Navigation Menu
Christchurch
March 272015

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again

Luckily Christchurch New Zealand is proving to be no Humpty Dumpty.

On February 22, 2011, this city of 362,000 was hit by an earthquake that measured 6.3 on the Richter scale. Up to 100,000 buildings were damaged, and 10,000 were or needed to be demolished. Especially hard hit was the city center, or business district, of this second largest city in New Zealand.

Saving a building in Christchurch is a complicated operation.

Saving a building in Christchurch is a complicated operation.

The people of Christchurch are everywhere putting New Zealand’s second largest city together again. It’s just that it is taking a good deal of time.

When we walked from our house to downtown, we had to detour around temporary fences and orange cones. Braces held up sagging walls on houses. Construction vans were parked in front of buildings with new windows still stickered. And cranes! Everywhere along the skyline were cranes and the sound of thumping while pilings were being driven into the ground.

City center lot awaiting a new building.

City center lot awaiting a new building.

The quake caught the residents of Christchurch off guard. They didn’t know they were on a fault line, and were unprepared. Now, in the rebuilding, strict earthquake-construction codes are enforced. In many ways this is an exciting time in Christchurch. Creative architecture is everywhere filling in the spaces around quake survivors.

A corner in thew ReStart Mall.

A corner in thew ReStart Mall.

One of the quickest ways to get people back to work and under roof was to use shipping containers. Right in the center of the city there is a whole shopping mall made out of them. Appropriately named the ReStart Mall it is quite clever and surprisingly attractive. We even walked past a new high school that looks like it incorporated shipping containers although I’m sure there are more than metal walls to protect students from another quake.

Christchurch Cathedral March 2015.

Christchurch Cathedral March 2015.

While there is lots of hopeful energy in the city it was sad to see the old Christ Church Cathedral fenced and decaying. (video of Cathedral Square seconds after the earthquake)This heart of the city had lots of hopeful banners and postings around it, but there it sat with weeds growing and boarded up windows and its front gone. The debate goes on: should the Cathedral have a very expensive repair or be torn down and rebuilt to look much like the original.

Karen punting on the Avon

Karen punting on the Avon

Nearby, however, the restored Isaac Theatre Royal had reopened and was hosting Elmo’s World Tour. Nearby streets were jammed with youngsters and their parents stepping out of the way to the historic Christchurch Tram that takes tourists on a tour of the city center. A short walk along the Avon River took us to the Boat Sheds where a young man punted me upriver and back for a half hour so I could go on a solo punting float down the Avon River. The Botanical Gardens and the lovely roses and old trees survived wonderfully. The Canterbury Museum was open even though the outside was getting a facelift. Both it and the Gardens are free.

Blooms in the Botanical Gardens

Blooms in the Botanical Gardens

When we walked back after returning our car, we saw a different, more commercial side of Christchurch. Here the city certainly did look like a recovering war zone. Earth mover trucks, drain installers, and construction vehicles of every sort shut down entire streets. The temporary Cardboard Cathedral stood next to all this. There was no doubt about the direction of the city. People have faith in the future.

Begonias in the Botanical Gardens.

Begonias in the Botanical Gardens.

In many ways, Christchurch reminded us of New Orleans after Katrina. Both still showed the scars of a major natural event, but Christchurch, after only four years, knows that people will come back to this youthful, growing city while New Orleans has shrunk in size.

It seemed to me a perfect way to end our journey of this youthful, vibrant, exciting, and beautiful country. It looks like this Humpty Dumpty will be put back together again.

More Information»
Dunedin
March 222015

Sheep, sheep everywhere. When you roll through the lovely hills and gorges of the southeastern portion of the south island you get all the postcards and travel posters. Sheep are on every hillside diligently grazing away.

That’s what we saw as we pulled into Dunedin. It’s a beautiful city in a bowl at the head of a long harbor. Here the flavor is Scottish and the buildings are built of local limestone.

Sheep on the Otago Peninsula: at least one of them seems to be taking a moment out of a hard day of constant eating to enjoy the view.

Sheep on the Otago Peninsula: at least one of them seems to be taking a moment out of a hard day of constant eating to enjoy the view.

Rain and low clouds were forecast for the following two days so we decided to head out to the Otago Peninsula while the sun was shining. The High Cliff Road gave us stunning views of the long narrow harbor below. Sometimes the water was lime green and, at other times, it was light blue. Finally, the road wound down to the little town of Portobello then it followed the coast to the road’s end.

The wind was blowing hard. When we opened the car door, we had to push it closed. Wearing multiple layers and a pair of gloves helped but it was essential to have a hood tied up around my ears. Many tour buses had made their way to the end of the road to look at the same beach. A few seals were resting in the sun but there were no tiny blue penguins to be seen. They had all gone fishin’ and wouldn’t come back until dusk. The same is true of the yellow eyed penguins. To see them you must go sit in a hidey hut. If they DO see YOU they get upset and puke up the food they are bringing to their young.

It's the right beach, but the wrong time. No penguins. They're all out fishing.

It’s the right beach, but the wrong time. No penguins. They’re all out fishing.

So, it was back to the car and stopping for photos and watching Dunedin advance in our view.

About mid afternoon we pulled into town and did a walk around the Octagon. That is the city center and has lots of lovely cafes, shops and art galleries. Almost every larger town in New Zealand has an I Site. That is the visitor center.

Street view from the Octagon.

Street view from the Octagon.

The next day we returned to the Octagon, and I booked a one hour walking tour of the city center. While doing this, Dave found a couple from Dayton Ohio who were in town for business. They were here for six weeks. Small world.

Dunedin Presbyterian Church.

Dunedin Presbyterian Church.

My guide took me around to several churches, statues, government buildings, and the railway station. One surprise was that Andrew Carnegie, who was Scotts, built a library here. Up the hill from the city center are several schools. All the students in this country wear uniforms, And the six-to-ten-year olds use their scooters to get around. There seem to be no skateboards or two wheeled bikes until they get older.

