New Zealand

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2010-04-10 – 13: New Zealand Trip

I got sick on our trip to Savusavu to pick up Bob and Janelle. Other than that the trip was a success. We decided to take Vesi’s truck on the way back to Kioa rather than a bus and this decision paid off handsomely. A 3-hour Fijian bus ride is a hard way to break someone in to 3rd world livin’. Although the weather was hot and muggy Bob and Janelle withstood it well.

After arriving in Kioa and giving them the initial tour of the village Kelly made the famous PC tuna burgers, of which I have recently become a huge fan of almost surpassing my love of Kelly’s homemade biscuits. Our first night in Kioa didn’t get below 80 degrees and the wind was minimal. We attended the evening church service and they really enjoyed the choir. Lasati was preaching as most of the elders had left for Tuvalu a few days earlier and the pastor was out of town. Anytime Lasati speaks it is an adventure. His son, Petueli, closes his eyes in solemn prayer every time Lasati gets up to speak in the community meetings. Although we rarely know what he is saying, even when he speaks in English, it is always entertaining. He often tells Kelly and I that although our home is in Texas, “We sleep in Kioa.” I have no idea what this means. During his sermon that evening he wore his sunglasses almost the entire time, something only he could get away with as wearing hats and shades inside is considered rude in the village. He would occasionally prop them on his forehead just above his eyebrows while trying to read a bible passage or navigating the steps to and from the lectern. Bob and Janelle, as well as myself, were a little confused during the sermon as he forgot to say ‘talo’, meaning prayer, indicating the start of prayer time. Despite our confusion we enjoyed sharing the unique church service with Bob and Janelle.

That night we explored several of the goodies Bob and Janelle brought us from home. One of the treasures were bags of Tootsie-Roll-Pops for the kids. The kids love these. Kelly gave a few away and word quickly spread. Soon tamalikis where showing up left and right flashing their pearly whites in hopes of a lolly gift. We happily obliged and soon depleted our supply. I reserved a few for my work crews who always lend a hand on yard duties.

Bob brought some lightweight Chaco hiking boots perfect for the upcoming trip to New Zealand. My only boots are slowly rotting from Tomas’ soaking inside our house. Of course they also brought coffee, which is always heavily coveted here. Janelle gave Kelly quick dry Columbia shirts perfect for the sultry Fijian days during the wet season.

After Christmas in April we had Kelly’s risotto for dinner and went to bed early exhausted from a hearty travel day. Most our neighbors 12 dogs seemed to be well behaved during the night and instead gave the stage to the roosters, who seemed very energetic. Kelly and I have acclimated our ears to the roosters so it didn’t bother us much. Bob and Janelle weren’t as fortunate and had a hard time sleeping.

Pancakes with peaches were on order for breakfast and we soon headed out for a three hour fibre boat tour with our Kioan guide, Malaki. Apparently I haven’t been clear on exactly what a fibre boat is in my copious blog entries and Bob was confused on exactly what kind of sea going vessel we where about to spend the next three hours. A fibre boat is a small, 20 foot fiberglass boat with an outboard motor. Fancy fibres have a floor and wooden planks for seats. Really fancy fibres, like Malaki’s, have small cabins up front for stowing cargo out of the weather and rough seas. Of course, Kioa’s village fibres are just shells with a plywood floor. Therefore, we hired Malaki for the tour as sitting cross-legged is hard enough while done stationary, much less while bumping up and down over waves.

The skies where overcast and seas calm making the ride unusually smooth. Typically if it is calm in the bay near the village it is rough around the eastern point of the island, which receives the brunt of the prevailing winds. Malaki provided colorful commentary as we passed the major geographical landmarks of the island’s perimeter. The water visibility was very clear allowing great views of the coral and fish. We were encouraged to see Tomas’ damage to the soft coral on this side of the island wasn’t as severe as originally thought. As we made our way around the Eastern point of the island I spotted a huge Stingray leaping from the water. I’ve never seen this before and Malaki said it was probably fleeing a predator.

Although we have toured the island previously, it was often in a hurry with little or no commentary on the historical landmarks. Malaki pointed to one spot near the Pearl Farm where Fijians living on the island in the past hid from Tongan warriors invading from the east. I had read about similar events in Daryl Tarte’s book, Fiji. It is an interesting historical Fiction on the history of Fiji up to the first coup.

We stopped at the Pearl Farm on the side of the island facing Buca Bay where Eddie graciously gave us a quick tour of the operation. On the way back to the village we spotted some heavily damaged coral and major algae blooms. It looks like the western side got hit much harder than other areas, which was probably due to the more severe currents in this area.

