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Thursday, November 27, 2008

A fond farewell to New Zealand

Warning. This final blog posting has R rated content. :^) finally....

Finally left Franz Josef....turned a bend to find the reason for our delay.

The last day on the Magic Bus. It was like a fatal accident on the side of the road that you wish with all your might to not rubberneck but you do...

It all began one bright and sunny morning. We all loaded up with high hopes to get the hell out of rain country and on to Queenstown. Lord Of The Rings territory. Home of the first commercial bungy jump. World renowned Mirror Lakes. Fox Glacier and an impressive array of snow capped peaks and rivers too numerous to count. It was all those things and more.

In complete denial that I would miss Milford Sound I began calling all 800 numbers of any private pilot to perhaps find a way to make it still work.
Finally after a while I located one who could pick us up in Waneka (the bus goes through there) take us with another couple to Milford Sound then drop us off in Queenstown where the bus ends up.
All seemed in perfect order except the cooperation of our friendly and helpful bus driver Mike.
Now I won't go into the gory details but let's just say he learned about American directness with a little Kiwi "Cheers" at the end.

I'll console myself with having seen the Mirror Lakes.

A fresh water lake with sharks.

Some cool minivans with all sorts of funny things written on them like this one says "Women should rule the world but they would rather go shopping".

Just imagine Nancy (who hates shopping) at the rental office. "I'm sorry but that's the only van we have left"...Cheers!

I did find a nice place to get warm and dry again and it was called Bardeaux. Specializing in wine and whiskey with a "Hearst Castle" size fireplace that had me feeling like a one of those marshmallows I keep getting with my hot chocolates.
Wrapped up with a fantastic rack of lamb in a steakhouse and went home to pass out. I'm ready to return.

Arrived in Auckland for my last day with Leslie and Holming. She took me to Waiheke island.

and Kiwi's in their natural habitat.

(Zoom in)
Max was our driver and quite wonderful and funny.
Picked up a couple bottles of wine and took the ferry back.
On to Mission bay where we went for a beer (and for the record, I'd like to say "departed a Californian, returning a Kiwi").
Nice little pub on the waterfront (well there's water here everywhere but you know).

I'm leaving tomorrow, home bound and in closure I'd like to say New Zealand is the land of extremes; hot and cold. An adventurer's paradise. Mouthwatering flavors. Breathtaking scenery at every bend, a must do but 'for God sakes girl, take at least 3 weeks to visit it and a parka!' Cheers!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rain, and then some....

A catalog of a boring day

Now let me begin by saying that I enjoy my quiet time and I especially enjoy the rain so I'm not too upset about it however I am going to miss Milford Sound so I'm not happy about that, on top of paying $65 to change my ticket.
Got my same room and same bed for our second unforeseen night in Franz Josef. I am one of the lucky ones because when I went by the office an hour later they were handing out space on the floor, no more beds.
Schlepped through pouring rain to the Internet bus and after spending close to two hours in there downloading everything I had and publishing two days of blogs I decided I wasn't wet enough and went out to venture through town.
Ended up in a cafe where they made my hot chocolate blessedly hot and gave me those marshmallows again. (they taste like bubble gum) I was sitting there trying to think of a way to describe this place and after hearing Mazzy Star and now Sarah McLaughlin play on the speakers, I'd like to call it the cafe of bad music.Warming my frozen toes in front of the fireplace...check out my cool cow flip flops. I trekked through many a muddy path in these babies. They have saved my arse many times now. I'm usually soaked from the knees down.

Next I hit the supermarket although there is nothing super about it. I went to the wine section and bought the most expensive bottle of wine I could find, some lamb chops, some weird looking root vegetables that I think Leslie fed me already and checked out the chip aisle. Lamb and Mint potato chips.

No joke. Although, it is clearing up and not raining as hard, I might walk around the bend and photograph the swollen and dangerous river just for effect.

There is apparently only one road to Queenstown and it's flooded. Dave at the Internet shop said it's rare that it's closed like that...suggested that usually it's due to the snow, not rain.
Oh and BTW, the reason the road was closed is because it actually collapsed.

Incidentally, he's never been to the glacier and he's lived here 3 years.

