Thursday, March 27, 2008

Haircut Chronicle: #13 - Motueka, NZ

Hc13motueka3 Hc13motueka1 Hc13motueka2
#13 - March 27, 2008, Motueka, New Zealand. Well, it's only been a little over a month since my last cut in Invercargill, but my hair had finally grown out enough to give Gayle something to work with. The photos aren't very good -- as usual -- but she gave me a really good "scissors only" cut. Finally, my hair is back in decent shape and more or less the way I like it! Cost: NZ$28 ($23)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Logbook: NZ Scenic Routes

Scenicroutes1Betty and I hit the road pretty early on Thursday, at the very beginning of the Southern Scenic Route in Te Anau. We headed south throughout the morning, stopping every hour or so -- as has become our custom -- to take in a view, have a coffee or briefly explore an interesting (though usually over-hyped) roadside attraction. We hit the southern coast early afternoon and headed east into Invercargill where we checked in with Sandra at the Surrey Court, instantly reviving the happy hi-jinx I enjoyed the last time I stayed at her place. Betty enjoyed her day-trip to Stewart Island on Friday despite some rain along the way, while I took advantage of Sandra's wireless internet to Skype the world. Saturday was a road day as we continued east then north on the Southern Scenic route to its end in Dunedin. I can't really say much about the SSR except that it is indeed scenic and worth driving, a more enjoyable and not much longer route than the alternative "main" highway. An hour or so north of Dunedin we stopped for the night in Oamaru, the same overnight staging point I had stayed in a month.

Scenicroutes2Sunday was a very long road day as we headed out of Oamaru pretty early and stopped in Timaru for breakfast. Just north of that tidy little commercial town we again branched off the "main" highway and onto the Inland Scenic Route for a lengthy, very attractive by-pass of Christchurch. Although the ISR is a little longer than the "main" highway it is a far more enjoyable drive through seemingly endless stretches of farmland and forest, punctuated by mountain climbs, gorge crossings and the occasional very small town. You've no doubt noticed that I have repeatedly quoted the term "main" when referring to the highway here in NZ, and this is because despite its being the main road it is a far cry from what most people would probably envision as a major highway. For almost its entire length, it is a two lane road with occasional passing lanes. Carrying the bulk of the island's north-sout traffic -- including a staggering number of stock trucks, tourist RVs and the like -- the maximum speed of 100kph nets out to something closer to a blistering 80kph or about 50mph. Thus, although the Scenic Routes are longer and less developed than the "main" highway, they are also less traveled and can be driven just about as fast on the whole. Add in their substantially more attractive views -- including the chance to see untold numbers of fields full of sheep! -- and the Scenic Routes are definitely the way to go.

Just north of Christchurch, the Inland Scenic Route rejoined the "main" highway which soon became the Alpine Pacific Scenic Route. In this case it's still the "main" highway but it has been given a fancy name, partly in accordance with the country's practice of hyping things up but also in recognition of its beautiful mountains-and-shore scenic quality. Late in the afternoon we finally ended our very long road day in Kaikoura, a moderately seedy little seaside town that is NZ's mecca for every kind of ocean-based activity you can imagine, from surfing and fishing to whale watching and swimming with dolphins. I've been here and done that before, so I took the day off yesterday to have a leisurely breakfast, take a lengthy stroll along the beach, read, nap and generally rest up from a few long days of driving. Betty went on a whale watching flight in the morning -- actually seeing a few of them from the air! -- and did some wandering around town in the afternoon. We both concluded that Kaikura really isn't a very nice place to stay, but agreed that you pretty much have to swing by it for a day or so if you are interested in whales, dolphins or any of the rest of what it has to offer.

Scenicroutes3We were back on the road this morning for the last long road day in our south to north migration of the island. Although the Alpine Pacific Scenic Route technically ended just north of Kaikoura, the coastal scenery was spectacular all the way up to Blenheim. Turning west, we then enjoyed still more exquisite views as we travelled the length of the Wairau Valley and into Buller Gorge. Some of Betty's friends had strongly recommended the nearby swing bridge and zip line as a great pair of gorge crossings, so -- despite my experienced concern that it might not be as great as it was hyped to be -- we found our way to the proper establishment and bought our tickets. As feared, "the longest swing bridge in New Zealand" was actually pretty short, the zip ride back was even shorter and neither was really worth the money. We had a good laugh about how we'd fallen for the hype yet again as we made our way to the nearby town of Murchison and checked in for the night. All in all, we have had an excellent few days, enjoying extraordinary views on the Scenic Routes which are by far the best value in NZ! Tomorrow we will make a short drive to the north coast for our last few days of exploration on the South Island before we take the ferry to the North Island early next week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Logbook: Fjordlands