For lunch we had corn chowder with long beans. That afternoon Bob serial napped and then got the urge to fix our battery powered fan ruined by Tomas. After taking apart the housing we spotted a blown fuse. We direct wired over the fuse with a piece of copper and put it back together. Later that evening when the generator came one I cautiously plugged it in. Although it is battery powered, it has a plug to charge the batteries. Our repair job didn’t really work as soon as I plugged it in I heard a large pop, the lights flashed, and wavy flumes of smoke fluttering from the surge protector. I quickly unplugged the device and said a quick prayer of thanks that I wasn’t done in by a piece of crap battery powered Chinese fan.

Earlier in the day, Janelle and I then took turns riding the paopao. Unfortunately she only paddled in circles and never could quite grasp the very difficult outrigger paddling technique. I took me a week to get the hang of it. Kelly baked cookies all afternoon, which drew an eager crowd of tamaliki’s already curious of the new white people on the island. She then made roti as Janelle fanned her. That evening we had a refreshing meal of bean burritos, cheese, and grilled lettuce with garlic and onions. It rained heavily earlier cooling things off a bit and making for a pleasant evening with temperatures in the upper seventies. We’ve discovered anything below eighty is usually tolerable with the most ideal conditions south of 75. I find this strange as in Texas, 80 is considered rather mild and hardly hot at all. There is just something about the thickness of the air here that makes it all seam about 50% hotter than the temperature suggests.

We left early Tuesday to Taveuni Island with the calmest seas we’ve seen to date. After arriving at Waiyevo landing, Sepo picked us up and we made our way to the beautiful ecotourism resort called Nakia. We then arranged a truck taxi with Jone to Lavena, on the other side of the island. When Jone arrived we realized he had a co-pilot in the front seat, his four year old son Sammy. I rode shotgun with Sammy and we headed out for Lavena.

Lavena was having a community work day and called us on the way to ask us to pick up 24 loaves of bread and a ½ kg of butter. We picked these up at Bula Baih, the last real store before the bush starts. Even though the road was rougher than an Oklahoma State Highway after a bombing, Sammy had started dozing off while sitting in my lap and was soon rocking back and forth. He passed out and commenced drool production. The road went from bad to worse and soon his little head was bouncing left and right. Amazingly he kept on snoozing. I passed him back to Janelle and Kelly where he reclined in style the remainder of the trip.

The road had recently been re-built in several places after receiving extensive damage from Tomas and was about as rough as we’ve experienced thus far in Fiji. Several houses had been blown away leaving only vacant concrete slabs. Most of the coconut trees that hadn’t fallen were now free from their lower palms leaving only rough fragments of the upper palms resembling wind blown dandelions.

Since our bones were shaken from the hour and fifteen minute ride, we wearily stepped out at Lavena to prepare for the 3km coastal walk. Simone immediately greeted us with his patent smile and gregarious laughter. He is our favorite tour guide and seasons the hike with much wisdom and joy of the deep appreciation he has for his homeland.

During the hike Janelle asked many questions and Simone was more than happy to provide copious replies along with many related side stories loosely related to the topic at hand. Although we had heard most of his tales from previous trips, Janelle brought out many more new yarns of which we were eager to hear.

Just past the beach where Return to Blue Lagoon was filmed, I spotted the biggest sea snake I’ve ever seen sunning on a rock about 40 yards away. Simone of course became giddy and started playing with it. Although they are very poisonous, their mouths are so small the chances of getting bitten are rare.

That day the weather was brilliant with partly cloudy skies and a nice breeze. Of the two trips we’ve made previously to Lavena both have been entirely covered in overcast clouds and copious amounts of rain. This is one of the wettest parts of Fiji so we were very grateful for the sunshine. We arrived at the river leading up to the falls tired but excited about the cool swim to the pool receiving the twin falls about 100 meters from the trails end. Janelle, Kelly, Simone, and I made the swim/walk and maneuvered around a huge hardwood tree that had lodged itself in the middle of the river after being thrashed around by Tomas while Bob supervised.

At the fall pool Simone did his patent 45’ jump from the high fall, which is always a crowd pleaser. I decided to pass on the jump but instead took a run at the lower water fall slide. The water was a bit low, so Simone advised me to stay to the right on the way down to avoid a large boulder below the water. I tried, but the current pushed me left and I soon met the lurking rock as hit hurled me vertically in the air and then down into the pool below. It was great fun nevertheless and I would definitely do it again if the flow was a little higher.