We are actually starting to see the sun poke through the clouds, and there is only a slight drizzle now. We can hear the birds and a few are actually flying about, a good sign.
Pukey girl is here. She decided to stay 3 nights in Franz Josef and some of us were glad to realize it this morning while we were headed out of town. So let me tell you more about her since she's received more honorable mentions than any other single thing, even the cute Kiwi birds and cute Kiwi boys. I've talked about her a lot, well because she throws up a lot, really...She's Chinese but lives in Australia. She brought both her parents that are comical to watch and speak not one word of English. Her dad treats her like a two year old, pointing out cars down the road when they cross in case she can't see them. Her mother, well her mother seems utterly lost all the time. Pukey girl sings incredibly well as we learned on the way back from the Maori dinner when everyone had to sing a song on the bus. She has no idea how to turn on a gas stove, click click click click click while there is a full flame going. Each time she got on the bus she sat in a different seat, forcing some poor innocent person to sit in her last crime scene. Pukey girl pissed off Mike so much that he rightly scolded her saying, "when you feel you are going to get sick, for God Sakes girl, say something instead of throwing up all over my bus". Right now she's just finished cooking the most vile and strong smelling soup I've ever known. I think it must be half vinegar and her mom is loudly slurping it. That's Pukey girl and her family. I suppose I should ask her name but I've given her the Nancy glare a couple times so I think it's best that I just steer clear and besides Pukey girl is far funnier.

Next decided to test the ovens by warming up the left over pizza. It looked like cooled lava by the time I remembered to go back to it. (Dad, this probably seems familiar) but it was edible. I put the rest of my groceries in the fridge. You always have to mark your things with a bright green label.
Name: Nancy Girouard
Departure: Never
Room: 3

Wine bottles here all have screw tops. Well I did buy one $50 bottle of wine that had a proper cork but the one I bought for tonight didn't...we shall see.

Then we walked down a gorgeous nature path where we heard many birds singing from joy because the rain stopped. Maxime started to sing Jacques Briel famous song "ne me quitte pas", because he was joyous too.

In case you don't know who Jacques Briel is well here's a funny spoof of him...

He then convinced me to walk the 4km to see Franz Josef glacier.

Well actually he first said it was 2km then we got to the sign and it was 4km. No matter. The rain is a light drizzle now and very pleasant walk in the valley. We stopped along the river where there were huge chunks of ice.I could hear them crashing down the river, it sounded like a giant martini shaker.

Got to the Glacier and well it was awesome.

There's that word again and meant in the same totally amazed, dumbfounded, humbled and impressed way. So when a glacier is advancing it's because the bottom portion is melting faster than the top and when it's receding it's because the top is melting faster than the bottom.
Passed a scary looking sign that said "The glacier was here in 1750" and it was 3km from where it actually is.

There was a pretty strong ice cold wind that completely froze my hands but the 120 degree sauna took care of that. I'm still bright red 3 hours later.

Arrived at the hostel and kitty was outside.
I swear the cats here are huge. This thing is large and heavy and super lazy but he does like to be scratched under the chin. His fur is so thick that he's usually damp on the surface but if you scratch down deep he's dry.

Everyone's back in the kitchen cooking their smelly food. We aren't even going to start cooking dinner till at least 8 when everyone is done.
Well all in all it's not been such a horrible day and in fact, been full of beautiful scenery and relaxation. I really really wish I had an extra week here. *sigh*

Dinner was fantastic. So I take back that the supermarket is not super. We bought lamb chops and if they weren't the best lamb chops I have ever had. Now, besides the fact that the pinot noir that I bought was also quite good and we had had 1/2 the bottle by the time I started to order Max around the kitchen to find what I needed to make perhaps the best meal I've had since being here was finger licking good. I boiled some weird and wonderful things, I grilled the lamb in a pan in the oven (yes the very same one that I created lava pizza in earlier) and some uncle bens rice in a pouch. (I am rather embarrassed at that one but full disclosure). We, I think, irritated everyone eating white bread and jam sandwiches by bringing our top notch meal to the table but who gives a damn.

I'd like to end this night in mentioning that Pukey girl is in my room! Well she was not here earlier but all of a sudden she's here. Funny.

Monday, November 24, 2008

November in New Zealand...the rainy season.