Fjorlands1We were on the road pretty early Saturday morning for the long drive south and inland from the west coast glaciers. Along the way we made a number of brief stops at points of natural beauty and one at a salmon fish hatchery which now holds the title for being the place where I spent my best three bucks in New Zealand. You see, as I watched the salmon swim an endless, highly organized, clock-wise circle in the pool I decided to try a science experiment to see what it would take to disrupt their pattern and flow. So, I bought a one-dollar container of fish food and tried throwing individual pieces at various places in the pool, only finding out that each piece was quickly consumed by the nearest fish with no disruption at all. Next I tried throwing small handfuls of food over a broader area, but found that only got the interest of the few nearby fish who took the food in stride as they continued their pattern. Not to be defeated, I went back to the counter and bought two more dollar-size containers of food and just dumped them in one place in the pool. Sure enough, that was much more food than could be consumed by fish in passing and it caused complete chaos for just a few moments before the fish returned to their natural swimming pattern. Entirely satisfied with my scientific conquest -- and my ability to at least momentarily alter thousands of years of evolution-driven fish behavior -- I celebrated the most fun I've had with three bucks in NZ and got back on the road.

Fjorlands2Late in the afternoon we arrived in the small town of Cromwell which -- as you might guess from the 50 foot high Carmen Miranda style statue at its entrance -- is in the very heart of NZ's produce growing region. On first impression, one can't help but think the town has absolutely no reason for being there. It turns out this impression is completely accurate, and the town only exists because the region was flooded to make a reservoir lake some years back and the "payoff" was relocating the few structures that existed to higher ground and developing the new, sterile, ultra-modern planned town that is Cromwell. Imagine a movie set of a modern day mini-suburb and you'll pretty much get the picture. Sunday turned out to be a day of relaxing, partly because we had been moving pretty far pretty fast and partly because Sunday is naturally a day of rest, but mostly because there is nothing else to do in Cromwell. So, Betty and I had a leisurely brunch, did all of the crossword puzzles in every paper we could find, watched some TV including cricket -- which I'm actually starting to understand with Betty's help -- and the Formula One Grand Prix from Australia. (Attaboy Lewis, Bummer Kimi!)

Fjorlands3Monday was another "road day" on our long trek to the Fjordlands. Our first stop along the way was in the unbelievably touristy mecca of Arrowtown, yet another former gold mining town that has been "restored" as one more "must visit" collection of arts galleries, "locally grown and made" crafts shops, trendy/overpriced cafes and public, pay-to-pee automated toilets. We were able to eat breakfast despite being revolted by what we saw around us, thanks in great part to a particularly good cryptic crossword and a rather difficult sudoku. A little further down the road we entered Queenstown which I personally hate despite its being hailed as one of the great tourist -- er, travel -- destinations in the world. My glee knew no bounds -- and my gas pedal hit the floorboard -- when Betty said something to the effect of "Crikey! Let's get out of here!" Yet another couple of hours down the road we arrived in Te Anau which is the jumping off point for Fjordlands exploration. After a quick check-in at our accommodations we went into the town proper for a quick snack before Betty went on a "glow worm tour" and I -- as you might imagine -- happily read a book. (Okay, okay, I admit it. I've become a really, really, really bad tourist!)

Fjorlands4The weather yesterday was absolutely spectacular -- a relative rarity in the Fjordlands which is one of the rainiest and cloudiest places in the world -- and we made the most of it with a day-long excursion to Doubtful Sound. As usual, the tourism industry is finely tuned around here and there are several vendors which offer well run packages. From Te Anau, a bus took us half an hour away to Lake Manapouri where a water taxi sped us on a fifty minute trip across the lake to a brief but interesting tour of an underground power station. From there, a bus took us another half hour over a mountain pass to Deep Cove where we boarded a scenic cruising boat for a few hours of sightseeing down the fjords and out to the Tasman Sea. It is hard to describe Doubtful Sound, but it is clearly the gem of the Fjordlands. I've put a few shots in the photo log which do it some justice, but you really have to see it in person. By the time we repeated the bus-boat-bus process and returned to Te Anau, we were pretty worn out but very, very happy with our day. If you are ever in the Fjordlands, a day trip to Doubtful Sound is a must-do.