On the way back we boarded a fibre with Gloria and traveled to the triple falls. The tide was still low, but coming in. Thus Simone and the boat captain had to get out and maneuver the boat through the rocks in the river leading up to the falls. While Simone was doing this he spotted another sea snake swimming near the shore. Receiving our full of sea snakes for the day we convinced Simone to carry on rather than teasing the watery reptile.

The triple falls emerged magically as we passed through an overhang of trees. The beauty was stunning and serene. After soaking it in and taking a few photos we made our way back to the village through rolling seas. The surf was breaking on the point near the lodge giving us intimate views of the powerful waves.

At the lodge we had lemon leaf tea and fried bread. We said our goodbyes to the staff, Simone, and Gloria and ventured back to Nakia. The road didn’t get any smoother on the way back, but a clear afternoon sky illuminated the landscape colors unlike I’ve seen before on the many trips I’ve made along this route. We capped the day with a marvelous sunset, good food, and warm conversation with family and the friendly Nakia staff. It was a long day and Bob and Janelle were troopers to hang in there with good attitudes and open minds.

2010-04-14: New Zealand Day One

We flew out of Matai airport on a tiny puddle jumper. It was like climbing into a small car with fold down bench seats. There was barely enough room for two people per row. However, this flight goes over the southeastern side of Kioa offering stunning views of the island.

We were a little worried about catching our next flight as the transfer time was only 50 minutes. As our friend Garrett says, when things go as planned in Fiji the gods must be sleeping. We made it through customs in record time and were at the gate with a few minutes to spare so they were definitely not paying attention to us that day.

I had forgotten how much I enjoy flying Air New Zealand. The food is good, service friendly, and planes new and clean. My favorite part is the safety video, which is typically dry and boring on most airlines. Instead, they hired actors with some sort of skin suit painted on their bodies and had the song ‘Under My Skin’ playing in the background. Their parting line at the end was something like, “We hope you enjoy your flight with Air New Zealand, the airline with nothing to hide.” Although I ended up watching it four times, it never really got boring. It was a great example of how anything can be made interesting with a little creativity.

We progressed through the customs gauntlet in Auckland and made our way to Christchurch. Here we stayed downtown at the Heritage near the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral. Two nights in soft beds with hot water quickly eased my Fiji summer blues. The best, though, were the 60 degree temperatures and dry air. We ended the successful travel day with a real pint of Guiness, frightfully hard to procure in Fiji, in the cleanest and smoke free Irish pub I’ve ever been in. It was a good day.

2010-04-16: New Zealand Day Two and Three

We started the day with an amazing breakfast and then took a quick tour of the downtown Anglican Cathedral. It was not open yet, so we ambled a bit and then headed back to the hotel to prepare for the trip south. After getting our map bearings we left out of Christchurch towards Terrace Downs, near Methven. I was navigating and Janelle was driving. Bob was manning the back up navigation system, the Tom Tom GPS, in the back while Kelly was sleeping, listening to her ipod, or generally not contributing at all to the navigation team because she always successfully called “not-it” first.

It was frankly quite nerve wracking trying to navigate my mother-in-law through the New Zealand road system on the wrong side of the road. New Zealanders are very keen on marking the roads with copious lines, symbols, and text making it hard to focus on anything. Their focus on road markings apparently makes signage less important and more infrequent than I’m used to in the states. In addition, the Tom Tom was like big brother looking over my shoulder ready to pounce on me the minute a wrong turn was made. Unfortunately, all the navigation systems missed the turn to Methven and so we headed south and parallel to the coast towards Rakia.

This wrong turn turned out to be fortuitous as when we got back on track the road took us right pass the International Plow Festival. I had seen the advertisement for this in the flight magazine and thought it was quite funny that there was such an event and that it was being held in the middle of nowhere on a out of the way island in the South Pacific. Regardless, we had made it and took copious photos to prove we had indeed witnessed this phenomenon. Plowing must be very popular in New Zealand as it was early on a Thursday and the parking lot was filling quickly. The excitement of the event nearly overwhelmed us so we decided to plow on to Terrace Downs.

A few miles out we passed through Rakia Gorge. This scenic point is where the Rakia River carries down glacial and mountain run off from the near vertical mountain range nearby. We stopped to get a few pictures and made our way across the gorge bridge. Janelle had been driving splendidly on the wrong side of the road and as we approached the bridge spanning the abyss below we all clinched a little upon noticing it contained only one lane. Approaching the bridge cautiously and as she carefully read the pavement instructions out loud we knew her focus was 100% and ready for the challenge. As she made the final approach we all said a silent prayer and held on for dear life. The 4,000lbs 4WD Land Cruiser glided over the uni-bridge and we all cheered once fully over the precipice. It was smooth sailing from there and we pulled into Shane and Vanessa’s house just before noon.

