A Travelogue

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Summary

Kilometres travelled in New Zealand: 4,040
Kilometres travelled to and from Vancouver to visit old friends: 2,400
Friends visited along the way: 6
New friends made in New Zealand: too many to count
Memories made: priceless

Surprise on the Plane

On the leg from L.A. to Vancouver, we were seated in the 2nd last row of the plane. Behind us was a matronly woman accompanying a 6 year old girl, and a young man in his mid 20's.

The flight attendant came to the young man and asked, would he mind switching seats with another gentleman so the family could sit together? He agreed, and moments later she comes back leading a very handsome man to the back. He gratefully thanked the young man saying, amongst other things, "Boy, the stories I could tell you".

He looked familiar. I noticed he didn't sit down in his newly assigned seat behind me, but remained standing, propping his right leg on the seat. It appeared to be injured. There was a cast visible between his runners and the hem of his slacks, and he had a black tensor bandage loosely slung around his ankles. At some point the flight attendant came to him and very politely said, we can't take off until you sit down, which he did.

To make a 2 1/2 hour story short, I thought he was Richard Dean Anderson, who currently stars in Stargate and before that was known as McGyver. Hans didn't think so and half the time, I didn't either. The other half I was sure it was him.

In the end, after everyone had deplaned and only Hans and I, plus Richard, his daughter and nanny were left, he spoke to me and asked if my daughter had bothered me during the flight. "Not at all", I replied, grateful that he initiated the conversation. Then I said, "You look a lot like Richard Dean Anderson".

"That's good," he replied. "My mother will be glad to hear it." He flashed his killer smile at me and I floated down the aisle behind Hans.

As I write, I'm watching Stargate, which I have never seen before but yes, it was definitely him on the plane. How cool is that?

Stupid Gifts

I packed all the gifts we were bringing back into our carryon bag, so that nothing would get lost. We checked our many bags which have mysteriously multiplied over the last month. No problem leaving Christchurch for Auckland. In Auckland, a little red flag goes up when the carryon bag is x-rayed. They look at us, then run it through again.

"Is this your bag?"

"Yes", Hans replies.

"Would you follow me please?"

We follow to the end of the counter where he explains he needs to look inside. I packed it, so I know that in addition to the various little gifts there are 2 bottles of Minus 42 Vodka (a trendy new vodka made in NZ), 1 good bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and a fancy guacamole flavoured oil.

I shrug and watch him unpack. Out come the bottles, a couple of Maori CDs, the cheeseboard I bought. He flips over the cheeseboard to reveal the cheese knife with its sharp edge, pretty double points on the end and the inlay of paua. I gasp and cover my eyes.

I didn't mean it, I want to cry. I paid extra for that knife. Please don't take it.

He was sympathetic but nevertheless poked his finger through the clear plastic wrap and pulled it out. I wanted to blame the Christchurch airport for not noticing it. There I could have slipped it into the checked luggage.

I asked if I could mail it to myself but he said no, it was too late. I'm wracked with grief for my stupidity. Even my lethal cuticle cutters are in the friggin' checked luggage. How could I not have seen the knife??

It was a gift for Lloyd and Gina and I told her to keep the plastic wrap over the board and show people the hole through which the offending knife was removed.

Later in the flight, I snuck the plastic serrated knife from my dinner into my purse with the intent of substituting it, as a joke. But we went through three more security checks lasting 1 3/4 hours and I lost my nerve early on and discreetly disposed of the plastic knife. I really didn't think the Americans would see the joke.

Christchurch

Another &*%$%$# beautiful city!

Really, NZ has more than its share of beautiful cities and we loved it here too.

Early European settlers built "the most English city outside Engand" on the Canterbury Plains and named it Christchurch.

We strolled through Hagley Park, which is a sprawling central park where avenues f huge trees, shrubs and flowers meander alongside the Avon River. Tree shaded paths lead to a large fountain close to which is the museum. Amongst other things, inside the museum is the "Christchurch Street" display, a replica of a Victorian Street complete with authentic shops crammed full of fantastic period pieces. Interesting and fun to look at, and be gratful how much easier life is today than it was then.

We had a glass of wine at the Art Gallery, which is a seriesof crescent shaped buildings of variousheights and curvatures, all in clear glass. Stunning. There was a small outdoor patio where we sat in the reflection of the glass and sipped our wine, resting our aching feet and watching people go by. It was brilliant.

Then on to wander through more of the downtown and to the huge Cathedral Square dominated, naturally, by the cathedral. There's an enormous sculptureof what looks like an ice cream cone. It's silver metal on the outside and blue inside, carved into flowers so you can see it. I think your ice cream would leak.

We strolled through the Botanic Gardens. Christchurt's reputation as the Garden City is obvious The large majestic trees and sweeping lawns provide a perfect backdrop to colourfl seasonal flowers. In fact, the weeping willows along theAvon River come from cuttings taken in 1848 from Napoleon's grave on St. Helen's Island.

The river with its willow fronds gracefully sweeping the water looked so lovely we hired a punter to take us on a little tour. Ducks glided around us on the crystalline water. Here, at least, they didn't have to run over the water in a panic to escape the jet boat bearing down on them at 85 kph like they had to in Queenstown.

We asked our boatman what was the most stupid question he was ever asked. "Does this river go in a circle?" was his immediate reply.

It was a gorgeous sunny day, and lunch was on the patio of a charming old stone cottage where we had our favourite meal: the antipasta platter, called a tapas platter here. Alas, this one came with a whack of calamari so Hans didn't get his fair share of the other foods cause he had to eat all the squid.

Now, the trip's nearly over. We had mostly perfect weather, just a bit of rain and that mostly when we were in the car.

Got a few mozzie bites, but hey, they're better than frostbite!

Odds and Sods

Middlemarch:
This is a town west of Dunedin and Christchurch and about halfway between them. For the last few years at East time, the unmarried farmers of Middlemarch (coincidentally roughly the middle of March this year) host a parade of single women who stream into town by the trainload looking for romance and possibly a husband.

Apparently, there's a dearth of women in Middlemarch. But the farmers there like their lifestyle and the area and so began advertising to have the women come to them. And they have.

One young American woman who had been extolling the virtues of NZ men as being "manly men" when compared to their American counterparts was given a return ticket by her friends. Guess they didn't have high hopes for her. She said that the NZ men were everything she hoped for and that she, along with many other single women, had a fabulous time. But she's coming home as single as she left.

Oamara:
We drove through this town, whose main street is beautifully lined with huge trees. There's a small cross in front of each tree. I couldn't read the inscriptions, but I'm guessing that each tree was planted long ago as a memorial to a lost loved one.

Leggy Pines:
These pines have baffled us since we arrived. The bottom half of the tree is a straight trunk, and the actual pine branches begin high up, a good 10 - 12' above the ground.
So what are they?
A new species of leggy pines?
Do farmers lop off the low branches to prevent their sheep from velcroing themselves to them?
No idea.

NZ has interesting highway billboards:
"The faster you go, the bigger the mess", followed shortly by:
"No doctor, no hostpial, one cemetery."

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Ah, Dunedin

I don't know how it's possible, but every place we visit in NZ is prettier than the last. Dunedin is now the jewel in the crown. We just love it here!

It's picture postcard beautiful, with towering hills, the salty tang of the ocean air, and friendly people like everywhere in NZ.

Walter and Jennifer, our friends in Dunedin whom we met 1 1/2 years ago in Beijing, took us on a tour of the city.

We saw Baldwin Street which only in recent years was discovered to be the steepest street in the world. It has a gut busting 26.6% gradient. By no coincidence, this is also the name given to the annual race from bottom top. We didn't even attempt to drive up it. I was afraid the car would summersault backwards.

Then on to a a tour of the Otago University campus. It is the premiere university in NZ for medicine and dentistry and a degree from here is respected throughout the world.

