January 2009. Greetings from Wallingford! Yes, I’m still in Wallingford . . . scouting out the route we’ll follow whiletrasversingNew Zealand. My traveling companions will be my sister, Jean, and her husband, Kurt. We’ll connect with the Sierra Club folks on February 10 in Nelson. The overview: fly into Auckland, train to Wellington, ferry to Picton, bus to Nelson. From there we travel with a mini-bus along the west coast through the towns of Greymouth, Franz Josef, Te Anau and ending in Queenstown.We then fly back to Auckland.
Why am I visiting New Zealand?
The story of my mother coming to the United States from Scotland in the mid-1920s was an important part of our family history. It seems that the family had a choice to make: whether to go to America or New Zealand. In the end my grandmother decided on the US because she heard the roads were paved with gold. If she hadn’t selected the United States, I wouldn’t be here now going to New Zealand!
Another reason why I decided to take this trip was the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Just like lonelyplanet.com states, “visiting the real-life Middle-earth still has a geeky allure.” The epic cinematography in the movie was spectacular, and yet I could imagine myself walking the paths on the mountain tops or the lowland forest trails. Frodo’s journey with his companions offered a metaphorical comparison in my own life as we negotiated the pitfalls and crevices of an organizing campaign around a living wage for our community. That campaign increased awareness of how political power can hold its grip at all levels of authority and privilege.
The Hobbit villages reminded me of the Fairy Glen in the hills of the Isle of Skye in Scotland. I recreated the village in clay for my own garden.
First Question: Where is New Zealand?
I stopped to think: exactly where is this place? I knew, of course, that NZ is in the Southern Hemisphere in the Pacific somewhere close to Australia. But after studying a world map, I could see that it stands by itself with a few island neighbors, such as Fiji and Tonga. While my first impression was that the country was located far south, in fact NZ’s latitude corresponds to that of Italy. According to a number of sources, NZ is more mild and temperate because of the ocean currents and cold winds from the south. Linguistically and culturally Polynesian, the native settlers, the Maori, arrived between 700-2000 years ago. NZ was settled by Europeans in the 1700s. We will be in New Zealand on February 6, which is considered the day the nation was “founded” on the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The Maori regard this treaty as a guarantee of their rights.
In case you are not familiar with Google Earth, here’s how it works. Click on “View Larger Map.” Move the arrows in the upper left hand corner of the map to place New Zealand in the center. Plus key will zoom in. You can also move the whole map by pressing down on your mouse, and holding it down while you move the mouse. You will see a hand, and the hand will grab the map and move it around. The blue markers indicate where we will be. The side bar on the left also notes the locations. You can zoom in until the minus indicator reaches the top of the vertical bar. You may get a message saying, “we don’t have imagery.” Just zoom out again. Get an actual street view by putting your mouse on the orange figure above the plus sign. Hold the mouse key down until you drop him into any place on the map, and there is a picture of that exact location! If you want to see up and down the location, play with the circle arrows in the left hand corner. Works just in areas where there are streets.
You’re second assignment, should you choose to accept, is to find your home using Google Earth. Let me know how you make out on that.
Journal Inspiration from Mark Twain
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry,and narrow-mindedness,and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
Years ago I read Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad , which chronicled his cruise on board the chartered vessel Quaker City through the Holy Land and Europe in 1867. During his lifetime this book was the best selling his works. Actually, his log started out as a series of letters sent back to several American newspapers. Twain characterized his travel as a “record of a pleasure trip.” If I can indulge in a few coincidences with Twain, I’m starting off from “Quaker City” . . . well, not really, I work at a Quaker College, and I’m fairly sure if Twain was writing today he’d be doing it on a blog, and this is a pleasure trip for me. One final irony: using Skype my sister surprised me with her most recent painting: none other than a portrait of Mark Twain!
I have to admit that I’m somewhat conflicted about this taking this journey. My environmental friends remind me of the carbon output from the airplane at a time when the ice sheets are melting. The economy is in the tank so I should be spending more wisely. I’m leaving my grassroots organizing behind at a time when I just fired everyone up about single-payer health care and now say “bye!” My only hope for redemption lies in creating something that might be useful and that the travel will purge any remnants of narrow-mindedness that haunt the corners of my mind.
Saturday, February 1
The world is a much smaller place now than when Twain traveled 130 years ago. Of the six people who work in my department, three have been to New Zealand. One of our student office workers just came back from Auckland after spending a semester there. Although I keep thinking I’m going half way around the world, moving from place to place is what people do whether for work or pleasure. The average number of vacation days ranges from 42 for Italians to 25 for the Japanese. Americans rank only 13 days (we need unions to improve that figure), and yet in casual conversation with folks, New Zealand as a destination is not uncommon.
Tuesday, February 3
Dear family and friends . . . hello! And glad you’re here! Please feel free to comment on the blog or write me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Birthday greetings to Richard, my nephew, February 6. Have a wonderful day. Your Mom and Dad wishing you well on your 26th! Ah, so young and so much to do.
Wednesday, February 4
This is the day that disappeared in my space-time continuum, having something to do with crossing the International Date Line.
The Adventure Begins
Thursday, February 5
Tuesday was a good day to travel; no crowds or lines and allowed me to quickly negotiate the check-in and security lines. So I had plenty of time to stroll the airport corridors. The airport shops remain the typical combination of high-end clothing and gift shops, food courts and newspaper stands. However, there was one new addition to the smaller side booths that line the hallways: a store totally devoted to selling Obama paraphernalia: t-shirts, books, mugs, key chains. The new President is a marketer’s dream! I understand that the White House is now trying to find a way to regulate his image. Good luck with that one.
My flight was delayed because of mismanagement of weight issues in the cargo. The plane then had to go through the deicing process. This was my first time flying in winter and during a snowstorm, which, of course, made this anxious flyer just that much calmer. After taxing to a far corner of a runway, the plane reached the deicing station. A man sat in a booth attached to a large crane. While floating from above, a spray nozzle attached to the booth sprayed the wings with a pinkish liquid. Our ventilation was turned off so that we avoided taking in fumes. In a matter of minutes the booth then retracted back to its starting position.
