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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In Search Of....

I'm a winner!!
I commented on an post over at TrekMovie and won the In Search Of... boxed set! Click here to read about the prize and see my winning comment: Review: In Search Of… The Complete Collection & Your Chance to Win! [UPDATED: Winners announced for In Search of... box set!]

My prize arrived the very next day after the announcement of the winners. Although the list price of the set is $149.99, it is available on for $117.08.

The seven seasons set is attractively packaged in a fliptop box. Let's open it up.
Each Season is 3 discs, for a total of 21 discs. 

I began at the beginning: Season One, Disc One
The theme music VERY1970s.
There are 4 episodes on the disc. I click on the first episode, "Other Voices." The mystery is whether plants communicate and have feelings.

Plants have feelings. Marcel Vogel, a research chemist San Jose, CA is the first person we are introduced to. He is having children try to feel the plants' energy by hovering their hands above the plants. Vogel was known for his mainstream scientific work as well as some fringe science theories. He is best known for designing the Vogel Crystal Cut, which purportedly focuses the "Universal Life Force." Learn more here: Wikipedia Vogel Entry  and here: Legacy of Marcel Vogel

Next we see Nimoy in his signature turtleneck. I swear that's all he wore in the 70s. Turtlenecks. Did he get a lot of hickies? I digress...back to the DVD.

We are now at the Denver Botanical Garden. Music is being played for the plants.  Musician/Biologist Dorothy Retallack experimented with many different types of plants and music. While keeping water and light levels equal, she played hard rock in one chamber, soft, soothing music in another. Plants leaned toward speaker in the chamber where soothing music was played, but the hard rock plants shrank away & died. Time lapse photography over several days showed this dramatically.  However, my googling skills have turned up several experiments that got the opposite results, and much discussion about the many variables in these experiments. After reading several web pages devoted to the topic, I might conclude that music, or sound in general, may be an energy source that plants may be attracted to. Here's a good site that details her experiments more than the show did: Dorothy Retallack's Positive Music Experiments

Kendal Johnson and his  Kirlian photography is up next. He takes photographs of leaves exposed to electrical energy. My first impression is that he looks like a hippie with his shirt embroidered with flowers and laid back attitude. He is explaining photographing energy in the air. Yes, photographing the AIR. He says he asks people who have a "green thumb" to hold their hand over a wilted leaf and the photograph glows more. These people have more glow in Kirlian photographs of their fingers.  I looked up Kirlian photography and I just don't see how this proves anything about plants communicating. I think the photographs simply depict coronal discharge, and variations can be attributed to humidity levels around the object and perhaps chemical variances. I mean, they are sending voltage through the subjects, right? Here are some links if you're curious:

It does produce pretty pictures, though:Kirlian Photography Images

The final wacko, um, I mean researcher in this episode is Cleve Baxter, polygraph expert for CIA who uses polygraphs to study plants. He cuts his own hand, to see if he gets a response from the plant. WTF? The experiment fails..perhaps he's performed it too many times? He tries again with an assistant. He cuts her hand (shouldn't he have gotten a fresh plant instead of a fresh victim?)  Oh wow, the plant reacts to her as he slices her hand! He concludes that it is a reaction to her apprehension and pain, pointing out the spike on the graph at the point when he is about to cut her.  

He also believes the bacteria in yogurt has "primary perception"  He puts yogurt in a test tube, inserts silver wires in the yogurt and hooks them to the lie detector. Next he stirs some antibiotic into some yogurt in another beaker. The yogurt in the test tube does not react.  New experiment: He pours milk into some yogurt in a separate beaker. After 20 seconds the bacteria finds nutrient in the milk. The other yogurt in the test tube reacts. It wants some milk, too. WHAT? 

So the conclusions are that plants and even bacteria can react to something that is happening to other life forms nearby. 

Nimoy asks, "Did you ever wake up with a feeling that something happened to someone you know? ...Plants may have carried the message to you." This reminds me of the blossoms in Narnia telling the Princes that Aslan was dead. He then says that plants can understand us and communicate, but for the time being we can only listen to them with our machines. One day those machines may be unnecessary.

Because I'm a curious person, I watched Episode 2 immediately after being astounded by my newly acquired knowledge that my plants are frustrated to no end in trying to talk to me. I'm so distraught, I'll just present my notes on the episode in bullet form.