After 5 pm, I rejoined Dave and we went to early dinner. This is where we wanted to try the world famous bluff oysters that had just come into season. Price wise they are very dear and, frankly they tasted much like the oysters we had in New Orleans but we weren’t sorry to have sampled them.

Before we headed back for the night, we drove through the university section of town. If you close your eyes, you could easily imagine any campus. There were the usual pubs and bookstores and streets crawling with students. Porches had strumming guitarists and flags hanging out of windows. Compact, historical, charming and beautiful Dunedin captured my imagination on that sunny day.

Luckily we saw her in her best dress because the next day it was gray and rainy. It was a good day to catch up on reading and writing.

More Information»

In the Lakes District are located two very different cities. One is the younger, livelier, always active Queenstown and the other is the sedate, reserved, and quieter Arrowtown.

Parasailing off Queenstown on a cloudy day. No, that's not Karen high above the water.

Parasailing off Queenstown on a cloudy day. No, that’s not Karen high above the water.

After leaving Milford, we headed for Queenstown first. It was the city where much of the tourist activities are booked. You can organize flights over Fiordland National Park and the glaciers from here. If you need jet boating, bungee jumping, parasailing, zip lining, and even swinging from a bridge while tied into a lawn chair, you can do it from here. Instead of the small town I pictured from our guide book, this was a crowded touristy place with a Louis Vuitton and upscale hotels.

Therefore, we were relieved to head out of town to find our place in the more remote countryside. For a bit of local flavor we headed to Arrowtown.

Dudley's Cottage

Dudley’s Cottage in Arrowtown to cute for words.

Restored Chinese miner's shack.

Restored Chinese miner’s shack.

As with many south-island cities, Arrowtown was a gold mining center. After the rush was over, it languished but it was just too cute to die. Now it’s a tiny place catering to the older and, perhaps, more affluent tourist. The jewelry stores here specialize in gold, not jade. The restaurants here are pub like and have the low beams and dark wood of pubs in Oxford, England. There were tree canopied streets, old English phone boxes, and a village green. We walked along the Arrow River and visited the old Chinese Settlement. It’s abandoned now, but was very active during the mining days in the late 1800s.

The next day we walked around Lake Hayes. We were out for photos and fresh air but we got much more than that. There were a number of cyclists on a tour and other independent riders too. I recognized lots of wild flowers we see in the US and saw some I couldn’t name. On the other side of the lake was a housing estate. An empty lot was for sale for $1,250,000 NZ, or roughly $885,000 US. No wonder. The views went over the lake—the most photographed in New Zealand—and out to the snow capped mountains.

Foot of Lake Hayes with valley and mountains in the background.

Foot of Lake Hayes with valley and mountains in the background.

Many of the scenic and historic places in New Zealand are cared for by the Department of Conservation (DOC). The familiar green and yellow signs let you know you are entering a special place. For us, Arrowtown and Lake Hayes, available to us for free, was a much better way to spend a couple days than possibly embarrassing myself by swinging in a lawn chair. I’ll let that experience be saved for others.

More Information»
Milford Sound
March 152015

Day One: On the Water

I’ll confess that the main reason I had New Zealand on my bucket list was Milford Sound. It was about all I knew about the country. Well, I DID know that there were a lot of sheep creating a lot of methane. Oh, that worrisome hole in the ozone!

The time arrived for us to roll into Fiordland National Park and drive from Te Anau north to Milford Sound. The drive itself is impressive with stunning views ahead and the pink of a sunrise on snow capped mountains.  Homer Tunnel cuts through the highest peak on the road and slopes down through the mountain to the temperate rain forest that awaits.

I thought the little town would be full of tourist shops and cafes much like other towns we had passed through. Not so.  There are two lodges, a café, and a terminal where about ten catamaran ferry boats are docked. If you arrive early like we did, there is not much for you to do but watch the kayaks, helicopters, and airplanes.  Lots of tour busses are taken care of quickly. This is the biggest tourist attraction in the country and they are used to lots of traffic including large cruise ships like the Queen Mary II which cruised up the sound while we were there.

We were told that the QM II had visited Milford Sound two years ago. This time like the last it just cruised in, took a look at the sights and headed back out. We didn’t see the big ship. It came and went that quickly.

Our Milford Sound cruise boat.

Our Milford Sound cruise boat.

Our cruise in the sound was a longer one including lunch and a stop at the underwater Discovery Centre. We boarded our catamaran, picked up our lunches, and sat down to eat while our cruise guide gave us safety tips.

Fairy Falls

Fairy Falls

We were barely away from the pier when we slowed down to see Fiordland penguins who are a rare sight this time of year. Then we made our way UNDER Fairy Falls where we got a natural shower. Because the water is so deep—about 1,000 feet—and the walls in the fiord are nearly vertical, ships large and small can pull right up to the near sheer granite walls.

Milford Sound was carved out by repeatedly advancing and receding glaciers. So it’s not really a sound, but a fiord. It was misnamed because early on it was believed to have been formed by a river cutting downward through the rock. Sounds are made by rivers; fiords by glaciers.

The hard to find entrance to Milford Sound from the Tasman Sea.

The hard to find entrance to Milford Sound from the Tasman Sea.

At its narrowest point at the entrance to the Sound/fjord, it is only 500 feet wide. The narrow and somewhat hidden entrance is why Captain Cook passed this area Three times and never saw Milford. It was discovered in 1812 by Captain  John Grono, a sealer who was blown in during a storm.

When you advance toward the Tasman Sea the wind picks up. It’s a good time to head to the back of the boat and look back at Mitre Peak. This is a view that is often captured in brochures of Fiordland. Everyone was busy taking photos and holding onto their rain jacket hoods.

