Friday, May 13, 2011

to the North

I am spending a lazy Saturday morning in my pj's at the nicest backpackers I've stayed in so far.  I am currently in Tauranga, until I meet up with dad in Hamilton on Tuesday.  I feel a bit awkward here because most of the residents are long-term stayers, working in and around Tauranga, and they all know each other well.  But everybody is really nice- offering me rides and giving me some bread when mine was eaten by mice (ew).

Darryl, me, crayfish and Lisa
Lisa and I in the whale station
Anyway, I'm going to start where I left off.  It was sad to leave Nelson for the last time, and to say goodbye to the people there.  I drove with Darryl Marshall (his wife, Wendy, was too sick to make it) and his friends Don and Diane to Picton (it is Don and Diane's daughter Lisa who lives on Arapawa).  We got lunch at the Picton Village Bakery, and I had what I think was the most delicious pie in New Zealand. Then we rode on the mail boat through the Marlborough Sounds to get to Arapawa Island, between the main North and South Islands.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  Lisa and her husband James are fabulous.  They live, along with James's father, mother, brother and sister-in-law at the base of a huge merino sheep farm on the island (each family has their own house).  James and his brother are fishermen, catching mostly crayfish.  James's father Joe used to be a whaler, but now he sponsors a yearly DOC (Department of Conservation) whale study on the whale-watching station he built on his property.   The Heberleys can trace their family history in New Zealand back pretty far, and I enjoyed learning about their ancestors (one was a very famous carver).  Heather Heberley, James's mom, writes books about the family and about living on Arapawa.  I particularly want to read the one called Weather Permitting, especially since the second day of my stay it poured and poured, the wind was like a train, and we were stuck inside.  It was still a fabulous day, with great company and good food.  Lisa and Heather both have huge collections of Maori artifacts that they have found around the island, and I had a wonderful time seeing them and learning more about the early New Zealanders.

early Maori tools
looking back at Arapawa
Even though the Interislander ferries pass right by the Heberley's property, I had to go back to Picton via water taxi with Darryl, Don and Diane  and get on the ferry there. 

Then it was goodbye to the South Island and on the North. 

to the North Island I go

inside Te Papa
I spent a couple days in Wellington, which I really enjoyed.  It reminded me of Seattle- a big cultural hub with a huge seaport.  I loved walking along the harbor.  There are huge slabs of stone with poetry written on them scattered along the walk from where I stayed to Te Papa, and I had fun spotting them and reading them as I went along.  Speaking of Te Papa, I spent a day and a half there wandering through the exhibits, learning about New Zealand wildlife, early Maori and European settlers, the NZ photographer Brian Brakes (a new favorite of mine) and much more.  I saw a play at the Circa Theater, which is just on the waterfront beside Te Papa.  I'm sorry to say it was an American play, but I am happy to say that it was a great American play (August: Osage County) and marvelously well-acted (though their affected American accents were at times quite amusing).
I also enjoyed a night of laughs with Kiwi comedian Joseph Campbell, in Wellington for the NZ International Comedy Festival.  It was a great show about love, life and bicycles.  In the Te Papa theater, I caught a concert put on by percussion group Strike and their proteges in Batterie 100, made up of elementary students from the Wellington area.  Wonderful show. I also gave in and went on a LOTR movie tour. It was fun to see where many of the scenes had been filmed around Wellington, often in places you would never guess.  We recreated several scenes on location, drove by the studios (that's all you're allowed) and spent some time in the WETA cave. Fun day.
toppled Hobbits (I am Merry) 
Then I was off to the sulfur-soaked town of Rotorua.  There is Yellowstone-like geothermal activity in the middle of the city!  And many people's yards were steaming.
park near Lake Rotorua
Lake Rotorua at sundown
My backpackers had a free geothermal spa, so I enjoyed soaking one night.  I booked a tour for the White Island Volcano, which I was really stoked about.  But... I got up early and was driven all the way to Whakatane.  We were told to wait while the skipper decided if conditions were okay for taking the boat out.  I had coffee with a nice Ozzie couple who had come from Rotorua with me.  Then we were told that there was an unexpected swell and we wouldn't be going. Sad! I booked again for two days later with my fingers crossed.  After the LOTR tour in Wellington, I knew I had to get to Hobbiton.  The sets are all finished for the upcoming Hobbit movies, and they were SO. COOL.  I felt like I was really in the Shire.  Unfortunately, I cannot share pictures online until after the second movie is released.  The tour also included a sheep-shearing demonstration (the land that the set is on is still a functioning sheep farm).  And we got to bottle-feed some baby lambs.
yum tasty leaf!
I made friends with a Dutch guy named Maurice and a Spanish girl named Patty who were sharing my room, and we went to a Maori dinner "experience."  It was a really cool night- cultural performances, delicious food, and glowworms to finish.  The dinner was cooked in the traditional Hangi style, buried underground.
our host says the food looks good