We were greeted with warm Southern New Zealand hospitality and had great fun playing with their six month old baby boy, Sam. We had Elk burgers for lunch that were heavenly. I have to confess I was somewhat gluttonous anytime red meat was on the table while in New Zealand and definitely had more than my fair share. After lunch we checked in at Robi and Christine’s guest house called Quickenberry, next door to Shane and Vanessa’s. They were equally friendly and gave us a quick tour of the place. We unpacked and got ready for the first outing with Shane to sight in the rifles and see a few animals. At the quarry/firing range the wind was whipping viciously. When the wind blows in New Zealand it really blows. Bob got familiar with the .270 rifle and soon it was Janelle’s turn. She wanted to try a prone shot position as the wind was rocking the Land Cruiser and making it hard to keep the rifle steady. Shane got his back pack as a prop and soon we all found Janelle curled up on the ground with both knees pulled to her chest and her torso rotated across the bag. It looked like a good way to pop a stiff back but quite strange for firing a large caliber rifle. Shane didn’t know how to react as he had never seen a hunter find their way into such a complicated prone firing position, thenceforth dubbed the ‘Granelly Love Curl.’ We all had a good laugh and Shane got down on the ground to demonstrate the more traditional method of firing a rifle from the ground. Janelle was a good sport about it and was soon firing away deadly accurate shots at the target.

The hunting grounds were part of the Mt. Hutt station nearby. Farms or ranches are called ‘stations’ in New Zealand. This was a very large station and one of the interesting characteristics of this station, as well as many others nearby, were the large pine trees between paddocks, or pastures. The farmers grow pine trees, by the way these pine trees aren’t the skinny East Texas pine trees but thickly trunked behemouths, in tight rows and neatly trim the branches forming large blocks of evergreen wind stopper. They even trim the tops 40-50 feet up to make the mass of tree grow thicker in the middle. It must take a good 20-30 years to create just natural wind barrier and I can’t imagine the effort it takes to trim pine trees 40 feet in the air. I was needless to say very impressed.

It was the start of rut for the Red Deer and they were making quite a ruckus up on the mountain sides. We stopped several times to view them through the sporting scope while Shane explained the different antler types and characteristics of the majestic animals. After a few hours of getting acclimated with the animals and hunting area we headed back to the house. Robi prepared amazing steaks for us that night. He is quite the chef and prepares everything from scratch. Two couples from Alaska were also at the guest house and nearing the completion of a several day hunt with Shane. One of the men had gotten a 464 point elk and Shane captured the hunt on video. Shane is quite the videographer giving us a feel for not only the thrill of the hunt, but the breathtaking beauty of the New Zealand landscape. The night ended with the sharing of hunting yarns and we soon retired capping off another wonderful day in New Zealand.
2010-04-17: New Zealand Day Four

In order to get a Tahr ram it takes several days of hiking and camping up near vertical mountains or a quick jaunt in a helicopter. Given that most non New Zealanders aren’t in shape for a multi-day hike it makes most sense to ride the helicopter until one is spotted and then get out and stalk the beast. Shane and Bob planned to depart at 6am in search of a Tahr, but the weather did not cooperate. They instead left at 8am and we departed soon thereafter in the Land Cruiser. We followed the road along the Rakaia River, which was very scenic.

Shane’s directions included a lot of descriptions of house colors and other non road related scenery. Between these highlights he would interject to keep ‘following your nose’, whatever that means. I guess we failed to tap into our inner dog or inner nose before departing because we got lost. We logically turned off the main road when we saw a sign with a helicopter pointing in the other direction. This turned out to be a different helicopter service and we ventured along on private property. Thankfully Merve, the helicopter pilot, called us on the radio and picked us up off the small road soon thereafter. Bob and Shane hopped out taking the cruiser back to Shane’s house, and Janelle, Kelly, and I got in for a quick ride up the Rakaia Gorge.

The wind wasn’t bad down low but as we turned up the valley the chopper rose and fell rather quickly. I was getting queasy and thankfully it leveled out as we flew further up the valley. The views were surreal as we passed waterfalls, canyons, and glaciers. We turned at the head of the Rakaia River and made our way back to Terrace Downs. The entire trip was only about 35 minutes but seemed much longer. I don’t think I have the stomach for helicopters as when we reached the ground and stepped out I found myself quite dizzy and queasy. It was a great experience, however, and definitely worth the amazing views.

