Saturday, February 26, 2011

NZ- Wednesday, 1/5

Wednesday, 1/5- All Seasons Holiday Park, Taupo

The construction guy lied to me. He told me the road was sealed all the way through. Lies! It was sealed for about an hour and a half, and then it became a gravel road for an unknown amount of time. Unknown because we turned around. Don't tell the rental place we drove on an unsealed road, its a no-no. I swear I though it would become paved! It always had before.

Background: We decided to take the slower but prettier Wanganui River Road to our first stop. It was pretty, it was nice, and it didn't go through. Damnit. This was one of those roads so narrow they didn't even bother to paint a line down the middle because why. Its not like two vehicles could fit side-by-side on 50% of the road.

Not to say it was beautiful, because it was. Lush (there's an adjective I haven't exploited yet!) vegitation surrounds and the river rushes below. And then I have to three-point turn Captain Slow on a narrow gravel road and we basically wasted two and a half hours of travel time. Doug grumpy. Doug got over it.

Stupid construction guy.

We had a quick reheated spaghetti lunch at a picnic pull-out and stopped again at the lookout for Raukawa Falls, our first of two waterfalls for the day. Picturesque. There may also have been side-of-road relief.

Long push to our original goal for the day, Whakapapa National Park. Up, up, up we climbed, Captain Slow struggling valiantly in third to pull us towards our goal. We saw the Château de Something were people stay when they come up here to fall down the mountain in the snow. (Angela claims this is a sport called “skiing”. I'm doubtful.) We got a short hike in around the ridge, only an hour but it was gorgeous and a solid climb the whole time. Well, the first half. Obviously. Duh.

Captain Slow then struggled mightily in second up through the treeline to the end of Bruce Road. The terminus was what Angela called a “Ski Resort”, where her mythical people travel to pay money so that they may tumble down the mountain from a greater height. I remain doubtful. Anyway, it reminded me of Armstrong's desolate beauty. Volcanic rock does that.

Back down the road a ways and a twenty minute walk takes us to the top then the pool of a smaller waterfall called Tawhai Falls. We met a couple down there and we took their picture and they took ours. I'm almost positive we were two minutes too late to see him propose. Good spot for it. Mine was better.

Of course we also checked out the gift shop and the I-site. You know, to be sure we looked the tourist part. And to see if there were any trinkets that needed buying. There weren't. No yarn this high up I guess.

From there it was a 100km push to our stopping point along the massive Lake Taupo. The only hitch was a bee who decided to try and grab a ride on the seat next to Angela. Sorry, dead bug, she's not ok with that. My toeshoes require toesocks to keep the smell under control, and unlike normal socks these do have a left and a right. So laundry sorting needs to be paid attention to. Last time two lefts got together in a pair. Two socks of the same foot! Together! You know what that makes them, right? That's right! Homosockuals!

(You have no idea how hard we laughed when we came up with that.)

Our holiday park for the next two nights has a small thermal pool which we sampled. Not too warm. Angela described it's temperature as just about where the bath is when you're ready to get out. Still, it was a nice soak. We made child friends. “Australia's gay!” “No, it's not!”

Hopefully tomorrow is a busy day in Taupo. Looks like there's lots to do.

*Later* The nights here are amazing. So many stars.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

NZ- Tuesday, 1/4

Tuesday, 1/4- Castlecliff Seaside Holiday Park, Wanganui North Island

Today the late sunlight played in our favor as we pushed as far north as we could once we got off the ferry. The place we landed, Wanganui, was a semi-guess by the World's Greatest Naviguesser and I think it worked out great.

We started the waiting day in Picton. Why a waiting day? Because pretty much the whole morning was spent waiting for the ferry, the waiting at the ferry, then waiting on the ferry. It was a less than exciting day in New Zealand. Not that that's bad. We sat in the park and read this morning. I got to feel manly by buying leather oil and oiling my hat and buying rope for my hammock. Of course, there is nothing at this campsite to hang my hammock on but whatever. Staying by the Picton harbour also allowed us to again experience (you don't use this, you experience it) the Exceloo, the most futuristic public toilet in existence.

