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Monday, December 31, 2012


Well she did it!
I can't believe Treklet jumped off the Kawarau Bridge! I can't believe we let her!!

You can watch the video here: Bungee

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Wine and Swine

Wow! We woke up to a chilly 11C and fresh snow on the Remarkables peaks. Yes, this is summer in QT!

We left our flat at 8:15, headed back through the amazing Kawarau Gorge toward Two Paddocks Winery, following Jacqui's explicit directions.
While we're motoring, I thought I'd make a fun list of differences between US & NZ:
* It's hard to find "filter coffee" here. Espresso coffee is everywhere, though, and in homes most people use a French press.
* electrical outlets here all have on-off switches
* light switches go up for off & down for on. (Because we're upside down here?)
* toilets here have 2 flush buttons instead of handles. One for a light flush one for a "heavier load" -- if you catch my drift.
* dishwashers are drawers instead of racks that slide out. They're cool.
* I found it interesting that many people mount their clothes dryers on a wall upside-down above their washers to save space.
* they drive on the left side of the road, and driver's seat is on the right.
* they don't have screens on the windows
* the windows usually open out, and usually from the bottom, cantilever-style, instead of sliding up or to the side.
* measurement is all metric, which totally makes sense to me, except for temperature being in Celsius, which is less precise than Fahrenheit. Pounds, ounces, miles and feet are kinda dumb, IMO
* gas is sold by the litre and called Petrol
* wifi is is not as widely available as at home, and IF it's free, it's often limited to 30 minutes or 50MB
* When dining out:
fries are called chips and come with nearly everything.
Entrees are called mains and appetizers are called entrees.
They put just about anything in pies and have several more choices of pies than sandwiches for lunch.
They put fried eggs and beets on hamburgers.
They reuse bottles as water pitchers that you serve yourself from at the bars.
When salad comes with a meal it is served on the same plate, not as a first course.
Sausages are short and very fat.
We found our way to Two Paddocks easily, and quite early. Jacqui was a lovely hostess and took us for a walk to see the vineyards, orchards and critters.

Treklet thought she was in for a boring morning at the winery, but soon discovered piggies, ducks, frogs and chickens! The views from the winery are spectacular. Central Otago is a bit like inland central California, with drier hillsides, wide plains, and loads of vineyards and orchards. The temperatures here get very cold in winter, though, and while Jacqui wore short sleeves and a skirt, I was chilly with a fleece jacket on in summer!

The property was once a government agricultural research facility, and there are old fruit trees on the property still producing. We tasted a few succulent apricots. There were also plum, olive and pear trees, and a fallow saffron patch. Loads of lavender is grown on the property, too, and unfortunately for me, they were sold out of their lavender oil.

We headed back to the cellar after our stroll and Jacqui poured me a taste of each of three wines: Picnic Reisling, Picnic Pinot Noir and Two Paddocks Pinot Noir. They were all quite nice so I bought a mixed case and had them shipped home! We learned a bit about the viticulture of the area, and the differences between Marlborough and Central Otago grapes and their requirements.

We took our obligatory photos and said our goodbyes and Happy New Years and were on our way. I was much happier for our adventure.

We lunched in the adorable little town of Clyde, at the old Post Office Cafe. We stopped at the Roaring Meg power plant overlook where we watched some rafters float by. Then I insisted on a stop in Gibbston at the Cheesery. I tasted about a dozen cheeses from cow, goat and sheep milk and got a cheeseboard for us to munch on. I purchased cheese and a cooler bag to take home! Silly, yes, but I felt the cheese was superior.

Finally, we stopped to watch the bungee jumpers at the Kawarau Bridge and Treklet begged and pleaded until the Alien finally gave in and bought her a turn. We had three hours until her booking, so we came back to the flat to rest a while. Stay tuned for bungee news....

We haven't struck it rich gold panning.

This morning we made plans for the coming week over breakfast. As I got up from the table I noticed a pair of mallards peering into our window. I opened the door and I'm sure that they said in duckish that they would like some breakfast, too.

Treklet had great fun hand feeding them some of her bread. Callers at our door

We decided to visit Arrowtown today, as it is only a short distance away. The sun was out and the little town was crawling with visitors. All of the historical buildings are in use as shops and cafes. It's so pretty and terribly reminded me of Julian or Oak Glen at home, only prettier and greener.