Our plane headed down the runway into the white haze before us.
Flying into the great unknown . . .
which actually turned out to be that I had no idea that US Air had discontinued serving free meals–even on cross-country flights! I was wondering why the woman next to me opened up a huge sandwich before we even left the runway. I thought she must get really hungry on these flights. I noticed that most people did not purchase the meals. I began to think about my lack of cash. I hadn’t planned on buying in-flight meals, and then there are the $15 baggage check fees. I may have to make an ATM stop, and I’m not even five hours into the trip.
Also, forget movies and audio programs–luxuries now part of a former era of flying.
One serendipity on this flight: one whole seat between me and the woman on the isle seat. We shared the space spreading out our coats and books and leaning unconsciously into our precious piece of real estate. Air travel could be so much more tolerable–all for a bigger seat. The extra seat was well worth the sacrifice of paying for a salad.
I noticed the book my shared seatmate was reading, Every Woman’s Battle. Curious as to which of the 10,000 battles we confront, which one this was, I asked her. Turns out the book is about battles that women face regarding emotional and physical temptation. Evidently, someone wrote a book about men’s temptation and this book now addressed the woman’s point of view. She said she was going to attend “purity parties,” where women discuss these issues and offer support. It seems there were some kind of religious overtones. Wasn’t sure what to make of it all. Initially, I thought, isn’t there an old fashion version to this called marriage? Maybe with this generation of prolonged courtship, delayed unions and polyamorous relationships, some new guidance is needed. No disparagement meant, however, to anyone trying to work through issues. I did wonder whether there was a men’s group somewhere organizing a “purity party.”
I like a window seat. In my last flight across the country, I studied the landscape below. On that flight the air was clear, and I could identify the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, and Rocky Mountains. Today we started flying with heavy clouds so I lost the progress of the flight in relationship to geographical locations. Eventually the clouds feathered away and the patchwork landscape of the central states appeared followed by vast tracts of brown earth. I guessed we were over Colorado. I was amazed at how much of this dry earth covers the US. The snow covered Rockies erupted from the land, the peaks catching the afternoon sun. After flying over the Sierra Nevada Range, the Pacific Ocean came into view and the plane began the long descent over the city of Los Angeles.
After negotiating through the terminals to my gate for New Zealand airlines, I arrived without event to the waiting area. Made a couple calls home and heard about your snow in Philadelphia, the storm seemingly continuing longer than predicted. So are you folks snowed in today?
Our jet to NZ was the 777-200ER–a huge plane, and the hint of its size was the number of passengers waiting to get on board–many young people, I noticed. We took off leaving the lights of Los Angeles far behind and flew into the blackness of the ocean. The Air New Zealand flight was a totally different experience from US Air. Upon getting on the plane we were offered drink and a hot washcloth. A screen mounted on the seat in front of me, provided flight information and our progress across the Pacific.
Altitude: climbing to over 10,000 feet
Travel speed: varying to 816 mph
Total travel time: 12 hours
Distance: 10,500 miles
There are lots of programs, music and films in their selection of viewing materials.
A bag of crisps arrived followed by the first course of the diner: salad, hot bread served on a tray with a cloth placemat and napkin. I was impressed. I selected the grilled New Zealand salmon with pea tendrils, parsnip puree, red onion confit (huh? chefs out there, what is a confit?) and roasted carrots. A pear and almond tart with vanilla ice cream finished the meal. The flight attendant brought around a cheese plate and coffee and tea but just couldn’t eat any more. Was all very tasty.
Slept off and on through the flight, I think enough to get by. Actually, at one level I was dreading the long flight because we felt so terrible coming off the plane on our trip to Italy this summer. I did read in one of NZ airline magazine that they bring in 50% of the air from the outside and recirculation the other 50% through filters. I did feel good.
The breakfast repast started with a pink smoothie served a tumbler glass. A fruit plate, yogurt, and warm croissant were presented as the pre-breakfast. For the main entree, I selected the white chocolate buttermilk pancake with blueberry compote and lavender honey crème fraiche (ok, another one of those culinary terms . . . . elaboration . . . anyone, Jared? Richard?. As a process of elimination, I assume it was the whippy-cream dollop on the top.) We soon began our approach into Auckland.
Our flight arrived on time and processing through the airport was quick.I headed out for the public bus transportation to the hotel when I was approached by a taxi driver offering a deal. I told him I was taking the bus so he said he would charge the same amount to drive me right to the door of the hotel: $25.Oh, except the bus only costs $12.
While on the bus, I noticed that that the character of the Auckland suburbs was not unlike one of our Jersey shore communities, maybe in the 60s or 70s, not shabby, just of that era.Most houses were clapboard, some with clay, others with iron roofs, and a few having European styling especially Victorian influence. Palm trees were common.The shopping districts reminded me of 69th Street in Upper Darby.
After settling in at the room at the Copthorne Hotel, Harbour City, catching up with news with Jean and Kurt, who arrived the day before, we headed out for the on-off tour bus of the city.The docks across from the hotel were busy with harbor traffic but especially with the many ferries and tour boats.Surrounded by the harbor, Auckland, could not be anything less than a very impressive and beautiful city.
We made stops at the zoo, shopping district, and the Sky Tower, which is higher than the Eifel Tower.At the top we enjoyed 360 degree panoramic views of the city.
If I get the video loaded below, you’ll see me walking over the windows in the floor in which the street below was literally under my feet.
Most of our conversation revolved around teasing each other on who was going to bungy jump off the tower.Yes, you can actually do that!We also had the option of walking on the outside perimeter grate while attached to the tower by a harness and cord.We deemed that the opportunity was too expensive, yes, too expensive to walk around the tower without a handrail. The picture below shows other walkers willing to make the economic sacrifice and a bungy jumper ready to jump off.