Strange Visitors 
  • The high-pitched electronic theme music is really awful.

Disclaimer over credits: this series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture. The producers purpose is to suggest some possible explanation, but not necessarily the only ones to the mysteries we will examine.

  • Native American legends/origin stories. Man and Animals were the same. 
  • stone ruins in Mystery Hill in New Hampshire. 
  • Indians of this region did not build in stone. Where did these ruins come from?
  • Wyoming: Medicine Wheel, another curiosity in stone. Covered in snow much of the year. Most investigators now agree the wheel was an indian calendar. Lack of settlement breaks it's ties with Mystery Hill. Why was this mentioned?
  • Mystery hill's layout reminiscent of ancient european cities. walled streets ending at a type of temple. 
  • Charcoal deposits between the rocks have been carbon dated at 3000 years old.
  • Comparing now to Druids at Stonehenge. Were human sacrifices made on large flat slab with grooves in it? Did blood once run down those grooves?
  • an inscription on a boulder is thought to be Phoenician, the style of masonry is the same. So the conclusion is that the Minoans crossed the seas from Crete to North America. Perhaps they saw no future here and left. 

Here is the Wikipedia entry on the site:'s_Stonehenge  
I'm skeptical of the explanation given on the show. Especially the sensationalism of the sacrificial stone. 
I like this explanation from the above link: "Artifacts found on the site lead archaeologists to the conclusion that the stones were actually assembled for a variety of reasons by local farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries. For example, a much-discussed "sacrificial stone" which contains grooves that some say channeled blood closely resembles "lye-leaching stones" found on many old farms that were used to extract lye from wood ashes, the first step in the manufacture of soap."

After watching the first two episodes, I am hypothesizing that most of the topics presented in the series are sensationalized and after 25 years of further study many of the theories presented have probably been disputed. It was probably a riveting show in the 1970s, before the instant-answers and collective knowledge of the internet, and I'm sure it sparked quite a bit of interest and imagination in its viewers. I can see how it would hold a nostalgic place in original viewers' hearts. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

To the Office of the Prime Minister of Japan

I am saddened and shocked that your government still allows the daily capture and slaughter of dolphins in Taiji cove.

 I am dismayed that the dolphin meat is sold to Japanese citizen and served to Japanese schoolchildren, despite it being contaminated with mercury.

 I am sickened that instead of preserving and protecting Japan's national resources, you allow the destruction and squandering of it. Why not consider promoting tourism to the area?
The slaughter of cetaceans in Japanese waters is not sustainable.

 Millions of people worldwide consider dolphins and whales to be intelligent social creatures and are appalled by the practices those that break up their families and keep them in captivity.

 I urge you to do the right thing, to protect your citizens, the environment, and your national heritage and stop the Taiji dolphin hunts.


This took 5 minutes of my day. You can do it to. Here's the link:

  Wanna know more? Click some of these:

Toxic Bureaucracy
Cetacean Kill
The Cove

  and follow this account: @CoveGuardians

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Non-Antarctic Penguins at the Antarctic Centre

Our last day in NZ was spent at the International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch. I made a video of pics and vids.
International Antarctic Centre

more pics

We had a great day, learned a lot, and got to meet a Blue Penguin up close.

After a delayed flight from Christchurch to Auckland, we barely made our flight out of Middle Earth. I'm posting this on FREE wifi at a restaurant somewhere in Orange County, CA! Soon we'll be home and ready to crash in our own beds.

Reality is beckoning.......

Monday, January 7, 2013

This is our last full day in Aotearoa. We have left the beautiful farm at Paua Bay for Christchurch. I left my seasick patch on from yesterday, and put a meclazine tablet inside the kid in anticipation of the sharply curving road away from the Banks Peninsula.
While The Alien drives I will pass the time between incredible vistas by sharing some more interesting observations about NZ.