We wandered past the train station, built from local cream and grey rock that looks a little like our sandstone (only different colour). The station recently underwent an exterior cleaning from 150 years of accumulated dirt and today, its splendid architectural detail is clearly visible. It's no longer used as a passenger train station. Instead, today there was a wedding reception happening inside.

We drove between the pounding ocean surf on one side and a velvety green golf course on the other, then watched a lone player as he skipped his ball over a water hazard and landed it on the green. Cool shot!

Walter drove us to the hills for a top notch, literally, view of Dunedin. Even under a grey sky the ocean looked appealing, breaking around a small rocky knoll not far offshore.

Dunedin is a city of about 100,000, maybe a tad more, but gives the appearance of being much larger because it sprawls over the hills. It's incredibly beautiful and so far, this is my favourite place but evidently Gerladine, on the way to Christchurch, is even lovlier. But Geraldine will have to wait for our next trip.

On our return, Walter and Hans finished off the good scotch, and then tasted one called, improbably, Glen Campbell.

Good Friday Jazz!

Queenstown was rockin' Friday night with hordes of tourists who came for the Easter weekend. After dinner, Hans and I went to a pub which featured a jazz quartet. The singer was a lady, those of you who know me will remember how little I know about jazz. But Hans said she was very good.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Queenstown Lunch and Busker

This was the drizzly day previously referred to, and when it came down a little harder, we sought refuge in a little covered balcony restaurant. It was perfect.

I had wine, Hans had dark beer, and we ordered what has become a favourite lunch in New Zealand: the antipasta platter. And best of all, there was a lone guitarist below us strumming his guitar and singing original songs. His voice was terrific.

So Alethea, because we're thinking of you and how you always tip the street musicians, Hans went downstairs to give some money and tell him how much we were enjoying his music.

Jet boat in Queenstown

It's too bad Good Friday was a drizzly day. Queenstown is a real jewel, but a drizzly backdrop doesn't set it off to advantage. It's not quite like Banff since Queenstown bustles with a myriad of activities. If there's anything you want to do, you can probably do it here.

We watched paragliders drift down from the top of Skyline, where we ate last night and watched the Maoria performance. By the way, that 10 minute float down in a parachute will set you back $185. You can do lots of stuff, but you'll pay dearly for it.

One couple at our B & B took a white-water rafting trip.

We splurged on the jet boat trip, which cost $85 each but it was an hour long and well worth every dollar. We left ont he 3:00 o'clock boat since the drizzle had stopped for about an hour and the clouds were lifting so it looked promising. Despite this, we did bundle up in our rain jackets and that was a good thing since the jet boat sped along at 60 kph. With the life jackets over our windbreakers, we were comfy if not warm. The handrails are heated, and I was grateful for that.

As we took off, Hans had a face-splitting grin. This grin remained fixed for the entire hour, except for the times when he whooped out loud.

Our driver instructed us in the beginning that when he did a twirly thing with his arm, it meant he was going to do a doughnut with the boat. That means spinning 360 degrees going near full throttle. The boat kicks up a hell of a rooster tail! Incredibly, we didn't get drenched once when he did it, just a few sprinkles. And he did it many, many times. On the way back, the boat hit 85 kph and the doughnuts were correspondingly spectactular.

The Kawarau River is a braided river. This means that there are many areas where there are visible sand and gravel shoals which are only submerged during flood. The rest of the time the river finds little pathways here and there, giving it a braided appearance. Since the jet boat only needs 4" of water to operate, it's perfect for this type of river.

He did say not to worry if we heard gravel scraping the bottom. "Don't worry, it's no big deal. It's not my boat".

We came back chilled but smiling and happy.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Gondola and Bungy Jumping

No, we didn't bungy jump. But we did take a gondola ride to the top of the mountain here in Queenstown and just below the viewpoint we saw a couple of guys throw themselves off the platform yelling like banshees, arms and legs akimbo.

It looked like fun.

But I'm not going to do it.

We went up there because at the top, there's also a Kiwi Experience which is a Maoria performance followed but a sumptuous buffet. Even though we saw the best of this type of show in Rotorua, the Maori performances epitomize New Zealand to me and I was eager to see it again. They didn't disappoint.

This time they couldn't drive us to a village in the waka (means canoe, but in reality they take you by bus) we saw them perform indoors on a stage. Once again we were lucky and got front row seats. That might have been a tad close since we could see them sweat. Literally.

There are no fat Haka men.

The dancing and singing is very vigorous and the harmonies are really beautiful. It's not exactly dinner music, but brace yourselves, you'll get to hear it when you're next at our place.

The buffet was to die for.

The cold table had platters of green lipped mussels, clams on the half shell, and heaping bowls of peel (and behead) your own shrimp. We dug in.

When we waddled to the hot table, they had more mussels! And venison curry, and lamb. Pavlova was my favourite dessert. (I've even seen baked Pavlova shells in the supermarkets here. It was invented years ago in Australia after the renowned ballerina Pavolva. They wanted to honour her with a dessert that was as light as she was. I think they succeeded.)

It was a great evening and when we descended in the gondola, the city lights were spread out beneath us like an upside down version of the sky. Apppropriate, since we're down under.

Wanaka (pronounced like Wanna)

This is a charming town. Only 4000 people, but it is to Queenstown whan Canmore is to Banff. Only Wanaka is about 45 minutes away.

It sits in the heart of ski country with 2 nearby hills, and it also sits on a huge, and I mean HUGE lake. I think it's about 45 km long. So it also has lots of summer sports and tourism.

We really liked it here, and on the spur of the moment, had a realtor take us around a bit. Housing is shockingly expensive considering there are no basements, no heavy insulation, no central heating, etc. However, it was fun to check around though we didn't buy anything, so don't book your flights to NZ yet!

Wanaka and Queenstown (previously written but now in the ether somewhere)

God, I love vacations.

While there's always lots to see and do, I also enjoy the downtime like yesterday morning. Hans left to find a golf game at 7:00, his usual time when we're on vacation. This means he gets a game in and he's back usually by the time I'm finishing brekkie.

Anyway, after he left I made coffee, took my book and settled into the jetted tub. It was great. The only thing better would have been a waterproof laptop.

We really got lucky with our motel room that night. When we left Greymouth, we had intended to just go to the Fox Glacier (just past Franz Josef). It wasn't very far and we had originally hoped to get to Haast, but were told there was nothing there. However, it was so early when we finished touring the Fox Glacier that we cancelled out booking and pressed on.

We noticed on earlier drives that there are many B & Bs everywhere, and of course all of them don't advertise on the 'net, so we were confident we'd find something. As it turned out, there really wasn't much in Haast, but Wanaka was just an hour further and it was still early.

Along the coastal drive, we passed through many sleep towns. Some have neatly kept houses, but we saw no people. It was eerie - very Stephen King.

So, we get to Wanaka and stopped at the first motel to check if they had any rooms with tubs instead of just showers. They did - and it was a suite with a jetted tub. So I got to enjoy bubble baths and Hans got his lowest ever golf score - 76! If he were here, he'd make me tell you that it was a par 70 so really, it should count like a 78, but that's still damn good!!

Easter Bunny Hunt

In a strange twist on the traditional Easter egg hunt, Alexandria in NZ has an Easter bunny hunt. The aim is to shoot as many rabbits and other pests as possible. It sounds awful, but the rabbits, stoats (like a weasel) and possums are serious pests here and have endangered many of the native fauna and flora. Still, it seems cruel to do it over Easter.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Comments anyone?

I see there have been 785 visits to our blog.

So if you've taken a peek, scroll down a bit to where the "Comment" sign appears. Click on it. Leave a comment. Please!

Franz Josef Glacier

It's odd to walk through groves of palm trees on our way to see the glacier.

This glacier isn't as wide as Athabasca nor does it have a pool of water in front of it catching all the melt, but it does have a fairly fast-running stream flowing over the moraine. Warning signs tell us not to take the unimpressive stream for granted as it can, without warning, surge and take us along with it.