Across from our hotel were the ferry buildings from which we boarded our boat for a day trip to Rangitoto Island, created by a volcano that erupted about 600 years ago. Our plan was to hike to the summit, a good hour walk over lava fields.Being a warm day, the black lava absorbed the heat making the trek up the mountain a bit more tiring.
The lava rocks made negotiating the path a challenge with jagged sharp outcrops providing tripping points all along.Loose gravel made slipping commonplace. We wore sturdy shoes, but I noticed others walking in sandals and flip-flops. The pathway was well traveled with runners, older folks, and families.At least two family groups brought strollers although how they managed to climb 800 feet with babies and small children in tow was remarkable. At the summit, another 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding harbor and Auckland.Seems like there are many places in NZ for panoramic views.On the way down we made a detour to visit the lava caves, which were not exactly like Chrystal Cave.More like, oh yea, a crevice in which we came out the other side in exactly 30 seconds.We headed back to the wharf area and took a long rest.
While relaxing, we had a chance to watch the passing parade of people and to note the details of our location.Rangitoto is not an inhabited island with no running water, food or electricity. The warm water was inviting but no easy way in with the lava rocks making up the beach. In front of us was one of the Pohutukawa trees with its graceful branches emerging from a short but substantial trunk.Two young boys climbed through the branches and finally settled down on an extended limb.They looked like Hobbits sitting comfortably about 15 feet from the ground.As the boys began climbing again even higher into the tree, I began to wonder about the wisdom of children playing in the tree: the hard ground below, medical care 25 minutes away, bare feet on rough bark.The boys eventually climbed down, with some relief on my part, and found new climbing adventures on embankments and rooftops.
Particularly interesting about the harbor was a decades-old, naturally filling swimming pool with the tide providing the water filling the basin.Small cottages called the Bach Settlement dotted the water’s edge on the nearby shore.No longer used, these colorful houses, build in the 1930s, were purchased by the government.The Historical Conservation Trust stepped in to stop the demolition of these cottages and now is making some effort to restore some of the better-preserved buildings.
As I gazed at the far shore, I heard a thud and scream.Lying on the ground beneath the tree was one of the boys, who evidently returned to the tree for more climbing.“I knew it–much too dangerous! Brought to mind The Christmas Story where the parents kept telling Ralphie he would shoot his eye out with a BB-gun!Don’t climb that tree; you’ll break a leg! From what I could gather from the ongoing drama unfolding in front of me, the boy’s foot was swollen, and there didn’t seem any urgency other than the poor fellow being in pain.The family had to wait, as the next ferry was at least 90 minutes away.
Auckland . . . the city of sails . . .
We boarded the ferry at 3:30PM for a stop at Victoria Wharf in Davenport, an historic seaside town. On the waterfront, Victorian buildings lined the street, and villas with well-preserved and distinct architectural features left the impressions of a relatively wealthy community. We continued walking through town until we reached Kerr Street.Kerr being a family name, we stopped for pictures at the street sign then headed up toward Mount Victoria, an extinct volcano.The path meandered through tall grass and stands of purple flowers on long stalks; we climbed the hill enjoying spectacular vistas of the harbor.At the summit, dare I say it again, 360 degree panoramic views of the surrounding islands and Auckland.
In the background is the Island of Rangitoto.
Saturday, February 7
We left Auckland approximately 7:30AM taking the Overlander to Wellington, a 12-hour journey through the heart of the North Island.The train, painted a light blue, looked like it was out of another era except for the huge windows that extended mid-seat to the ceiling.The last car had a large window and seating area in the back, which was great for taking photos and videos.
The train passed through farmlands and pastures on the first leg of the trip.
Jean and I decided to venture forward to the café car for a cappuccino and to inquire about the open platform viewing area.Walking through the isles we bumped our way to the front of the train as the cars rocked every which way.Carrying drinks even with lids was probably less than wise as the liquid erupted out of the little hole at the top of lip.I stepped out to the outside platform and was welcomed with wind, deafening noise, a rushing view all while trying to keep my balance.The ride was not unlike that roller coaster train ride at Disney World.Well, this seemed like the real thing.I attempted to video the scene, but all I recorded was a blur of green within a shaky framework.Nevertheless, I was determined to return to the platform, as the experience was unforgettable.
We have been joking about now New Zealanders seems less constrained by safety and perhaps litigation issues in comparison with US culture.In the US, caves would be sealed off, fences installed around retaining walls, signs posted warning of all kind of dangers and really–where in the US could you hang off a train with the wind blowing through your hair?
After leaving Hamilton, the landscape changed to hillocks much resembling those of the Isle of Skye with the characteristic velvety green color and wavy patterns etched into the hillsides. Any one of the hills could be Shirelands of Hobbiton. Sheep scattered as the train sped through the valleys.The cattle remained in place.
While hanging on the open-air platform car, we met a college-age traveler and attempted to help him by taking his picture while trying to capture the mountain on the landscape. First Jean tried but with the bouncing of the train she caught only the ceiling. I then made the attempt and managed to get a picture of him, not sure about the mountain. He then asked to take a photo us, which we obliged and then reciprocated. Didn’t notice the flash of the peace sign until I saw the photo on my computer. Young people in New Zealand are friendly and conversational. In coming from the airport, one young man talked with the bus driver for the full 25-minute trip to center city.
The train made a half-hour stop at a tiny station at National Park so we were able to get off the train and walk around.It was booming business at the café there as the passengers stocked up with sandwiches and snacks.In taking a picture of the volcano in the distance, I noticed a dog running up the middle of the long road toward the station.Initially, I thought he was with a couple of children until I realized why he was eager to meet the train.
Note on the logistics of blogging and travel
One major problem I had almost immediately was the cost of Internet at the hotel: about 70 cents a minute! So I couldn’t take the usual amount of time to load photographs and carefully fix the appearance of the blog.I did manage to type out the information while offline then paste copy into the blog. Also, when the time runs out in the middle of loading a video, that’s it, it’s gone.Having a full schedule of daily activities does not leave much time for writing or editing so some of this content might be rough around the edges with a smattering of spelling errors and misplaced modifiers.Probably won’t be able to fix any of those until I get back.