On board the ferry, Angela was very excited to sit outside in the front, excuse me, the bow. Daylight crossing means pretty views of the Sound. Or it means a quickly cold and wind-blown wife going inside to read and play PSP. I did make a friend with a very small and not at all shy child who told me all about the bug in her super bounce ball that was “pretending” and trying to get away. “Honey, come here and leave the man alone.” Aww, we were having fun.

Once off the ferry we drove for about two and a half or three hours, pushing north. Our goal tomorrow is a national park for hiking and we were trying to avoid a long drive prior to. We failed that, but never mind. We don't alk much on drive days sometimes. We talked about that today. And we're both ok with it. Its nice not to feel the need to fill the air with noise and mindless chatter, though sometimes that's fun too. The Quiet, when it is true and comfortable, is an excellent thing. It is a trust and a begin together.

While we drove through a whole lotta nuthin', today was the least scenic day of the trip minus the last 25km or so, I thought about home and our global attitude. Specifically the chest-pounding which has become all too prevalent in post-9/11 America. The “We are the Greatest Country in the World Ever!” stuff. Everyone has to qualify statements about America with the GOAT tag or be questioned as unpatriotic.

Surely we are a great county. But the greatest of all time? Even of our time? I'm not so sure. And what I really wasn't sure about was why other countries let us get away with our posturing, as annoying as it must be. I've come up with two reasons, acting independently but in parallel.

The first is apathy. Countries like New Zealand, Australia, and Canada don't care about chest-pounding or being the best in the world over all, just in things like rugby and football (soccer). They aren't even aware that a contest for GOAT was going on. Too busy living in their free, beautiful, clean countries I suppose.

Great Britain also falls in to the apathy category, but for different reasons. They didn't invent the GOAT contest, that honor would probably fall to the Greeks, but they were the best at it for a number of centuries. I imagine they look at us like my dad looks at me. “Six pack, full head of dark hair, boundless energy. I had all that when I was your age. But look at me now. This is you in 300 years. If you're lucky.” Germany is apathetic too, but only because they've seen first hand what that level of flag-waving madness can come to when taken to extreme.

The other reason other countries put up with us loudly proclaiming our greatness is it means its harder for us to hear them sneaking up on us. The Ninja Theory. Of course I'm talking about Japan and China, who are poised to drop from the rooftops and garrote us before we even know they are there. We're too busy talking about how many medals we won at the last Games or how open-minded we are because we elected a black guy president (after only 200 years of freedom!) and because we are starting to let the gays marry (seven whole states! Seven! So open-minded.)

None of this means I'm anti-America or that I don't think we are a great country. I just think we'd benefit from lowering the flags, putting our heads down, and getting some forward movement happening. Today's big new hit is tomorrow's golden oldie.

Anyway, our time here is drawing to a close and neither of us are ready for it. There's still so much we haven't seen or done, even around our stop for the night. We could take a two-hour paddleboat ride, but that blows a ton of time for travel to other places and other things. So much to do. We'll have to come back. Still with out a plan, but with a better idea.

Friday, February 18, 2011

NZ- Monday 1/3

Monday, 1/3- Waikawa Bay Holiday Park, Picton

I am at an angle. The entire caravan is, in fact, at an angle. This is not my fault. The whole campground lists decidedly to one side. We'll wake up stacked against the wall tonight. At least the water will drain.

The day began again in Nelson, only this time more was open. We went to the shop that created the One Ring for the Lord of the Rings movies and admired the copies on display. I resisted unleashing the inner Gollum as there was a family present and the lady was trying to make a sale. Preciousssssss.

We arrived, as if by magic, at another yarn shop where Angela fondled, I talked with the shopkeeper, and we left is an addition to the ever-growing stash. I found a New Zealand shirt I like. Not an All Blacks but it does have the silver fern on it. Close enough. Not my fault we don't have where I grew up! But with my book on rugby I'm determined to learn. The wife and I are half-seriously discussing tickets to London in October for the Rugby World Cup. Yes, its happening in New Zealand, but London people will care and that will make it much more fun to watch in pubs. Plus I've never been to London. Probably too much money. We'll see.