Went to a seal's colony and watched them waddle all around the rocks.

It was so comical to watch. We saw some Weka birds on the path out there and for one hallucinatory moment thought they might be Kiwi's but alas no. The Kiwi is nocturnal so if you see one during the day, something is wrong.

Took what has been named as the best short walk in New Zealand. Now on the surface that sounds really good but in reality, there is no such thing as a short walk in New Zealand. Regardless it was very beautiful and we found a gorgeous little cove at the bottom that was all small pebbles instead of sand.

I was the first one down there in flip flops. It felt so good on my bare feet. Everyone asked how
cold it was and I said "San Francisco cold".
When I first arrived Holming took me outside to listen to this very special bird song and those same ones were singing so beautifully all along the path. Wonderful.

Visited the pancake rocks park. No one seems to know how they were formed but they are quite impressive. Many blowholes too and massive sea swells.
Now let me not fail to mention that it's been raining on and off all day but for some amazing reason it would stop raining at each site for the duration of the stop. Although I did buy an umbrella which flipped inside out within 4 seconds of leaving the store, luckily I haven't really needed it.

Arrived in Greymouth. The hostel is full of personality. We were dropped off, rounded the corner loaded with our bags to be greeted by a relaxed chap named Steve (the one I called from the pie shop) who told us all about his hostel by the river to the Tasman sea.
Just having a bit of fun, no this is not the hostel but they are sometimes this nice (on the outside).
Seems he has a big cat called fish and a big fish called...well you get the idea. Two turtles in a tank that were oodles of fun to watch. A couple ducks that aren't for eating he said very sternly. (Seems that some backpackers a while back actually caught one and started to pluck it for dinner). No bunk beds. Coal heated water that could take a few layers of skin off if you aren't careful. Sinks here are either hot water or cold water but not both. That's right, they have a faucet on each side. But the real selling point was the bathtubs (bubble bath included). I soaked for a good hour.
So it should come as no surprise that I decided to skip the $25 brewery tour since, well I don't like beer. Not to worry, I made a couple local friends as soon as I arrived and was invited to join them down the way at a pub where Vanessa sang some beautiful crooner songs and I ordered a perfect manhattan for $28. No wonder my friends wanted me to bring them heaps of booze. Saw this hotel sign on the way to the bar, and you thought Greymouth was a quiet wholesome town!

A few important points to make. I travel alone for a very specific reason, to meet and socialize with locals. I also travel for at least one month because anything less means you'll miss too much or won't have enough time to relax and really blend in. (especially if you get rained in somewhere)
Tonight reminded me of both of those very important rules. The people I met; Vanessa, A singer whose been traveling and promoting her music for a long time solo, she has a lighter Diana Krall style and voice. Lee, a bar manager who plied us with way too many weird and wonderful drinks and a huge platter of goodies to munch on. Lindsay, a mother and wife of 46 years who loves champagne as much as me and reckons her husbands loves her as much as that too. Woody, a kiwi school teacher with the light scruffy beard, wind whipped hair of dark roots and natural blond highlights at the tips and as cute as those birds but who was too shy to flirt with me (until after round 6) Lurk, Lindsey's son who wants to paint the town bridge at 2am to match the Golden Gate, because "mate that gawd awful grey bridge is dull and well we've got nothin better to do". Wazz, I'm not really sure about this one except as maybe to compare him to Curly from the three stooges.
We giggled and drank and giggled and ate and laughed and well you know...anyway, it was a fantastic night full of local humor and delights.
I actually drank a beer. *gasp* can you believe it?!?!? If not, see photo.

Notice Lurk holding up the CHEESE.
Well I finally crossed the line last night. I was one of those annoying girls in the room that won't let others sleep. I was so excited from my big evening in Greymouth that I was clicking away my story on my AlphaSmart and didn't realize the loud sighing coming from the Japanese girl with the loud tick tock clock was because of me. Whoops.
Visited Ross, a gold mining town. Then the bushman's where we learned about early New Zealand way of living by a colorful person named Pete who liked to say, when men were men and sheep were nervous.