Hope everyone at home is doing fine.Another Happy Birthday greeting . . . goes out to Jim.I know they’re planning a party at the Pirate House.Ah, such good food at those parties.Miss everyone and truly wish you were here! Good luck to MaeC and Jared on their entrepreneurial adventure in New York City this weekend. ~ Much love to all. ~
Wellington: Saturday Evening
Upon arrival at the station, we became immediately aware that something was up: people were dressed in a variety of outlandish outfits including pajamas, harem pants, sombreros, and togas. Arab sheiks seemed to be a particular favorite.One entire group were outfitted in cave-man animal skins, and two young men came through the station wearing a “kissing booth.”Seems that all the revelry revolved around a rugby game at the stadium.This was a “big” game that comes to town once a year, and they were playing England.As we made our way to the hotel, we noticed streets blocked off and stands were being set up for rock concerts.It was a jumpin’ town.
Sunday, February 8
While Jean was doing laundry, I managed some time for writing, sending email and Skyping home. Richard relayed the news of the day and forwarded an email from Claudia with news of the ice rink.Seems that Alexey is returning to the Ukraine in just a few weeks so we’ll be losing one of our coaches.
We spent most of the morning in the Te Papa National Museum, located on the harbor in center city.With six floors of displays, mostly on New Zealand’s history from the Polynesian settlements to the later European invasions, there was much to see.One floor was devoted to the seismic activity that defines the islands.The Australian plate and the Pacific plate collide exactly in the middle of the South Island. Wellington experiences an earthquake every week, even if it can’t be felt.One exhibit actually shook a house to provide visitors with a tutorial on what to do on the eventuality of a quake. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hydrothermal activity, tsunamis, landslips are all part of NZ history.Here’s hoping that all remains quiet over the next couple weeks.
As I mentioned at the top of the page, our Grandmother had the choice whether to emigrate to NZ or US so Jean and I were very much interested in the Scots in New Zealand exhibit. One sign read: the Scots came from a society that believed education should be practical, freely available to everyone and of benefit to society as a whole. The Scots supported free education for both boys and girls. My mother firmly believed that her girls must attend college.
After lunch we headed into the city center to pick up the cable car to the Botanical Gardens. A walking bridge, which actually was a piece of architectural construction, arched over the highways to the other side. The façade was constructed of weathered wood and elements from the Maori culture decorated the walkway.At the next plaza a large spherical form appeared to defy gravity by floating from above.
We reached the cable car, and we were lifted to the top of the hill in a matter of minutes.We began to study the garden trial map, which for most of our walking was a challenge to figure out exactly where we were. We did visit almost every garden area including the herb, rose, water, fragrant, succulent, and rock gardens.The cool, wooded glens offered respite from the heat; the umbrella ferns graced the paths creating feathery shadows along the walkway.
We stopped at the café for an iced coffee, which unbeknownst to us, rather than being coffee with ice, consisted of a tall, frosty glass with some coffee and two scoops of ice cream topped with cinnamon accompanied by three marshmallow cookies.We didn’t complain, however, regarding the disconnect between our expectations and the reality.
We decided to walk back to our hotel, which took us about an hour. We were happy to get back since we had been walking continuously all day.
Monday, February 9
Time and sleep were very much out of sink.It’s amazing to rise at 5:30am feeling perfectly refreshed and eager to get to the computer. Free from morning tiredness, I’m completely energized to pound away on the keyboard. In the quiet of the morning I start to organize photographs and videos and check maps and schedules for the day’s adventures.At times I could have used a traveling help desk.
This morning we awoke to a vast change in the weather from gentle breezes and sun to a relentless wind and low dark clouds. The ferry trip would be four hours on the open ocean so we began to look for those Dramamine pills we almost forgot about.
After arriving at the ferry terminal, we were quickly process an immediately followed the signs o the gangway. I imagined the Cook Straight Ferry was going to be 150-car transport, but what stretched against the dock was the size of a cruise ship with onboard comforts: lounges, two snack bars, a children’s play area and a cinema. We explored the decks then settled into our seats watched the white caps before us.
Leaving the North Island . . .
Arriving at the South Island . . .
Disembarking from the ferry at Picton, we then boarded the bus to Nelson, a two hour drive away. The scenery reminded me of Utah and Idaho, with flat lands leading up to rolling hills, some mountains in the background. The driver could not get the air-conditioning to work so conditions were a bit unpleasant with no windows to open and the heat intensifying. New Zealanders consider 80 degrees a heat wave; they are also experiencing a drought, the bus driver pointing out charred lands where a fire had recently swept over several acres. All the news in NZ now is about the infernos in Australia that have claimed over 80 lives. My guess was that maybe they never needed the air-conditioning before so didn’t know whether it actually worked or not.
Tuesday, February 10
The members of our Sierra Club trip came together at the Nelson Airport, including our leader Gene, who organized the trip, and Matt, our guide and driver of the MoaTrek mini bus.Matt provided interesting commentary as we traveled through agricultural lands.We made two stops at different wineries then continued on to our final destination, Abel Tasman National Park. After settling in at our motel at the edge of the park, we walked across the street to the beach.The water was warm so I waded over to the rocks and boulders on the other far side of the beach. I investigated the animal life in the tidal pools, mostly muscles but also a few hermit crabs.
Wednesday, February 11
Thanks to everyone for your messages. Great to hear from folks at home! Keep those cards and letters coming.
Penny, Jean and I appreciated the reality check on the routine of home life. Which reminded me, Richard, did the recycling get out on Monday?? Johann, Mom and Dad send their love . . . they’re having an awesome time. MaeC and Jared, can’t wait to hear about your adventure in New York City. And for February 12, birthday greetings go out to Kay at Swat’mo. I’ve been Skyping Richard at least once every other day; he keeps me updated on the status of the kitty kats. We have our priorities.