 

Mitre Peak

Mitre Peak

We took a short trip outside the Sound into the Tasman Sea and had views of seals and a beach where jade can be found before heading back up the Sound. Almost back to the pier we pulled into Harrison Cove and disembarked at Discovery Center—an underwater floating museum. I can’t call it an aquarium because the people are the ones in the tank not the fish. At the above water entrance is a display of the history of Milford Sound village, the road, the famous Milford Track hiking trail, and the growth of tourism. Finally, we made our way back to the village past the Bowman Falls. It is beautiful and one of the Sound’s four permanent waterfalls. It’s also generates the electricity and provides the drinking water the village.

Bowman Falls

Bowman Falls

While the sound is only about eight and a half miles long, it still manages to show all the features of fiords in other places of the world. In my mind, I expected a far bigger place but, all things considered, I was glad not to be overwhelmed by vastness.

Day Two: We Tramp the Milford Track

Twenty years ago, while on another trip, I heard of the best tramp in the world—the Milford Track. (In New Zealand trails are tracks and hikes are tramps.) I did some research, bought a tramping in New Zealand book, and dreamed about getting trained enough to do a 4 day tramp of 33.5 miles.

The years passed and my hips, knees, and bunions complained. My dream faded. That’s until I was actually here and there was an opportunity to sample a bit of Milford Track. Sign me up. And thanks to Dave for joining me!

Six intrepid trampers waited for our guide in the lodge lounge early Sunday morning.  Douglas arrived and has us hop in our cars and follow him to a boat ramp. We got into lifejackets, climbed into the boat and headed up river to the dock where people who have walked the entire track meet a boat that takes them to the village for a shuttle ride to back to their cars. It turns out that 90 people a day register to tramp the track. This allows enough room for them to set up tents if they are “freedom” walking (without a guide) or have a bed, meals, and running water in a hut if they are guided.(A very pricey arrangement, by the way.)

Our walk along the Milford Track began with the morning sun streaming over the river leading to Giant's Gate Falls.

Our walk along the Milford Track began with the morning sun streaming over the river leading to Giant’s Gate Falls.

Our walk on the track was mostly flat and went past a river, a lake, and over a swing bridge and water fall called Giant’s Gate. While I hadn’t trained for the walk, I still felt thrilled to be on Milford Track. Here at last!

The walk itself presented no challenge except to keep up with 22-year-old Douglas. Luckily, this native Kiwi knew lots of the flora and fauna. We saw the bell bird, the fantail, the weka, several wood pigeon, and several others. Of course, the notorious sand flies were annoyingly present as soon as you stopped walking. Forget repellent. It didn’t seem to work for me. And, oh yeah, we got to our stopping point at Giant’s Gate Falls.

Giant's Gate Falls

Giant’s Gate Falls

The walk back to the dock was quick, and by the time we got there we had covered better than six and a half miles round trip. It was great to have a guide even thought it’s impossible to get lost on this well worn track.

We opened the door to the hut where we had left our lifejackets and came face to face with about 20 exhausted and heavily laden hikers. While we put on our jackets they looked at us tiredly. “Was the boat here,” they asked. Our small craft was, but not their ferry. They had the bragging rights, but we would be in a hot shower with a cold beer waiting in less than a half hour.

More Information»
Glacier Country
March 102015

You know what I expected when I thought about glaciers in New Zealand? I thought the glaciers would have their terminus about 500 feet from the main highway and we’d slowly creep by in our cars, snap a few photos, and move on. Crazy, right?

And, of course, it was nothing like that.

We stopped for lunch in Franz Josef town. There were more helicopter and eco guiding shops than hotels and cafes. The little village was one street wide but it was easy enough to see that the entire income for everyone living there was from the people who came to see the moving ice.

Peter's Pool with the rain beginning to fall.

Peter’s Pool

On our way out of town, we turned into a glacier access road, drove about 2.5 miles and parked. We walked back to a little pond  called Peter’s Pool that was where the glacier reached several decades ago. It started to rain. It was back to the car park.

About 15 miles down the road we were in Fox Glacier, an equally small town with the same services as the one we had left. We stopped, picked up a local map and scoped out where we would walk the next day.

Downtown Fox Glacier

Downtown Fox Glacier

After finding our Airbnb home for the next four days, we chatted for awhile with our French hosts and their two little girls ages four and two (more about this in a later post) after eating supper in town we got a good night’s rest and started the next day under gray skies, but no rain.

Karen climbing to the Fox Glacier.

Karen climbing to the Fox Glacier.

It wasn’t a long walk to Fox Glacier. We crossed a few tiny streams and make our way up the hill to the viewing spot. Glaciers are impressive to this Midwestern born-and-bred gal no matter where they are and this one was no exception. However as we drove in, we passed several signs that read the glacier stopped here in 1750, here in 1950, etc. When we actually could see the face of the glacier at the top of our hike, it made me sad. It was easy to see the glacier was shrinking with increasing rapidity.

There it was with the bits of stone debris resting on top of the ice like speckles of sand on whitish hair. The shrunken lady had carved out the valley, and after her hard work, she was shriveling down into the wide crack between the lower mountains. Even though her icy tail impressively stretched up to Mt. Tasman, she was clearly in her death throes. Just last year you could walk out and touch her face. No more.

Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier

Mt. Cook

Mt. Cook

The next day we went to Lake Matheson. It is west of the glaciers by some miles and affords distance views of the mountains. Not only can you get a long view of the glacier, but beyond it a view of Mt. Cook, the tallest peak in New Zealand and where Sir Edmund Hillary trained to ascend Mt. Everest.

The lake has a loop trail of almost four miles. Along the way we made several stops to view the mountains and their reflection on the lake. Another unexpected feature is the temperate rain forest. Here we are looking at ice but standing in damp ferns, moss, and nurse logs. If you’ve ever been to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, it is much the same experience.

Lake Matheson

Lake Matheson

The West Coast is remote. Things cost more here than other places we’ve been in the south. However, as with many beautiful and remote places, this is the price you pay for spectacular views, quiet and pastoral fields, and a slower pace. It has been at places like this that I have been thankful that we are perhaps seeing less but doing more. Viewing the river of ice at leisure gives us time to reflect on the blessings of nature that we’ve experienced.