Betty left this morning on another day-trip to nearby Milford Sound, but since I have already been there I have opted instead to spend the day doing a variety of chores, making some arrangement going forward and generally catching up with myself. In the morning we will hit the road again and head south to Invercargill where Betty will do the day-trip to Stewart Island that I did a month ago -- How time flies! -- and where I hope to spend another day goofing around with Sandra and her dog Pep back at the Surrey Court Motel! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lost In Translation: Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

BoattoiletsignTour Boat Toilet Sign

Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

March 2008

I get the point, of course, but don't you think there's a bit of a problem with the verb tense?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Logbook: NZ West Coast

Westcoast1On Monday morning, Betty and I drove over the mountains and through the woods, down to the west coast. The rugged shores and pounding surf along the Tasman Sea are a stark contrast to those of the aptly named Pacific to the east. We enjoyed many fine views and a stop at the geologically intriguing "Pancake Rocks" before stopping in the town of Hokitika which I have renamed it "Hokey-tika" in honor of it's ambiance. Known for its jade trade, the town treated us to an evening of trying to find an open restaurant followed by a noisy night by the train tracks. The weather was overcast then rainy on Tuesday which was just as well because there really wasn't much to see in the area. Betty did a little souvenir shopping during the day while I made a quick visit to a local dentist who gave me a clean bill of health. (For those of you who are keeping track, I've now seen dentists in Costa Rica, France, Scotland and New Zealand!) We had better luck making a booking for dinner, spent a quiet evening watching movies and enjoyed a more quiet, restful night.

Westcoast2We continued south along the coast on Wednesday, making an obligatory stop at the Bushman's Cafe where I made Betty try a "possum pie" which is made -- as the name implies -- with meat from the ubiquitous New Zealand possum that is a wildlife pest and at the top of the nation's "must eradicate" list. With that questionable culinary delight to fortify us, we carried on south to Franz Joseph Glacier which is a hyper-active center of tourism all related to the nearby glaciers. The town is in the middle of an explosive building process that promises to add many hotels, motels, shops, restaurants and holiday homes to the already crowded little area. You can have your pick from numerous vendors of glacier hikes, fly-overs and the like, but be prepared to wait on line if you want to use one of the two small internet centers. Compared to what I saw when I was here three years ago, I can tell you that the place is in its last days of being a manageable little oasis of beauty. Betty and I finished out day with a brief visit to the eponymous glacier before checking into our motel for a relaxing afternoon and evening.

Westcoast3Betty was quite keen to do a flying trip to land up on the glacier, but the weather yesterday was too overcast to make that possible. Instead, we drove a bit further south to Fox Glacier -- the other glacier in the area -- and made our way to a nice viewing area. The glaciers are not really very big, but they quite attractive even with cloud cover limiting the view. From there we drove out to Gillespie's Beach where hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of driftwood "sculptures" make for interesting viewing and exploration until the killer sand fleas start to eat you alive and force a hasty retreat. The weather this morning was almost perfectly clear, so Betty has gone on her flight while I am taking some much needed time online. As a "virtual person", New Zealand's internet service is a real problem for me. The limited number of facilities -- combined with the cost and limits of download that I have mentioned before -- makes it very hard to carry on one's iLife. I honestly believe that the problem is one of mindset not infrastructure, and I hope that the country "evolves" in its internet development very soon. Not just for people like me, of course, but for all of the people who visit and live here as well.

We will continue our southerly migration tomorrow, stopping somewhere for a couple of days on our way to Te Anau, gateway to the famous southwest Fjordlands.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Logbook: Tourist Trifecta

About 12 million years ago a series of volcanic eruptions just off the coast of New Zealand's south island formed a convoluted land mass which became connected to the mainland over the eons and is now known as the Banks Peninsula. It is an impossibly beautiful area which Betty and I visited for a couple of days in the middle of the week, doing a good mix of sightseeing, fine dining and relaxing. Betty took advantage of a few of the many tourist attractions -- including a harbor cruise and a scenic driving tour with the rural delivery service -- while I was more keen to wander around town to really get a feel for the place. I can report that the Peninsula's proximity to Christchurch makes it both a popular place for people to have holiday homes and for tourists to visit on short layovers in the area. As a result, the full-time population of about 700 swells to something like 7,000 in the summer and the parade of buses that arrive on a daily basis is amazing. If you are ever in the Christchurch area, a trip to Akaroa is worth it for the views alone -- though I somewhat ironically neglected to take a single picture of them while I was there! -- but be aware that you may be put off by the crowds and "touristy" feeling of the place.