At noon Vanessa packed us another splendid lunch, which we happily ate along the banks of the Rakaia River just below the bridge near the gorge. Shane owns a jet boat with a 330 horsepower Chevy motor. We started off with a quick run around the wider section of river just below the bridge and then darted off up the gorge. The river is very shallow at several places and twists and turns through shear vertical walls. The boat captain’s objective, in this case Shane, is to scare the piss out of you. He succeeded quite well. He would often start straight at a cliff outcropping or large rock in the middle of the river and the dart away at the last minute. It was quite unnerving at first but once I relaxed a little it was much like riding a roller coaster. I was amazed at how the boat could traverse through shallow water and the maneuverability of it through rapid currents. Perhaps the best part was when he did donuts in the middle of the river. Unfortunately this didn’t impress Janelle much and we had to stop. The ride down the river was much better as the current whipped us around bends and through narrow passages in the canyon. Eroded walls resembled lunar landscapes and the massive sky never released its beauty upon us.

Often I find my eyes don’t quiet comprehend the full beauty of what they are seeing in this country. It is truly surreal that creation can be so extreme and contrasting yet amazingly glorious at the same moment.

After the jet boat trip Bob took off with Shane in the chopper again in search of the Tahr. We hope they are successful tonight as the next phase of the hunt is a trip south to a cabin in search of Red Stag and Wallaby.

As I mentioned, we are staying with Robi and Christine at the Quisenberry Guest House. The quarters are very homey with nice big beds, down pillows, and amazing views from the large storefront windows. The walls are insulated well as sounds and deep quiet is achieved at night aiding rest. The food is spectacular as Robi is something of a hidden treasure chef. He has the unusual humility for being such an expert culinary master and even does his own dishes. The food thus far has been outstanding with thick round steaks the first night and sliced Red Deer the second.

Tracy and Dwayne had brought with them a bottle of Back Door wine from their winery in the Napa Valley. It wholesales for $150 and was worth every penny. Wine is truly worth the extra money if you can afford it. It was made of pure cabernet grapes and is only produced every three years or so. They finished their hunt yesterday and were off to Queenstown for a week.

2010-04-19: NZ Day Five

Bob did in fact bag a very nice Tahr last night. He was quite weary from the scampering across mountain faces over boulders and loose shale rocks that they call shingles. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief that that part of the adventure was over.

Today we traveled south on State Highway 72 through Geraldine and on to a property called Stravon. The trip down was only about an hour and we made a short shopping stop at the Tin Shed, which is really a tin shed off the main road. Inside are quality Merino wool products and a small collection of tourist collectables. Kelly picked up some sheep skin boots, which she hasn’t taken off since, and Janelle bought a few odds and ends. I got a New Zealand silver fern hat. We were soon off again, but made a quick stop at the Berry Barn Bakery to have their famous meat pies. We arrived in Stravon shortly after noon. The property used to be a sheep and cattle ranch but is now a trophy game ranch.

We transferred our gear from the Toyota Hilux to the four seater Ranger and made our way up the tiny roads. As soon as we entered the main ranch area several trophy Red Deer Stags were found posing less than 100 yards away. The rut was full on so their behavior was anything but normal. Shane stopped and made a few calls, which they eagerly responded to while relieving themselves on anything in site. After the viewing we headed off through the steep valley trail. The tussok grass covered near vertical mountain slopes with a lush collection of trees and green grass in the lower valley. Here a small stream could be heard meandering through the tranquil valley. The track was just wide enough for the ranger and nerves of steel where a sure requirement of any driver to navigate the steep inclines and 180 degree switchback turns.

The cabin, or hut as the Kiwis say, was situated overlooking a multi-tiered water fall with a lush valley below. It was truly breathtaking. We unloaded our gear, layered our clothing in preparation for the cold evening, and headed back out. Shane and Janelle had their eyes pealed for big stags and we saw quite a few on the way around the property. The trick is getting the one with the right sized antlers as costs vary greatly from one animal to another. Kelly, Bob, and I took in the scenery and snapped several amazing panoramic shots from the mountain tops. The weather was amazing with calm winds and clear skies. This area sees major weather events and often it can change within minutes.

