Sunday, January 30, 2011

NZ- Wednesday, 12/29

Wednesday, 12/29- Alpine Adventure Holiday Park, Hanmer Springs

I continue to be stunned by the beauty of this country. Almost immediately today the road dove into twisting, turning, climbing mountain excellence. I miss my bike and say to every passing biker, “I hates you. Seriouslys.” Though I was Helpful Camper Guy today for a huge group of at least 20 riders. Thumbs up out the window to let them know it was safe to pass Captain Slow's slow ass, thumbs down to hold the group up. Got a few waves. I was helpful. Hopefully.

We had to stop twice on the side of the road today. Not for anything important, just because I knew the scenery was breathtaking and I was too busy navigating motorcycle-sad bends to take it all in. Pullouts: Not Just for Passing Anymore. I had a deep thought based on how I feel about traveling on the bike. Taking your time can make it true even in a caravan. This kind of traveling is about being a part of the world, not apart from the world. Get it? A part. Apart. Slap that bad boy on a t-shirt and we'll sell 10,000 units in Portland alone. Check please. Seriously though, that's what we're going for here.

As with every other day we passed thousands upon thousands of sheep and cows. And each time Angela leans towards them and either moos, baas, or exclaims, “Sheeps!” But since she's been buying a sheepload of yarn and cooking with lamb (yummy!) now she'll point at them and say, “I got summa you back here!” The cows get it too because beef was bought at our last grocery stop.

I noticed I drive faster with someone behind me, and on the straights that's mostly ok. But in mountain bends I need to go at my own pace. Angela is not a fan of going too fast anyway. Helps viewing and driving pleasure.

We went to one produce stand on the roadside today. It was off someone's backyard and had a sign telling us to, “Toot and Pull Through.” Neither of us have any trouble with that. Then I honked the horn to get the lady's attention. (Ha! Fart jokes! Classic.)

I continue to use knowledge based almost solely on Top Gear to help me get through situations here. Today's example: A lady asked Angela to hand her a “spanner”. Because of Clarkson fumbling around and breaking cars and May being anal-retentive I know a spanner is a wrench and was able to translate from English to, uh, English. Thanks Top Gear! *thumbs up*

And on that bombshell we arrived in Hanmer Springs, nestled in the mountains of northern South Island. A cute little mountain town (I've gotta think of another way to describe cute, little towns) who's sole reason for existence, if I'm honest, seems to be the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa. We were going to go, but with water temps from 28ºC-42ºC (you do the conversion) we didn't think Angela's sunburned feet and legs would be all that happy. So we skipped it and did the shops and a short nature walk.

We walked the 2.5km from camp to town and I, in my infinite wisdom, decided I am still Barefoot Man and brought slippers (Jandals here. How weird is that? Japanese sandals = Jandals). I, of course, immediately stepped on a nettle or something and hurted my poor toe. Slippers on. Toe stopped hurting. Barefoot. Crossing the street with pointy rocks and step in wet-from-the-heat tar. This makes my foot sticky. This causes little sharp road rocks to stick to my feet while I hop the next 2 meters across the road. Which I then have to peel off my sole and out of the tar, which would not wash off or scrape off for a while and made me sticky. I am Barefoot Jackass. Slippers on.

Did ¾ of the scenic walk hobbit-style though, mud squishing between my toes. Crossed a freezing cold stream on rocks while the much more practical wife took the bridge. Whatever, my way was cooler. (Get it? Get it?!?)

Once we got back we decided to walk through and explore our Holiday Park of the Night. We were down by the children's play area when we saw a little boy and girl of about equal size trying to take advantage of (surely that's the correct term) the seesaw. It wasn't working. She was seated and down, he couldn't pull himself up or pull his side down. So this little four-year old boy decided to start at the pivot point and crawl up the beam to his seat. This was when I decided to jump in and lend a hand. What is cool about this is at the same time his mom came walking up to help too. She called him by name so I stopped and looked and she told the kid basically, “Look, this nice man is going to help you. Get down and let him.” She let a complete stranger, long hair, bare-chested, tattooed, get her son started on the seesaw. Very cool. We stood and talked with her for a while, her husband too when he showed up. Very nice people, super friendly. It was neat to be able to laugh at kids who aren't ours as they play without being creepy. And it was nice to talk to nice people. Nice.

Cute little kid moment- Small boy child, also in the family we met, is on the trampoline with the little boy and girl from the seesaw. She is in control. Seesaw boy has been following her around. She first asks him how old he is. “Five.” “Me too!” she cries. She then turns to much smaller boy and asks him how old he is. Small boy says, “Four.” Mum laughs. “How old is he really?” we ask. She tells us he's two and a half. “Tell her you're a doctor too!” small boy's dad yells.

I'm excited about the next few days. Found a place on the west coast called Hokitika that looks neat. Will finish there tomorrow. Might be a two-nighter.