Seems that before settlers there were no 4 legged animals, only birds on New Zealand. Settlers introduced the red deer but the population eventually became out of control so hunting was permitted but even then it was still not contained so next they decided to capture wild deer for farming stock via helicopter and a net gun that they invented right here. There was a 20 minute film. Some live possums and one very large wild but well behaved pig that would sit like a dog for a treat. They even had possum pie. Didn't try it, they were too cute to eat.

Saw a kangaroo and a couple deer in the yard outside too. Pretty cool and interesting place for sure.

Today has been a torrential downpour, in fact, this should sound familiar, it's sideways rain. So much that the roads are totally flooded! Water is gushing down then walls along the road. We've passed over a dozen bridges and many were as wide as a San Francisco city block, rivers, swollen and dangerous. It's a stern reminder that we are so small compared to nature.

The bridges are always one lane and some even have trains go over them.

Arrived in Franz Josef and this is where the glacier is but because it's pouring rain we can't even see it! No matter. I'm cozied up on the couch closest to the fire with my feet up on the table in my thermal padded socks that Jeanette gave us on Meara's 40th birthday, watching the steady downpour through the huge glass windows right in front of me. Life is good.
But wait, there's more! (Matt this should sound familiar...)We pulled up and as you might well imagine there is a lot of baggage to come off the bus so being in the front seat I decide that instead of standing around in the rain waiting for my bag to come off, I'd race over to the hostel and check in before everyone else. Smart little duck I am, albeit wet.

But wait, there's more. I got room 3. Upon entering room 3 I found (audible groan) metal bunk beds. Oh Oh, do my eyes deceive me? Is that a single metal bed without a top? Yes, yes, by golly it is. And it's mine, all mine!!! (hehehe, maniacal laugh). The room has functioning heat, extra wool blankets and even a dehumifiyer. Wow. Paradise. I've got the last bottle of bubbly chilling in the fridge and the sauna turns on at 5pm.

Flip flops are my new best friend...We are going to try and venture out. Gale force winds, apparently. Wish us luck.
We didn't get swept up but we were quite wet by the time we arrived at the pizzeria two blocks away. Two tiny blocks at that. But it was worth it. Delicious pizza, homemade crust that was more like cornmeal rather than flour. Tons of toppings and all fresh ingredients. And yes, I drank a beer with it. I think I'm turning into a Kiwi.

Air New Zealand has these great ads in the BART stations.

It's a photo of the very same person as a 'before' and 'after' image who has vacationed in New Zealand. They are very clever. For example, a man is well groomed and in a suit, next photo, his hair is a bit wild, he's sporting a backpack and beard. (In fact, woody looked just like that fella)
Anyway came back and fell asleep to the pounding rain.

Today. Disaster. We are flooded in. We all loaded up on the bus in the pouring rain, crossed an overflowing river and saw a sign ROAD CLOSED. The driver (remember friendly and helpful Mike) phoned the head office and they confirmed so we headed back to Franz Josef. Got my same room and bunk thankfully and am now back in the same spot on the couch watching a torrential downpour outside.

Looks like I'll be shopping on ebay, checking my bank account, perhaps write some postcards, check the return flight fee to push my vacation back a week, eat more pizza and buy a huge bottle of whiskey, forget the Ginger Ale.

One good thing, no shall I say another good thing about hostels is that they have book exchanges so I raided the neighboring hostel and found one of my favorite authors. It's a huge book, the size of a small bible. Should keep me busy until the sauna opens and we get drenched again in search of food....Ah well it's sometimes nice to relax and we are getting plenty of it here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hokey Pokey Ice Cream....

Off on the magic bus again. I've managed to get the front seat each day now. Maxime is always with his personal translator now. He's sweet and my French is getting better being forced to use it. Drove around the lake that is the size of Singapore (the one we sailed yesterday) and took some photos of the Lord of the Rings volcanoes. (well I didn't so don't expect one here)
It's a long day of driving today, not much to see until we arrive in Wellington tonight where we plan on going for a good seafood dinner.
We made our lunch pit stop and I had a very very interesting experience. The ketchup containers here are very different and 3 of us all struggled to figure out how to open them. I was the first to find out. It sprouted like the geyser we saw the day before...all over my pink dress.
Then as I ate my lamb burger with a bun the size of a loaf of bread and a patty like a silver dollar, dripping that awful mint sauce.
We heard clippers and lots of baaahhaaaaing so wandered down the path to find a shearing demonstration. Hysterical. Can't upload the video so here it is...
Bulls is a town where all the businesses have signs that play on the word.
Trans-port-a-bull = moving company
Const-a-bull = police station
Bloom-a-bull = flower shop
Bank-a-bull = bank
Stopped off again in a little roadside town and I'd like to say the following.
Hello, my name is Nancy and I'm addicted to Hokey Pokey ice cream. Now you say, Hello Nancy.
Wellington is the San Francisco of the southern hemisphere. They in fact imported two wooden Victorian homes from San Francisco as an experiment to see if they would withstand the earthquakes. I was able to pick them out going up the steep hill to a fantastic look out point like Twin Peaks. Absolutely gorgeous city!!!