We visited the museum and rented some gold panning equipment for $3, then strolled to the Arrow River with hopes of retrieving some of the sparkly metal. The river is lovely, with loads of green jasper and other colorful minerals lining it's bed. The water is cool and clear, and the banks are adorned with willows and wildflowers. After about an hour, we returned our pan and richer only in memories.

The Alien and Treklet went to a French cafe for creeps, but Eugene and I had Thai food next door. Then we browsed the shops and explored the Historic Chinese Settlment. It started to sprinkle just as we left.

On the way back, we visited the historic Shotover Bridge before heading to Queenstown's City Center for a stickybeak.

In town it got very cold and windy. We discovered that finding parking is nearly Impossible, and didn't stay long. It was crowded with cars and pedestrians--the most crowded of anyplace we've been to in the country.

Back at our unit, I cooked dinner, then the Alien went to the pub next door to watch the dog races. The sun came out and Treklet & I went for a long bike ride on the Queenstown Trail. We followed the shores of Lake Wakatipu and crossed the Shotover River to the east shore. The lake water is amazingly clear. At a distance it varies from turquoise to the most beautiful cerulean blue, and up close it is crystal clear. Treklet stopped for a trail side rope swing and again to admire a Black Swan.

Unfortunately she wiped out going up a steep gravel portion and had to ride all the way back with several bruises and a bleeding knee. Once we had that cleaned up we settled in to watch The Fellowship of the Ring.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Below the 45th Parallel

Finally made it to Queenstown this afternoon!

I rose early and went out looking for Keas, but failed. Got back to the room just as rain began falling and woke the others. After a nice pancake breakfast, we headed up into the misty mountains, just like a band of Dwarves ( ok, not really, we were in a Toyota and we have no swords, but we did eat bacon...). We had hoped to get lucky and catch a glimpse of a kea over the Haast Pass, but I guess I'll not be twitching that bird, after all. ::sad face::

Each of the three hours on the road felt like a whole day. The first half of the journey we were in the rainforest, and the scenery rarely changed, except when a break in the roadside bush afforded a river view or a glimpse of a waterfall across the valley. We made one stop to walk in to Thunder Creek Falls, as it was only 5 minutes from the road.

I'm still amazed at the color of the water in every river and lake here. It's either opal green or turquoise blue. The rivers are stunning: blue, clear and fast-moving.

Suddenly we were out of the rain forest and the landscape opened up into wide valley, sheer, high scrub-covered mountains with craggy tops. We drove along huge lakes and then there were vineyards, orchards and sheep. We drove through Kawarau Gorge, famed for its bridge jumping, jet boats, Goldfields Mining Center, and Roaring Meg Power Station. Sorry, didnt stop for pics :-/.

Being in some narrow spots between towering cliffs in the gorge made me feel tiny.

Soon we were passing wineries and lodges and entering Frankton. A few miles later we were at our resort. The office was closed, but a key was left for us. Its weird--the office is only open 9-noon daily, and closed on Sunday. We unloaded the car, went next door to the Frankton Tavern for lunch, then visited a very busy grocery store called New World.

The view from our condo is beautiful. We can walk across the street to the lake. There are bicycles we can borrow, too, so if it stays dry, Treklet and I will go explore a bit.

The Alien had a nap, I bought wifi and got caught up on email and photo uploads. The weather is turning...the temperature has dropped quite a bit and there are thick clouds. Our complimentary newspaper is forecasting wind and rain through New Years Day. Boo!

Here's hoping the forecasters are wrong and we can enjoy a jet boat ride or a swim tomorrow. I'm not sure I'm up to a 12-hour tour to Milford Sound. It's 4-1/2 hours each way on a coach. I'M SICK OF DRIVING!!

Down the Southern West Coast

Confession: I don't really understand this Blogger app and I have no idea what these posts look like when I upload them. *-*

I wish I had better pictures of our travels, but there has been little time to stop. I have a non-phone camera with me, but my little thingamabob that transfers pics to my iPADD isn't working, and I gave up on the dueling cameras.

We had a cooked breakfast (yay for NZ Style bacon!) and I uploaded pics. We didn't start out until 10:00 a.m. But we're just going to take our time an see the sights on the way to Queenstown. It won't get dark until nearly 10:00 p.m. And we're staying in the same place for a whole week.

The drive from Reefton to Greymouth on the coast easy, except that we needed gas and there was none! We stopped at a cute filling station with tiny pumps in Ikamatua, but there was no attendant and the credit card reader kept freezing up. So we held our breath with the low fuel dummy light on all the way to Stillwater. It cost NZ$124 to fill up!