It was nearing nightfall when Shane took us back to the ranch headquarters and we began preparations for the second phase of the day’s hunting experience. We were after Wallaby’s. The build up for this event had been growing as our hometown mascot is the Kangaroo. There were several round table debates as to the most appropriate mount for a full size Kangaroo and the issue was still unresolved when the hut began. I was first up with the rifle as Shane maneuvered the Ranger through the treks while spotlighting the landscape. I hadn’t fired a gun in over year and was somewhat apprehensive about shooting a hopping Kangaroo in the dark with my in-laws and a professional hunter looking on. The first beast we saw was hopping along the trail about 100 yards ahead. He didn’t stop and I fumbled with the bolt action and safety long enough to let him get away. We regrouped and carried on soon thereafter spotting another Wallaby crouching in the tussok grass. I steadied the rifle and fired away. Thankfully it connected and I could relax a bit knowing my aimer was still functioning. Shane’s deep distain for the dirty beasts was not concealed well as he yelled for joy at the kill. He yelled, “Good on ya mate, you’re a natural Wallaby wacker!” I scampered down the hillside retrieving the strange creature for a closer inspection. Shane had informed us the Wallaby are big problems for the farmers as they are really nothing but large disease carrying rats. After viewing them up close it is easy to see how much of a menace they can be. Their claws are covered with long nails and their teeth are long and pointy, just like rats but more extreme. I was somewhat disheartened to learn my formative years were spent representing an overgrown rat throughout the state of Texas. However, we quickly resolved the sadness with four more bullets and four more dead Kangaroos. Bob and I alternated whacking the hopping rodents and had a splendid time along the way.

We soon met our quota, they have to limit the kills because whacking wallaby’s can get very addictive, and soon found ourselves back at the cabin. Shane prepared us a hearty meal and we closed the day reflecting the wilderness and wildlife of New Zealand over Speight beer, wine, and candlelight.

The next day we reloaded the Ranger, cleaned the cabin, and ventured out with serious intent to grab a trophy Stag. The deer were out in force again and the rut had them wandering around like bumbling fools. At one point I was following Shane and Janelle up the hill, I was videoing the shoot, and a stag walked right up on us about 50 yards away. They seemed confused at first and them would scamper off once they realized we didn’t have four legs and a furry butt.

At mid morning Janelle spotted the deer she wanted and we began tracking the massive Stag. He was on to us and we made our way down the side of a steep and rocky hill while he meandered down lower near the track. He finally stopped long enough to set up the shooting sticks and Janelle fired away. It was a tough angle so the shot had to be spot on. She took out his left front shoulder and yet he still ran with three legs. He stopped just long enough for Janelle to get another shot off and soon he was rolling down the hill. As we got up closer the shear massiveness of the beast was amazing. These deer are mammoth creatures with rippled muscles and thick antlers forming a vine like nest of symmetrical daggers. Most of the deer spotted through the binoculars had massive scars from years of combat, and this one was no different.

Shane made quick work of the skinning and we traveled back to the headquarters to make final preparations for the journey home. The two days and one night in Stravon were amazing not only for the gorgeous animals but breathtaking landscapes.

Vanessa prepared a savory meal for us that evening with massive steaks and Janelle’s favorite, Pavlova, for desert. She had bought a Pavlova on our trip up to Stravon, which I think was a first for Shane and the hut. I’m not really that sure what the attraction is as it is very similar to eating air, but she really liked it. We ended the evening looking at all of Kelly’s amazing photographs and reflecting on the immensity of what we had observed. Shane and Vanessa were great hosts, and we were grateful of the opportunity to get to know them and their beautiful country.

2010-04-20: NZ Day Six

After hunting we ventured further south back through Geraldine. We stopped again but this time picked up a few souvenirs and Blue Cod fish and chips at the Geraldine Fish and Chips Restaurant. I’m not sure if this is the name but it is behind the main grocery store in town and was a must stop. We scarffed these down along the road and meandered down the scenic highway 8 through a series of lakes and canal that form a hydro electric network powering most of the south island. Lake Tekapo was an amazing blue green color that radiated with a brilliant hue. Like a lot of scenery in New Zealand it almost looks fake it is so unusual. We passed Lake Pukaki and made our way through Twizel, Omarama, Tarras, and on to Wanaka. There was a slight delay outside Wanaka due to repair work on a single lane bridge. The roads in New Zealand are immaculately maintained and well marked. They even mount small posts every 10 meters or so on both sides of the road. It is therefore strange that most of their bridges are single lane. It would seem logical that two lane bridges would be more of a priority than picketing the roads with useless posts. But this is a country of adrenaline junkies so maybe the thrill of playing chicken on one-lane bridges takes precedence over safe driving.

Wanaka is a pleasant town with serenity matching a small Colorado ski village. Like most areas of New Zealand, everything is immaculately maintained and manicured. The people are friendly and outgoing to be as helpful as possible. The lake views here are worth the trip, especially with the surrounding trees showing their fall colors. This is the off-season for tourism so several locals could be found parked in the campervans making the most of the absent crowds.