Friday, January 28, 2011

NZ- Tuesday, 12/28

Tuesday, 12/28- Kaikoura Peketa Beach Holiday Park, Kaikoura

Strange weather today. Started out cool, got warm, then cool, windy, and rainy. Strange attitude for me today too. Felt off in the am, realized I left my hoodie at the internet hostel was grumpy, was ok, then back and forth between ok and tired/icky. Think the Stone Night is still catching up with me. One more good night's sleep should help.

Woke up this morning with Christopher Robin's famous words in my head, “Tut tut, looks like rain.” Small sprinkles, nothing real. And it cleared up quick. Suck it, Chris. After breakfast we drove to Kaikoura and up to the lookout. Gorgeous 360 degree panorama of the coastline. The water is blue and clear and excellent (and freaking cold!). From there we followed the signs to the Kaikoura Seal Colony, where the majority of our day was spent.

We easily could have sat in the carpark (parking lot) for a few minutes, checked out the seals relaxing on the rocks just off shore, then bailed. But what fun is that when there is a short hike nearby?

Up the path we go! I chose to do this hike fully Hobbit-style. Barefoot all the way, baby. And for the most part this was a fine idea. It started out on concrete, but only for a short way, which then gave way to dirt and long grass. Soft and easy on the tootsies. The hike wound along the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Great weather, hot even, and very clear.

Eventually we came to a fork. We could either choose to continue on, which would make for a long hike, turn around and go back the way we came, which would make for a short hike, or go down to the shoreline and go back, which would make Goldilocks happy. We took option C. Angela had been hoping we would be able to make it down there since we noticed people walking by the ocean.

This is where if got interesting for Mr. Barefoot Guy. Instead of soft grass and dirt the shoreline was made up of small to medium-sized ocean-rounded rocks. No problem in shoes, but bare feet feel every pressure point. Stability increases barefoot. Thou art an Off-Road Machine. Thy body is built for this. So it was slow going as I picked my way down the beach, but who is in a hurry when they're hiking? The corollary to that is hiking as about seeing the nature around you, but being barefoot means watching where you step. I actually think my neck might be more sore than anything else from craning to look at the ground so much. Wah wah wah.

Scrambling over and around rocks with nothing between me and the earth is a great way to go. Once the little rocks went away we did some climbing and hopping across the large slabs of flat and not-so-flat eroded cliffside that always shows up on a rocky coast. Fun. Felt like a little kid. Laughed in my head at the very serious looking hikers we went by wearing their very serious/expensive hiking or running shoes. I might have had some discomfort, but my body and mind are stronger for it. Excuse me while I go hug a crystal and kick a hackysack.

Back at Captain Slow I was entertained by all the people out on the rocks trying to get a good look at the seals. It looked to me like a Human Colony. “Oh look, honey. Those two have a little one with them. It's can't even walk on its own yet! Awww. Ohhh, and that older one looks confused. Its gotten itself stuck near water and it doesn't know how to cross. Quick, get a picture!”

Lunch at the caravan then in to Kaikoura proper. 60 minutes of free parking yielded 55 minutes of wandering. Cute little town. Nothing super special. But all right. Better than Blenheim.

We'd twice passed a roadside produce shop so we were sure to stop on the way back. Roadside produce equals happy wife.

Feet sunburned equals not so happy wife. Her feet got cooked and now she had bright white Zs from her Jesus sandals crossing a dark and angry red. Hope it doesn't hurt too much in the coming days.

Almost as soon as we got back to camp the wind picked up and really brought the temperature down in a hurry. It also brought the rain in. We've been getting pitter-pattered on now for quite some time and it shows no signs of letting up. Tonight is an inside night. Good thing we bought a deck of cards. Already got my ass kicked in Rummy once. *grumble*

So for now its wind, rain, coffee, and tea. Soon it'll be lamb sausage for dinner then sleep.

Last night I had a minor stress out because of my stone night. I know the chances of another so soon are nil, but camping + kidney stone = fear. Can't help it. I practically have the code to the bathroom tattooed on my hand. Need to relax and enjoy. I'll be fine.

Travel in to the mountains tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

NZ Pictures Day 5

Day 5: Rotorua and Plenty of Scenic Shots

Mmmf? Lmmealn.

Coffee is a goodness.

What? A picture of sheep? No way.

I present the museum/bathhouse of Rotorua. Tada!
To check out the underneath it was suggested we were helmets.

I get to be tall! Watch me watch my head.
It seems a demon lives down there and he's what heats the water.

And now a few panoramic shots from the roof:

Stupid timer.
Hello from Rotorua!
Museum/Bathhouse pretty
Wife with arch in background
Yummy food, awful waiter

The what now?
Flowers purdy
If I could have slowed down further I would have

And now for some more scenic shots:

Yes, that road twisting into the distance was wonderful
This is what motorcycle sad looks like on the outside
Why is it not a full circle?
"Why are these tourists taking pictures of me? Move along."

Yet more scenic shots:

Parked for the night in Napier
I am the king of arm stretched out self portraits
*color not artificially enhanced by smog
Christmas is coming!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

NZ- Monday 12/27

Monday, 12/27- Kaikoura Peketa Beach Holiday Park, Kaikoura

Yesterday ended with a minor adventure coming off the ferry at midnight and trying to find camping/parking. We ended up in a long-term lot, which might not have been exactly legal, but no one bothered us.