None of that happened to us while we were there, though less than 2 weeks ago a tourist who was on a guided tour of the glacier fell into a crevasse and was fatally injured. We didn't go onto the glacier itself, having done that at Athabasca. Besides which, the usual winter topography in our area is not un-glacier-like.

Scenery as we left Greymouth for the glacier was gorgeous, especially around the coast. We passed many sleepy towns along the way, many of which had very neatly kept houses. Oddly, we saw no people. Anywhere. It was very Stephen King like.

Odd things we saw:

A bird, riding on the back of a sheep.
Many sheep, generally doing sheepish things.

Road and Rail trestle bridge. Twice today we crossed a river on an active railroad trestle bridge (I think I'm repeating myself here!)

And to the tune of "Blood on the Saddle"

There was blood on our tires, and
blood ont he ground
from the deada, mushed stoats
That were spread all around.

Stoats are bad. So are possums. They've been introduced here and have multiplied so quickly that they are a threat to native birds and in particular, Kiwis, which are endangered. The stoat belongs to the weasel family and it's apparently a voracious killer despite its small size.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Pancake Rocks and Blowhole

These formations are utterly awesome.

They were formed about 35 million years ago by marine organisms when this area was under water. Scientists to this day don't know how they came to be stacked like pancakes, but they are an amazing site.

The blowholes surge when the force of the tide pushes the water up through them but since it wasn't high tide, we didn't get the full spectacular effect. Still, the whole area is amazing to see.

We also got a peek at one of the rare, wingless birds called.... I don't know. It looks like a kiwi but it isn't. We have pictures though.

Oh, seals and dolphins! They were swimming just off the pancake rocks, jumping and diving. It was great.

We're on our way to the glaciers this afternoon.

Hokitika

We're writing from Hokitika where a favourite seasonal pastime is the annual Wildfoods Festival.

Established in 1990 the festival attracts thousands of visitors who are captivated by the idea of enjoying diverse local fare such as bull semen and grubs. Luckily, we missed it.

On our way here this morning from Greymouth, we again crossed a Road and Rail bridge. These trestle railway bridges are in actual use by the train, and signs instruct us to "Give Way". As if we wouldn't. At least the ties have been covered by asphalt so you're not peering through the cracks at the surging waters below. I see on the map that there's another one coming up south of here. I can't wait.

Yesterday at our B & B, while Hans got in a quick game of golf in the afternoon, I sat on the deck which overlooks the ocean. So beautiful! Then Mary's (the B & B hostess) friend came by with her 6 week old Maltese/Chihuahua puppy. I looked after the puppy while the ladies plotted their upcoming trip to Fiji, and it was delightful to play with such a tiny pup. I don't want one, but I enjoyed it for an hour.

Sand Flies

We can't say we weren't warned!

We stopped at Lake Rotoiti to take some pictures and since Hans was just going to step out of the car and snap a few shots, he didn't spray. Mistake.

Not long after we took off, I saw a teensy sand fly in the car and squished it. It was full of blood and Hans was the first victim.

Later, when we wanted to stop for lunch at a picnic site by Buller's Gorge, we first liberally sprayed ourselves, in the car, before exiting. So now the car stank of DEET and we were dodging sandflies who were actively looking for that one spot that didn't have repellent on it. My elbow was such a spot. I finished lunch in the car, windows up, hot as a sauna and smelling of repellent. Yuck. We had to drive with the windows open for awhile to escape the fumes but at least at speed, the wicked sandflies can't get in.

Lunch at Highfield

We met Ray and Margaret at Highfield Towers for lunch.

The brick colour of Highfield is beautiful against the green grape vines that take your eye to the top of the hill on which it rests. It looks like it was transplanted here directly from Tuscany.

We ordered lunch and then tasted their wines. The Sauvignon Blanc was exquisite, and we learned that it's their flagship wine. 80% of their production is Sauv Blanc and 75% of that gets exported. Their most recent vintage, which we tasted, has won 5 gold medals.

The Sauv Blancs here in NZ have all been very aromatic and we learned that in many wineries, including Highfield, This is due to the addition of "sweet reserve", a topping up of the bottle with unfermented juice. It creates a heady bouquet which sometimes promises more than it delivers, especially if the wine is a bit light in acid.

My comments in the guest books at the wineries went something like this:

The wines were fragrant
I wanted to drink them all.
Vive Sauvignon Blanc.

Full House

Ray and Margaret had a full house Monday night. Oliver, the son of a friend from Sweden, arrived to spend some time helping them in their fig orchard. He arrived with 3 other Swedish girls, to everyone's delight, and we had a pleasant evening together.

Oliver tells us that you can buy a bus ticket for travelling around NZ forf about $600. It's a "hop on, hop off" system and he picked his up from another traveller who needed the money and so got it for only $200. The busses take you to local hostels and everywhere, we see signs welcoming backpackers. If the hostel is full, they'll phone the next nearest hostel and if there's space, they'll drive you there at no charge.

We did a few wineries late Monday morning after Hans got back from golfing (81) and the first place was St. Clair where some of the bottles were dressed up as Monks. I've seen tuxedos, but these were the first hooded monk bottles I've seen.

Margaret knows some of the local vintners and consequently, we were warmly welcomed by Helen at Hunters who gave us many generous tastings. Then we visited her husband Clarry Meane, who is the artist in residence at Hunters. He keeps his studio there with some of his gorgeous paintings. Many are done in a pointilism style reminiscent of the French Impressionist Monet. He makes a good living as an artist (his paintings sell in the four figures) which immediately puts him into a very select group of artists.

Our last tasting was at Framinghams and their claim to fame, other than delicious wines, was the hand-painted sink in the ladies' loo featuring two lovelies au naturel. We were invited to tour their wine library downstairs and noted that all their wines since 2003 use screw caps instead of corks. In fact, that's the trend down here, and it's a much better way of preserving the integrity of the wine.

But if a wine still goes off when it's capped instead of corked, does that mean it's screwed?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Coma

Here we are on the road to Nelson.

Once again, Hans is whipping the steering wheel back and forth as fast as he can, maintaining a breakneck speed of 40 kph on the twisted road. Each curve recommends a max 45 kph, some as slow as 35 kph. It pluges down precipitously on my side.

I know Hans would love to do this road in his sports car.

Vern, you would love to do this road on your motorbike.

And I would love to do this road in a coma.

Lunch at Waimea Estates - Nelson


Who else do you know who drives upwards of 100 kms for lunch?

After Hans' early morning golf game, we headed to Nelson on the coast. Got there at lunch time and the hunt was on. Which of the many wineries serving lunch should we pick?

In the end, our choice was very serendipidous.

We chose Waimea Estates primarily because it was the closest to Nelson and Hans was hungry. As we sidled up to the bar to taste which wine we were going to have with lunch (I know, it's backward, but it's more fun this way!)a flautist was getting ready to play. He played all the poignant songs we knew - Music of the Night, Time to Remember, Vincent (better knowns as Starry Starry Night).

I don't often compliment musicians, but his music was so sweet it choked me up. I was grateful for my sunglasses. Finally, I spoke to him. The conversation went something like this:

"You play beautifully."

"Thank you. I'll play a request if you tell me where you're from."

"Canada."

"I knew that." (Hans was wearing a Canadian flag pin). "From where?"

"Red Deer, Alberta."

"I'm from Parksville."

"Parksville! My cousin lives there. Do you remember a roadside stand called Cormi's, where they sell fresh produce?"

"I know them. Anna and Brian. I've known them for years. My daughter is best friends with Anna's daughter, Maya."

"No. Anna's my cousin!"

And that's the magic of travel. From small town Parksville, B.C. to small town Nelson, New Zealand, two people meet who have a connection through a third person. I just love it.

"Where's home now?" Hans asked him.

