying town. Low tide, beautiful beach shots, and a view of Nugget Point and its lighthouse, our next stop. It’s a steep climb up to the lighthouse from the car park. You end up over beautiful rocks. There are colonies of spoonbills and we saw some fur seals. Gorgious.

Then we stopped in the town of Owaka where I picked up a bacon and egg panini with some chili relish. The ladies planned to eat PB&J from supplies bought earlier. We ate on a picnic bench at the car park for Purakaunui Falls. Then we walked through a lovely rain forest to the falls for pix. We had wanted to go to another falls, much bigger, but there had been a rock slide on the trail and it was closed.

Last stop was Curio Bay. We had gone there to see the whole shoreline where the “rocks” are a petrified forest from eons ago. We say that, but also a yellow-eyed penguin waddled ashore to her nest. They are rare and usually you can only see them coming ashore at night.

Then it was a winding drive to our B&B (a farm stay) north of Invercargill. Got in about 5:00. We drove over 250 km today. Went into the city for a nice dinner and then back for an early night.

Last night, there were just 10 of us at dinner in the castle. We got the full history “lecture” from one of the wait staff. Very interesting. At the table were a couple fro Switzerland, one from the UK, one that had emigrated from South Africa and now lived here, and the four of us. So, nice conversation all around. Three-course, fixed price menu. Had two glasses of wine (one Sauv Blanc and one Pinot Noir) and was feeling no pain.

This morning, I got up at 7:00 and joined my mates at 8:00 for a full cooked breakfast in the Stable right across from the Lodge where we’re staying (which is next to the extensive castle gardens and the castle itself. At 9:15, we drove into Dunedin, stopping along the way for views of the Pacific or of the bay where the city is. Val and Barbie spent their time in the city at the Otago Museum where there is a huge display about the Christchurch earthquake. They said it was quite wonderful.

Pat and I went to First Church for some shots and then headed to the Railroad Station and took quite a few pictures outside and inside. We then walked up to the Octagon (in the center of the city), walked around, did some light shopping, and had a lovely lunch (mine was kumara, mint, pea croquettes).

After lunch, we walked down to the waterfront  -- needed to traverse walking bridges over the RR tracks both ways. Then back for a short visit to Queen Park (which was right across from where we had parked). All had agreed to be back to 2:00 and all were.

We next drove up and up and up and up to the lookout over the city, bay, and peninsula.. This was followed  by driving to the  base of the “steepest street in the world,” Baldwin. The ladies hiked partially up while I stayed at the bottom.

Drove back to the castle for a short stay before heading out to the Royal Albatross Centre for our 90 minute tour at 5:30. We have dinner reservations out here on the peninsula in the town of Portobello on the water when the tour is done. I’m over 6,500 images right now. Lots of bracketing to make sure I have an exposure I like.

The road out to the end of the peninsula, where we were going, is really narrow, twisting, and right along the edge in many places. Some of the road is really only a bit over one-lane wide. Hey, I loved it. Our visit at the Royal Albatross Centre was spectacular. Thee birds have a wingspan of over 3 meters. They nest on the hills by the Centre. And they fly by overhead. We were inside with some tinted glass between us and the birds, but each shot 400-600 pictures hoping for the one great one. I had a 997 shot day earlier in the trip. Today was 1,016. We all really loved it. And we were also shown the fortifications and long-range cannon emplacement that was set up for WWII.

Dinner was in Portobello, 1908 Restaurant. Good food and service. Saw wonderful fading sun over the bay as we wended our way home over the twisty road. Lovely day altogether.



Last full day with the group. Didn’t sleep too well last night … looked at clock about every hour. Up at 4:15, quick wash (no shower, shave) and out the door to get on van before 5:00. Drove out along the road along the Tasman Valley. Stopped at a point where we could see both the sunrise on one side across the valley and see the light hitting Mt. Cook and surrounding mountains on the other side. Quite cold. Quite lovely. Stayed there until sun totally over the horizon, about 6:15.

Back here, Dave M, Rita, and I went uphill in my car to The Hermitage for breakfast. $29 NZD for the full breakfast, which we all did. And we took eggs and sandwiches wrapped in paper napkins for lunch. Hey, we paid a lot for the meal!