We spent the morning checking out the port town of Picton and judged it OK, but not great. Little towns are blending, its time for more country. Once again New Zealand leads America, this time in public bathroom technology. It was super-toilet (ExeLoo), stainless steel, push-button, hands-free sensing, and music-playing. It spoke to me, literally. We need to get off our high throne and get in the game.

Having failed our Skype attempt yesterday we decided a net cafe was a priority. And verily we did find one. A crappy one in a hostel with a shoddy connection that allowed Blogger and Facebook but had a nervous breakdown when confronted with Hotmail. So we both fired off update blogs to assure everyone we are alive and well. (ed. note: Also, I hung my sweatshirt on the back of the seat at the hostel and walked away without it. This would piss me off for a week.)

Today's goal destination was only 150k or so from our start so we chose to take our time and stop as we wished. Wine trail, here we come! First though, the Boutique Chocolate Factory. Cue first excited wife, “Squee!” of the day. Next, the Vines Village, home of the Quilter's Barn. Cue second, third, and fourth “Squee”s. Yarn hath been bought. Skeins and skeins. And it is good.

The Malborough County of New Zealand is famous for its wines it seems. Tons of wineries out here. Angela has enjoyed her local wine experiences and has never done a real tasting before so, on suggestion from Nice Girl At Chocolate Shop (NGACS), we choose a few stops. First was inside the Vines Village, a tasting seller selling Bouldevines. Angela tasted and bought their Pinot Noir Spring 2008. Onward!

Next stop was Framingham Vineyards. NGACS's family sells them grapes and thusly we go. Angela got the full-on tasting experience at this beautiful and friendly vineyard. In order, she tried the Dry Riesling '04, a Select Riesling '09, Pinot Noir '09, Pinot Noir F-Series (special kine!) '08, and a Montepulciano '08. The latter blew her palette away and she left with a bottle. Apperently its a very select wine and most vintners don't make it. Chubby grapes.

I'm pretty sure an older lady hit on me there too because of my toe shoes. She admired my feet. She photographed them. She wanted me for my Vibrams. Oh yeah.

We also went down to Framingham's wine cellar and looked around. Pretty cool, and the wife is stoked about the Montepulciano.

We bought produce from a roadside booth based on the honor system. “Money goes here. Cameras are watching,” read the sign. Oooooh K. Then we headed to Blenheim. Nothing to report in Blenheim.

More easy bends along the NZ version of PCH (Pacific Cost Highway for you non-Southern Californians), stopping at The Shop, which wasn't a shop but was a place to get an overpriced long black. Forward again to Ohau Point Lookout.

Stopped there for two reasons. 1) Ohau sounds too much like Oahu to pass by. Duh. And 2) Seals! For some reason they love the rocky shoreline and there were dozens hanging out and playing. Pups too. How cute. I'm not saying I was hoping for a shark to show up for a snack...but that would have been neat. All seals still accounted for when we left.

Passed a few police cars today. I wonder if cops are looked at differently here than at home. Here they aren't armed with anything lethal and their cars and uniforms are brightly colored and decidedly non-threatening. It seems these things, especially the gun thing and the uniform thing...mostly the gun thing, would contribute to a lack of Cop Powertripping and Piggishness. How to politely ask a local if they fear their police? Hmmm....

Other NZ things: They say “heaps” instead of “lots”. It's great. “We've got heaps of chocolate-covered cherries over there.” “I have heaps of possum yarn.” Hehe. Heaps.

And they are very non-subtle when it comes to driver advice road signs. There are tons out here but the one that got me today read, “Tired Drivers Die,” with a little car rolling over, crushed. I get it, I get it. Jeeze.

Our site tonight and tomorrow is beach front in a crowded campsite. But quiet so far. The family next to us has two French-speaking munchkins, probably two and four, who are very adorable. Munchkins speaking foreign languages or heavily accented English and even better than adults. I'm a tough guy. Grrrr.

Got advice for the rest of our time on South Island from Nice Guy in Gift Shop Thing At Holiday Park. NGIGSTAHP said, and I quote, “Christchurch is rubbish, why you want to go there? Just another town, fulla shops.” Then he grabbed a map and marked out where we should go to, “see New Zealand.” We like his plan. Will do, NGIGSTAHP. Much thanks!

Dinner time. Chicken and veggies! Yum.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

NZ- Sunday, 12/26

Sunday, 12/26- En Route to Piction, South Island via Bluebridge Ferry (Boxing Day)

(ed. note: This originally started, when I was writing it in my head, with, “Ow. Fuck. Oh god. Fuckfuckfuck. Ow.” I tried to class that up a little.)

Most plays, books, and movies are divided into three or five acts. In either case Act I is used to introduce the characters and set up the story. It ends and Act II begins with the first major conflict. “Getting your characters stuck in a tree,” I tell my students. Act II consists of throwing rocks at the characters, and Act III gets them down. Last night and this morning we ended Act I and I had serious concerns about needing an extended intermission.