Last night we must have crossed at least a dozen one-lane bridges. Through the entire Tasman District and Buller Gorge I doubt we saw more than a dozen other cars! Today we did have to stop for a bridge, and now that we're on the Glacier Highway going down the coast there are other vehicles, but the scenery is not as spectacular--yet. I'm writing now about 150km north of Franz Joseph Glacier. Our plan is to stop in Franz Joseph for a couple hours to visit the wildlife center and glacier and have some lunch. It's a bit frustrating that there is so much to see and not enough time to see even a small fraction of it.

We stopped in Ross, home to the largest gold nugget in New Zealand, and a famed $700,000,000 gold mine. I snapped pics around the Main Street while The Alien & Treklet had "morning tea." The Alien bought us each an uncarved polished greenstone pendant for an unbelievably cheap price (comparatively). Hokitika, a short distance north of Ross is said to have the finest greenstone (jade) in New Zealand. I bought myself a little leather kiwi embossed pouch for coins, and later noticed it was made in India. Fail.


Stopped stretch our legs at Lake Ianthe. Treklet dipped her toes in the water and found a few tiny jade pebbles. We reached Franz Joseph at 2:30 pm. I think I may be figuring out this app.

We visited a kiwi breeding center and saw 3 young kiwis. I teared up. Then we did the short (but steep) hike to the glacier view. It depressed me to see how much the glacier has shrunken in the last century.

Back on the road...we were all miserable at the thought of it. We finally arrived in Haast at about 6:00 pm and decided to get a motel for the night. We called the resort in Queenstown and left a message that we would check in a day late. It's going to be at least 3 hours more driving over Haast Pass and down to Queenstown!

In Haast we had a nice hot meal at The Hard Antler, browsed a gift shop, and did some birding. The local proprietors said that Keas roost in the macrocarpas nearby, but we failed to find any.

The Alien went to the Hard Antler to find a game of pool and have some beer, and I'm stuck here with no phone service and 50MB of complimentary wifi. Hopefully we see some Keas in the pass tomorrow and get to Queenstown in time to enjoy some activities there.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The longest journey

Yesterday we travelled 15 hours.

We had rain off and on the entire way. The ferry dock was windy and cold, and I'm so glad I had my seasick patch! The Alien and Treklet swallowed some meclazine and our crossing was not too bad. Once we crossed the halfway point it got much smoother.

The bays, inlets and channels of the upper South Island were beautiful, despite the overcast gloom. I got a lovely look at a gannet from the bow. The ferry we were on was lengthened last year in Singapore. There was a poster and video about it that i found interesting. There was a magic show for the kids, and plenty of food options. Interislander Ferry is better than Top Cat Fast Ferry used to be.

Once in Picton, we pressed on toward Reefton. Marlborough reminded me of Napa...miles and miles of vineyards, with a few cherry orchards interspersed. We stopped to buy fresh picked cherries to snack on. Once into Tasman, the landscape changed back to sheep, cows and rushing wide rivers tumbling through the rugged alpine canyons. Scenery was breathtaking, but all I have to show you is a bunch a blurry, drive-by camera pics.

We stopped at a roadside tavern to eat around 8:00 and finally pulled in to our BandB shortly after dark, which settled around 9:30 pm

The Alien was exhausted from all that mountain driving and hit the sack right away. Up at 8, devoured a hearty breakfast made by our hostess Paddy, uploaded pics, and off we go! We're headed to Queenstown. With stops to ogle glaciers, we should arrive early evening.

Kiwi Christmas & Boxing Day

Christmas morning started out pretty rough for Treklet. She woke up vomiting in Sam's bed shortly before midnight, and stomach pain & vomiting kept up through mid-morning, until Jeannette drove to the hospital where she works & got her a prescription antiemetic and some Pedialyte.

Santa came and filled stockings, and we all opened gifts before Boyd cooked a marvelous brunch, complete with a platter full of delicious New Zealand bacon. Poor Treklet just rested, not even feeling up to playing her new Nintendo games.

We went to André's & Louise's early in the afternoon. They have a lovely home, which he renovated himself. They have a large property with a spectacular view of Mt Taranaki, and are surrounded by pastoral open space, yet only a 10 minute drive to town.

Louise greeted us with appetizers and champagne on the veranda. Treklet was feeling better, and Ella introduced her to their bunnies, calves and bulls. After a tour of the house and property by André, the rest of the family arrived.