More Information»

Day One

We’re in the vacation area that is the northwest corner of the south island of New Zealand, and summer is over. Kids in their school uniforms walk along the sidewalk or push scooters. Grapes and ripening, apples are ready to be picked, and days are shortening. Family holidays are over, and the “gray migration” has begun. That’s us—the gray ones.

We notice these things as we drive to a beach where we’ll board a catamaran that will take us up the coast to Tonga Quarry Bay. We are ready with our hiking gear, camelbacks, sunscreen, bug juice, hats and sunglasses.

The Wilson’s—that’s the tour company—boat promptly boards at 9:30 AM. After several stops to off load other walkers and some people headed to a remote lodge, we arrive at Tonga Quarry Bay to walk along the coastal track of Abel Tasman National Park.

There are almost no roads into the park. This is fairly common in New Zealand, and services in national parks are supplied by enterprising companies who provide things such as the water taxis, day rental kayaks, or bigger boats with toilets and food we find here in Abel Tasman. We chose the latter.

Karen on trail at Able Tasman National Park

Karen on trail at Aebe Tasman National Park

Once on the beach with a few other couples and one single young woman, we make our way to the well-marked trailhead. Steep switchbacks take us up to a ridge a bit further inland. There is plenty of shade and a hard packed dry trail. Vegetation is cut back making it easy to navigate. In many places you can even push a stroller. That’s if you want to drag it up the steep inclines. Getting lost is impossible.

We take our time and let people pass us. There are a lot of people on the trail even on a Monday in what is the equivalent of early September in the northern hemisphere. This section of the track is a two hour walk and we have four hours before our boat will be back to pick us up. There are plenty of loaded down young folk backpacking the entire trail. Even though this is New Zealand’s smallest national park, it’s the most popular because it’s considered the easiest trekking in the entire country.

Karen traverses a suspension bridge

Karen traverses a suspension bridge

Waterfall that the suspension bridge passes in front of. The waterfall that the suspension bridge passes in front of.

Waterfall that the suspension bridge passes in front of.
The waterfall that the suspension bridge passes in front of.

We are joined along the way by a young woman from San Francisco. She is alone. Her husband is kayaking. After several stops to chat with people and take pictures we reach Bark Bay. The tide is out and some people are strolling along the tidal basins. The sand is firm and the shallow pools warm.

We stop at a picnic table and eat the lunch we have brought. A roving park ranger, the only park employee we have seen, is cleaning a shelter hut next to us. Standing on a table to reach under the eaves, he drops the hose he is using and asks Dave if he can hand it back up to him. This starts a conversation, and he tells us that in high season 600 to 700 hikers travel along this coastal track every day. As we look out at the beautiful beach and turquoise bay with paddle boarders, kayakers, swimmers, and sun bathers visible through the palms and ferns, it is easy to understand the popularity.

Bark Bay in Abel Tasman National Park

Bark Bay in Able Tasman National Park

After lunch I wade along the beach as Dave explores. We pick up shells and stones (Dave thinks he has found a piece of gold-bearing quartz.) and relax until it is time for our pickup. As our boat arrives we are feeling the results of our day. We’re sun weary and ready to think about food and, yes, a cold beer.

Day Two

After a good night’s rest, we set off again. Today we are going kayaking.

We drive to the same spot as yesterday and meet our guide, Amelia. After a lot of safety and equipment lessons, we get ourselves into our “watertight” two-person kayak and shove off into the clear water. I’m in the front. It’s my job to set the pace and look for rocks we might hit. Dave, in the back is steering us using foot pedals to move the rudder. There is only one other couple, a pair of youngsters from Austria. Like a mother duck with her hatch, Amelia keeps her small clutch close. She’s from the far northern tip of the north island and has been here in Tasman only five weeks. She moved to the area for the job of kayak guide and is already versed in the nature, geology, and Maori myths about the Park.

From the rear I hear the familiar directives of previous canoe and kayak trips. “Use your shoulders! Toe to hip, paddle toe to hip! Don’t lean when you paddle! Sit up straight!” I know the drill. Occasionally I look over my shoulder sure my “captain” is not paddling and leaving me to do all the work, but somehow I never catch him.

We make it past the sight of an old Maori Pa (fortified village) and paddle on to a seal colony. Along the way we see dolphins jumping and further out in deeper water whales spouting and breaching. Finally, we make it to Split Apple Rock where we rest and take photos. It is still relatively high tide and swimmers are crawling along the base of the rock to explore.

Split Apple Rock is a granite bolder that cracked in half.

Split Apple Rock is a granite bolder that cracked in half.

There is nothing like being at water level to get an appreciation of how special this part of New Zealand is: clear blue water, sandy beaches, no sharks or sting rays, and safe passages through interesting rock formations.

We turn around for the paddle back to our beach. The trip seems shorter than it did going out. We line up pointed at the beach and accelerate to ramming speed to drive the kayak as far onto the sand as possible. Getting out of our cockpits is still a tenuous affair.

Karen with our fellow kayakers at the end of our voyage.

Karen with our fellow kayakers at the end of our voyage.

After disembarking with a wet pair of pants (so much for watertight), we make our way to the supermarket, our little cottage, a shower, and laundry. This time we celebrated our upper body workout with lemonade and a lovely luncheon at Jesters Café.

More Information»
Wellington
February 282015

Sweeping down Highway 2 into Wellington gives you your first impression of the city center of Wellington and the hills that protect it. Tall buildings are surrounded by hills dotted with houses with steep green space behind them. On the waterfront you see ships being loaded and, further out, there are sailboats. The vista might remind you a bit of San Francisco or Seattle.

Wellington stayWhen the highway ended, we were dumped immediately onto busy city streets. Nearby we found our central city address Airbnb stay and unloaded our rental car. It needed to be returned the next day to Omega. Our little Nissan Tilda had served us well during our stay on the north island..