I woke up around 11pm last night. We hadn't been asleep long. A pain woke me up. A pain I know all too well and live in constant fear of. A sharp stabbing in my left kidney. Fuck. No. Not here. Not now. I, friends and readers, am about to enter an indeterminate amount of time going between serious agony and mere shooting, throbbing pain. While camping. In another country.

Oh good.

Without going in to too much detail, because who wants that, I just say I spent the night going between the camp bathroom and Captain Slow, never really sleeping, trembling, cursing, and talking to myself (for encouragement) and my body (commanding it to either expel the offender or magically heal). It makes for a long, awful night. We prepared for this, bringing my scrip of Vicoden and Uroxitrol from the last attack, but nothing was staying down long enough to do any good.

I didn't know what to do. For most of the night I was positive I wouldn't be able to travel, let alone drive, today. Too much pain, too unpredictable. But today was one of the days of the trip we had to be somewhere. We needed to get to Wellington, a short 30k jaunt from camp, to catch our ferry to South Island. It's too late to get a refund. Catch it or eat it. Then what to do with the return tickets? Angela offered to drive and would have I'm sure, because she's a major trooper. She stayed up half the night with me, nothing she could do to really help, but offering moral support. But take my early difficulties with Captain Slow and add a basic unfamiliarity with a manual transmission and we have a nervous-making situation.

At around 10am or so I woke up, having managed a little sleep though not much. Angela suggested a warm shower might relax the muscles and aid passage. She was very worried about me but is too strong to show it. I wasn't in quite as bad of pain as earlier so I decided to give a shower a shot.

Post-shower I felt better. As good as one can feel with a small sharp rock cutting its way from kidney to bladder. I could stand up straighter. I was fighting for my inner Jedi and getting through this. On the long motorcycle trip she suffered through days of an undiagnosed asthma attack (another fear on this trip) and Too Good was dead sick for some but got those days done.

I put my foot down, gently, and decided I would be the one to drive to the grocery store, our first stop. While she went in and shopped I found a restroom and continued the fight. To my surprise I felt a sharp stab of pain in a place no man wants but in this case it was almost welcome. I've been here before too. Bladder spasm and pain means the stone has moved and is no longer cutting through the kidney tubes. One more push and *clink* I hear the bastard hit porcelain. Mine. Slowly the aches and pains fade to a dull throb, protesting their mistreatment. I fished my stone out (souvenir!), washed well, and headed back to Captain Slow.

Angela met me there and we both breathed sighs of relief at how quickly the episode passed. Almost 11pm to 11:30am, thats fast for this. I've had them go on for days. Could have been much worse, though it didn't feel like that at the time.

Relieved and in high spirits we went on to the New Zealand capitol city of Wellington. We had a hot tip that the Te Papa museum was both interesting and free, so that's where we went.

Te Papa was both of the above. But neither Angela nor I had gotten much sleep and a museum sleepy, even a really good museum, is a hard thing. We enjoyed what we could and did some cultural learning then went out to walk around Wellington. I gotta say, compared to some of the other places we've been Wellington wasn't great. Ok, not great. I'm sure my night's ordeal and sleep debt contribute to this opinion.

Its Christmas at home today we thought it would be fun to Skype home. McDonalds, we were told, has a free wi-fi network. So, for this first time in years, to McD's! Fail. Network there was, free it was, but for some reason Angela's phone was having none of it. Finding a net cafe is now a high priority. We are not dead!

In Te Papa I made Angela take a bunch of pictures of the exhibits I can share with my kids. They want trip pictures? Whip some education on 'em! That'll teach them to be interested in my life...some of them would have really dug this place.

Also, an Aussie said, “G'day,” to me today. Awesome! There is a friendly (I think) rivalry between the sub-continent and its southern island cousins. To sum it up, a Rugby World Cup shirt I've seen reads, “There's no crying in rugby! (Unless you're Australian!)” We need to get in on this!

The wind in Wellington is severe in the extreme and it made it cold. It also made it hard to open car doors. For her, not me. Grrrr, tough guy.

In my continuing efforts to figure out cricket I forced Angela listen to it on the radio for a while today. This is less helpful because I don't know what any of the terms mean. I don't know why the announcer is so excited. I'm not as sure about importing cricket as I am about rugby. Rugby is like (American) football but without pads. Cricket is kind of baseball but without bases...and in white polo shorts. Meh.

Ok, I survived my stone this am, I will not be fine with the mild rocking of the boat (ship!) as we cross islands through the Sound. Hope we find somewhere to park tonight. We make berth at midnight.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

NZ- Saturday, 12/25

Saturday, 12/25 Camp Eldson- Porirua- Christmas Day

So this is Christmas. Well, Merry Christmas. As Tiny Tim nearly said, “God bless us, everyone. Except the Jews. They already got a holiday.”

What started out as a simple is somewhat solitary driving day opened up very nicely by the end of the night. We got up early, had breakfast, dumped our gray water, filled our main water, and hit the road.

The plan was to straight shot it all the way to Wellington, a 300+ km haul. Most of the way it was an easy 80-100km/h drive. The wind made it interesting sometimes.