On the drive from Nelson to Havelock (beautiful, twisty, blah, blah, blah) I reflected on the competing dual purposes of our trip. On one hand we want to see as much of New Zealand as possible, so we spend some days traveling many km to that end. On the other hand we want to experience as much of New Zealand as we can (and as is financially possible). So we hike and wander and stop along the road. Too many times we've been forced to pass over something because we just don't have the time. Its a big, busy country, something we don't think about coming from the flat 48. Drive from LA to New York and there will be loooooong stretches of nothing exciting aside fomr the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota. But from one end of NZ to the other there is so much to do. Maybe its because I'm a visitor.

Quick break in Havelock where nothing interesting was happening then we hit Queen Charlotte Drive. It was a Double T road (Tight and Twisty) complete with 20km/h and less hairpins (I'll let you do the conversion), one after another after another after another and blinding beauty on one side where the sound sat, blue and pristine and full of boaters we are jealous of. But parts we Triple T (Tight, Twisty, and Terrifying) like when the road dipped on the outside edge of a tight bend with no guardrail, or the washouts that created sudden obstacles in one lane sections. A bike road? Yeah. A cautious, sweaty, ohhhh my bike road? Yeah yeah. We pulled off a few times to settle stomachs and catch our breath, only to have the view steal it back. At our last stop we were both ready to be done with the Queen and asked, “Do ya think its much farther?” Literally around one more corner we looked down at Picton and left the Queen.

First stop! The internet cafe and hostel of a week ago where I left my sweatshirt. They had it! Joy of joys and other exclamations!

We found our holiday park for the night and walked to the harbour, where we ate overpriced but yummy Fisherman's Platters at the Jolly Roger. Am I excited to eat at a place with a skull and cross bones logo? Aye. Did I steal a menu? Aye. Am I done using this self question and answer convention for a while? Aye hope so.

So tonight is our last night on South Island. We loved it. We did not have enough time. We have to come back to see the rest of it. My breaks aren't long enough and my pay is too low. Wah wah wah. But in the words of Ah-nold, “I'll be bach.”

The ferry is during the day tomorrow so we should be able to see everything. Should be pretty. More pictures!

Friday, February 11, 2011

NZ- Sunday, 1/2

Sunday, 1/2-Maitai Valley Motorcamp, Nelson

Today I bought a hat. It is made out of kangaroo leather. Angela asserts that it is sexy and looks good on me. My ego allows me to believe her. It does work well functionally, keeping the sun off me and whatnot, so I'm happy I bought it. Need to wear it lots now. Dirtbag Hiking Hat.

First thing this morning we drove back into Moteuka and found the Sunday market. During the night we decided Moteuka was pretty Podunk-y and the market confirmed that. It was Craft Market/Produce Market/Flea Market. Angela bought produce, I bought a hammock which needs rope, and we bought coffee based on smell and a pirate label. It was a day to celebrate capitalism. And it become even more so by day's end.

From there we drove to Nelson, which we were both excited about based on their excellent PR campaign. Well...3/4 of it was closed for Sunday. Damn. So we walked it quick and I bought three locally written and published books at a used book store called Liter-Arty. This makes me pleased. I've been looking for local lit and now I have. Smell the book!

Next we backtracked to a beach park festival we had passed on our way to Nelson. Big score here. He weather was stunning and it was a small, friendly market/fair. We beelined for a booth selling garlic salt and the guy up-sold the hell out of us but then gave us an amazing deal. I don't know if we got ripped off somehow but I walked away feeling like we stole from him. So he did his job. Some will end up on meat tonight. Mmmm.

We walked, I fondled a hat, we walked some more. We bought a hot dog and chips, which is really a corn dog and fries. It was a good snack. Good ketchup.

I fondled a hat again, thought about it, fondled, and bought. If I've tried one on every time I've seen one, I may as well buy one. Plus, this one is made out of kangaroo. That's almost New Zealandish.