I’m lacquered! after a day of hiking, five hours, and kayaking, about three hours, in Abel Tasman National Park. It’s 9:30PM and I can hardly keep my eyes open but I’m just so excited to write about the amazing adventures. I’ll see how far I get.
The group was divided into two: one kayaking and one hiking. We would meet at lunchtime and change to the new activity. It took almost an hour to outfit and train us. You can make up your own caption for the picture below:
The rubber “skirt” we’re wearing is the splash guard, which stretched over the seat. We learned how to work the ruder and steering pedals. We had a lot of trouble understanding the directions because the Kiwi’s pronounce their “e” like a short “i”. So when the instructor said, move the “piddles” she was confronted with blank stares; then she repeated, the “lift piddle.” We started to look for our paddles because I think for most of us, we hadn’t seen peddles on kayaks before. Now, I got into difficulty with the e/i confusion the day before. Our guide, Matt, said his family were Wistern Irelanders. I’d never heard of anyone use that term Wistern before. Matt repeated, “Wistern, Wistern.” Somehow it then clicked.
Eventually we were ready to go and shoved our kayaks into the choppy water. Jean commanded the steering from the back while I was in charge of the picture-taking in the front. Keeping the kayak going forward required ambitious paddling with a head wind, currents and waves all playing into the mix. We paddled anywhere from a few yards from the shore to over 300 yards away from the land.
Martha and Gene . . .
When we reached our destination, our guides brought out long sandwiches made with deliciously fresh bread. We were offered a hot drink, much like hot chocolate only made from barley . . . very good.
The hiking group arrived; we exchanged news, and we off on our walk guided by John Croxford, extremely knowledgeable about flora and fauna. John stopped frequently along the trail pointing out native plants as well as those “bloody” invasives, such as the Himalayan Honeysuckle. One interesting tree, the Rangrora, produces palm-sized leaves, the underside of the softest consistency, not unlike moleskin. The nickname for the leaf is “the bushman’s friend.” I’ll let you draw your own conclusions from there.
The government constructed the path along the mountainside, making it about three feet or so wide and free of most outcroppings. On one side of this ledge path was a steep slope covered with ferns, liverworts and spleenworts. On the other side of the path the slope fell to the water below. Not infrequently our path crossed over brooks, water cascading over mossy rocks. The comfortable temperature made walking easy through this mixed, temperate rain forest. Where the vegetation parted, breezes from the bay filtered through the trees. From one of the outlooks we could see the kayakers from the second group just about to explore the cave to the left.
We finished our walk on the shoreline, where we came upon several families of quail.
Below Gene and Matt wait for me as I poke along at the end of the group trying to get a few more photographs. Matt characterized the hike as a, “wee grunt,” with an inflection that indicates an understatement with the word, “wee.”
Thursday, February 12
On a rainy morning we departed for Paparoa National Park, approximately six hours away. I welcomed a driving day to rest up from yesterday’s ambitious schedule.
We stopped briefly for a short hike along an abandoned railway line.
After walking through the misty forest, we came to a tunnel and walked through.At about a third of the way the ground grew dark under my feet as the light faded, the opening at the other end providing the only guidance.Water dripped from the ceiling into unseen puddles.With some imagination, a ghost train could whistle through the dank air and that would not be a surprise.
We boarded the bus to continue our journey through the cloud-covered mountains, part of the Arthur Range. We arrived at the coast in the little town of Westport and had a spot of tea and a jam botty.
Just outside of Westport in a seaside park known as Foulwind we began a coastal walk through the dunes. Although pelted by the windswept rain, the breeze blew warm. The grey sky contrasted with the colors of the dune garden plants but especially the yellow flowers on tall stalks. A lighthouse, steep cliffs, waves crashing against the rocks were part of the scene.
Trail markers guide the way?
On an outlook point we observed a colony of fur seals, quite noisy with honking and whistling.Little ones flopped along the rocks while large seals engaged in face-to-face confrontation.
Back on the bus we headed toward Punakaiki, known for its famous geological formations, limestone “pancake” rocks and numerous blowholes. The walkway, the Pancake Rocks Coastal Trail, was carefully landscaped and natural features made up the walls and steps in many places. Every outlook held a spectacular view of miles and miles of rugged coastline framed by the mountains in the distance.
Our bus only had to travel less than a mile to reach our accommodations tucked on a side of a hill facing the beach.
Friday, February 13
By 8:30am we were loaded on the bus, Matt welcoming us on board with his usual humorous antidotes and bantering with his passengers. Through the entire drive Matt tutored us, on the bus and on the trail, on a range of subjects specific to New Zealand including politics, land formations, agriculture, and history, just to name a few of his favorite subjects. A former teacher, Matt presented a wealth of information, and we absorbed it all.
As we motored along the West Coast, views of the Tasman Sea stretched before us. After several hours of driving we stopped at Point Elizabeth for a three-hour hike along the coast through sub-tropical rainforest. Photographs can never capture the beauty of these forests as the complexities of the plants and trees are flattened, all detail lost in a sea of green. Also lost are the musky and earthy aromas that fill the cool air.
After our walk, we drove further south down the coast to Greymouth, the largest town on the West Coast, stopping for lunch, and then making a stop at Hokitika, home of New Zealand greenstone jade. Hokitika, an attractive little town with wide streets lined with local craft shops, resembled many of the other towns in that the sidewalks are covered by roofs that extend off the one-story buildings. Colorful flower baskets hung along the streets. We pleaded with our leader for an additional 15 minutes to our stopover so we had more time for souvenir shopping.
Holding ice cream cones and bundles of bags, we boarded our bus and continued onto our final destination at Franz Josef Glacier, in Westland National Park. The entire area on the West Coast is highly seismic with about three earth quakes a day although they can’t usually be felt. Matt called our attention to a major fault line carved between two mountains and tells us that there might be a “big one” soon. Along the way breathtaking views of the Southern Alps made stopping necessary for that quintessential glacier-covered, rugged mountains, with blue stream running through green pasture-lands-in-the-foreground photo.