Today the wind was ubiquitous. It was always there. It made the drive louder and Captain Slow shudder and shake. I only noticed it when there was no wind. It was like the line they used in M*A*S*H once a season. There would be heavy shelling all episode and then it would stop all of the sudden and Hawkeye would say, “Hey, do you here that?” And someone else would say, “What? I don't here anything.” And he'd exclaim, “Exactly!” That was the wind today.

In my continuing trampoline watch, I saw more today. New Zealand is the trampoline capitol of the world.

It is also a civilized country. This means that nothing nothing nothing was open today. We stopped at three closed petrol stations before finding an open on. Do gas stations in the states ever close? Everything being closed did mean that we made no stops today and pushed straight through for about five hours. Unremarkable for the most part.

New Zealand's travel ministry does not believe in straight roads. Every road in this country bends and twists over the landscape, becoming a part of it rather than cutting through it. This led to minor bike sad early in the day, with big sweepers and twisties for kilometers. And later, major bike sad.

The 2 between Featherston and Upper Hut is a brutal 13km stretch of mountain pass awesome. Higher and higher we climbed, with hairpins and 35, 20km/h. It would have been an intense two-wheeled challenge. I'm not even sure fun is the right word. Fun like a triathlon is fun. Fun because you did it. Fun because its hard. Truth: some of the mountain would have been a little scary. But so worth it. Angela was glad for the caravan over the bike. I was whimpering and giggling the whole time. And I was good again at not being That Guy. It doesn't help when the views are that astounding and pristine. I'm going to need to buy a thesaurus soon to keep coming up with adjectives to describe this place. Not a bad problem to have.

Angela skillfully naviguessed us to our campsite and we arrive about 2pm. Very early for us. We decided since everything is closed anyway we could have a guilt-free decompress day. So she napped and I played PSP and read. She also finished knitting my beanie, which is coming in handy because the temperature has dropped tonight and its pretty cold right now. Yay crafty wife!

We totally scored on this site. We arrived and asked for a spot and the guy in the office said, “Pick a spot. Its Christmas.” Yes! Free ninety-nine is the best price!

The camp filled some during the day and we (I) decided we should try to be social. Three pairs were sitting in a small group by their campers talking so I walked over and inserted myself into the conversation. Being the friendly and interesting people they are, they welcomed us into the group and we spent the rest of the night hanging out and getting to know each other.

One couple, a boyfriend/girlfriend, is from Holland and the other male/female couple is from Brussels. The third, two guys, didn't say much but were also Dutch.

Dinner was great and it was really nice to sit and chat with non-American travelers. My ego is blown by their command of English. The woman from Brussels said she can handle or French, Dutch, some German, and English. Fuck. We need to get on the ball.

The Dutch guy was super-gregarious and awfully funny. He had an iPod full of Christmas music playing in the background the whole time. It was nice to hear non-Americans say they find the Palin to be insane and scary and they know we aren't all like that. We didn't bring it up, they did. How much do you know about politics in the Netherlands? Me neither. But they know us.

We shared wine and also exchanged a camping guidebook that we had extra of for a thing of salt they had extra of. Thus goes the economy of caravaning.

Hope we see them in the am and maybe around Wellington tomorrow. Going to try not to shiver too much tonight.

(ed. Note: FAIL! But not so much because of the cold. Tune in next time, campers!)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

NZ- Friday, 12/24

Friday, 12/24 Affordable West Shore Holiday Park – Napier

It's Christmas Eve, but the only reason I can tell is the shopkeeper's, “Merry Christmas.” Time loses some meaning traveling like this. We know what day our ferry to South Island leaves and returns and we know what day our plane takes off (but not lands). These are our only benchmarks of time. So the holiday is very external this year. This should make me sad.

It was brisk this morning, prompting a long sleeve which I promptly traded for a t-shirt once we got walking. Today was good if only because it wasn't a travel day. It was good for other reasons of course, but even if was had sat in the caravan park all day it still would have been good.

An aside to describe New Zealand: I read in the paper a few days back that a man robbed a bar in Auckland with a knife. Yes, a knife. How strange is that to an American? You think bartender, a few staff, some patrons...we could take one guy with a knife. He can't have my wallet. A gun? Yeah, here. It's empty. Sorry. Teacher. But a knife? No way. But these people aren't armed like we are. Their cops don't pack. The public isn't strapped. Like Robin Williams once said about the English police, “You don't have a gun, they don't have a gun. If they're chasing you it's like, 'Stop! Or I'll say stop again!'” Happy ending, they caught the guy a half hour later. What boring crime.

Anyway, we spent most of the day checking out Napier. Its claim to fame is being the Art Deco city of NZ. Seems most of the town burned down a few decades ago and they thought it would be cute to do it up Art Deco style during the rebuild. So all the building have a 1930's America feel to them. Which isn't what I want from a New Zealand town. Be more rustic, damnit! So we were both underwhelmed by Napier as an Art Deco town. As a place to wander around and shop it was ok.