+ the emergency telephone number is 111 here, not 911
+ they call stands stalls here, for example: fruit stalls, not fruit stands.
+ I saw machines in the ladies' bathrooms here selling 'sanitary towels' instead of 'sanitary napkins'. Maybe they flow heavier down here @_@
+ every little town or settlement has at least one war memorial, usually from WWI. If there are more than one, they are for the Baal War and WWII. they almost alway say 'Our Glorious Dead' on them. The names of the fallen soldiers are listed, and the dates of the war, not the name of it, are also engraved on the memorials.
+ most every town we've passed through has a Salvation Army Store on the main drag.
+ Speights appears to be to NZ what Pabst is to Wisconsin. Every pub and tavern, even in the remotest areas, has a Speights sign out front, and several Speights advertising posters displayed inside. A noable difference between Speights and Pabst/Bud/Miller is that it is actually good beer. Technically, it's a light ale.
+ Dominion Bitter might be my new favorite brew. I hope BevMo or World Market imports it!
+ While Kiwis are generally friendly and offer hospitality, they give crappy and overly complicated driving directions.
+ Marlborough and Hawkes Bay generally grow white wine grapes, but Central Otago is 80% Pinot Noir.
+ there are some road signs that are different than ours. Instead of "passing lanes" on hilly roads they have "slow vehicle bays" A white circle with a black diagonal line in it is an "Open Road" sign, meaning the speed limit is 100 kph. There are pedestrian crossings marked with white stripes on the road and black & white poles on the sides. A blue circle with a red outline & red X in it means no parking. And my favorite sign is the Exclamation Point. It's usually got another sign with it to explain what the caution is for.

We realized, once we hit the main road to Christchurch, that the long and winding road we took to Paua Bay could have been avoided. We took the long, tourist drive but there was a more direct route! Fail.
In Christchurch, the weather was perfect! After a light lunch at the Boathouse Cafe we went punting on the Avon River. It was only 30 minutes, but so relaxing. After the boat ride, Treklet & rented kayaks and went there and back again on the Avon.
me in a kayak

We booked in to a motel that is close to the airport, and the International Antarctic Center, which we plan to visit tomorrow. They have screaming fast wifi! (For a price) they advertised a heated pool, but it felt like the Southern Ocean to us, so we merely sunbathed for an hour before dinner.
Speaking of dinner, this may be the best one we've had since Christmas!  Also, I must brag that I drank a delightful porter called Wobbly Boot. 

Sheep and Dolphins

Monday Jan 7, 2013
This morning we had a delicious breakfast of freshly baked bread, fruit, homemade yogurt and granola. The more I looked around, the more I fell in love with this farmhouse and garden. The bathroom and guest rooms look like something out of a magazine. I had a free hour or so and busied myself taking artsy photos.

Soon the vans arrived with the tours from the cruise ship at Akaroa. We joined the farm tour at he woolshed. I found Murray's stories captivating. He told a bit of history of Akaroa, and the history of this farm, going back four generations in his family. Then he talked a bit about farming in NZ in general, and gave us all a chance to pose for pictures with one of his sheep before he demonstrated shearing on it. Then we adjourned outside for a demonstration of sheep herding by his dogs.

Dogs Mustering Sheep

Next we were off to Akaroa for an afternoon on a boat. We had lunch outside, and it was sunny and hot. I wondered if we had enough sunscreen on. After we ate, we walked to the harbor, and suddenly the sky was becoming gray and a cold wind was whipping the bay into a froth. Great...
Our two-hour catamaran ride was a bit rocky, and standing on the outside deck was very cold. Thankfully, we all had seasick medicine! We were rewarded with a couple of dozen Hector's Dolphins bow riding, and several Southern Fur Seals in the sea caves. Hector's Dolphins are the smallest dolphin species, and they are quite speedy, too. We also saw a few species of cormorants nesting on the cliffs, and lots of gulls and terns. We sailed past the salmon farm, and past a large cruise ship. By the time we returned to the harbour it was raining and the cafe and shops were closed.

After searching the tiny town for a coffee and light entree, we ended up buying some cold cuts, bread and cheese at the little grocery market and eating in the car. Safely back at Paua Bay, The Alien crashed, Treklet played with some Legos, and I caught my blog up. Tomorrow we shall explore Christchurch.

The Long and Winding Road

Sunday, Jan 6 2013
Our fine weather didn't last long! After nice breakfast and chat with John and Ann we left Glen Dendron and headed north. It was misty or raining all the way up the coast.
We made a short stop in Oamaru so I could snap some pictures of the old buildings. Being Sunday, there was a bustle of activity in the historical district market.

