Monday, April 07, 2008

Logbook: Betty's Blog

(Note: At dinner on our last evening together in NZ, Betty gave me a few pages she had written out for me to include in the Logbook of The Voyage. I am delighted -- and honored -- to do so. She also gave me a few photos she has taken of me along the way -- with captions! -- that I have included in the Photo Log. Thanks Betty!)

Bblog1When the chance came to accompany Macgellan on part of his exploration of New Zealand I jumped at it, as it has been a lifetime wish of mine to visit there. Anyone who has browsed Macgellan's website will realize that he is a "traveler" -- whereas I am still a bit of a "tourist" -- so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I set off for New Zealand with my "wish list" for the trip. My fears were unfounded, we got the map out, tossed around a few ideas for a broad outline and in no time at all we were off. If you ever need a guy to make things happen without any fuss, rush or panic, Mac is your man! A great facilitator, he is also kind, considerate and a great traveling companion, with a wicked sense of humor which makes one laugh often. In the month we have been on South Island, the weather has been great with only a few odd showers and one day of heavy rain. I have done some amazing things (for me!) with Mac's encouragement, sometimes while he has stayed behind to tend his "virtual" life on the internet.

Bblog2New Zealand is a place of stunning scenery and it has absolutely everything -- fabulous beaches, snow covered mountains, glaciers, fjords, orchards, vineyards, sheep and cattle spreads, etc. -- all within sight of each other and so easily accessible, as well as craft/art galleries and places of historic interest. It is also the "adventure capital" of the world, so if you can name it -- or even think of it -- you may depend on finding it available from the Kiwis. What makes this place tick? I really cannot fathom. It seems to suffer from an inferiority complex and everything, everywhere has to have a handle or slogan as the biggest, largest, longest or only one in NZ, the southern hemisphere or even the world. As the current idiom in the UK would say, they really "Big It Up" or -- as I saw in a Maori dictionary -- they "Heap It On!" This really is not necessary -- it can actually become a bit irritating over time -- and driving along we would try to guess what the next place would promote itself as. The town of Cromwell takes the biscuit with its huge sculpture of fruits, something like a giant Carmen Miranda hat. Sometimes this over promotion falls flat and following on Mac's line about "You Got Franced" we would sometimes say "You Got NZ'd!" One time that stands out is crossing "The Longest Swing Bridge in New Zealand" and returning by a "Flying Fox" zip line. Actually, it may be the longest in NZ but it takes less than a minute to cross and only a few seconds to return, at a ridiculous cost of fifty dollars!

Bblog3Minor carping aside, I have loved being here. The highlights for me have been a tandem micro-light flight -- like being on the back of a Harley but without any bumps! -- and a tandem hand glider flight which was possibly the best. Being towed aloft then silently soaring like a bird (without having to flap one's wings!) and spiraling down to land on wheels (no running required!) will live with me forever. It was so exciting that one day I might just do it again! That experience was just fractionally ahead of taking a four seater ski plane to fly over Mt. Cook, Mt. Tasman, Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers then landing on a high altitude snow field. Walking far enough away from the other passengers to experience absolute silence and stand alone in brilliant sunshine amongst snow capped peaks was another magical moment to recall and savor. Really, it is difficult to pick the best experience as the last few weeks have produced such a kaleidoscope of so many colorful and exciting things: Whales, dolphins, gannets, boat trips on Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound -- where you can also find NZ's "steepest public road" -- Steward Island, Banks Peninsula, a ride on the rural postal deliver van and many, many others. I hope this doesn't sound like boasting, but I am so happy to have had the opportunity to do this trip and I have loved every minute! Thanks to Mac, my honorary nomad son!

Bblog4Now we are in the North Island and have come as far as Napier. It is time for me to strike out on my own for a couple of weeks and bring my geological interest to the fore as I move around this very active volcanic region. The smoking White Island, Mt. Ruapehu and Mt. Taranaki are on the agenda before I leave for a week with my niece in Australia en route for the UK and home. Yes, I will miss Mac, but I leave him in Napier with hopes that he will have time to recoup and catch up while preparing for the next leg of The Voyage.

You may wonder what being on The Voyage is like. Well, I learned that I brought too many clothes with me and that normal day to day living has to be managed along the way. It is not like being at home or on a "normal" two week holiday, as everything needs to be fathomed out each time you move. For example: Where is the ATM? I got myself a nationwide debit card before I came for using ATMs at no charge anywhere in the world, only to find that it flatly refused to give me any money. In desperation I went into the bank and was told I while one normally should press "cheque" for a debit card, one must press "credit card" instead until they get the system working right... which will be very soon! Can I do my laundry at this motel? Will it be dry before I move on? My hair needed a trim after six weeks, so I needed to locate a hairdresser then beg to be fitted in as I was only going to be in town for the day. I managed to walk in off the street in Wellington and never thought there would be a language problem until I got a German lass to cut my hair whose English was more than a trifle strange, and only slightly better than my non-existent German. But, at the end of they day, I'd gotten a haircut of sorts. I can see why Mac keeps "The Haircut Chronicles"!

Bblog5Remember to get the tank topped up with petrol when you see a filling station as distances in the countryside can be lengthy in between stations. What are the local parking and traffic regulations? Here in NZ you must park in the same direction as the traffic flow or you will be fined and towed away. Citizens of the US must remember that there is no right turn on red even if it is safe to do so. Also, left turns must yield to oncoming traffic turning right in front of you; a real idiosyncrasy that is very easy to forget! Where is the chemist? At home you know where everything is, what TV programs are available, whether your internet connection works, etc., etc. At home you know where all the cafes are and whether you want to eat there or not. On The Voyage you have to hunt around for every meal! Being along on The Voyage has been a truly amazing experience -- one that I will really cherish forever -- but it is not any easy life. Mac has been on The Voyage for over 600 days now, and he is a remarkably focused, experienced and durable traveler. I think I would have said "Stop the world, I want to get off!" a long time ago!

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