Our big time was spent at the aquarium. The New Zealand National Aquarium, a big deal. And decently nifty. Worth the price of admission. Angela loves aquariums. We probably took half a card's worth (welcome to the 21st century!) of pictures just walking through. The only thing they had neither of us had seen before was the Kiwi Room. It was kept very dark and no flash was allowed so as not to scare the birds. So we saw them but the camera couldn't. Bigger birds than either of us imagined. Large cantaloupe-sized bodies. Thought they were smaller. Neat.

The walk-through underwater tube with sharks and rays was cool too. We went twice. Shark!

Lunch was sandwiches and snacks in the caravan and then off to the wander! I've talked about our impression of the town. The only finds we found were a good picture frame with a Maori twist meaning two lives joining as one and rugby shirt salt and pepper shakers (at some point we started collecting salt and pepper shakers. I don't know). We happened upon a camping store that sold Vibram FiveFingers and had a good talk with one of the sales guys, who managed to sell me two pairs of toe socks. I need more anyway. He said VFFs have only been available in country six months or so. Score one for America, still number one in product placement. On the way back to the caravan my nose led us to a bakery and we left with a fresh pesto baguette. We nibbled from the paper bag. It is excellent. We are doing very well eating local. More on that in a tic or two.

On impulse we drove a few km to Havelock North. The guide book said there was an excellent wine store there and Angela wants to try some more NZ wine. I want to have zero hang-ups about this. So far I'm doing ok.

It being Christmas Eve, the wine shop, Advintage, closed at 3:30. We got to the door at 3:40. D'oh! If only we hadn't stopped for coffee. But what good coffee.

Not sure if I've mentioned this, but NZ does not have straight brewed coffee, The closest I can get is a long black, which is an espresso with hot water added to make it fill the cup. Whatever, I've adjusted an no longer stare at the nice lady behind the counter wondering why I can't just have a cup of joe. We bought a bag of their dark. It smells divine. 100% locally grown and roasted.

Two more stops before we got back, both at produce/food shops/stands. At the one in Havelock North we (she) bought some veggies and a bottle of Frizzle Pinot Nior 2008. At the little stand outside of town we (she) bought more veggies and fruit. Everything local. We like this. Healthy and more fun. Mmmm, native and fresh lettuce, tomato, and avocado salad.

I hadn't run all trip and the guilt was starting to bug me. So today when we got back to camp I decided it was a jog day. We're doing laundry and showers today anyway. Well guess which moron forgot his running shorts at home. Go ahead, guess. Clue: Angela hates running.

I swear I got them out and packed them. That means right now a pair of workout shorts are sitting sadly on the bed wondering why I didn't love them enough to bring them on the trip and how I could be so clue as to taunt them by getting them out like that. So I ran in my board shorts. Good enough. Not fast, kinda slow, ok pace. Don't know how far but I ran for thirty minutes, so whatever that is in metric. Maintenance is all that is. Have to do it more. Once a week will not cut it.

Some she-devil took both laundry machines and we are having to wait for her stuff before we can start. Jerk.

And I got soap in my eyes during my shower because I mistimed the how water cycle (50 cents for 4 minutes). By the time I blindly found my 50 cent coin I was calmly wondering if I'd burned my corneas out. Scown.

Windy today. Got real bad on the way back from Havelock North. Captain Slow is not good in gusting winds. He dances and pushes and makes the wife nervous. I was fine except once, a big gust hit us just as we were clearing a wind-break and pushed us almost on to the shoulder. Not fun. Hope it dies down tonight so we don't get bounced around in our sleep.

Wonder if Santa will find us? I may have written her a little something so she has something to open on Christmas. Awwww.

Monday, January 17, 2011

NZ- Thursday, 12/23

Thursday, 12/23- Affordable West Shore Holiday Park- Napier
What a long driving day today! But on some incredible roads that gave me motorcycle sad. More on that later.

We woke us rested, if a little stiff. The bed is ok, it'll do. It's the table, dropped down between the benches, then the seat pads become the mattress. We had some of our local coffee and it is excellent. Wish I had more to take home. Have to keep searching for new kinds. There was only a few clouds in an otherwise deep blue sky and it stayed that way all day. Hooray for no rain!

First off was an easy drive to Rotorua, suggested to me by Mr. Sing from school. Pretty cool little town. Our main business there was the museum/bathhouse. Watched a movie on the volcano eruption that destroyed the area and the local beliefs surrounding it. Elsewhere in the museum we watched a very moving doc on the Maori contribution to World War II. Worth the money right there.

The whole building used to be a world class spa/bathhouse, using the supposed healing properties of the hot spring sulfur pools all over the area. These same pools gave Rotorua the wonderful aroma of rotten eggs is the wind carried right.

Ate lunch at a cafe suggested by a heavier (but not fat) employee of the museum. Good deal, great food, awful service. First place that it was clear wait staff here doesn't work for tip because they are paid a real wage. Our waiter sucked on all levels. Of course he wasn't a loca. He was...American! A Texan, damnit! Fail.

We walked through the town, a cute little tourist trap, but didn't buy. There were five (!) cycling shops. I've decided I need to bring home a New Zealand cycling jersey as it is more affordable than it seems at first blush. NZ$105 is not US$105. Must keep that in mind to help the self-delusion. I might bring one home. Its a wearable souvenir! So there.