Saturday, February 14
Happy Valentines Day!to Richard, all the kin folk and dear friends!
The hikers had a nice surprise this morning when Gene greeted us with Valentine chocolates and other candy. I promise to bring chocolate home.
Rarely do I have a day where I spend the morning hiking and then climbing a glacier only to be followed by a three-hour kayaking jaunt. Well, this was one of those days.
After some preparation in town, buses took us to the drop off point to begin our four-hour climb on Franz Josef Glacier: through the forest then over a bolder field, back in the forest and then continuing on the rocks.A rushing river followed us; the sound of this fast-running water was intense. At places along the way, the path turned into a streambed with running water over the rocks.The trail was steep enough that ropes were provided as support for the climb. Approaching the glacier, signs warned of unstable ice; nevertheless, we carried on. Bits of glacier and rock occasionally fall off and hit unwary tourists, maybe even the wary ones.
photo: Kurt Strosahl
When we arrived at the base of the glacier, we attached crampons to the bottom of our boots to prevent slipping on the ice and were instructed on how to negotiate the climb with our special attachments.
Although I had seen pictures of this glacier, as well as others, actually touching it was an amazing experience.The ice sheet had a massive presence with its unusual ice-blue color.
From the top of the glacier, a few seconds of video.
The guides, who had been up early in the morning preparing the walkway by carving steps into the ice and fixing rope holds along the way, maintain the trail with pick axes and shoves. It was a tough climb up, but not as scary as going back down. The instructions: do not bend over, walk upright and dig heals in, then toe down; however, the incline was steep and the natural hesitation of walking on ice was ever-present. By the time we trekked back to the buses, I could barely command my legs to move forward.
View of the glacier from town.
Not to waste a minute’s time after returning to town we almost immediately headed out for our kayaking expedition with just short time to stop at the public bathrooms. Now normally, I’d omit such references except these restrooms grabbed my attention as I watched our friends grabble with these state-of-the-art facilities.Folks kept looking for coin slots but there were none. Red and green lights flashed on the exterior of shiny green tiles.The doors automatically rolled to the side to open and close.According to Jean, after the door closes, a voice says, “You have ten minutes.” Then music plays!The hand washing routine consists of putting hands along a wall where soap, water, and dry air are dispensed. Push a button, and the door opens.
Gene brought sandwiches for us to eat on the bus on the way over to Okarito Lagoon,which lies just south of Waitangi Roto Nature Reserve, a 1,000-year-old kahikatea rainforest. The kayaking was much less physically demanding than the glacier-hiking with the emphasis on the search for birdlife. I was lucky enough to be paired with one of the guides, who not only was skilled at handling a kayak, but also knew many of the different bird calls. Here I caught the Spotted Shag at the water’s edge.
Sunday, February 15
Today was a driving day with just a few short walks. Early in the morning we stopped to view Fox Glacier, as reflected in the waters of Lake Matheson, which was only a short jaunt through a Jurasic-park like forest with tree ferns, branches draped with moss, and unusual bird calls in the distance.In fact, the BBC made a dinosaur documentary in this area years ago.
Our next stop was Munro Beach, where we were warned about the sand flies, called Namu-Namu by the Maori.We had met the critters previously on other hikes, and they left us with their tell-tale red itchy spots on the skin.A Maori legend explains the justification of the flies: if they didn’t exist, their fellow tribesmen would just sit around enjoying the view all day and nothing would get done.
We continued south through Westland National Park to Haast Pass and then through the mountains and rivers of Mt. Aspiring National Park. Our last walk of the day was a 20-minute stride down to the blue pools crossing a suspension bridge with a posted warning that only five may cross at one time.
Driving alongside Lake Wanaka, the misty mountains on the other side of the lake reminded me of scenes from Lord of the Rings so I asked Matt about the impact of that film.He immediately joked that this area was a Lord of the Rings-free zone.I guess the Kiwis get tired of everyone thinking their country is just about LotR.Seriously, however, Matt admitted that the movie had a huge impact, moving New Zealand onto international markets.
Monday, February 16
This morning I declined the strenuous six-mile hike for several reasons: slightly under the weather, writing was way behind schedule and I just wanted to take a day to explore the town and shops.This motel was the first one we stayed at that offered free Internet so I was able to Skype family and friends, saying “hello” to Jeff, who lived next door to us back on Briarhill Road and now working in Spain, and to write many emails. After writing most of the morning, I walked around the main thoroughfare.A grassy park lined with willows following the edge of the lake, was surrounded by a spectacular backdrop of alpine mountains.A small fleet of boats occupied a section of the lake. Being a recreational area, brochures for all kinds of water sports and activities, lined the inside of the stores. The center shopping area looked much the same as in many of the towns as described previously.
Tuesday, February 17
Bright, wonderfully sunny, albeit chilly, morning, the shadows on the hills were deep and crisp, creating sharp definitions on the contours of the land. We motored through the Cardrona Valley past high-country stations and over the Crown Range.
In the 1860s gold was discovered in the streams and ever since gold mining has been an important industry in the area. Listening to Matt’s commentary on mining brought this thought to mind: everything we need or want has an environmental consequence.Gold mining requires tons of water needing the construction of troughs; and, in addition, the process requires deadly mercury. Other environmental disasters were brought on by continuous ignorance and mismanagement.For example, in the 1800s rabbits were released to provide sport shooting for the gentry.The rabbit population boomed out of control, so ferrets were introduced, which ate birds’ eggs, a much more easily acquired food.Rabbit populations continued to grow and became so bad the hillsides were a writhing mass of movement. Defying the ban on importing viruses, desperate farmers released a rabbit virus, which temporarily brought the numbers down. So by now, I guess you can figure what happened next as the rabbits started to develop immunity.