It seemed like we drove forever. I snapped pics here and there. Eventually we headed out on the Banks Peninsula. We had lost our map that showed anything north of Timaru, so we had no idea what we were in for.

The road was very winding, and seemed to go on forever. At first the views were stunning, but as the road seemed to have no end, the steep hillsides and curving path only made Treklet and I feel sick. Every time we thought we were getting close, our hopes were dashed by another view of another stretch of wiggly asphalt.
When we at last came to an intersection that we thought would lead to our farmstay, the sign we were looking for wasn't there. Luckily, my cell phone had reception, and we were able to call for direction. We ended up down a gravel road, and confused again, only now the phone had no service. We eventually found our way to the farmhouse and and a cheerful Sue waving us to our parking spot. I must admit we were pretty frazzled and cranky after 90 minutes of twisting and turning, not knowing where the end of our journey would be, but Sue's cheerful demeanor (and her offer of a beer & wine) soon had us relaxed.
Shortly after our arrival, our prearranged evening meal was ready. Sue served us a Lamb roast, a quinoa salad, and some new potatoes and steamed veggies from her garden. After a coffee and berry-peach crumble for dessert I felt much more settled, and started making plans for activities during our stay here.

In the Trenches With Yellow Eyes

5 Jan 2013
Today it finally felt like summer! It got up to 28 degrees! After a hearty breakfast with our hosts, Anne and John, and their other guests from Germany, we set off for Dunedin. First stop was the southernmost Harley-Davidson shop in the world. If you know me, you know I hate motorcycles, so you maybe asking, "WHY?" The answer is, simply, because I am a good friend. ::wink:: my neighbors and my BFF are avid Hog enthusiasts and wanted t-shirts. I only hope after seeing the price tags that hey are still willing to pay me back!

Next we headed out to the end of the Otago Peninsula, where we had a tour reservation at Penguin Place. The road is insane! It is a narrow, winding road that literally hugs the bay. It was high tide and at times we were no farther than a meter from the edge of the water! To make things even more exciting, there were cyclists on the road, too, and a bike lane only part of the way.

Otago Peninsula Drive

The Penguin Place was awesome! Here's their link for more info:

We began our tour with a short talk about the location, organization and the Natural history of the Yellow-eyed Penguin. They are the rarest penguins in the world, with a population totaling only about 4000 birds. There are colonies on several subantarctic islands and along the coast of New Zealand's South Island. The South Island population is about 700 and the number if birds using this particular colony is about 40.
Yellow-eyed Penguins are not social birds like the Blue Penguins. They are solitary and the pairs mate and nest in seclusion in the shady underbrush above beaches, up to 1 km from the water. Natural predators are sharks, leopard seals and sea lions. On land, introduced mammals including dogs, cats, stoats, and weasels all mean death to eggs and chicks.
The birds here have chicks now. Some are still in the guarding phase, with one parent babysitting while the other fishes. Others are now old enough to leave alone while both parents fish.
The Penguin Place reserve is on private property, on a sheep station! The farmer realized he had penguins and set aside the beachside portion for their protection. He has since passed away, but his family carries on. There is no government funding, but there is government oversight. The reserve is run solely on revenue from tour charges.
After our short orientation, our guide drove us on a bus through the pastures and down to the Pacific side of the peninsula. The view overlooking the beach and adjacent penguin reserve was spectacular. We walked down a short trail to the viewing area.
There are a series of tunnels dug into the hillsides, covered for camouflage. At the end of the tunnels are hides where people can see the nests up close. We were instructed to keep our voices to a whisper and not stick out arms or cameras through the viewing holes. We were able to get within 2 meters of one bird with its chick!
There are nest boxes set up on the property for temporary use by the pairs until the trees and bushes they have planted grow big enough to provide the shade and privacy the birds require. Hundreds of saplings are dotted around the landscape with green plastic boxes protecting them from rabbits.

After spying on several penguins we headed up the trail to a beach overlook to scan for penguins coming ashore. We didn't see any, but there were dozens of fur seals hauled out on the sand.