"Here" he said, touching his heart.

In his CD "Portrait", he says, "If you have enjoyed this music, please feel freet o copy and share it with others. I only ask that this be done with an open and loving heart."

So Alethea, we will certainly share his CDs with you and for the rest of you, you can expect to hear them when you come over to our place because we both so enjoyed Don MacGregor's flute playing that we bought all 6 of his CDs. He doesn't have a website yet, but if you write to him at ddoingwell@hotmail.com, maybe he'll set one up with a little of his music. It is really beautiful.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Garden Paradise

The Gauden-Ing garden is, in a word, spectacular.

It takes better words than I have to do it justice. There are orange and grapefruit trees and a rose arbour cover with climbing roses, the last of which are still blooming and swaying in the breeze as I look out the window. The arbour is flanked by a dense show of iris leaves. Beyond this is anothe rose garden,w chiI can just see through the trees.

Two graceful green herons mark the spot where the creek flows.

Elsewhere I know there are upwards of 250 fig trees which produce in the neighbourhood of 600 kilos of fruit that they ship across New Zealand and even to the U.S. As a side, Margaret and some friends also produce a high quality fig and ginger jam which is sold in exclusive boutiques.

Later this morning I'm going to wander through the garden and then sit and enjoy it while I wait for Hans to come back from golfing. We're off to Nelson this afternoon to do some wine tasting.

Ray is at a PET session this weekend as he's the incoming President for his club.

The Friendliest People!

We stopped at a nearby golf course on our way home from the Mussel Festival so that Hans could arrange a game for himself on Sunday.

No sooner had we stepped out of the car than Hans was approached by a fellow who just said hi, welcome, and chatted a bit. Hans indicated he was looking for a game, so he directed us to the clubhouse. On our way, a lady stopped and talked with us, invited Hans to join their tournament the next day which started at 12:00. We looked at the site map. Another fellow invited us in to have a beer, which we did. At the bar he introduced Hans to the President of the club, who showed me where the Ladies room was and indicated there was food available and we should help ourselves. Since we were having dinner with Ray and Margaret, we declined the food but enjoyed our beer and wine. Throughout, if we were alone for more than 10 seconds, someone came up to talk to us and we had the President to chat to at our table.

Really, they were the friendliest group of people we have ever met.

We stopped at a grocery store on the way home to pick up some shaving cream and at the checkout, the clerk either noticed our Canadian pins or our accent. Immediately, she asked how we liked it here and were we staying in Blenheim? "Yes", we replied. "Well, there's a great place to eat" she said, naming it, and there's a band and we could just sit there and enjoy the evening, listening to music. She should have been working for the Tourist Bureau.

As we left the store, we jokingly said that the folks around here must have all attended a "be friendly and welcoming" workshop because to a person, they have all been incredibly charming.

Blenheim and Havelock Mussel Festival

The ferry crossing was uneventful, but speedy. The closer we got to Picton, the better the weather looked. Very promising.

We dropped our bags off at Margaret's in Blenheim, and during a welcoming cup of coffee she showed us what to see in the area. It just so happened that today, Saturday, was the first annual Mussel Festival in nearby Havelock so off we went.

The paper said they were expecting 2000 - 5000 people and when we got there, it certainly looked like the first 2000 had arrived before us. Havelock isn't that big, but it's on the ocean and those people who couldn't get on-street parking were directed to the marina, a good walk away.

The first kiosk we went to in search of mussels were sold out. Looking at the huge crowd, we could believe it. But then I spied someone eating a plateful and he directed us to another kiosk. It was only $3 for a plate of 5 and your choice of sauces. These are huge mussels by the way. Each one is a good 4" long. We walked on and saw other people eating huge tupperware containers of mussels. This time we were directed to a different area and while we stood in line, decided we'd just split a container but in the end, since they were only $4, we each had one. There were about 15-20 mussels in a herbed wine sauce in each. What a feast!

You could buy wine ( this is a very civilized country!) so we had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with our mussels while we sat on the grass.

Entertainment was pretty good, with an escape artist getting himself loose from a straightjacket, a pretty decent band singing popular songs, some men and women doing latin dancing, and an old WWII plane flying overhead leaving colourful contrails. Lots of arts and crafts too and we picked up some small gifts.

Havelock, Picton, Blenheim and another point make a rectangle and since we had already driven 3 legs of it, we decided to take the scenic route back. It was breathtakingly beautful.

The "straight" road (tongue firmly in cheek) from Havelock to Picton isn't that far, maybe 35 Km. It took an hour. The sign that made me laugh out loud on this drive was a speed sign. It said 100 kph. I looked over and saw Hans was doing a brisk 40, and let me assure you that this was dangerously fast. There was one section where he had no sooner turned the wheel to the left than he had to whip it to the right and back to the left and right again, I think 6 times in succession. I'm going to need hemmorhoid cream when I get back.

The road runs along the ocean and the views are stunning. And far, far below us. We could see little white dots of sailboats in the distance. There aren't many places to stop and take pictures, but we did find a couple of spots. Even so, photos don't do this kind of scenery justice.

Parliament Buildings like Tahitian Dancers

The 4 of us took a drive to the solitary turbine, high on a hill, but for a change, there wasn't enough wind to power it. Low lying fog obscured the view of the city and also cancelled all flights in and out of Wellington since lasat night.

Apparently, fog often hampers air travel. Last month the airport was closed for 5 consecutive days. The usual high winds for which Wellington is noted were quiet that week and failed to blow away the fog.

We took a guided tour of the parliament buildings and library which have been earthquake proofed with a complex systm of 417 base isolators. These isolators separate the building agove from its newly reinforced foundation. Each base isolator allows movement up to 30 cm in any horizontal direction. Imagine the building to be a Tahitian dancer. The hips and feet move rapidly but the shoulders remain steady. So it is with the parliament building.

The system of base isolators was developed by New Zealand engineers and isnow used worldwide in eathquake zones.

Wallace and Margot dropped us off at the Te Pape museum where Hans and I spent the rest of the afternoon. The museum's focus is natural sciences, and we spent a lot of time learning about the forces that created New Zealand's volcanoes and which continue to make their presence felt through earthquakes.

There was so much to see and interact with that our legs were weary when we called it a day. You really need 2-3 days to look at everything. We ended up by watching a delightful 12 minute show called Golden Days. You sit on one of several old chairs, like a torn and tatty armchair, plastic diner chairs, etc. In front of you is a collection of antiques and junk. A total mish-mash of stuff that seem to bear no relation to each other. Behind this is a screen and you appear to be looking out the shop window at the cars and people going by. The owner, and older barrel shaped man with tiny wire-rim glasses pulls down the security grill with his cane and once he's gone, the shop comes alive.

As videos of old newsreels and photographs appear on screen, the photo album in the shop is highlighted and pages flip. When New Zealand is described as a young country, the cradle in the shop lights up and rocks. Little toy soldiers march across the table when they show clips from the war. It's a delightful, interactive video blending old and new, real and imaginary.

Finally, the day was over and we dined at the Eden, a charming restaurant poised over the bay. Waves lap gently on 3 sides of the dining room and we immersed ourselves in an exquisitely presented meal. I had rack of lamb, something I always order if it's on the menu. It looked very elegant with its long, spindly bones arching over the plate.

I know I talk a lot about food. Sorry!!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Wellington

What a spectactular city!

Wallace and Margot took us on a night tour of the city and high up Mt. Victoria. The view from the top was more beautiful than Hong Kong at night, and that was pretty special.

Wellington at night shimmers, with a necklace of amber pearls ringing her harbour. From the peak of Mt. Victoria, the harbour creates an almost complete circle. It looks stunning. The sky was virtually clear, but alas, the southern cross was hidden by some cloud. There's still time!