We also had the worst grocery experience ever. I'm not even going to touch on parking, but the place was a madhouse. Pak N Save is Costco but with WalMart's DNA. All those fatties we've not seen? They shop here. It was not fun at all. Crazy busy. Part of it was people prepping for their Christmas feasts but I think its always a little like this. We made a team decision not to go back to another.

I've noticed the occasional barefooter out and about in public. I wonder if it is slightly more acceptable here or if I'm just noticing all the alt-people.

The drive to Napier was as epic as any I've ever been on. I have so much to say. To start, our trip is real because we made a U-turn and everyone knows its not a real trip unless you've done that. Also, Captain Slow has come equipped with a radio and a tape deck. That's right, a tape deck. There are exactly four places in the world that still sell tapes and none of those are near to us. So that means we get stuck with whatever radio stations come in. Two problems: 1) We are traveling long distances each day and out-pacing every decent station I can lock on to. 2) Most of today was up and down mountain passes. So something would come in and then static away, and so on. A few times I would tell the radio to search and it would be quietly scanning the airwaves for five minutes or more. This, by the way, it just long enough to forget the radio is scanning and be startled by the half-static blast of reception it does manage to pull through the ether.

But the 5. Oh, the 5. Epic. To begin, everything about this trip is slightly more dramatic than it would be normally. Captain Slow makes it more dramatic. He is big and he is loud. We must speak up to be heard across the cavernous cab. He blows in the wind and struggles mightily up grades. This makes things more exciting.

The landscape it also dramatic. You've seen Lord of the Rings. Wow. Today we spent kilometer after awesome kilometer on a bendy two-lane mountain roadway that would have easily become my number one or two motorcycle road ever. It was, not to belabor the point, epic. I spent the entire time in Bike Jealous spasms. Oh, Ms. Riley and I would have destroyed it.

Along with that, I am very conscious of not being That Guy. We all know That Guy in a caravan on these roads. Captain Slow is not built for the bends, the climbs, and the descents (ok, maybe the descents). He is, well, slow. And he sucks to be behind. I tried to be very good about using turn-offs and passing lanes to not be in the way. There was a short stretch, maybe .5k, where a sport bike was stuck behind me and I had nowhere to go. I felt so bad. I was apologizing out loud to him. All in all, I think Captain Slow and I did a good job of not being That Guy.

Homi-side Note: We may befriend a motorcycle owner and then either kill or disable him that I may steal his bike and ride that road. It's just a thought.

I'm also getting used to down shifting to climb. The Captain spent some time going from 4th to 3rd and lugging it up. Gearing is fun. Driving is becoming easier as well. Once, leaving the first camp area, I ended up on the wrong side of the road. But only for a moment and there was no one coming. Safe.

You know, I have to go back to the drive. Tall, tall, tall trees on both sides of the road, dozens of shades of green. And when there was a break in the tree line huge expanses of farmland and pasture. Words like “awesome”, “epic”, and “fantastic” were created to describe things like this. And the thing is, I'm pretty sure there are other roads on this island that compare. Amazing.

*Wife Thought of the Day* “I couldn't be laughing at you without you. You are an important part of this relationship.”

Angela does not enjoy those kinds of roads on a regular basis so she wasn't as thrilled as I. Pretty tense most of that part, actually. She sometimes seems convinced we are way too far over on her side (sometimes we are, still getting used to this) because she can see the edge of the road so clearly.

Thats not to say she's hating this. Far from. Every time we pass a herd of cattle, which happens quite often, she leans towards them and moos. And gets very excited about pointing out the baby animals. Its cute. I love her.

We drove through one campsite before finding our home for the next two nights. Spend the day in Napier tomorrow and stay here again. Yay for no long drive! That'll be nice. Yummy spag dinner again. Time to set up the bed and crash out.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

NZ- Wednesday, 12/22

Wednesday, 12/22 - Narrows Park, Hamilton

We are not dead.

We have not crashed, flipped, or exploded.

I have driven an unfamiliar vehicle on unfamiliar motorways just over 300k and the worst that's happened is I have a wicked bad stress knot in my trap, where I always get them. As I write the wife is preparing spaghetti dinner for our first night of camping. Its gone from sunny an hot to overcast and rainy and right now we're getting the occasional drizzle.

The day started off early, 8:30 or so, packing and preparing to check out. AT precisely 10am on the dot our Walkabout caravan arrived. The man who delivered it gave us the overview, his thoughts on where we should go, and tried not to laugh at the American tourists. He guided me to a nearby grocery store where we left him to be picked up by somebody from his company. I have the distinct impression that he was picked up, got in the car, looked at the driver and said, “Oh yeah, they're gonna die. Hahahahaha!” I would have.

Our first goal was Sheep World. My knitter was very excited about the baby lambs. I'm happy to say we didn't get lost (or destroyed) getting out of Auckland or to Sheep World. Score one for the tourists.