We were let off to walk through the pastures on the Tobin Track to Arrowtown, a quaint village beside the Arrow River. Attractive little shops selling local crafts, clothing, candy and souvenirs lined the main street.A large selection of cafes tucked in the back allies tempted us with fresh coffee and pastries.
Of course, many shops carried a cornucopia of t-shirts overflowing the shelves.Now do you think we’d buy t-shirts?
Or how about some candy?
Come on now, that’s not a kissing booth!
We continued our drive alongside Lake Wakatipu to Kingston, stopping for a picnic lunch by the lake.So Gail, this picture is for you, since you requested a larger photo of Gene:
Kate, Gail and Paul also enjoying the beach.
AtKingston, I snapped a picture of this wee house, which is an example of the many colorful cottages that are represented in the small towns.
We continued driving through rolling farmlands and pastures, framed by the Alpine Mountains with jagged edges.Deer farming has become quite successful as the prices of venison and antlers remain high.Deer started out as a pest animal but soon became profitable, the demand especially high in Asian markets, where antlers are sold as aphrodisiacs.
Glow, little glowworm, glimmer, glimmer
Glow, little glow worm, shimmer, shimmer . . .
Was impossible to get that song out of my mind as soon as Matt arranged for us to visit the Glowworm Caves on the western shore of Te Anau, which means in the Maori language “cave with a current of swirling water.”A twenty-minute boat ride brought us to the Center where we were introduced to our guide, a younger version of Johnny Depp, don’t you think?
Since photography was prohibited, I’ll describe the experience.The journey through the grotto began at mental walkway over clear, swiftly running water.The noise from the force of the water was deafening so we could barely hear the guide even when he was shouting.At the end of the walkway, we boarded a small barge, pulled by the guide using a rope and pulley system.All light was extinguished, and we were instructed to remain silent.Above our heads, hundreds of tiny blue-white lighted dots appeared on the cave ceiling and walls like diamonds. It was like looking at the Milky Way on a dark night. These little creatures dangle gooey lines from the top of the cave to catch any insect that might pass by. A true biological phenomenon, the worms produce the blue-green light with an enzyme called luciferase; the hungrier a glowworm, the more brightly it shines.
In other news, Jean was accosted by a huge blue chicken. We told her not to feed the wildlife!
The Takahe, although originally thought to be extinct, were found living in the eastern Murchison Mountains.The population census in 1984 counted about 184, and since then that number has thought to have stabilized.
Wednesday, February 18
Today I broke ranks with the group, deciding on an alternate plan from the hike to Key Summit and ride to Milford Sound.I booked a tour on a jet boat to journey deep into the Fiordiand National Park, a World Heritage area, to see three Lord of the Rings film locations of the “River Anduin.”
The trip started with short ride on a bus, only one other couple on board.We arrived at the Upper Waiau River, which flows between Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri, which according to John, our guide and driver, is the most beautiful lake in the world. Somewhere in my past, I’m sure I had been on a jet boat, but when we started down the river, I didn’t realize how fast we’d be going.According to John, we were reaching about 35 mph, just that it seemed like 60! because we were so close to the water. The boat, which weighs two tons, could ride on less than a foot of water. Being a grey day, the river appeared black but looking down through the crystal clear water, we could see rocks resting on the bottom and in places we could observe trout. About half way down the river, we passed the last spot cars could drive to; we were in the wilderness. We stopped at our first filming location of the LotR.So I asked if boats were used to bring equipment and actors to this place.Turns out they mostly used helicopters.
After visiting two more locations, the river flows into Lake Manapouri and in the distance a floatplane bobbed in the water. What I hadn’t realized is that the couple from Auckland booked a flight out of the lake. What an amazing takeoff, and our river guide raced the plane till it alighted into the sky.
Although the clouds hung close to the bush line obscuring some of the scenery, the view of the dark mountains was epic.
Thursday, February 19
We started the morning with a 6-mile hike along the Kepler Trail, one of the favorite paths for trekkers in this area.If a hiker walks the entire trail, usually takes as long as four days.Once a year, a race is scheduled; the record time for finishing the race is something like just over four hours!I felt our pace was good, however, completing our section in little over two hours.The trail followed the rushing Waiau River, the one I was on yesterday with the Lord of the Rings tour.
Returning to the bus we stopped for lunch on a hillside overlooking Lake Manapouri.Being overcast yesterday morning, I was unable to see the mountain ranges surrounding the lake. But by noon the cloud cover had burned off, and before us the entire landscape revealed its flawless beauty: steep sided mountains with soft clouds touchingtheir edges, sparkling lake, dark pine trees in the foreground.
We started our journey to Doubtful Sound with a half-hour boat trip across the lake to West Arm. After disembarking from the boat, we boarded a bus, which drove us over a stone-covered road through the Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove. Surrounded by wilderness, not a single sign of civilization was to be seen.Thin waterfalls cascaded from the steep cliffs. The coach stopped at an overlook, which was perhaps, the most stunning view of the trip: the wild and remote Doubtful Sound.Although named a “sound,” actually this area is a fiord, carved out by a glacier.
Upon arrival at the dock, we then entered the vessel that would take us on our overnight cruise. As people streamed on board, judging from the size of the ship, I was surprised there would be accommodations for everyone.In fact, the ship had four decks and rooms enough for about 75 people. As we entered into the main seating area surrounded by windows and large circular booths, I was immediately charmed by the ambiance. Welcomed on board by the staff with muffins and tea, we were then guided to our rooms, efficiently laid out and very cozy. After settling in, we explored the ship and began taking pictures of the imposing mountains on all sides.Clouds clinging to the highest elevations gave the impression of an almost surreal world. The dark forests extended to the water’s edge.