After we finished at Penguin Place, we drove a short way to the end of the Peninsula to the Royal Albatross Centre. There was a viewing platform overlooking some bluffs that were loaded with various cormorants and Red-billed Gulls, and fur seals on the rocks below. As a matter of fact, there were thousands of gulls all over the grounds and various stages of nesting. Treklet was dismayed to see several dead gulls on the ground, most of them juveniles. According to the Centre staff, they fight and kill each other!

Red-billed Gull Colony

We didn't feel like paying $100 for a tour to see the albatross nests, so we just paid $10 to look at the gallery and took our chances at seeing an airborne albatross. The Centre is also at the site of the old Fort Taiaroa so the gallery had historical information, as well as interesting displays on the birds, conservation, and the biologists who studied them. This is the only "mainland" site that the albatrosses nest, every other colony being on remote subantarctic islands. We had lunch at the cafe inside and browsed gift shop. I am sad to say that we did not spy an albatross outside. :-(

On the way back from Dunedin i saw Orokonui Ecosanctuary on the map, so we turned off and drove a few miles up a winding road. We soon arrived at the locked gate of the closed facility, but decided to stay and do some roadside birding because there was some native bush. We got nice looks at several Bellbirds, Tuis New Zealand Pigeons, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Yellowhammers, and added Redpoll to our list. Heading back down I thought I saw so something on a large stump and made the Alien stop the car. I was right! It was a Little Owl! I don't know how I spied that from a moving car, but we all got good looks at it. How cool was that?!
We stopped for supper in Palmerston, bought a few bottles of Speights to go, and went back to the peaceful Glen Dendron Farmstay. It was a beautiful evening, and we enjoyed our beer outside while visiting with John and Ann. Ann made up some bottles for the orphan lambs and Treklet got to feed them and the alpacas.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Little Blue

We went into Oamaru for dinner. We went somewhere I'd never eat in America--McDonalds. They've got a few items on their menu that aren't available in The States.

Oamaru is full of amazing old buildings and monuments. I want to go back there Saturday on our way to Christchurch to photograph them.
There is a large Blue Penguin colony in Oamaru. A visitor center is set up alongside an old quarry on the waterfront. For a fee you can sit in a covered viewing area set up adjacent to the rocky shore where the little darlings hobble up to their nests. There are little wooden homes built into tiny mounds and under trees where the cavity nesters spend the night. It looks like a little penguin Hobbiton! The tiny Shire is fenced in and protected from humans and four-footed predators.
There are several staff members to inform and enforce. No photography is allowed at all! Boo! I snuck a couple of very bad pics on my phone when the strict patrol wasn't looking. Soon after that tour busses began spilling their patrons into the marquee.
Blue Penguins are the smallest species of penguin, standing 30 cm tall (16 in) and weighing 1 kg (2.2 lb). They head into the sea before dawn and spend all day fishing on their own for sprat up to 50 km from shore. They return at dusk in groups called rafts, cool down by releasing the warm air from beneath their feathers, then head to their burrows for the night. Burrows are shared with a mate, and when there are eggs the pair take turns incubating while the other fishes. Chicks stay in the burrows alone for three weeks while the parents fish all day. When the parents return they feed the young by regurgitation. These birds have strong pair bonds and remain very faithful to their nest sites. When food is plentiful they may raise two pairs of chicks in a season, which is unique among penguin species.
This particular colony has about 500 birds and over 250 nest boxes. Since protections have been put in place the population has increased 10% per year. Chicks are banded and returning penguins are counted for an hour each night.

Find out more here: Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony

Wikipedia entry

Thursday, January 3, 2013

On to Pursuit of Penguins

After a week of weather ranging from chilly and damp to downright soggy, we're moving on to the east coast of South Island. A check of the weather app before leaving Queenstown was discouraging. it's 7C and raining in Dunedin. Bah! Hopefully it clears up by time we get over there this afternoon.

While The Alien drives, I'm taking time to point out more things that are different or interesting in NZ. Ready?