It was time to stretch our legs and walk. A block over we strolled along Cuba Street and did some window shopping. There was rain approaching so we ate dinner in an Indian restaurant and watched the student life mingle. The downpour came and gutters overflowed. The diners in the back of our restaurant were government types and, having finished eating and making speeches, were making a dash back to their cars.

After dinner, doing laundry, and making plans for the next day, we made an early night of it.

It was much cooler the next day, but typical for this moderate climate the sun came out and warmed us up. We returned the car by 10 AM, and our Airbnb hostess Angela drove us up to the summit of Mt. Victoria to get a view of the city and surroundings. The Hobbit was filmed in this country and its director Peter Jackson has set up his special effects studio here in Wellington. So I guess I wasn’t too surprised to learn that the suburb near the airport became known as Peter Jackson Village.

Back in the city Dave and I strolled around the waterfront then I returned to our aptment while he continued to explore. Angela and I had made plans to have lunch and see Still Alice at a boutiquey, tiny, loungy movie theater close by.

One of many lovely things about staying with a local is the inside scoop about restaurants, shops, and sights. Angela and I ate at a little off the beaten path café called Havana. A delicious starter in this country is often olives. Then we had flat bread with watercress butter and potatoes and salad. We followed that with a small fish entry and a tiny truffle to end. It certainly was not your typical fish and chips or curry.

Dave and I had another wonderful culinary experience that night at the corner of our street. You can tell that, with only one full day to spend here, we got a good sampling of food. While I’m away from the gym but close to knife and fork, I’m going to indulge guilt free. Let the dieting begin in Ohio.

More Information»

We traveled to the south island of New Zealand by Ferry from Wellington to Picton. The trip was about three hours and cost us about $45 US each. The ferry is an experience well worth having. The passage out of Wellington to the Cook Strait offers interesting views, but the trip through channels at the northern tip of the south island is really something. I’ve posted a few photos below, but first  some thoughts that came to me as we crossed the Cook Strait.

The One or the Other

It’s large
The ocean
I say THE ocean
Because really
There is only one ocean
All those waters of many names
Are connected
And they’re not stitched together
Like some globe-encircling patchwork slipcover
By a bunch of little straits and channels
No they’re one whole Shrink wrapped piece of blue
Sucked into place
By the great squeezer
Gravity
And here I am on it
The ocean I mean
In this pimple of a ship
But I might just as well have meant
The other
Gravity

Passage through south island to Picton

Passage through south island to Picton

Leaving the north island

Leaving the north island

Entrance to passage to Picton

Entrance to passage to Picton

Hidden cove

Hidden cove

Lumber barge in the channel

Lumber barge in the channel

 

Picton

Picton

jfjfhfhfhfhf

 

More Information»
Napier and Art Deco Week
February 252015

We left Ohakune around 10 in the morning for our trip over the mountains to Napier. Like nearly every road in New Zealand it was a narrowish two-lane job, and since it was through hills and mountains and over rivers and streams, it twisted and turned at every opportunity. The route we took was the most direct one between Ohakune and Napier. That meant, scenic as it was, there was danger of a semi truck around every hairpin turn. Thank God there wasn’t a blood pressure monitor hooked up to me. I don’t want to know what I registered at some of the more interesting moments.

Nevertheless it was a beautiful drive. Our first view of the distant Pacific let us know we were truly over the peaks. A long descent took us near the coast for our drive into Napier.

Art Deco Weekend

County Hotel

The County Hotel

A Napier couple dressed for Art Deco Weekend

A Napier couple dressed for Art Deco Weekend

We rolled into Napier on the eve of the city’s biggest annual celebration. The streets were packed with people in 1930s attire, automobiles and trucks from the first half of the twentieth century, and steam-powered tractors while planes from WW I and WW II flew overhead. What was being celebrated you ask? Eighty four years ago on February 3, 1931 an earthquake destroyed this resort city on Hawke’s Bay known as the Brighton of New Zealand. (The Brighton referred to is of course the seaside resort in England.)

It wasn’t the earthquake that was being feted, but Napier’s rebirth a mere two years later in the then contemporary architectural style known as art deco. In America we have South Beach in Miami as our best known collection of art deco buildings, but that patch of pastel hotels, restaurants, shops, and residences has nothing on the downtown of Napier which today is a living homage to a single architectural style. There are virtually no structures that are not art deco.

The date on this building says it all.

The date on this building says it all.

Karen and her parasol

Karen and her parasol

People come from all over the world to see the buildings of Napier. In fact they were a big part of why we were stopping here for six days. Once a year for one long weekend everyone in Napier seems to time travel back to the 1930s and ’40s to re-celebrate its resurrection as a true jewel on the Pacific. It’s called Art Deco Weekend, and that’s where and what we found ourselves in.

A man on a vintage Indian has a chat with a young driver.

A man on a vintage Indian has a chat with a young driver.

Residents and visitors, and there are a lot of the latter, transform themselves into their parents and grandparents. Vintage clothing stores overflow with people making last-minute purchases of dresses, parasols, wraps,  hats, white trousers, braces, vests, bowties, and striped blazers with which to create their own special image as they stroll the town over the weekend and attend concerts, dances, and scores of other events.

Karen got into the swing of things with the purchase of a white day dress and an accompanying parasol. I settled for a cheese-cutter cap. We may not have been among the best dressed, but we had the spirit.

1938 Packard

1938 Packard

And then there were the cars. There were times when I looked down a street with sidewalks full of what seem to be men, women, and children from a bygone era only to have my observation confirmed by a line of Auburns, Duesenbergs, Austin Sevens and Eights, MGs, Packards, and Model As turning the corner. And, oh yeah, here comes a Rolls Silver Ghost and a Bentley from the other direction. Not a Toyota, Honda, or Nissan in sight.

It‘s like being on a movie set except these are regular people going about the business of enjoying a summer weekend in a fashionable seaside city of the 1930s.