Touristtrifecta1On Friday we drove back through Christchurch and northwest to the town of Hamner Springs -- famous for its thermal baths -- as our home for the weekend. Although neither of us turns out to be a fan of public baths, the area is very peaceful and visually stunning, making it a fine -- though pretty touristy -- place to spend a couple of days. In addition to our rapidly evolving pattern of dining and relaxing, we took a jet boat ride on the river in nearby "Thrill Seekers Canyon" which was fun, though surprisingly brief for the cost and typically not quite as good as advertised. I took a nice, long-ish walk this afternoon on a woodland trail that worked its way up into the nearby hills but failed to offer any particularly good views of the surrounding area. So, it was a nice "walk in the woods" but nothing great. I'm aware that my reviews of recent exploration have been lukewarm, but I think they have been fair and objective. New Zealand is a beautiful, friendly and easy to travel place, but I'm not convinced it lives up to its international hype.

Then again, it is possible that I've been in a kind of "tourist trifecta" -- Christchurch - Akaroa - Hanmer Springs -- for ten days and am writing from the perspective of someone who is a traveler and not a tourist. In fact, it is probably true that The Voyage has made me a good traveler and a poor tourist. We are heading west in the morning, over the mountains and out onto the coast. I'm confident that the scenery will be at least as stunning and hopeful that the "tourist factor" will be a little less. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Logbook: Christchurch

Christchurch1I drove out to the rural suburbs of Christchurch on Saturday to meet Betty at the home of her cousin Tim and his wife Jill who very graciously offered to be our hosts for the long weekend. In addition to enjoying their excellent and generous hospitality -- including some mighty fine dining and intelligent conversation! -- Betty and I did do some exploration in the area. Our first stop on Sunday was the International Antarctic Center which -- in accord with what I am going to call "the formula" -- was interesting and worth visiting, but not quite as great as the brochures made it seem. The highly acclaimed "Blue Penguin" exhibit, for example, was a small pool with a half-dozen or so animals, many of whom were victims of some kind of physical handicap like missing feet, broken wings, etc. Nonetheless, it was a chance to see another species of penguin and add it to my growing list of acquaintances. We also went into the city center where I made Betty have her obligatory photo taken at the famous statue of "Scott of the Antarctic" and where we were treated to the cacophony of a bagpipe festival -- yet another example of NZ's historic link to Scotland. On the way back to the farm we stopped at the aviation museum which somewhat exceeded "the formula" in overall quality and value.

Christchurch2Yesterday we headed into town where Betty toured the local art museums while I found a place to go online, a process that once again put me face to face with the country's idiosyncratic approach to the internet. One place had wi-fi but had run out of voucher cards, another had voucher cards but not a working connection and still another had hi-speed access but no facility for laptops. I was finally able to connect at a quirky little place at the rate of $1 per 20 minute unit and a limit of 30 megs download per unit, sufficient for my needs but not exactly a bonanza. Betty and I reunited in time for a late lunch then made our way to the city's famous gondola for a ride to the top of a nearby mount. Although "the formula" applied to the ride and facilities, we had a decent cup of coffee while enjoying a pretty good view of lovely Lytleton harbor. We ended the day with a fine BBQ dinner back at Tim's and Jill's farm and final night of their much appreciated hospitality.

We got going at a leisurely pace this morning and made a stop at a wildlife preserve where we were able to see actual New Zealand Kiwis! These flightless, nocturnal birds with impossibly long beaks are proof of what only evolution can produce. From there we headed to the coast and arrived in the charming town of Akaroa which has as its gimmick a French motif, including French street names. Nestled into one of many beautiful bays produced by volcanic eruptions over the eons, we plan to explore here for a couple of days. Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Lost In Translation: Christchurch, New Zealand

HolygrailgamingroomStreet Advertisement

Christchurch, New Zealand

March 2008

This may not really be lost in translation, but it still seems wrong on so many levels!