~ we've eaten mostly at cafes, pubs & taverns because that's all there is in the tiny towns & settlements we've visited. You order at the bar or counter and pay up front and they bring your food to you. Water is self-serve from a bottle that you can bring to your table.
~ every little cafe, no matter how remote the location, has an espresso machine. Coffee menu: short black, long white, macchiato, cappuccino.
~ cash registers are referred to as tills
~ "Big Breakfasts" are popular, and available through lunchtime. Generally, they consist of eggs, middle or streaky bacon, sausages, potatoes, toast, and grilled tomatoes. They may also include beans and/or spaghetti. Yes, I said spaghetti.
~ "toasted sandwiches" are available at just about any cafe. They are basically what we call panini, but inside there are many more ingredients than what we are used to. The one I had yesterday was roasted pork, bacon, celery and apple slices, red onion, and something they called cream cheese, but it wasn't good old Philly.
~ they call bell peppers capsicum
~ cheese rolls. A slice of white bread with a slice of white cheese on it, rolled up like a Ding Dong and warmed. Lol. I could have said jelly roll, but they're the size of a Ding Dong. Haha! I just like saying Ding Ding.
~ you know the little packets of flavoring that come in boxes of Mac & cheese or instant noodles? Those are called sachets.
~ potato chips are called crisps and they come in weird flavours, like baked ham, burger, and chicken.

~ sweaters are called jumpers
~ a trendy saying here is "sweet as" (although I haven't actually heard anyone say it)
~ camping is popular. There are small camper van rentals in abundance. Camping anywhere outside of a "holiday park" is called freedom camping. I've seen many signs that say "Freedom Camping restricted to self-contained vehicles"
~ while there are still more sheep than humans in NZ, many farmers, especially in North Island, have switched to dairy cattle because there is a large market for dairy product export, especially to Asia.
~ in the 1950s, when the Alien worked on a huge North Island Sheep Station,introduced red deer were hunted as pests that competed for pasture. Nowadays, red deer are farmed and venison is sold in grocery stores and on the menu in most places.
~ gas stations are few and far between in South Island! We've driven for hours without seeing one. Today we drove 103 miles (166 km) between towns with gas stations, and part of that time I had no phone service. Don't leave anyplace with a low fuel gauge.
~ i read in the newspaper that it's recently been voted to name a peak in the Southern Alps after J.R.R. Tolkien

As soon as we hit the coast in Palmerston, I noticed a turnoff for Shag Point seal and penguin viewing. We took the gravel road out to the reserve and YIPPEEE! We were rewarded with a pair of Yellow-eyed Penguins coming on to the beach from a swim!! We watched them preen a bit on the beach, then waddle and hop into the tall grass and flax where they nest. They are the world's rarest penguin, and I can't believe our luck finding them so easily on our first stop! This is the first time on the trip I regretted not having a real camera with me.
Also at Shag Point were several dozen fur seals, Black-backed and Red-billed Gulls, Spotted and Stewart Island Shags. Two lifers in one stop! ::Lifer Dance::

We stopped in Moeraki at a Tavern for lunch. I had hot tea and vegetable soup, because we got quite a chill on those windy coastal bluffs! Treklet got spaghetti, which was served on toast, and The Alien ate fish.
After we ate, Treklet enjoyed a billiards lesson from The Alien.
I took a few pics on the road from QT to the coast.

We are staying 2 nights at Glen Dendron Farmstay. It's off the beaten track, about 20 km south of Omaru, up a hill, and down a narrow one-lane gravel road. The view is lovely, the garden is spectacular, the room is comfy and the hosts are nice.

Toward Lothórien

When we went to bed it was pouring hard. When we woke up the sun was out! Here's what it looked like outside.

Treklet and I went for a walk along the lake on the QT Trail and then we all headed south to Glenorchy. We had plenty of time to eat a hearty lunch and then wander over to the waterfront and learn a little of the area's history.

Glenorchy sits at the top of Lake Wakapitu, on the shores of the Dart River. It had its roots in sheep, cattle, gold, sawmilling and scheelite mining dating back to the late 1800s, but the road from Queenstown wasn't built until 1962. Until then the only way in and out was by steamboat.

Several local spots were used in the filming of The Lord of the Rings (I swear it was filmed EVERYWHERE in NZ!) Mt Earnslaw can be seen over the Tower of Orthanc, and it is also part of the Misty Mountains. Nearby areas are used as the edge of Lothórian, Amon Hen, and Isengard.