Wine making region

By Sunday we were ready to experience some of the other draws of the Hawk’s Bay region. The area is touted for its award-winning wines, so a trip to a winery was in order. We drove the ten miles or so to Havelock North, a village of about 13,000 inland and a little south of Napier. There we had breakfast before driving to the outskirts of town and the Te Mata winery. It was a little early for wine so first a word about one of the great things about New Zealand you don’t hear about—the bacon. It’s just about the best I’ve ever had, and no, it’s not lamb bacon.

If you’ve visited wineries in the US then you know that nearly all have begun to charge for tastings. At Te Manta the tastings were free and generous. I’m more of a beer, whisky, or gin guy than an oenophile, but that was good wine.

The beach

Waipatiki Beach

Waipatiki Beach

There’s a beach in Napier, but it is black stones and gravel. Once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. However north of the city a few miles is Waipatiki Beach. That was our destination Monday morning. It was (okay here I go with that word again) beautiful. We had it to ourselves mostly except for one large family and another couple or two until three automobiles pulled in and parked on the sand. At that point I stopped looking at surf, cliffs, and sand.

They were Duesenbergs from the 1930s. One of them may have been the car once been owned by Carole Lombard. It lives in New Zealand now and everyone refers to it as the $8-million car. The three Duesies were shortly joined by sedan that looked plain in comparison to them. It was just an everyday Auburn. By the way the expression, “It’s a Duesy,” used to indicate that something is really special derives from the Duesenberg automobile.

Duesenbergs at Waipatiki Beach

Duesenbergs at Waipatiki Beach

Whatever and whoever’s the four pieces of motoring art were, I was looking at a fortune in restored-to-perfection vintage autos sitting on the sand at a remote beach. I was tempted to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming, but I didn’t want to destroy the experience in case. I was. By the way this wasn’t a photo shoot. No skinny high fashion models got out of the cars, just the people who had taken them out for a drive.

Some final thoughts on Napier

Tuesday was our last day in Napier and we drove up to a steep road above downtown to Bluff Hill. It overlooked the working harbor where stacks of shipping containers stood on the quay waiting to be loaded on trucks or ships. Behind them were two cruise ships that had docked at Napier. The lookout from which we saw all this had held cosatal guns in WW II.

Cruise ships at quay in Napier.

Cruise ships at quay in Napier.

From Bluff Hill we could see much of the area. Even the beach that had been graced by the Duesenbergs lay around a promontory just visible in the distance. It was a great place to remember all the things that made our stay in Napier so wonderful, including our little Airbnb studio and our hosts Marise and Grant. I know I’ll in all likelihood never be back here, but it’s the kind of place where the first words that come to mind are, “I could live here. Yes I could.”

More Information»
Whanganui river on the way to Jerusalem.

Whanganui river on the way to Jerusalem.

To the west of Ohakune is a little visited place. It’s the Whanganui National Park. We hadn’t planned to visit there but a unique opportunity came our way. Our Airbnb hostess is the aunt of a Maori living in the park near the village of Jerusalem.

Up until last year the main road into the park was not paved. This discouraged tourists. Some Maori liked it that way. Now we could have an opportunity to go to a Maori community and have tea with a mom and her three month old baby while accompanied by a loving auntie. (Boy am I missing being a loving auntie while here.)

Up and down through the valleys and gorges we made our way. Dave, a bit susceptible to car sickness when not driving, was courageously hanging in there. At times I thought he looked a little green around the edges. That got me to thinking about that New Zealand favorite—green lipped mussels. Boy are they good. It’s a good thing I didn’t tell Dave about my wandering mind. I doubt seafood was something he wanted to think about as the car twisted left and right and dove up and down.

We visited the local church. Many missionaries came to this country and were successful in converting the Maoris to Catholicism. After the church and convent we drove through a sparsely inhabited village. The last 3 miles were up a dirt road to a sweet house perched on a hillside. The family gravesite was in a fenced off section of the back yard. Pigs rooted around down by the road and flowers and vegetables grew in the side yard.

We enjoyed tea, sandwiches, and watermelon on a shaded patio while talking about the Maori customs of land ownership, funerals, weddings, and adoptions. Maoris sometimes give their children to others in the community who are childless or who would like to raise another child. It seemed very foreign to me because sometimes the birth mother has daily contact with the child and sometimes there is no contact.

While our stay was brief, it turned out to be the perfect addition to a Maori Museum exhibit and a Maori Village visit and feast. Now we had the modern day Maori visit in a peaceful paradise.

More Information»

 

It was February 16 and time to head to the bush. In New Zealand that means the country. It was good to get away from touristy Rotorua.

Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park and the biggest on the north island. Scenery from this park is used in the Lord of the Rings films.

This park is especially popular with hikers because of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It is a 12.5 mile walk that starts and finishes in different places. Climbers scramble up the Mangetepopo Saddle which lies between Tongariro and Ngauruhoe peaks. Once cresting the Tongariro summit to the Red Crater at 6,120 feet, trekkers descend on loose gravel and stones to 3 smaller craters called the Emerald Lakes.

We talked to a young man who, with a mate, did the hike in one direction one day then turned around and did it back the next day. At 19 that may be doable, but he sure looked worse for the wear when he got back.

We did not do the crossing. (sigh)

Steam and gasses rising from the mountain

Steam and gasses rising from the mountain

From a distance you can see the mountains. The northern Ngaurahoe is not snow covered. But it is spectacular because it’s a volcano and lets off plenty of steam. We drove down a dirt road that was a pick up point and parking spot for people doing the crossing. While there, we took lots of steaming pictures. We picked up a hitchhiking young man from the Netherlands who had just finished the hike in about 7 hours. He said the weather was perfect in that it was not cold, windy, or rainy. He walked by lots of steam vents where hikers were warming up in the early morning hours. The views he said were stunning. We dropped him off on a dirt road that would take him back to where his wife and one-year old were camping.

Once again, New Zealand amazes us with its natural diversity as do young people with their willingness and ability to trek the world—even with a baby in tow.