We checked in at the Wanaka Springs lodge owned by Lynn and Murray. They are very friendly hosts and gave us a tour of their first class facility. There is a quaint spring wandering through the back yard and a spa is perched up in the corner of the property providing nice views of the mountains and lake behind the town center. We ended the day with a nice meal at The Reef Restaurant and slept heartily in the cozy confines of the lodge.

2010-04-21, 22, & 23: Te Anau

We departed Wanaka in route to Te Anau. I’m still not sure how to pronounce Te Anau as it seems to be different every time a local says it. The best I’ve come up with is “Tea A-now”. But it must be said very quickly to have the proper effect. The drive down was very picturesque with a multitude of colorfully leaved trees and rolling hills. The landscape seemed to change completely every 15 miles. At one point the tussok grass clumps dots the landscape in uniform consistency upon rolling hills, and the next moment we are viewing rugged rock outcroppings looming dangerously over the road side.

We stopped at the overlook of Queenstown and got some great pictures. We then ventured to Amisfield Winery which is in the heart of Otago wine country. This area is famous for its Pinot Noir wines and Janelle, Kelly, and I sampled a flight of their best wines. Unfortunately the hostess was quite rude and it was our first experience with an unfriendly New Zealander. She must have been British.

After the tour we ventured back south and soon pulled into Te Anau. It is a sleepy little town with a quaint main street, well manicured neighborhoods chocked full of tiny B&B’s, and caravans of tour busses packed with prickly Aussies. We had our first direct contact with the stubborn creatures whilst watching a movie on the beauty of Fiordland at the local movie theatre. The town has a lovely little cinema that airs a music only motion picture documentary in the BBC Earth series style of helicopter cinematography. We were the only ones in the theatre when a bristling group of senior Australian tourists waddled in sporting coffees, teas, and chatty attitudes. It was quite startling when they first ventured in chatting away like teenagers at a school dance. It soon became frustrating when the movie started and they began their running commentary of the scenes. I was trying to find the most appropriate words to use to politely ask them to shut it and had settled on, “Would you please mind the chatter?”, emphasizing the word mind and pronouncing chatter, ‘chatar’. Kelly beat me to the punch and told them to please stop talking. This worked o.k., but they were still whispering a bit throughout the show. In retrospect, it gives me good perspective on how quickly I can go back to my western ways of getting so frustrated about relatively meaningless things. I guess I should have just been happy to be sitting on a luxurious armchair seat and not wiping sweat from my brow while swatting mosquitoes and smelling my armpits. That unfortunately, will return in due time.

After the movie we visited a few shops and then Bob, Janelle, and Kelly scurried off to their glowworm cave tour. I decided to avoid going underground and instead tried out the local mountain bike trails. I found a hire shop and soon was out on the roads enjoying the cool weather. Mountain biking is not real big in Te Anau. Instead, the main attraction here is tramping. I’ve pondered this strange word more than I would like to admit, trying to understand why New Zealanders use the word tramping to describe walking. I decided it filled the void of describing the activity that lies between walking and hiking. It is a pragmatic need, but I’m not sure if the word ‘tramping’ appropriately describes it. Perhaps trekking would fit better? Regardless, it is tramping that takes the brunt of the outdoors activity focus here. Thus, most of the good trails are off limits to the cyclist and I was restricted to the tar seal roads. However, as I was making may way around the lake bend I spotted a sign to a park with the words MTB trail clearly marked. It was quite lucky as the trail turned out to be a nice 8km single track meandering through pine trees and large boulders. After I completed the loop I continued along to the lake’s control gates and returned just in time to get out of the intense wind coming from a Westerly blowing in. Westerly is the word used to describe the weather events blowing in from Antarctica.

The next two nights we stayed at the Fiordland Lodge and were very impressed with the accommodations and hospitality. It only has 10 rooms and overlooks the lake with nothing but tussok grass and sheep in between. It was a very remote and tranquil setting perfect for reflecting on the immense beauty of New Zealand. I loved the massive stone fireplace and log-framed structure.

During the stay in Te Anau we headed out to Lake Manapouri for a cruise up to Doubtful Sound. The cruise starts with a boat ride across the lake, then a bus ride across land, and then another boat ride out to the sound. It is called Doubtful Sound but is really a fiord. A sound is created from sinking riverbeds whereas a fiord is the result of glacial carving and the infilling of water from drainage and/or seawater. It is dubbed ‘doubtful’ from Captian Cook’s doubts that the shear walls surrounding the narrow water channels would allow enough wind for a return trip.