Wallace and Margot welcomed us with a pre-dinner drink and bread and dip, which we enjoyed in their private garden. It is completely sheltered from their neighbours by mature trees and abundant flowers and shrubs fill in the rest. There's even a little hidey-hole when you follow a secret path where the 2 grandchildren enjoy their tea.

Wellington is windy, so it's not humid here. The roses are still blooming because we're just coming to the end of their summer, and as I write, I see fat bumblebees humming in the flowrwing shrubs outside.

Hans is golfing with some friends of Wallace's this morning, and Margot and I will be off shortly to the Botanical Gardens. Tonight, some Rotary friends of theirs will join us for dinner.

It's going to be another great day!

Paua Shell Factory

Toured a paua shell factory today and picked up a few pieces. I love the glittering blues/ greens/ lilacs that shimmer in the shell.

Also tasted a few more wines. They are very generous here. When we walked into the first winery in Martinborough (between Napier and Wellington, where there are about 30 wineries)she had an array of about10 bottles on the counter. I jokingly asked, "Can we taste all of these". "Sure!" came the reply. No charge and generous tastings. We actually had to exercise restraint!

Wines are delicious here. Crisp, herbaceous Sauvignon Blancs and some amazing Rieslings. I tasted 4 Pinot Noirs yesterday, all of which had a bouquet of... sauerkraut. The first one also tasted awful, but the others were surprisingly good despite the off-putting aroma.

I'll take the Low Road

You take the high road and I'll take the low road... we actually saw this on our drive today. A section of the road swung low and almost adjacent to it on the right was a section of elevated road, perhaps 1/2 kilometre long.

Apparently, during rare sudden rainstorms the low road gets swamped, and the high road is your other option.

The Last Resort

This is the name of a motel just at the outskirts of Woodville.

Napier - Art Deco

Napier is an Art Deco city.

After the earthquake of 1931 much of it was completely rebuilt and since art deco was the style of the times, that's what they used. Now they have the largest selection of art deco buildings in the world, and they are gorgeous.

We took a walk through the centre of town which features most of them and marvelled at their beauty - lovely pastel colours, artful stained glass and detailed tile work. There's a pretty pedestrian mall in the centre of town where we sat and ate an ice cream, watching all the people go by one their busy business while we enjoyed leisure time.

All the hills are brown

All the hills are brown and the skies are grey.

Leaving Napier this morning at 9:30, we headed into a dry area. The locals are crying for rain, and the grey skies look promising.

Heading further south we did encounter rain. I really believe each little city is sad when we leave and happy when we arrive at the next place, because the rain mysteriously stops.

This is very hilly country, dotted with sheep and cattle. The hills are rippled horizontally from eons of sheep walking back and forth, creating skinny little hoof paths. It gives each hill the appearance of extreme age, as if it's wearing a skin that is too heavy, sagging in wrinkles and puddles at the ground.

We've seen some odd cattle, bisected in the middle by a wide saddle of white. The front third is all black, the middle is a thick which band of white, and the hindquarters are also all black.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Mission Winery Lunch

We did some wine tasting late this morning and bought a bottle of champagne to toast Hans' continued downward trend in golf. His scores have been: 95, 93, 90, 87, 84, 81 and 79 this morning! Tell everyone!!

Then off to a fabulous lunch at the spectaclar Mission Winery. We tasted wines first in order to decide what to have with lunch, and the Riesling was a unanimous favourite.

We shared a bowl of crayfish bisque after which I had snapper with a fresh herb and nut crust while Hans ate veal saltimbacco. We ate al fresco with crisp white linen napkins on pretty granite tables overlooking the vinyard far below us. It was perfect, until the mist rolled in and then the rain. Luckily, lunch was over by then.

We were planning to do the Art Deco walk this afternoon as Napier was rebuilt in the Art Deco style following their devastating earthquake in 1931. 250 people were killed, but the quake had a good side. It lifted the sea bottome 8' and created a new area on which to build, which is where the present city of Napier stands. If the rain lets up long enough this afternoon, we'll do the walk on our own. This has been the first rain to catch us when we're not in the car, so we're certainly not complaining.

Temperatures have been in the low to mid 20's and the nights are crisply cool.

Best Western Motels

All BEst Westerns so far have been great, with little kitchen units. Not that we need the mikes, but it's nice to have a fridge to chill our wine AND wine glasses. We remembered to bring a corkscrew, but would have had to swill our champagnes from the bottle if we hadn't found wine glasses in each room.

We finally got to a Rotary meeting last night after being shut out twice in Rotorua. Turns out there were 2 other Canadians there as well, from Thompson Manitoba. There was also a guest from England who, incredibly, has been to Red Deer! And one of the older Rotarians there told us he had spent some time in Red Deer during the war, and has many fond memories of the place.

Who knew Red Deer had been visited by so many folks from Down Under?

Roller Coaster Roads

Monday morning we left Gisborne, heading south for Napier. It was partly a coastal drive, and partly a wild roller coaster ride over incredibly steep hills and through gorgeous canyons. Not that I enjoyed it, as my hemmorhoids will testify. There was much clenching of the sphincter muscles as we soared up and down, no shoulder, inches from the towering cliff on the passenger side (thank God, thank God, thank God!) and weak, battered railings on the driver's side. Many had obviously been tested by previous drivers.

This road was not for the faint of heart.

Hans already knows I just shut my eyes when the roads get scary so that I don't startle him with involuntary gasps and shrill cries. So I spent much of yesterday in the dark, leaving my stomach to catch up after every bend.

Ironically, the roads are windy and curvy all the time. Then, for no discernible reason, they post a sign warning that the upcoming 5 Km will be very windy and curvy. Oh my.

We also encountered a first-ever road experience.

We were approaching a bridge over a canyon, behind several other cars. It's a single lane bridge and we had a red light. It went on and on and on. I should have timed it but it was a good 5minutes, no kidding. Longest light I've ever been at. But that wasn't the first-ever experience. When we finally got the green (after several cars had emptied while drivers urgently checked to see what the holdup was), we inched ahead to discover that we were now driving over an old railway bridge, on top of the railroad tracks. The churning river was far below us. I closed my eyes again.

At least we haven't encountered any sheep on the roads here, like in Scotland.

Finally, after numerous, tight hairpin curves, we actually drove a stretch of road that was straight for at least 500 metres.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Best Lunch Ever!

If yeterday's lunch was worthy to write about, I should compose a symphony to today's.

We went back to the Gisborne Winery and ordered the antipasta platter. While it was being prepared, we tasted EIGHT wines for $5 each and the servings were very generous. None of this skimpy pouring! And then we picked a bottle to go with lunch. Life is good. And lunch is better.

I have to detail what was on the platter: two crisply roasted salmon kabobs, 2 hue mussels as 4 small marinate mussels, 4 sundried tomatoes, 1 small crayfish, several fish pieces, 4 sauces of pesto, soya honey, sundried tomatoes and a mayo/mustard blend. Then a huge wedge of blue cheese (a favourite of ours), brie, edam, gouda and some other kind, a bunch of black olives, pickled onions, 2 multigrain buttered toasts, some rice crackers, a length of beef tenderloin and a bottle of gewurtz. What a feast! And what a civilized lunch.

Now, I'm caught up. We're off to the beach to enjoy some sun, R & R and a good book.

Augusta, here I come!

Hans has now played 5 games: 95, 93, 90 87 and 84. Should be ready for Augusta in a week or so.

Gisborne Lunches

We arrived in Gisborne on Saturday March 11 and were directe to "The Works", a restaurant in an old freezing plant. For $10 each, we were given a tasting of 5 wines accompanied by a cheese and fruit platter.

We sat on the patio, cheese arrayed before us with succulent grapes and crackrs, and a lovely display of 10 glasses of wine to savour as we tasted the various cheeses. It was the best lunch.