Then it was time to explore. We went in search of some wineries because that was fun last time and accidentally found Yarn Mecca. The complex was called Grape Escape and the store was Cruella's Fibre Boutique,. One the lady (who had a shock of white hair just like the store's namesake and a totally unique bearing) found out Angela is a knitter it was on like Donkey Kong. She got The Treatment. Only yarn store we've ever been in that had their patterns knitted up so you could see what you could make and/or buy. Very clever and it sold a metric ton of yard to my wife. She's happy. I'm happy.

Oh yeah, at the beach by the fair the Cancer Society was handing out free sunscreen and free-to-borrow beach umbrellas. Do we have this in the States? We should if not. I continue to question our self-proclaimed Greatest Country Ever status.

We popped in to Höglund Art Glass and checked out some very expensive vases and bowls. Cool to see, neat to see made, way too much $$$.

Using the map and random, “Hey look, a sign! I'll turn now!” we ended up at Staford Lane Estate Vineyard. We tried many olive oils and coatings, bought dukka to coat food with. Kind of a crumb-like substance that sticks to bread with the olive oil. Tastiness. Angela sampled their Sauvignon Blanc '10, Pinot Noir '09, and Montepulciano '09 and bought the SB.

Last stop before camp was Brightwater Vineyards, chosen because it is a small, family-run vineyard rather than a huge enterprise. The owner served us herself and was very nice and talkative. Maybe a little too talkative as it turned out. Angela tasted their Riesling '10, Sauvignon Blanc '10, and Merlot '09. She bought the Riesling but the lady bagged the Pinot Gris. Whoops! Didn't notice until we were settled at camp for dinner. Well, Angela forgives easily and says it is still a good wine so we won't go back to complain. Everyone makes mistakes, not worries. Plus, this bottle was $5 more. Ha!

Now we are here and garlic fills the camper. There is a small river by the camp I waded in. To quote a German woman we met at Brightwater, “New Zealand vater is much...fresher zen we haf at home.” Colder would be a good word for it too. Also went for an easy and pleasant 27 minute run. Good to run.

Nelson gets another shot tomorrow. Today started rocky but got really good. We wanted to read outside but the many little bugs chased us inside Captain Slow. Jerks. We'll find a bug candle tomorrow. And rope for my hammock.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

NZ- Saturday, 1/1

Saturday, 1/11/11- Fernwood Holiday Park, Motueka

Travel today started at just before ten in the am and ended just after six in the pm. That, friends and readers, is one long haul of a day. Good thing this country is so bloody gorgeous or we would have gotten bored.

First things first. Happy New Year! It's 2011! Yay! Ok, good, now that's over and done with for another 365. Except in the States where it hasn't happened yet.

We made two quick stops almost immediately after setting off, setting the laid back, no hurry tone for the day's travel. First was, of course, a roadside veggie stand where we were teased over ten cents to buy tomatoes. We had $3.90. He wanted $4. We got 'em but had to listen to him pretend to complain for five minutes first.


Second was the Honey Cafe. A place which, much to your shock and mine, sold much honey and honey-related paraphernalia. So its not just a clever name.

We went back over the most intense one-lane bridge today. It also had a railroad track running down the center of it. So beware of other cars and TRAINS! Made me think “One Lane Train,” which sounds like a badass title for something. Dibs!

We were on what Angela's Lonely Planet guide calls one of the World's Top Ten Greatest Drives today and I'm right there with the editors. Incredible coastal road along the Tasman Sea. Plenty of stops to get out and gape. Have I mentioned how pretty it is here? Are you sure?

A few hours in we passed a sign for pancake rocks and a blowhole so we stopped to play tourist. The Punakaiki Blowhole and Pancake Rocks are fantastic feats of erosion, impressing children of all ages and races. A blowhole I don't have to explain, and we got two really good explosions with lots of ohhh-ing and ahhh-ing. Bigger than the one at home.

Pancake rocks are a trick of erosion and sea build up that make the rock look very tightly layered, like a stack of hotcakes seen in profile. Much the picture taking did ensue.