André's Moo Zealand Cow

We had a fine Christmas dinner of roast turkey, stuffing, potatoes and kumera, peas, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, and plenty of Marlborough wine. The turkey wasn't the only thing roasted, as Taranaki was experienced a record heat wave, as a result of Cyclone Evan, which had been playing havoc with the weather since our arrival.

After we cleaned up the table, Louise filled it again with "puddings." There was chocolate cake, brandy-soaked plum pudding, mince pies, strawberries, whipped cream, and ice cream... And more wine.

After sufficiently stuffing ourselves, we cracked our poppers, put on our paper crowns, exchanged gifts, then headed back outside where Treklet let the chickens out and gathered their eggs while George chased Matt around with his new XPloder gun.

Christmas Pics

Boxing Day was wet. André and The Alien had plans to golf, but it was too rainy. After a couple of hours, it seemed to be clearing up, so André brought George and Ella over to Jeannette's then left with The Alien for the golf course. The kids had turns in the pool and on the video games and I decide to go for a run. I was gone about twenty minutes when the rain started pouring again, and I was drenched by the time I got back. It was actually quite nice. I heard the golfers only got six holes in.

After a light snack we loaded the five kids into the cars and headed back to André's. we made a short stop at the waterfront walkway just to snap a few photos along the way.

We had another fabulous meal of ham and turkey, cauliflower in cheese sauce, rice salad, bread, potatoes and corn, and more desserts and NZ wines. I'm obviously bringing home an expanded midsection as my souvenir!

The kids enjoyed table tennis and badminton, and the adults enjoyed good conversation about old memories, obscure movies, and agriculture. We went back to Jeannette's & packed up our suitcases for an early start in the morning. I stayed up to watch the Doctor Who Christmas Special, which is oddly broadcast on Boxing Day in NZ. I reckon the BBC doesn't want Kiwi spoilers.

We were up at 6:00 a.m., had breakfast with Jeannette and were on the road to Wellington by 7:00. I'm writing this narrative in the car, somewhere north of Whanganui. It's been raining the whole morning. We expect to be at the ferry terminal sometime after noon. Hopefully, the crossing won't be too choppy.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

After finally getting some wifi in Rotorua last night, and feeling financially discouraged, we went back to the farm. Treklet visited with our host, John, and dog, Becky, for a couple of hours while The Alien and I drank beer on the patio. We read the local paper, chatted and took in the incredible view. We ate snacks that we had packed and turned in early.

Breakfast was early, and I ate very little of the carb and sugar fest this time. We were packed, paid and on the road by 0740. Unfortunately, Treklet had some tummy trouble, and the long winding journey to New Plymouth didn't help.

About halfway there we stopped at a roadside berry farm, PioPio, named after an extinct NZ bird. I We got a small container each of jumbo strawberries and blueberries, and were again shocked at the prices (at least double what I pay at home in berry season), but I will say that those were the best strawberries I ever tasted!

Poor Treklet was feeling poorly the whole day. She shed lots of tears on the journey. We made a quick stop in New Plymouth at the bank, then went straight to Jeannette (The Alien's daughter ) and Boyd's house. Treklet felt a bit hot so we gave her some medicine and let her swim for a bit with Matt and Sam to cool down. She was fine and poorly off and on until bedtime.

We had visited once before, 12 years ago. We were quite impressed with the renovations and additions to house. We even got our own suite downstairs!

It was very, very humid and over 80 degrees, which made it quite sticky and uncomfortable. I totally packed all the wrong clothes. The weather predictions were completely off, and a cyclone to the north was to blame.

André (The Alien's son) and Louise came over in the early evening with their kids Ella and George. The kids all got along very well, played video and board games & swam whilst the adults drank and chatted. We watched storms roll in over the Tasman Sea, and enjoyed a fabulous dinner.

After some cleanup and my first taste of pavlova, we were all quite beat. Treklet bunked with Samantha, Santa filled her stocking, and we all turned in.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Kia Ora!

It's two days til Christmas. It doesn't feel like Christmas at all. Kiwis don't get insane at this time of year like Americans do. Decorations are scant. The farm stay that we are at has a wreath on the door. That's it. There have been a few Christmas trees in town where we have eaten. I have heard some Christmas music playing in gift shops and cafes, but advertisements imploring people to part with their money to buy ridiculous amounts of merchandise do not exist.