After a leisurely walk down the main street of Gisborne, accompanied by towering ice-cream cones, we walked on the beach. Then on to a wine tasting is Gisborne Winery where we were treated to a delicious Gewurtz for $29, one of which we took back to the motel with us. It's too good to drink, so we may bring it back to Canada!

In the evening I "felt the earth, move, under my feet" as we stood ankle deep in the pounding surf, letting it tug the beach from between our toes.

It was a crisply cool evening with a clear sky but we didn't check for the Southern Cross. Maybe tonight.

Kia Ora

If you should ask me what is the greatest thing in the world, the answer would be: It is people, it is people, it is people.

Friday evening we toured Tamaki Maori Village, which is the South Pacific's gateway to the world of ancient Maori warriors. We were taken on a journey back in time to a pre-European lifestyle experience of customs and traditions while ambling down the pathways of a rediscovered village as it came alive to the sound and activities of tribal songs, dances, myths, legends and spiritual stories.

First, the bus picked us up at the Best Western, and after the rest of the gang was picked up, we were taken to their head office to pay. Not a problem. It was worth every $.

On the bus ride to the Maori village we were given a sheet breaking down the evening's events, as well as a lesson in protocol. Much of the ceremony is sacred and they wanted to ensure our cooperation in maintaining appropriate decorum. Again, not a problem. Out of respect for their culture, they asked us not to laugh or poke fun at their ceremony. I found the ceremony moving. It choked me up and even now as I write, I find tears welling in my eyes. There is no way would it have occurred to me to mock them.

As we approached the "Marae", a welcoming place, we were reminded to remain motionless and respectful. Our bus driver had selected a man from the UK to be our "chief", and he was instructed to wait at the marae until approached by a warrior from the welcoming tribe. We were not allowed to enter the tribal village until the formal welcome had been performed. The welcoming warrior (I know, it sounds like an oxymoron) went through his routine, which included intimidating getures and displays. When our *chief* didn't back down, a peace offering of a fern was placed before him on the ground. When he accepted this offering, we were permitted to enter the village behind him and the welcoming warrior.

We entered a cedar forest where there were many huts behind blazing fires keeping out the chill of the evening. At each hut a particular activity was being demonstrated: poi twirling (leather-like balls at the end of long strings - very complicated) hand games (like rock, paper scissors, to strengthen wrists and sharpen reflexes for battle), weaponry displays (mock fighting with spears and sticks to hone speed and strengthen the forearms), and songs. All activities come from an era gone by and have been restored by the young Maori people of today.

From the village we entered the meeting house, described in an earlier post from the museum in Auckalnd. The building represents an ancestor from their past: the central roof beam being the spine, and the perpendicular braces supporting the roof are the ribs of the ancestor. In past times, women were not permitted to be seated in the front row. This was beause if fighting were to occur between the home people and the visitors, the men would be the protectors (just as we would like them to be). After the welcoming speeches, the visiting "chief" and the welcomign chief touch noses 2 times and mingle their breaths (hmmm), which seals the bond of friendship between the different cultures.

Then came the entertainment, which was amazing.

There were songs - beautifully harmonized by the men and women - and dances, all of which tell the stories of a proud race. I loved it when the men danced and later performed the Haka. It's supposed to intimidate the opposing tribe but I found it sensual and soul stirring. If the opposing tribe were gay, they would have fallen happily into the arms of the warriors!!

Now it was time for dinner - the traditional Hangi, whih has been under the earth on hot rocks for three to four hours ( and if the food isn't completey cooked, you can nuke it for 2 minutes in the mike, says our guide). This is the age old traditional cooking method of the Maori. The rocks are heated to a white hot state with some native hard timber. They are then put into a 1 metre deep by 1 metre wide pit dug in the earth. Baskets of meat are put directly on the hot hstones, then the vegetable baskets and then the pudding (like flat chocolate cake) basket on top of that. A wet cloth is placed over the food followed by wet hessian. Earth is then piled quickly over everything to keep the heat inside the earth oven.

A senior Maori woman blessed the food with a "Karakia" (prayer) in Maori.

The food consisted of fish, chicken and lamb, all succulently cooked in the earthen oven. Kumara (sweet potato), carrots and potato were the vegetables. The pudding was accompanied by a custard sauce and there was also a crisply cool fruit salad. Wines were available, which meant this was not really a sacred eating place as the ancient Maoris did not favour alcohol.

At the end of the evening, the closing ceremony consisted of the Maoris and serving staff singing a beautifully harmonious song accompanied by graceful hand and arm movements. I don't know what the fluttering hands mean, but it was lovely to see. Then we were invited to sing along in English to "Now is the hour, when we must say goodbye". Luckily, I get choked up at these songs and so spared the rest of the group my off-key and croaky voice, but I enjoyed it tremendously.

The men performed a final Haka to send us on our way.

In the bus on the way home, our driver, a superb singer, led us in songs representing our various countries: Take me out to the ball game; Rule Brittania; some Welsh song; When Irish Eyes are Smiling; and more that I can't remember. I was racking my brain for something Canadian, but couldn't think of anything and luckily, he didn't ask. So when I come back to New Zealand, what Canadian song can I offer?

This was by far the best evening. I know it's a show put on for us tourists but still, it was so moving and touched all the senses - and some I didn't know I had.

Kia Or

Friday, March 11, 2005

Rainbow Springs and Kiwi Encounter

Rainbow Springs is right across the street from our motel and it came highly recommended. Turns out, the recommendation was spot on.

The RS aviaries are home to many of New Zealand's nativr birds. The "cheeky" kaka was a delight, but kea really caught my attention. It's attracted to glittery things and while my hand was on the railing, it hopped right up to my hand and pecked at my ring. It saw it's tongue flick out and dart across the topaz and the gold, then licking between my fingers. Now and then it would peck. That hurt!

They also have tui birds here, but I didn't read that any of them talk so the one we saw in Whangarei which called "come here" to us must be an unusual specimen.

A highlight is the Kiwi Encounter. This is a working hatchery and nursery. When the Kiwi are mature enough, they are released back into the wild areas. The success rate for the survival is 60% compared to 5% for those left in the wild without human intervention. Sadly, their numbers are down from millions and their population is declining so rapidly that it is halving in size every 10 years and kiwi could be close to extinction by 2015.

Did you know a kiwi egg is 25% of the bird's weight? That's like a woman giving birth to a 35 pound baby. "Personally, I don't see what the problem is", said our male guide. After their exahusting egg laying, the females take off and let the males hatch the egg, for about 80 days. Meanwhile, the females are trying to build up again so they can lay another egg a few weeks later.

We saw live baby kiwi and adults who were foraging around in the natural wooded areas provided by the kiwi habitat.

We ended up by watching a sheep shearing - pretty cool! And saw sheep dogs herding the sheep and running over their backs!

More later when I get some more internet time. Stay tuned.

Trout

You can't buy trout here. Nor is it on the menu in any hotel or restaurant. However, you can fish for trout and if you catch one, the hotel will cook it for you. The Maori used to catch them by tickling them under their bellies until the fish were relaxed, then grab them.

The Eighth Wonder of the World

Violent and unexpected, the eruption of the Tarawera volcano during the early hours of June 10, 1886, was New Zeland's greatest natural disaster. For more than four terrifying hours, roks, ash and mud bombarded the peaceful village orf Te Wairoa. Today, it lies under 2 metres of thick volcanic material.

As well as ending more than 150 lives the eruption destroyed the eighth wonder of the world - the Pink and White Terraces. These graceful terraces had been built up over a million years, one silica grain at a time, and bubbled with steaming hot pools. The silica terraces were delicately tinted a pale pink and proved a striking contrast to the crystalline waters and green forests that surrounded them. People from all over the world came to bathe in their waters, mostly on the lower slopes as the higher you got, the hotter it became. Locals would carry the guests piggy-back style for one to two cents per person, a valuable sum in those days. It was a half day trip just to get there; luckily not all on the backs of the Maori.