The next day I woke up and got ready, only to find that the volcano people had called and had already decided not to do the trip that day.  I was pretty bummed, but it turned out to be a pretty great day anyway.  I walked with Patty around Rotorua, following the route that the guy who owns the backpacker suggested.  It was really fun hanging out with her, and nice to have another person around. We had lunch at a nice place called Lime Cafe.  Then she was off to Taupo, and after some shopping around Rotorua the next day I was off to Taraunga.  It rained last night after I arrived, but today fortunately looks pretty nice! So I will have lunch and get going.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Southern Endeavors

I had a wonderful time down South and on the West coast.  Lots to see and do.  I was warned before I left that it would be quite cold (and was graciously loaned some woolens and coats).  I saw many people still wearing their stubbies* (short-shorts) though it was often cold cold cold.  The weather was perfect- sunshine every day, which is unusual (especially for the West Coast). Lucky me!
Taieri Gorge sky

My journey began with a day-long bus ride from Nelson to Dunedin.  Parts were really beautiful, especially the Lewis Pass.

I loved Dunedin.  Highlights: On the Taieri Gorge Train, I enjoyed standing outside the cars and watching the scenery flash by (though my fingers were numb by the end).  The Elm wildlife tour was a fantastic opportunity to see the Otago Peninsula and its animal residents. The University of Otago is the oldest Uni in New Zealand. 
yellow-eyed penguins

sea lion

fur seal

sheep and penguins sharing a hillside

 I loved walking around the campus and seeing Castle Street, which is like all of the seedy bits of West Campus (Austin) thrown onto one main drag.  Other great walks included going through the Botanic Garden, and my trek up the steepest street in the world (Baldwin Street).  The Otago Farmer's Market was heaps of fun.  I bought some fresh fruits and veggies and listened to a great band from Fiji play for about an hour.

market band

fall in Arrowtown
Mirror Lakes in Fiordland National Park
I was sad to leave Dunedin, but I headed as per schedule to Queenstown, which was absolutely beautiful with all of its fall colors.  I didn't like the character of the city as much as I liked Dunners, but I still had a great time.  I rode the gondola up to Bob's Peak, where I had a spectacular view of the mountains as the sun went down.  My afternoon in nearby Arrowtown was a pleasant day of walking amid fall splendor. A day trip to Milford Sound was an incredible excursion, as it is really beautiful, we saw bottlenose dolphins, and drove through Fiordland National Park, which I'd love to come back to someday.
Milford waterfall

mountains along the sound
  I splurged at the very popular and always crowded Fergburger (delicious).  I had some fun Dutch roommates, Rens & Nick, who were headed to California soon and so bombarded me with questions about America.  The Kawaru Jet Boat was excellent (I was skeptical because it was pricey, but it was definitely worth it).  My jet boat had an extra adventure when a rock got caught in the intake, the steering froze, and we were beached in the middle of the Shotover River.  It was fun, and we got free picture packages out of it.  At the Kiwi Wildlife Park, I saw lots of New Zealand natives, including (yes) a kiwi!  It was bigger than I expected it to be, but still very cute.

adult Tuatara- they are AWESOME

Next I headed to Franz Josef, a tiny town near the Franz Josef glacier.  Basically what you do in Franz is climb the glacier; there's not much else.  But the glacier was FANTASTIC.  I did a full-day tour with the glacier guides, and it was awesome.  I wore crampons for the first time, and surprisingly did not injure myself.  The ice was so beautiful, and as a geological formation I find it quite fascinating.
Also, Franz Josef is one of only 3 temperate glaciers in the world (one other is just down the road and the third is in Argentina).  I saw some magnificent Kea fly overhead.  They are some crazy cheeky parrots, but very pretty.  The glacier included entrance to the hot pools (basically big hot tubs. my goal is to go to some actual geothermal pools while I'm here), so I went with some girls I met on the tour.

Conveniently, my friend Holly was staying with some friends outside of Greymouth for the weekend, so I met her there and got to hang out on a huge farm with some cool Kiwis.  The next day I rode back to Nelson with Holly and her boyfriend Scottie, and now here I am!

Today I had a wonderful day.  I babysat Leo for a bit (he's now blowing kisses!), walked into town and learned how to cook risotto from Emma and Tim.  Tomorrow I am headed to Arapawa Island with the Marshalls (some friends of Laurie's - Holly is their daughter).  Then on to the North Island for the remainder of my trip!
NZ flax, Otago Peninsula

*A Smattering of Kiwi Slang:
  • "sweet as"- "I confirm that what you are proposing is good by me" (from a Global Culture t-shirt).  Actually, this unfinished simile is common. Things can be "cheap as," "kiwi as," "dirty as" etc.
  • "knackered"- tired out
  • "tucker"- food
  • "cuppa"- a cup of tea (or coffee)
  • "tea"- could be tea that you drink, or could refer to dinner (or occasionally to other meals). For instance, someone could say, "Do you want to come over for tea? We could do a bbq!" 
  • "jandals"- flip-flops 
  • "lollies"- candy or something sweet
  • "OE"- Overseas Experience, often taken the year after college (American equivalent-high school) 
  • "Uni"- university
  • "Pommie"- a British person, from Prisoner Of Mother England
  • "Sunnies"- sunglasses
  • "eh"- similar to the Canadian eh. Except I think Kiwis say it more than Canadians.  
p.s. formatting blogspot is ruining my life. any ideas?