As we turn inland the coast goes away only to be replaced by a river run. Today was determined to prove true the River Road Rule I came up with on the summer Border to Border ride. This Rule states that “Any Road that does follow a river shall be Good.” So true today it's not even funny. Oddly enough, today necessitated a new Rule- The New Zealand Farmland Road Rule, which states, “Any such Road which follows farmland in New Zealand shall be, like all other Roads in New Zealand, Good.” This Rule is rarely used but good information to have.

Following the River Road Rule, I stopped for pictures, a snack, a motorcycle pout, and a leg stretch. It was, as the Rule so states, Good.

A while later we stopped for lunch at a decent-sized free campground where we were eaten by tiny blood flies. No gars were seen. (“I'll take Super Specialized References for $1000 please, Alex.”)

And now we are in Motueka, which claims to be near the ocean but I think it might be near mud flats connected to the ocean, which is close enough for a brochure. The little town should be good for an hour tomorrow then we'll head down the coast to Nelson, which looks promising. So from the Tasman Sea to the Tasman Bay in Cook Straight, today was one hell of a long drive. Good thing I've got the best naviguesser in the world to my left. (All together now, “Awwwww.”)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

NZ- Friday, 12/31

Friday, 12/31- Shining Star, Hokitika

Lazy day today, and I like it. We had planned on walking in to town, doing a little shopping, then dropping the loot off and going on a nice, long hike.

Well, parts one and two happened. We did walk to Hokitika. Angela did buy a metric ton of yarn and fibery things. I bought some books because I finished all the ones we brought. And we checked out loads, heaps, rather, of things carved out of jade. It seems Hokitika is the jade capitol of the world. Or at least of NZ. Plenty of jade shops is what I'm trying to say.

We also looked at what was called the Maori Heritage Centre but was really another shop. I hope it was just a gift shop and we somehow missed the real Centre. But I don't think so.

Our plans went awry after we got back. Angela laid down for a moment and before we knew it it was nap time! After that we didn't really feel like going for a long walk. Instead we took a short walk to the beach and she read while I went for a barefoot beach run.

Sandy runs are rough. I was out for 35 minutes. I met a nice family at my turn around point that I stopped and talked to for a few minutes. When I passed them the first time the father yelled to me, “Australia's that way!” If I had been thinking, something I try to avoid when running, I would have made a remark about why would I want to go to a place that can't even get out of the first round of the Ashes when it's hosting it? New Zealanders love cricket jokes and Aussie jokes. It would have killed.

Good to Know: Barefoot beach running will sandblast your toes. I've got blisters on five toe pads now. Great. Make's 'em tougher, right?

After my run we came back to camp, played cards, and had dinner. Simple, easy day. It was nice. Might check out the glowworms again if we're still awake.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

NZ- Thursday 12/30

Thursday, 12/30- Shining Star, Hokitika

Short hops travel day today. In the am we traversed more excellent mountain roads, broken with stretches of pasture. The sky is blue and clear and the air is crisp. New Zealand often exists in a cliché of weather and scenery.

It is 8:50pm and the sun hasn't gone down yet. We didn't eat until 8 mostly because we had no idea it was so late already. “Why am I so hungry? Its still early, isn't it?” “Holy crap, its 8!”

On our drive we went through a place labeled Doubtful Valley. Being the wits we are, and almost on cue, I said, “I dunno about that,” and she quipped, “Are they sure?” High comedy. Sticking with the fantastic names for places theme, we also drove through a so-tiny-it-takes-longer-to-make-a-joke-about-the-name-than-to-walk-through-it town called Crushington. This requires all caps. CRUSHINGTON. Better. I would go see any band that said they were from CRUSHINGTON. If I had a band, we would say came from CRUSHINGTON, right next to Brutalville, across the river from Metalliton.

We notice, or rather noticed again, that Captain Slow's cab is very big. My wife is very far away from me when I'm driving. It's a two hour trek to touch her knee and holding hands requires a warm-up, smoke signal communication, and a packed lunch. No fooling. I could barely see her.