Our ship, the Fiordland Navigator, carried us to a quiet cove so that passengers could either ride in a tender or kayak. The staff, extremely efficient, quickly moved passengers through the life jackets and paddle stations.
photo: Jean Strosahl
Loading 30 kayaks took surprisingly little time as they pushed the boats into position for each kayaker, and we were off.As these were lightweight plastic kayaks, no special instruction was needed.We fell in a line behind the guide as she paddled close to shore.That’s when the trouble started.Remember the reference to the sand flies during our beach walks? Well, we were immediately beset with them, and they were taking no prisoners.By this time we had paddled a distance, and I was second following the guide; our 30 kayakers were spread apart for quite a distance.Since I already had about seven or eight welts from the critters on previous outings, I decided to get out of line and head for the middle of the river rather than remain close to shore, to no avail for lessening the attacks. I noticed other kayakers frantically waving their arms around, too.One young woman told me the flies were biting her eyelids.I decided then and there to head back to the ship; I turned around paddling like crazy all while swatting flies–I focused hard on the ship in front of me.Forget the scenery as the critters found protection in the hull of my kayak and having lunch! When I finally reached the end of the line of kayakers, the guide said I couldn’t go back to the ship because it was ready to start the engines move to the place where the front of the kayak line was!So I had to turn around and head all the way to where I had been before. Now, there was a merciful ending to this story as that same guide had bug spray.I never used Deet before, but this time I asked no questions and put it on everywhere.The bugs still buzzed around my head but conditions had improved immensely.
The folks that had the tender trip had a great time as their boat moved fast, not time enough for flies to land for the most part; bottlenose dolphins swam close by; they even saw a baby dolphin only two or three free long.These animals are part of a resident pod that number about 60 and seldom leave the Sound.A little later in the trip we saw them again splashing near the shoreline and leaping into the air.
After our ordeal, the cook staff prepared wonderfully warm rolls and delicious pumpkin soup, which was almost enough to make me forget about the sand flies. Ben, the naturalist on board, gave a running commentary about the fiord, history, and other information. Later he presented a very entertaining slide show with an off-hand humorous take on many of the important historical milestones of the area.
The Navigator passed through the fiord into the open ocean, the Tasman Sea.On a small island in the middle of the outlet, a colony of sea lions basked on the rocks. The captain maneuvered the ships very close to the island so we had an opportunity to see the colony up close. Of course, the little seals caught everyone’s attention.
Dinner was served buffet style; usually, I wouldn’t expect high quality food on a small craft.However, the meal was delicious, especially the vegetarian dish and the roasted potatoes.Five different desserts followed and we sampled all of them . . . . well, they did give us a big plate.
The Navigator had put down anchor the night before in Precipice Sound. A low cloud cover obscured the stars; the night surrounded us in total darkness. I tried to image what our little ship would look like from another vantage point resting silently in the fiord with ship lights shining in the blackness of the night.
In the morning the groan of the engines woke us at 6:30. Within an hour, a full breakfast was prepared; the mountains were cast with low clouds and the ship passed close to the steep and wild landscape that enclosed us on both sides. As a final reflection on the journey, Ben called everyone to the front of the boat to remain silent and still as all the motors and generates were shut down. We could hear the calls of birds on far off hills. The sound of a waterfall drew my attention to a nearby cliff. Rain gently fell on the tranquil water creating thousands of small circles decorating the surface. So we stood silently in all the wonder of this other-worldly landscape then what should appear but several of the little sand fly critters. I was haunted by the Maori legend that the flies were there to remind us we must keep moving so I knew that in all respects, it was time to return home.
By mid-morning we had boarded our to coach. While waiting for departure on the boat back to the other side of Lake Manapouri, we were entertained by several Kea Parrots. These cheeky and slightly comical birds alighted at first on top of the buses, one actually waiting near the door. It seems they immediate fly in when the buses arrive in search of handouts from the tourists. Cleaver little birds, they began to attack the trash bags being hauled away from the buses. I think they know the folks with cameras are not necessarily interested in feeding them as they were not impressed with my friendly overtures–talking and whistling. However, someone rattled a potato chip bag, and he got the parrots’ immediate attention.
We continued our journey into Queenstown, the last stop before our group cast off in different directions, some heading immediately to the airport and others staying to vacation longer. Good-bye, fellow trekkers, Gene, Kate, John, Martha, Paul, Gail, Mary, Thom, Judy, John, Georgann, Ann, Kurt, Jean and our guide, Matt. We share the memories of this unforgettable trip so I hope you will stay in touch.
Love and best wishes,
photo: Jean Strosahl
Saturday, February 21
Depart Queenstown for Auckland then home.
Political and Environmental Discussions
Much of the discussion and commentary from Matt and our other guides revolved around the many environmental issues facing New Zealand, being an island community the problems are exacerbated even further. Until humans arrived, the islands were free from all mammals with the exception of bats. Birds evolved to feed on the forest floor. After the dog and rat were introduced, these animals devastated the native bird population. The Mao, a huge flightless bird, became extinct within a couple hundred years of man’s arrival. The five species of Kiwi are all on the endangered list. The objective now is to rid islands of mammal pests and reestablish bird colonies. On the mainlands, traps are visible along most trails in an attempt to keep the populations of ferrets and stoats in check.
Being somewhat of a political junkie, I asked Matt about the “talk in the pub” concerning New Zealand ‘s relationship with Great Britain. New Zealand is currently a dominion of Great Britain with the Queen as head of state; however, their Parliament still holds the real power. The speculation is that both New Zealand and Australia will become republics in the next ten to twenty years. Designs for a new flag are already on the drawing board. The New in New Zealand History’s record is retold through architecture, and the contrast of that record in New Zealand as compared with Europe, or the United States, was significant for me. Structures dating back a thousand years, mostly markers of empire, are found throughout the European continent. What I observed in New Zealand were buildings of the Victorian era, mid-twentieth century and modern. Conspicuously missing on the landscape were grand palaces, castles, walled cities, cathedrals and imposing government buildings from imperialistic eras. Wellington does have a parliament building, and there may be some other representatives of grand monuments; but for the most part, because of the late settling, the remoteness, a relatively small population and lack of concentration of private wealth, New Zealand was spared these intrusions. Much of the dramatic landscape remains pristine in the Land of the Long White Cloud preserving that other-worldly feel of Middle Earth.