 

More Information»
Warriors greet and challenge us at the entrance to the village

Warriors greet and challenge us at the entrance to the village

We were on our way to the Tamaki Maori Village, a genuine tourist attraction outside the city of Rotorua, and we were on our waka going to a hangi at the Tumunui with other manuhiri to greet the Tangata Whenua. Our korotiwaka had us perfect our kia ora pronunciation.

Translation: We were on our bus going to a feast at the village of Tumunui with other visitors to greet the tribe known as the people of the land. Our bus driver/guide had us perfect our Maori hello pronunciation—kia ora. A point of clarification here: a waka isn’t actually a bus; it’s a canoe. Our guide had us pretend that we were a tribe from the other side of a lake and that we were crossing in a canoe the lake to visit the Tangata Whenua tribe’s village.

A chief was chosen to represent our tribe’s waka. We were counseled on how to act as we approached and entered the village and were greeted by the Tangata Whenua tribe. The instructions included a request to not laugh even if part of the welcoming ceremony and ritual seemed humorous to us. We were also cautioned not to stick our tongues out when the warriors greeting us stuck out theirs. In short, we were to be respectful of the customs and culture of the Maori people.

Maori warrior with facial and body tattoos

Maori warrior with facial and body tattoos

About 200 people from around the world spent their Valentine’s Day evening first being challenged (Te Wero) then accepted and invited into the village (Marae). The Tangata Whenua tribe showed us how their warriors trained, their skill at poi (somewhat like a yo yo), their games, carving techniques, and more. It was a cool evening so we stepped up to the fires and heated stones and watched with enchantment through the tall trees as it got darker.

From the village we entered the Big House (Wharenui) and all the villagers danced for us and our chiefs pressed noses (hongi) in friendship. Emphasis was put on the ancestors, the mythical stories, and the proud past of these people. At times the evening had a Disneyesque feel to this reproduction of a Maori village from the time of first contact with Europeans. Highly organized, it was informative and entertaining if a bit redundant.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I was so hungry dog food would have tasted good. We arrived at office in Rotorua at 6:30, our bus had picked us up at 7, and it was now 9 pm.

Finally, we were invited into the Wharekai(food house) and after a Maori prayer we went, buffet style, to get a selection of fish, lamb, chicken, green lipped mussels, kumari (sweet potato), potatoes, stuffing, carrots, cranberry sauce, mint sauce, gravy, and bread and butter. They had shown us their traditional way of cooking in a pit but you can be sure none of this food came that way.There was just too much of it. It was all good, and I ate it all.

Then came dessert. It was Pavlova—a traditional New Zealand favorite made of meringue and fruit treat. I’d read in a guide book that you had to eat Pavlova in New Zealand, but this is the only time that we have come across it so far. There was also steamed pudding. Afterwards we finished up with a a celebration of a staff member’s birthday and more singing. Then it was back on our waka and home.

The Maori are blessed to have kept an interest in their land, history, language, dance, food, and games. These are proud, kind, and fun loving people. We were glad to spend an evening with them.

More Information»

Our first stop outside of Auckland was Hamilton. It’s about an hour and a half south of Auckland and the fourth largest city in New Zealand with a population of only 140,000. We found our lovely riverside apartment perched on a hillside overlooking Waikato, the longest river in New Zealand. The views included college teams practicing their rowing skills.

Rowers on the river

Rowers on the river

There were many choices of things to do in the area including just relaxing but we were persuaded to visit the 2014 Garden of the Year chosen by the International Garden Tourism Network. The Hamilton Gardens turned out to be a wonderful way to spend a day and the weather was perfect AND the Garden is free!

We started with lunch at the café and had English pasties and Lemington and cream for dessert (turns out it’s like a snowball filled with heavy cream).

Karen going native in the Maori Garden

Karen going native in the Maori Garden

Fortified, we launched our explorations at the Paradise Garden Collection. This is 5 lovely gardens representing some of the most significant garden traditions of China, Japan, England, Italy, and America.

Not only were their typical flowers arranged in the tradition of the culture, but there where facades of iconic buildings of that culture.

The Tudor Garden

The Tudor Garden

In addition to these five gardens, there were Tutor, Maori and sustainable gardens. They were all well maintained and flowed nicely together. We saw at least a half dozen gardeners stooped over pulling weeds and deadheading flowers. We also got to dash through sprinklers and cross over bridges near ponds and streams.

At the end of the afternoon, we made our way to the rose garden. It was aptly named Rogers Garden. I say this because my brother, Roger, loved roses. He would have been truly in paradise in this botanical heaven. Roger, I hope you are resting in a place as beautiful as this was.

More Information»
Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland
February 132015

We’re on a Hot Spot

The Pacific Rim circles the giant ocean and the boundaries are clear. Every once in a while, a volcano erupts and reminds the world that Mother Nature doesn’t mess around. Her power is clearly evident here in New Zealand.

In the central region of the North Island, there are volcanoes. While inactive at the moment, they are not extinct. When you drive around Rototura both to the northeast and the southwest, there are steam vents coming out of pastures, streams, and valleys. Mud pools bubble away and sound like giant coffee pots percolating. Steam turns rocks chartreuse. We visited the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland to get up close.

Part of the park from an overlook

Part of the park from an overlook

Different chemicals, including arsenic, change the colors of the rim underwater and above the water an edge builds up like a pie crust. The water cascades from higher ground and falls slowly to pools below like the oyster pool and frying pan pool. All the while, steam rises and blows across your face. The Maori use the vents to cook food but the water truly is boiling so care is needed.

TRails run along the edge and through thermal activity

TRails run along the edge and through thermal activity

Thermal Wonderland is compact, not spread out like Yellowstone Park in the States. You can walk through all the trails in under two hours, and actually that makes the experience something special.

Thermal activity stretches out under towns like Rototura and through farms and pastures. In other words, people are living and carrying on their lives right on top of boiling water. And right now, we’re sleeping on top of it! That makes us brave, right?