We checked in at Dart Stables and were given gumboots, helmets and Driza-bone oilskin coats. Soon we were mounted and on our way. Because it had been raining a lot for several days, the river had peaked, and there were many new streams and puddles. Many parts of the trails were either squishy mud or shallow rivulets.

Our river crossing was exciting...the water came up to the horses' chests! We crossed about a dozen small streams and the second river crossing was impassible. Our guide took her horse in and he swam!

Treklet was very happy to be on a horse. I tolerated it and it hurt my knees. The scenery was amazing, and our Irish guide, Deanna, was full of interesting information. She even took us off the trail a bit to see a pair of Black Swans with their two cygnets.

Here's a little video of our adventure. I didn't record much or snap many pics from horseback, because I was afraid to lose my phone in the water!

Riding to Isengard

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Keep calm and carry an umbrella

Still raining!
We didn't do much today. I went for a run this morning in the rain on the Queenstown Trail. I made lunch, then we went into Queenstown for a couple of hours of shopping. We didn't buy much, because prices are high :-(

The news on the TV is showing rivers peaking, road closures and flooding all down the west coast and in the mountain passes. On the Milford Track, 120 people were stranded for 2 days because of the rain, and at least one woman is being treated for hypothermia. The weather on the upper east coast looks fine. We will be there last. I'm just hoping it starts to clear up by tomorrow afternoon's horse ride.

I've thought of some more NZ differences...

* Our bacon in the US is called "streaky bacon". NZ bacon is called 'middle bacon' and has little fat on it. I love it! I bought some & made a proper Bilbo-approved bacon sandwich for breakfast.

* I've yet to see central heating or air conditioning here, but there are space heaters and wall heaters. Our family in Taranaki had room air conditioning units.

* you don't pay before you pump gas here. They still trust people here.

* remember those Internet Cafes we used to have in the 1990s? Yeah, they still have them. Usual fees are around $4/hour to use their computers.

* I have yet to see a blow dryer

* it is not unusual to still see separate hot and cold water faucets on sinks & tubs, although most places we've stayed have only showers, no bathtubs.

Speaking of showers, look at this weird setup we have this week. The shower door only covers half of the tub, and it's a long step down to get out. I almost wiped out the first time.

Pirates of The Caribbean is on Sky 2, so there you have our big plans for this evening! Here's hoping we can ride horses tomorrow and not have to paddle our way out of here.

Once a Ranger and a Uruk-Hai, Now a Guide

New Years Eve I stayed up til midnight uploading videos (YouTube Channel starfleetmom1) and enjoyed the multitudes of fireworks all around the neighborhood and Lake Wakatipu. The neighbors were setting them off in the street out front, and there was a big professional display across the lake in Queenstown.

Really crappy fireworks vid

When we woke up it was pouring rain, and it continued the entire day. I did some laundry, The Alien watched darts on Sky Sport (yes, darts, really) and we walked to the pub next door for lunch. Since Treklet is a vegetarian, she didn't order from this kids menu, but I had to snap a pic of it.

After lunch, our Lord of the Rings tour guide, Dean, picked us up. We were joining the full-day group for the afternoon portion of the tour. We climbed in the van with a couple from Germany and two young men from Switzerland.

Dean was in the trilogy, as a Ranger and a Uruk-Hai, and was on transport crew for The Hobbit, so he had first-hand knowledge of the sites, scripts, and behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

We visited the site in the Kawarau Gorge, above the bungee bridge, where the Argonath scene was filmed. We were actually at a point behind the scene, looking toward where the cameras were set up. We learned that the statues were actually "bigatures" filmed at a quarry in Wellington and superimposed on the scene. We learned that the boat Orlando Bloom was in capsized and the Bungee retrieval boat downriver fished him out of the river.

We saw sites in Arrowtown where scenes from the Prologue and Arwen's rescue of Frodo were filmed. We stopped on the shores of Lake Hayes where our guide brought out replica weapons and costume pieces for us to take pictures with.

I asked Dean how he got to be in the productions. He said there were ads in the newspaper calling for extras, with height requirements. He went for the tall men audition, 40 guys were called back, and 20 were cast.

It was interesting, but I'm not a big enough LOTR nerd to recognize weapon names or keep minor character names straight. Those Swiss kids were, though!