At the intermediary stop between the lake and the fiord is a tour of the Lake Manapouri Power hyrdo power station. This is a massive hydro power plant built in the lake 60’s that powers an aluminum smelter in the area. The kiwi’s are very keen on their hydro power and have tapped into this miracle of nature at every possible chance. This is their largest go at it and it was quite a sight to see. The bus travels 100 meters below the ground via an underground tunnel carved out of pure rock. The tunnel then leads to the generator room that houses seven large hydro generators pumping out 730 MW of electricity. Five hundred of these mega-watts are used for the aluminum smelter, and the rest goes to the grid.

After the hydro plant tour we made our way across land to the next leg of our tour. Our bus driver, Alex, was trying to make the best of the cloudy and rainy weather pointing out the sights within 30 feet of the bus. He kept going on and on about the moss and lichens. I thought this was just because he didn’t have anything else to point out, but I was proved wrong when he stopped the tour bus and half the people got out just to photograph and touch moss. Who knew moss was so popular around here. I don’t think I will ever be able to understand the sight of grown men and women gleefully manhandling moss and having their portraits made in front of it.

The next leg of the boat tour started off on the wrong foot as the typical vessel used was out of commission. Instead we used the boat usually reserved for overnight guests. This boat was much slower and cut down the distance we could travel. Despite this the journey was still amazing. Because of all the rain many waterfalls not typically seen on dry days were pouring forth from the peaks of the shear vertical mountain walls dashing straight into the fiord.

The captain pointed the nose of the boat into the onslaught of one of the falls while a deck hand collected water in buckets for venturesome passengers to sample. Overall the trip was very surreal with calm black water, looming clouds, and towering mountains cradling the narrow Fiord passageways. I would like to come back during clear weather just to get an idea of the depth in the mountain peaks surrounding the waterways.

2010-04-24: Queenstown

The last leg of our journey to New Zealand was Queenstown. On the way we stopped in an old mining town called Arrowtown. Even with the rain it was very scenic with the fall colors in full bloom. The narrow streets and quaint shops where a nice stop, but is really geared for the ladies. Most of the shops are boutique and very expensive. It would be good to return on a nice day to catch some of the surrounding countryside. The river nearby was the second highest gold producing river in the world in its hay day so the gold mining theme is very prevalent. We spent a few hours here and then ventured back through winding roads to Queenstown.

Queenstown is the adrenaline junkie capital of the world and every store, shop, hotel, and restaurant are chocked full of brochures describing methods to pay large sums of money to scare the crap out of yourself. We stuck to the more tame streets of Queenstown, ducking in and out of stores avoiding the many pedestrians and inclement weather. Queenstown has just about every type of item you could possibly imagine or want to purchase, all at very high prices. The bummer is I’ve heard most of the shops are owned by foreigners, so a lot of the money spent here doesn’t stay.

We stayed at the St. Moritz hotel overlooking the lake. The best part of this stay was the down mattress pad. We slept like champs and got some much needed rest in preparation for the trip back home to the bush. The weather never really cooperated and the next day was even more rainy than the first. It was ANZAC day which is like the US’s Memorial Day. ANZAC commemorates the battle of Gillopoli in World War I where approximately 40,000 British, 8,000 Australian, and 3,000 New Zealand soldiers died trying to occupy a peninsula. The Turks won the battle but lost 80,000 men in the victory. ANZAC Day is widely recognized in New Zealand and was the main news story for several days. We attended a parade in downtown Queenstown that included several solders, a Willy Jeep, Dodge Troop Carrier, bagpipe band and several veterans. It wasn’t a parade in the typical US fashion but more of a walk with the dignitaries leading the way and normal citizens filing in behind. Although I didn’t really understand why that specific battle would be the focus of the day instead of a general honoring of all the major war veterans, it was good to see the importance placed on remembering those that have fallen in service of their country and freedom.

After the parade we found an awesome hamburger joint called Fergburger. This is a tiny placed carved between two tourists shops jammed packed with locals and tourists. Every burger is hand made and the ingredients are locally produced in Arrowtown. We were quite immobile after the burger experience and slowly rolled our way back to the hotel hoping the weather would clear. It never really did, so instead we reflected our trip in the hotel room viewing all the great photos Kelly took during our several days in New Zealand.

New Zealand is a wonderful place and I would highly recommend a visit. It is hard to see everything in one trip so plan on returning a few times. The many attractions suit all types of people. I would come in the fall as this seems to be the off season and less congested with tourists and tour busses. It can be very expensive so the best way to go is prepay for as many meals and trips as possible so the sticker shock once arriving doesn’t persuade you from going on adventures or enjoying the outstanding local cuisine. We were very blessed to be able to enjoy it with Bob & Janelle.

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