The eruption of 1886 so completely wiped out the Pink and White Terraces that they have not been found again.

Today, the Buried Village takes you on an emotional journey as you walk through the museum which tells the awful but fascinating story of Te Wairoa (the waterfall).

Speaking of the waterfall, and I can today as I've caught my breath, it plunges down a cliff face for 200'. I didn't count the steps on my way down because our museum guide had already told us there were 116 steps and I had privately decided to admire the waterfall from above. No such luck. Tony and Marlene made me do it. Tony walked in front to provide a cushion, should I slip and fall.

It was worth the hike. The roar of the water sent the adrenaline surging. The cooling mist was a relief from the heat of the day. We took our time going back up and made use of the benches provided along the way. I've learned there's no point in trying to show off and talking while I climb, so I let the others talk and tried to listen over the pounding blood in my ears.

We celebrated with a delicious lunch at the top.

Back at the motel, Tony convinced Hans and I to go to the Thursday Rotary Club meeting, which is a fun club. We had just enough time to shower and change and get there for 5:30.

They meet at the lovely Prince's Gate Hotel, a splendid example of Victorian architecture. We admired the hotel as we approached the reception desk.

"Where does the Rotary Club meet?"

"There's no meeting today".

"What??"

"They all decided to go and play golf."

What is it with the Rotary Clubs in Rotorua?? Is it me? Did they hear I was coming and shut down just before I got there?

Rotorua Thursday March 10

Hans and Bryce took off at 9:30 a.m. for a *Veterans* day at the golf club. You have to be over 55. Luckily, Hans qualified! He had a great day and a great game: 47 + 41.

While waiting for Tony and Marlene to pick me up, I sat outside and watched the mail lady do her deliveries. She uses a mountain bike and travels about 22 Km per day on her route, picking up mail as well as delivering it. We talked about how it's done in Canada (no bikes, for example). These days it would be quite comfy to ride your bike, but it must be brutally hot and uncomfortable to do it in the summer.

Tony and Marlene were a bit late. "Marlene lost her cheque book and we spent some time looking for it".

"So I'm buying lunch?"

We toured around a bit first, going to St. Faith's Maori church, which has a richly decorated interior. It was conserated in 1914 and rededicatd in 1967. The most photographed window in the church is an etching of Jesus in flowing robes. The window faces the ocean and it looks like he's walking on water. Quite beautiful, actually.

Outside the church, the air is rank with the smell of sulfur. Almost like it's built on the roof of Hell.

Rotorua is a steaming hotbed of bubbling mud, geysers and steam vents. The ground is blistering hot to the touch, and not from the sun. Silver tarnishes overnight. Luckily, I didn't bring any!

Rotorua Wednesday March 9th

Our Best Western room has a private hot tub just outside the sliding glass doors from our living room. It's very cool!

After we left Whangarei this morning, it was a good 5 hour drive to Rotorua and we decided to just relax. Had a swim in the pool, sunbathed, and picked up some wine, fruit and buns at the local supermarket for supper.

We tried to go to the 5:30 Rotary meeting at the racecourse, but it was cancelled. Due to a race. Duh. Is this the first Wednesday night that there's been a race on and Rotary was cancelled? Seemed odd to me but anyway, I still get credit for a meeting.

Talked to Tony, who is arranging a golf game for Hans tomorrow and who will be picking me up for lunch and a tour of the city on Thursday.

Miscellaneous musings

- In every community, on every street, people of all ages walk barefoot everywhere. No restrictions in grocery stores or restraurants.

- There's an indoor skiing arena north of Auckland!

- Bumper sticker on a truck: "Try to look unimportant. They might be low on ammo".

- Sign as we entered wine country: Land of the Hunter - Gathere - Drinker

Good Business to be in

Here's the best business to be in in New Zealand: the manufacture of those red and white striped cones used on the highways. There is roadword everywhere, and they all use those cones!

Apparently, there's an extra 5 cent tax per litre on gas which is earmarked stricly for road improvement. Every community has a budget for roadworks and it turns out, they must use up their allotment by March 31 or lose it the next year. So the pressure is on, and boy, are the roads in great shape here! It's almost like they have too much money.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Beach

Took a little drive out to the beach today and let the waves lap at our ankles. It was hot and sultry outside. The water was refreshingly cool.

Lunch at a little restaurant by the marina, sipping beer and wine and watching the boats. It was idyllic.

Wine Tasting - at last!

We had our first wine tasting at Cottle Bay, where we could have returned for lunch. But we went on to Madsen where they have a beautiful outdoor restaurant, canopied by grape leaves. It overlooks a duck-filled pond which rises to sloping vinyards. The food was exquisitely presented and very delicious.

At the end of the day, we visited Graham and Wendy for her birthday dinner. The drive up to their house is flanked by a small vinyard on the left, and eucalyptus trees o the right. The air was cool and crisp and we enjoyed a delicious barbecue of shrimp, fish and satay chicken outside.

Treaty of Waitangi

This treaty is much in the news. The Maoris of today aren't happy with the deal their ancestors made and the treaty is vague enough that it can be interpreted in many ways. Hans bought a copy of it. But I bet our opinion will carry little weight.

We walked to the top of Mt. Bledisloe from where we could see the curve of earth, the ocean and surrounding islands. The air was coloured with the perfume of clover. Or maybe only I could smell it because I was breathing so hard.

We saw Haruru Falls where a swimmer was trying to get close enough to the falls for a shower.

We stopped at Paihia Village where Mike bought a Lemon and Paeroa drink. Paeroa is a town with mineral water. Sometime in the past, someone added lemon, a little carbonation, and New Zealand's popular soft drink was born.

Waitangi:
In the 1830's the Bay of Islands around Waitangi was crowded with visiting ships. It had an unsavoury reputation as the Hell-hole of the Pacific. and the British appointed James Busby to create law and order.

There is a Maori Waka (canoe) 35 metres long. It takes a minimuim of 76 padlers to handle it safely on the water.

The meeting house, Te Whare Runanga, was opened during the Treaty Centnary Celebrations in 1940. It symbolized Maori involvement in the signing of the Treating and in the life of the nation.

Kiwi Barbecue

Sunday night Mike and Liz had 11 people for barbecue! Despite this, she and I were dawdling around in town when I would have been in a frenzy of activity. But she is more organized than I. This would be because she used to teach cooking, amongst other things.

She already had the Ikebana flower arrangements made and located throughout their house, so after she made the salads, it was just a question of setting up a few tables and chairs outside so we could enjoy the warm evening.

Guests included Steve (President of Mike's Club) and his wife Margaret; Dave, a Rotarian who also volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, Jon (son) and Audrey and Graham and Wendy. Wendy's birthday was the next day and Hans invited us to their place for dinner!! And they actually let us come!!!

During the evening Judy called to tell me I had left my visor at her place in Auckland and she is courriering it up to me. Thanks Judy!

Bird Recovery and Quarry Garden

The bird recovery area is a hospital for sick and injured birds.

There is a Tui here. He's a mid sized dark bird - hard to see him in the shadows - and for the past two weeks he's been mourning the death of his mate. He used to *talk*, the only Tui known to do so. Of course, they aren't pets so it's possible others Tuis would talk too.

Mike coaxed him, gently calling "Woof woof", his favourite words, and eventually it worked. "Come here", he invited us but alas, we were fenced out.

The Quarry Garden is under development and features Look, Touch and Hear gardens. As their centennial project, three local Rotary clubs funded a lovely arched footbridge in white and blue connecting the developing gardens to the adjacent hills.

Sunday March 6 in Whangarei

After a delicious evening of good food (salmon), good wine (lots) and good conversation (fun and laughter), we awoke to a brilliant day.

Liz's garden is spectacular. I am so grateful that they are visiting us in May and not August. Otherwise, I'd have to do some serious work outside! We took a stroll through her beautifully landscaped grounds which border on the bush. Peering in, it looked cool and dark, dense with reality.