They call it the windy city and let's just say that I walked back from a swim at this fantastic pool
on the waterfront with my hair wrapped around my head. I hardly saw a thing.

Ended up going out for a cocktail at a bar where this time I came prepared. I ordered a double, double in two glasses no ice then a small bottle of ginger ale and a lime and I made own damn cocktail right in front of the bartender. His eyebrows went up so high they got lost in his hairline so I explained, I come from the home of the martini. You people might think you make martini's here because you use that type of glass but I can assure you that you have no idea what a martini really is. He laughed at that.
Then we wandered down to the waterfront to find our seafood restaurant at $40 an entree. It turned out to be a thumping club with an open air restaurant on the 3rd floor. We ate some weird fish I won't even try to repeat here to techno music. I insisted on a cab home being completely frozen.

Spring. What spring? It's the damn rainy season here. You know how cold it gets in SF during the summer well I won't hesitate to say it's even colder here. In fact, I don't think I've been warm since I arrived and I didn't bring anything warm to wear. I did bring my raincoat that Natasha gave me for a birthday and she was right at the time in observing it's not something I would pick out for myself but it has really saved me here. It's been raining pretty much the whole time. Not complaining though, since I love that.

You know how in life annoying things like being stuck in traffic happen, or missing a connection? We just feel frustration that things didn't go according to plan. However, I've started to suspect that when things don't go the way we want them to it's perhaps a way to avoid disaster but because we can't see the "what if" we feel cheated.
Upon entering the Wellington Hostel, I groaned audibly to see that we had metal bunk beds. (they creak and wiggle)
So I prayed I would get a considerate upper bunk mate. Well last night ding-bat in the bunk above me tossed and turned all night long. I even made her bed so that she wouldn't wake me up when she came into the room later because it was already midnight when I got back. I slept but I was woken often. I finally got so disgusted with her that I got up and asked if she was ok. She said yes and I said 'Ok just wondering because you haven't stopped tossing and turning for the last 2 hours and I can't sleep'. She calmed down a bit but started up again soon after that.

Anyway, she started rolling around again this morning and I was going to go back to sleep when I thought hey maybe I should check the time. 7:10. OH MY GOD.
Frenchie overslept, he was my alarm clock. So I raced to his room, woke him up and we had 15 minutes to get ready or miss the only ferry to Nelson.

It was an exciting morning to say the least but we made it.
As we pulled out of port the wind was so fierce that we actually saw huge sheets of water whipped up 30 to 40 feet high. It was a 3 hour journey where I spent the vast majority of my time outside shivering or at the inside observation deck, shivering.
Arrived at Picton. The scenery coming into port is simply indescribable but I'll try...turquoise clear water, lush hills with thick forests, white sand crescent moon beaches dotting the coastline along the way, large voluminous clouds heavy with rain overhead, a smell of purity and clean unlike any detergent commercial you have ever seen on TV.
We hopped on the magic bus and headed to Nelson.

Stopped off again at a roadside cafe that is famous for their chicken and Camembert cheese pies. We both got one and about halfway through I suggested that it must be like a "king cake" because we could not find the cheese.

Let me explain. In French countries, it's called Le Jour Du Roi. It's a special day of year when you buy this pastry that has a bean hidden in it and share it with friends and the person who finds the bean is the king for the day.