After hiking through the cauldrons of boiling water and mud, across barren rock made desolate by thermal activity, and through clouds of sulfurous vapors, we went across the road to the thermal pools and soaked for about an hour. There was a regular sized back yard pool for swimming. Several “passive” tubs were scattered about. They felt about like a hot tub feels. While the standards of pristine cleanliness is different here than in the States, it still felt mighty relaxing.

A botanical side note here. I’ve noticed a tall tree that I thought was a palm. It turns out it is a fern called Ponga. It truly looks like something out of Jurassic Park. Many other flowers I recognize from living in California.

More Information»
From the Wearable Art  Exhibition

From the Wearable Art Exhibition

The Auckland War Memorial Museum is a bit of just about everything Auckland and New Zealand. It memorializes New Zealand’s wars from those between the Maori and the English in the nineteenth century right up to today.

It offers a retrospective of Kiwi culture and society. There is a large amount Maori culture, history, and art. There is natural history and the story of New Zealand’s volcanic origins. And there was a large special exhibition of wearable art that will knock your socks off.

One of the most interesting things for me was the simulation of a volcanic eruption in Auckland. Not a past eruption, but one as it would be today. we sat in the living room of a house with a simulated picture window view of the city and bay. A special report was playing on the TV about an impending eruption. It told of people evacuating the danger zone and likely results of the coming event.

Suddenly our little house shook violently. A disclaimer had warned something like this was coming, but it was still a shock. The newscasters announced that there had been an eruption in the bay and began to report on events as they occurred.

Looking out our “picture window” we saw a wave of steam or water vapor rise out of the bay and begin moving toward us. Suddenly our house shook again and a large rolling black cloud of lethal superheated gases formed over the water and began moving toward us very rapidly. Power went in and out along with the TV, and then with one final sputter the lights were gone and the TV with its updates was off the air.

It didn’t matter because the gas cloud closed the distance and flowed over us. All was black. We were dead.

Luckily this was a simulation. But when the TV came back on we were told a volcanic eruption was not a question of if, but when.

There are 53 volcanoes in the Auckland region, and that’s a sobering thought. It reminded of when we lived in California and its potential for earthquakes, except on steroids.

The museum was great. Everyone visiting Auckland should go to it.

More Information»

We get a car and go to Cathedral Cove

Let’s go to Cathedral Cove Karen said right after we picked up our rental car. Meanwhile I was trying to figure out why everyone was driving on the wrong side of the road. Or was it me on the wrong side? I white-knuckled my way through city streets for a while as Karen cringed in the passenger seat and delivered reminders of, “left, LEFT, LEFT.

Somehow we made it out of Auckland. To our advantage it was a New Zealand’s equivalent of the Fourth of July and traffic was light. Light until we hit the expressway. It seemed everyone was bailing out of town for the long holiday weekend, and we of course were headed to one of the great scenic and beach areas of a country whose name should be New Senicland.

Coromandel mapThe Coromandel Peninsula lies across the Hauraki Gulf to the east of  Auckland. A mountain range runs up the middle with artsy resort towns along both its east and west shores. Cathedral Cove is about 110 miles from Auckland.

So there I went driving on the wrong side of the road 110 miles out and 110 back.  The good news was that Eisa has lent us her GPS to use while we are in New Zealand. We’ll mail it back to her from ChristChurch before we leave. You can’t get that kind of help from a hotel. Yea Airbnb and especially Eisa. The bad news I was still driving on the wrong side of the road.

The drive up the Peninsula was beautiful. The road was twisty and full of switchbacks as we negotiated our way over the heights and through valleys. The trees and plants were sometimes familiar looking, and sometimes made you think you had slipped into a scene from Jurassic Park.

After three hours we got to the little town of Hahei, the jumping off  place for Cathedral cove. What we didn’t know is how hard it would be to get to the Cove. First there is virtually no parking. So Karen and I went down to the Hahei beach where you could get a water taxi to the cove. The price–$25 each–seemed a bit steep, so we went back to edge of town where you could park for free and take a bus for the short drive to the Cove entrance. The price of $3 a head round trip seemed just right until the bus driver wished us an enjoyable walk as we exited the bus. His smile said it all.

A mile and a half later of steep ups and downs and countless steps we arrived at the Cove. It was a walk I was thinking I could have done without as we stepped onto the beach. Then I remembered I had to walk back to the bus stop. For a moment I thought living on the beach for the rest of my life.

Cathedral Cove is gorgeous, and yes it is worth the walk. I won’t try to describe it. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Yes, we are about to walk out of a tunnel from one beach to the nexx.

Yes, we are about to walk out of a tunnel from one beach to the next.

That's Karen standing next to her new favorite rock.

That’s Karen standing next to her new favorite rock.

P1000178

Looking back through the tunnel.

Karen tying to walk on water at Cathedral Cove.

Karen tying to walk on water at Cathedral Cove.

 

More Information»

We arrive at Eisa’s condo in Auckland 

After 34 hours of travel we arrived at Eisa’s to be greeted by Robert at 11:58 pm on February 3. Eisa had been held over an extra day in Wellington for work. She got back the following evening.

Lucy and her pet human Eisa

Lucy and her pet human Eisa

All travel has its adventures, but one of the strangest for us was being caught in a traffic jam on the way from the Auckland airport to Eisa’s. I bet you’re thinking we’re a couple of bumpkins who found it strange that there could be traffic after 11 pm. Wrong! And if you don’t think being stuck behind a house on a four-lane road at 11:30 at night has a strangeness quotient, I think you’re faking your sophistication.

That’s right. They were moving a house down the road and our airport shuttle was stuck until the house made a right turn.

Once settled in at Eisa’s apartment and after a couple of needed showers, we were out like the proverbial lights. Neither one of us remembers anything between pulling the covers up and sunshine the next morning.

More Information»
All Listing Types All Locations Any Rating

Listing Results