She has holly bushes, fern trees, lillies and roses in abundance and too many others to mention and whose names are foreign to me. That evening they arranged a *Kiwi Barbecue* with some Rotary friends, Habitat friends, and their son Jon and Audrey who are visiting on the way to a wedding. More on that later.

While Hans and Mike golfed Lize and I went to the Town Basin which was crowded with people coming off a Fun Run from the beach to the Town Basin. We found a pretty spot by the water and the yachts (sailboats) to have a latter before hitting some of the shops. It's an eclectic collection: from touristy places and expensive jewellry shops.

Later Mike took us on a *canopy walk*, a boarded walkway about 50'above ground and meandering through the forest. The occasional songbird trilled in the trees, but they are less plentiful today than in the past. We saw our first live Kauri tree up close, the mottle bark reaching nearly 50' above ground before the first branch. When a Kauri was selected for future use as a canoe, the Maori clearned the vegetation around it so that it became exposed to the elemens. The windward side would thicken and harden and eventually be used for the bottom. The lee side would sometimes be stripped of bark, causing the tree to rot and easing the work of those who later had to hollow it out.

Whangarei

Liz and Mike drove us to a view point high above the city which was spread out below us like a colourful ribbon between the rolling hills on one side, and the salt water inlet on the other. It drizzled on us a bit as we left the car but like in Alberta, the weather changes very quickly and by the time we walked to the top, the rain stopped, the clouds had lifted and the view was splendid.

Hans and Mike left for a quick 9 holes while Liz and I toured the Craft Quarry, an artistic commune. A few artists still live here, as evidenced by the loft bed in one of the studios, but since they only have electricity and no running water, the city is putting up some restrictions.

There's a glass studio, a silversmith with dozens of tiny drawers holding her jewellry creations, painters and others. We spoke with one artist from Holland/France who was putting together a 4' totem pole decorated with shells, rocks and driftwood. When finished, she's erecting it in the commune area as a thank you to the local artists who are letting her use their facilities.

Kauri Museum

We visited this museum on our way from Auckland to Whangerei (Fangeree, or Whangaree). The countryside was gorgeous even though it rained buckets as we left Auckland. When we got into the hills, the sun poked its head out and clouds of mist billowed up like steam, vaporizing in the air.

We got out at one of the viewpoints but I spent a few moments cautiously peeking into the dark crevices of trees. I was alternately hoping, yet terrified, of seeing a weta bug. A day earier we saw one in the museum. Dead, fortunately. They grow up to 6" long and the males have tusks.

The Kauri Museum has a huge collection of gum carvings, which are actually several collections. It looks much like amber, but is lighter in colour,more like honey. Much of the kauri gum was recovered in the early 1900's where kauri trees had fallen and the wood rotted away, leaving the hard gum underground. The gum is ancient because these trees have Methuselah lifespans. The oldest live tree standing today is over 1,200 years old. Carbon dating of *swamp kauri* has shown some of it to be over 1,000,000 years old, but much of the recovered wood, still in workable condition, is about 30,000 years old. It too has a honey-like colour and beautiful grain.

They harvested the gum by poking long thin steel rods into the ground, up to 20'in depth though lots was closer to the surface. When the poles encountered something hard, they dug. It was brutally difficult work.

Judy's Kiwis

Judy told us about the time she visited another country for a conference, and brought attractively boxed kiwis as a gift. She left a box on each table.

Later, she was asked, "Where do you find kiwis?"

"Actually, they're very hard to find. They're quite scarce. Many New Zealanders have never even seen one. You have to go to certain areas and you can only see them at night".

Blank look.

"Oh. You mean the fruit!"

Friday, March 04, 2005

Rotary Meeting

Someone tell Allan Melbourne I was at a meeting at 7:00 a.m. Friday morning, March 4th! PDG Bob Baird took Hans and I to a sunrise meeting and when we were introduced as being from Red Deer, it turned out that not one, but TWO people in the room have been here!! In fact, the Sargeant at Arms was one of them and fined me because he had played pool here and lost.

When they have guests, the *host* stands up and introduces his guest and tells a little about them. Cool. Everyone who had ever been anywhere in Canada came up and talked to us - we had a great time!

It turns out that the International President after this one will be Bill Boyd from Auckland. Bob and Judy Baird know him and Lorna, and will be attending their Golden Wedding Anniversary this Easter.

Cath Tizard - Mayor and Governor General

Cath Tizard was the first female mayor of Auckland sometime in the '50's, and she later became the first female Governor General.

It was the custom for the Governor General's wife to become the President of the Girl Guides, but since Cath Tizard had no spouse, and in any case since she was a woman, she was invited to become the President. It fell to our hostess Judy Baird, who was the Chief Commissionaer of the Girl Guides at that time, to invite her to assume the presidency. Upon learning that Cath was not a Girl Guide herself, she needed to be inducted, which Judy proceeded to do.

Cath, flinging her arms up in delight, yelled "At last"!" She was 70 years old.

Maori Museum - Auckland

We were greeted by the deeply resonating sound of a Maori horn welcoming us into the museum. I'm told that the Maori greeting protocol consists of touching noses, not rubbing, and mingling your breath. Then you become a part of the particular *marae* where you were greeted.

They didn't do this with us, probably because we were too many.

The Maori carvings are exquisite and adorn everything. Inside the marae (meeting house) the ceiling is meant to reflect a person. The beam running down the middle of the ceiling is the spine, and the arms that support the sloping roof on either side are the ribs. There arms are each decorated with a different pattern but one design is consisten to each of them: they must have an unbroken line going from the spine to the end.

One of the most spectacular items was a warrior canoe long enough to hold 100 warriors. It was created from a single tree trunk. There is a floor on this canoe made or reeds under which the warriors could store their food or, captured slaves. Not very pleasant quarters.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Let the Trip Begin!

Wow.

Auckland is a beautiful and sprawling city, dotted with hills to add interest.

Our hosts Bob and Judy took us on a tour which began at the Vaughn Homestead, a house built 160 years ago as a 2 room home for a young man and gradually expanded as his family grew. Through a stroke of luck, the caretakers were there and allowed us to look around inside, which is decorated with period pieces donated by local citizens.

Then we drove to a nearby beach which was virtually empty except for a few seniors and a class of children who were out on a field trip. In NZ, schools teach water safety to all kids. They have little sailboats which they learn to handle, all under the supervision of teachers and parent volunteers. I stuck my toe in the water and found it deliciously cool against the warm moist air.

We visited the harbour, stopped for lunch at an outdoor cafe where we enjoyed the breeze as well as the local beer, then drove to the summit of Victoria Mountain. Viewed from the top, Auckland reminded us of Hong Kong harbour but without the pollution. It's vast and gorgeous from up here.

Finally, we drove to another mountain and saw the ARatake Visitor Center which is a new Maori totem pole greeting visitors. The carvings are exclusively, and generously, male. This is a new totem pole. Apparently the original totem offended visiting missionaries who hacked off all the penises. They now languish in a box in some dark corner of the museum (not the missionaries).

We ended the day with drinks back at the house while the roasting lamb was emitting succulent smells from the oven. The jet lag was fast catching up to us and it was the Drambuie that finally did me in.

Can't wait for tomorrow!

Pretty in Pink

Vancouver is blooming.

Along all the streets, pink and white blossoms were scenting the air with their heavenly perfumes. In Rod and Nicole's backyard, pink buds were just starting to open on the huge magnolia tree. Even the air looked pink-tinged through the blossoms. Of course, since we're just starting our holiday, we're seeing the world through rose coloured glasses right now anyway.

For those of you who know Vancouver, know this. We had a marvellous salmon dinner at the Salmon House on the Hill with an incredible view of the city laid out below us. It had rained during the day, but it let up just in time to let us see the glittering lights of nightime Vancouver. What a jewel of a city.