Sheep World was pretty cool for a place called Sheep World. It was about wool of all types, had a massive gift shop full of things useless to residents of Hawaii, and an interesting Sheep to Fashion Shop room talking about the whole process of making wool usable.

There was also a large animal part mostly full of small to medium animals. We saw a possum, rabbits, emus, miniature horses, donkeys, eels, lambs, sheep, and alpacas. Angela got to feel the eels and emus. Emus are big, quick birds. “Just hold your hand out flat and they'll eat it.” Yeah, and not a finger. I played photographer. She had lots of fun. I was not bored. Win.

From there I immediately turned the wrong direction (but into the correct lane) and had to drive at least 20k the wrong way (north) on a bendy two-lane road. Damnit,

This is as good a time as any to detail my issues piloting Captain Slow. I've named the caravan in honor of James “Captain Slow” May of Top Gear fame because its not American and because thats how I'll be driving for the next two and a half weeks.

The pedals are right but the stick is on the left. The wipers and turn signals are reversed and I've made that mistake a few times. Got the wife to laugh to laugh for a kilometer when I tried flashing my lights at someone to come in but instead double squirted the windshield wiper fluid. *salad pause* Right turns feel like left turns and lefts feel like rights. I have to remember the white line should be on my side and the grass on hers. To be sure I'm turning from the correct lane to the correct lane I've taken to following the guy in front of me and hoping he knows what he's doing. And roundabouts are a little nerve-wracking because I don't want to annoy the bloke behind me. Also, we're very tall *pause for laughter* and have been getting blown around the road. I also yclept the caravan Forrest instead of Captain Slow for just that reason. But Forrest was American. And retarded.

We got turned around and back on the course we'd decided on in the Sheep World parking lot. Very pretty. Cool view of Auckland from the bridge. We spent $70 on gas for ¾ of a tank then stocked up on groceries.

We got a little *figuring out how to light the stove without blowing us up pause* lost trying to find our first camp because we did not plan ahead all that well, but a few minutes in a Yamaha parking lot with maps fixed that.

And now we're here and set up for the night. Another long day, but a different kind of long.

One thing both of us have noticed is not-quite-hidden racism towards the Japanese. I'm pretty sure they are buying and moving here at an alarming rate. But two otherwise very pleasant people have used the term “Japs” which I'm pretty sure would get you punched (or karate chopped) at home.

Something I've found myself thinking is, “Wow, this petrol station/motorway/store/whatever is so nice.” Like I expect it to be less nice than America because it is so very not America. Its like my brain is shouting at the petrol station, “Be more rustic, damnit!”

Time to close up for the night. Hopefully its not too cold or uncomfortable because if it is we'll have to figure out how to live with it,

*A Very Short Time Later*Oh yeah! Almost forgot. We needed cash to get our campsite and she (the nice lady at the desk/office/room in her house) directed us to the airport. Tiny little place but it had and ATM. It also had an invisible speed bump that startled the three of us (Angela, me, and the Captain) and make us jump. Funny now. Then, not so much. That is all.

NZ Pictures Day 3 & 4

Day 3- Playgrounds and Devonport
Weeeeeeeeeeeeee! Woah! Almost died.
Woah woah woah woah, "How do I get off?"

Best. Playground. Ever.
Nice park.
B-b-b-bacon?!? On chips!
Cheese and ham pie

Off to Devonport
Devonport from the ferry

We present: Auckland!
Snow globe in the park.

Let's see...I brought an extra suitcase...
Yarn shopping is hard
Observing yarn shopping is hard
Ice cream cone horn. Calling all Ice Cream Beings!

Season 3.1 of SAMCRO: The boys go to Devonport and eat ice cream and yarn shop.
Can you hear the sobbing children?

No metal at the ferry terminal? Denied.
They love Vulcans here.
Mmmmm, Hell pizza and breadsticks

Day 4- Introducing Captain Slow and SheepWorld

Introducing Captain Slow!

Sharka is my copilot
Stay on the left. Right? No, wait...damnit...
Hello Sheeps!

Like its a menu

Did you see me stick any in my bag? No? Good.
What's a "metre?"
Everyone's favorite game!
Feathers aren't wool?
I looked everywhere for metal sheep. This explains a lot.

Thou art bacon
Possum! (Import that took over the islands. People hate possums, except knitters...)
The lady who took this was amused
Mini horses! Where are midgets when you need them?

Eel feeding
"No, he won't eat your fingers."
One, two, three, four, five..whew!

Why are the sheep pink? Oh, Kool-Aid. That's...less interesting

As a resident of Hawaii I am legally required to shaka at the camera

That is so interesting. Trees have "branches" and "leaves."
I found it!
Hmmm, I see

Bevis and Butthead
This little pig was wandering all over the farm
Are you a prince? (Disney joke!)
You have so many things I want.
All together now, "Awwwwww."

I got summa your brother in the fridge.
You are so cute...I mean, grrr, I'm tearing your head off! Grr..mmmm, soft.

And now for some scenic shots:

Find space for the first time

I'm "helping"
Captain Slow's first night

Angela's Teeny Tiny Kitchen Macro-edition

What? I was just getting more? What?