I think I forgot to mention the one-lane bridges we've been traversing for the past two days. We get a sign warning us a few meters ahead, the suddenly two lanes become on and I either have to yield or go, but I better be paying attention or someone is going to be reversing on a narrow bridge. No problems so far. Kind of intense though.

Speaking of intense (Now accepting the award for Most Awkward Segue...) more of those Drive Safe signs were cracking us up. Today we went by one that had a picture of feet with a toe tage, you know, like at the morgue, and the text says, “SPEEDING TICKET.” Wow. And to go along with the intense signage, this in one of the countries that has put those awful pictures of lung cancer and mouth rot and throat death on their cigarette warning labels so as to make perfectly clear what you may be getting yourself in to by buying this particular product. The major tobacco companies have way too strong a grip on our own FDA to let anything this honest happen in the good ole US of A. More and more I question our right to even own the moral high horse, let alone trot around on it like we do. (Just so you know, this somehow ended with me arm wrestling Bill O'Reilly in my head while Glenn Beck cried. No, I'm not sure how I got there. Something about his belief that stronger is better. Would be cool, though.)

The roads here seem singular in purpose- to go from A to B. Not to advertise the latest Will Ferrell abortion or a body spray that makes you smell like perfumed crap. Like so many other parts of New Zealand, the roads reflect a very high level of eco-awareness. Sure, its a swath of concrete cutting through the forest, but no more than is absolutely needed. Signs everywhere remind travelers to care for their surroundings and here people actually heed those reminders.

I think I need to learn to do metric conversions off the top of my head. I feel like a dummy trying to go from miles to kilometers, or standard to metric weights or volumes, or Fahrenheit to Celsius. If I don't learn a foreign language I can at least figure out the math everyone else on the planet is using.

We stopped today at a tiny mountain town called Reefton. Not for the night, but because they are having Summer Festival things every day for a month and a half and today was horse racing. Must see!

Turns out this is a big deal for Reefton, who's population had to be at least 600, maybe 1,000. The whole town (the whole town, maybe one disaffected teen was sulking in a dark room somewhere) was gathered at the rugby pitch/race track to cheer and wear their race day finest. It was Reefton Trots, which means the jockeys actually sit behind the horse on a little chariot and get pulled. We sat and watched two races, cheered, did not bet, ate some local fair food, and blew the mind of a young teenage girl. She was standing in front of us in line for chips (fries) and was sneaky checking out my toe shoes in that sneaky-but-not way teen girls have. So I wiggled my toes at her and we said hi. She asked where we were from and when we told her she shot a wide-eyed OMG look at her friend and squeeled, “Hawaii!” with standards teen girl excited hand-flutter. Angela remarked afterwards that we were probably the only Americans there. We, friends, were exotic!

Well Hokitika looked great and exciting in the brochure. Not so much live, but not bad. It was the end of the business day by the time we strolled in. Will be better tomorrow I'm sure. They have a Sock Factory and Museum shop with much yarn and fleece. Joy. Hike planned for tomorrow too.

After we got back we took chairs down to the beach, our camp is mere meters from the ocean and I can here it from Captain Slow. It was very nice to sit and read and listen to the waves. We don't do it enough at home.

Across the street is a glowworm dell. We checked it out in the daylight and its pretty, but I guess around ten when it gets really dark, the worms light up. So we're doing that later tonight, I'll let you know how it goes.

Glad not to be driving tomorrow. Long walk/hike will make up for lack of running.

*A Short Time Later*

Very impressed with the glowworm dell. When we got there only a few were glowing, sparse pinpoints in the black, but over time more and more appeared until we were surrounded by living nebulae. I refuse to be cynical or too cool about this. Tiny animals that are invisible in the daylight but at night they light up? That is an awesome trick of nature. The only problem? Tourons who shine flashlights higher than foot level. But I'm too enlightened (get it?) by our free (yay!) glowworm experience to get too lit up (Ha!) over dim people (Haha!)

Living constellations, galaxies, and nebulae. Very pretty. Very amazing. Worth the cold but short walk. Too dim for pictures.