Met with group at 9:00 for strenuous uphill hike of over 30 minutes to above the Tasman Valley and Tasman Lake (melt lake from the glacier). The view was fantastic. It looked over all the mountains around us and the lake where Jeff and I had the excursion and I took that pix of the basal ice. The two little boats we saw looked like specks from our height. We could see Mt. Cook, Mt. Tasman, Mt. Murchison and one other peak that we’re not sure what it is. Stayed up there until 10:45, but didn’t get back to motel until noon with the time it took everyone to get back to the van and stops along the way back for pix of Tasman Valley.

Dave and I ate in our room with our ill-gotten gains from breakfast and some food we had bought at grocery stores along the way and had to use up. There was supposed to be a three-hour walk this afternoon, but it’s been cancelled, and I had already decided not to go anyway. Spent the afternoon on the Internet once I found out it was free! And did some looking at pix. Many to many to even think about processing until I get home. Got over 200 spam messages. Blech.

So, we all got together at the same pub we frequented last night. Took our wonderful driver, John, out to dinner with us. Then up to The Hermitage to take pix of Mt. Cook at sunset.

And I haven’t said anything about the sandflies here. They are small blackflies that bite, bite, bite. You have to put insect repellant on about anytime you go outside or are attacked by the little suckers.

It’s been an interesting trip with the whole group. Lots of different dynamics. Lots of different personalities. Lots of different camera equipment. All stories to be shared. Tomorrow it’s the four of us heading out about the same time the van with the rest of the pack leaves here. Should be interesting on all levels and, hopefully, all good.

Said goodbye to the rest of the group as they boarded the van to go to Christchurch. We departed a bit before they did all packed into our Toyota SUV. Drove to Omarama, where we had lunch the day we were coming into Mt. Cook Village. Got a long black and savory scone and also fuel – over $85 NZD for about a little over a half tank of gas.

Drove east to Oamaru on the Pacific coast. When we were first walking through town, Pat had a crown break off. A nice lady told us where there was a dental practice and they took Pat in right away. During the half hour she was there, the other three of us went into the old town. There are interesting stone buildings all through the area. Beautiful. After picking Pat up, we went back to that area to walk and to have lunch.

From there we drove south to the Moeraki Boulders – which are a wonder of the world. You will have to see my pictures for some idea of what they are and look like. Big round boulders strewn across the beach and into the water. There is a Maori legend about them you can read about.

Got into Dunedin about 4:00 and it took us another half hour or more to go out the Otago Peninsula. Fabulous views of Dunedin and the Pacific. Larnach Castle, where we are staying, is quite a treat. Again, best to look it up for its history. And we had a long and luxurious dinner from 7:00 until after 10:00. And I’m tired … from driving, from the trip, from the wine at dinner.

While some got up at 5:00 to walk down to the lake for a morning shoot (which didn’t really yield much), I stayed in bed until about 7:00. Dave had gone on the shoot and on his return we went down to breakfast. $21 NZD for a basic breakfast, $28 NZD included eggs, etc. Food is expensive there altogether.

About 8:30, our driver, John, took me to Hertz where I picked up a Toyota SUV around 9:00 and drove back uphill to the hotel. Val joined me in the car and we followed the van all the way to Mt. Cook Village. Right off the bat, there was a half-hour stop at a grocery store for those who wanted snacks and/or to eat stuff in their room.

Stops along the way, of course. First at Roaring Meg … river, rapids. Then to Cromwell for a potty stop. I remember passing this way in 2005 … giant plastic fruit alongside the road. Lunch was a Omarama and we also watched some sheep and sheep dogs … they put on a show at the place where we were … we just took pix of the animals.

In the Mt. Cook region, we stopped a couple of times along Lake Pukaki to take pix of Mt. Cook, which was totally revealed … no clouds covering the peak. Into the motel (a brand-new one). Dinner nearby at a pub. Then, around 7:00, we walked up to Kea Point for a view of Mt. Cook ad Mt. Sefton in the fading light. Uphill for 45 minutes. Pant, pant Worth it. Stayed up there until well after 9:00 sunset. Cloudy, but finally got some pink/orange light on Mt. Cook summit just at sunset.

Got to bed about 10:45. Early morning tomorrow – 5:00 am departure.


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