It's summer here. Early summer, really. The temperature are measured in Celsius and produce is sold by the kilo. Gas is NZ$2.04 per litre which is about US$6.50 per gallon...So stop bitching about gas prices.

We're in Rotorua for three days. It's a tourist area, but even with that being said the prices are sky-high. The exchange rate is somewhere around .85 (NZ$1 = US$0.85). We've averaged about US$65 per meal this weekend for the three of us! We've spent a fair share on activities, too. We've browsed all the gift shops, but bought very little. The prices are ridiculous. We're hoping that we'll find gifts to bring home for less when we get out of tourist central.

Speaking of tourists, the majority of people at the places we've visited so far are Asian. According to our farm tour guide at The Agrodome, they are seeing 29 tours/day from Korea, China and Japan and 5/day from other countries.

Now, what have we been up to? Our flight was easy. TSA was a breeze. The plane was huge and comfy, flight attendants nice, food delicious. The Hobbit safety video was played. You can watch it here: An Unexpected Briefing We had our own monitors with dozens of choices of movies, TV shows and documentaries to watch. I watched a National Geographic show about underwater vents and then The Fellowship of the Ring.

Once on the ground, baggage claim, immigration & customs were a breeze. We picked up our rental car right outside the door and headed south. We drove through many patches of rain, some quite heavy. We made a stop along the way for lunch and to withdraw some money from our NZ bank account and arrived at our farmstay mid-afternoon.

Our hostess, Maureen, is bubbly and friendly. We have a comfortable sleeping room and a bright sitting room. We do not have internet access. We look out on one side toward the cattle pasture and on the other side we have a spectacular view of Lake Rotorua and Mokoia Island below us. After a cup of coffee and short visit with Maureen, The Alien settled in for a nap while Treklet and I went to the Polynesian Spa for a soak in the thermal pools. Later that evening we went to dinner in town on Eat Street and I was able to get some wifi for about half an hour.

Pics here: New Zealand Day 1

Saturday morning Maureen started us out with a carbo-loaded breakfast, then we were on our way to The Agrodome. Treklet got to bottle feed a lamb on stage, and received a handful of freshly-shorn wool from the sheep show. The farm tour included sheep and alpaca feeding, as well as manuka honey, kiwi juice and kiwi wine tasting. I don't think wine grape growers have anything to worry about. I did not purchase any kiwi wine.

We rode the Skyline cable cars to a nice buffet with a great view of the lake. After our feasting Treklet and I went on the Luge. It was great fun! Three tracks were open, and we did them all--a scenic, slower track meandered through the redwoods, a faster and shorter intermediate route, and the shortest, steepest advanced track, on which Treklet humorously crashed. The temperature warmed up quite a bit in the afternoon, and I was regretting wearing the black jeans on the way back up the chairlift. Treklet got a bit pink on her shoulders.

Rotorua's first winery, Volcanic Mountain, just opened a tasting room at Skyline. Of course I had to try a bit after browsing the gift shop. I can't say that any of their wines had much body to them, but we purchased a bottle each of the Rose and Pinot Gris to take to Christmas dinner because I thought that these were wines that even a non-wine drinker could enjoy.

We stopped in town to do a little more shopping and ate our evening meal at cafe that was attached to a little motel. The food and service were excellent, but again, quite pricey.

When we arrived back at the farm, Maureen had a great surprise for Treklet! Her granddaughter, Emma, agreed to take Treklet for a ride on her horse, Podge! Treklet was elated. She fed and groomed Podge, then climbed upon the Australian saddle and was led around the paddock and old wool shed for over an hour. We unsaddled old Podge just as the sun set. After a quick shower, Treklet went out like a light with a big smile on her face.

Agrodome, Skyline, Podge

Sunday morning, another starch-filled breakfast, then a full morning at Te Puia learning about Maori culture and the geothermal activity of the region. 

There is barely anyplace to get wifi here. I'm sitting in a McDonald's just to use wifi, but it's not very good. I can't download my email. I'm going to wrap this up. I don't know when I'll get back on, but I miss my Tweeps!
Haere rā

Addendum: MacDonalds wifi sucks! Lol. We found a Starbucks. You get 50 MB or 30 min free wifi with purchase. So here am I trying to upload again. 

Again, let me just say I'm SHOCKED at prices. A single greeting card at the book store NZ$6-12. Almost got a Starbucks NZ travel mug for a friend but they're NZ$25! I've got to make our funds last 2-1/2 more weeks. Jeez