I finally found a tiny piece of cheese in mine, Maxime never found his. Pity, it was good. I bought a couple pies to go, they were so yummy. I even called ahead to book my room for tomorrow and Steve who took my booking asked if I was calling from the ???? place (couldn't understand him) so he clarified, 'the pie place', ah yes right, right. You know they make the best pies on the South Island they do.
Oh and no lunch would be complete without that hokey pokey ice cream. mmmm

Our driver, Mike who's as nice as Greg and Ian and the size of both of them combined explained all sorts of weird and wonderful things on the way. (They love to say that here "weird and wonderful", right right, -long pause-)

Forestry is a large business here, sections are cleared and replanted. Plywood is made out of most of the branches that are trimmed, and I believe them. I stayed in a hostel where the floor, the door and the bed were all built out of that stuff, and they didn't cover it with fake veneer either. They should have called it 'the plywood room'.
In fact, I have also seen plywood tents.

Spending a quiet night in Nelson. Laundry, some soup, some bubbly and met some fun people. Watching a movie in a loft space in an old converted Victorian house. It's a cozy homey place and a good place to relax. Except for a lack of hot water in the showers. There are 3 of us in the room and we all want to go to bed early. Hehehe.

The room next to ours looks like a laundry mat. And the door lock and handle installer must have started happy hour early the day he worked on our doors because as you can see, I don't think he could make up his mind how to install them.

Left Nelson bright and early after a good nights sleep (had two blankets on me again so I was nice and toasty). Heavy fog today and light drizzle. Perfect.

Winding our way between tall mountains in the deepest part of the valleys. Low hanging clouds look like ghosts hugging the tops. A river follows us most of the way. Single vehicle bridges must be crossed once in a while. Some of the road is so narrow and windy that mirrors are used to see around the bend. Along the road are these grotesque signs about driving accidents. They usually say something harmless like "tired? have a rest" but the image is of a dead body with the name tag on the big toe or a kid screaming and looking terrified.

Our breakfast stop was at another cute roadside cafe where they finally made a hot chocolate hot enough for me (but not without some grumbling and cheers at the end of the odorous task) and walked around town. Cute houses with flowers planted all around and bathtubs holding more colorful plants. Saw a whole group of Pukeko birds again.

Buses. People live in buses here. You'll see chimney stacks out of the top with smoke coming out. Wonder what the buses were used for before they became homes. There are even Internet cafe buses.

Pukey girl is puking again. That's it, I'm giving her a gift of motion pills next pharmacy I find. (and I'm going to have to find hiking shoes since mine are in my suitcase at the bottom of the cargo hold) Actually ended up buying some super cute flip flops that worked just fine.

Decided to forgo the glacier hike for instead a kayak trip on the mirror lakes at sunset. (I WILL use my dive and swim gear at least once, and if I'm feeling brave, or perhaps stupid, I'll take a dunk in the crystal clear water).

So let's talk sheep. Why is it that if you wash wool in water it shrinks and yet these animals are in the rain all the time and they don't look like a fat girl in tight Jordache jeans when they get wet?

Another weird and wonderful thing...our driver has a huge umbrella and since it's been raining pretty steady now for the last two hours I asked him when we stopped for the seal viewing along the Tasman sea if he was coming with us or staying on the bus, he said, on the bus so I innocently asked if I could borrow it.
Well enjoy yourself with your umbrella Mr. Mike. (I take back that comment that he's nice)

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Barbary from Alameda

Kiwi's come across as so very polite, I think because of their crisp accent and saying thank you so much however they have many many rules and should you dare to break one, they won't hesitate to scold you past the point of utter humiliation in front of as many people as possible for the maximum effect, all the while smiling.
One poor woman giggled a tiny bit during an announcement and the bus driver spoke to her over the microphone for a good two minutes about listening to him. He managed to say it in about 3 different ways. Not a peep out of anyone after that for quite a while.
And this morning I bought some water and started peeling the kiwi but the woman behind the counter that was to busy to hand me a knife in the first place miraculously found the time to come out from behind her busy counter to tell me that I could "not do that here" in front of a room full of people in a nice loud voice.
She got some Nancy attitude back and being a master at the rebuttal I chastised her enough so she shut right up and walked away. Cheers! (with a smile)

Heading to Tuapo today. Geothermal area.

Smoke is billowing out of rocks and pools everywhere, a nice reminder we do in fact live on a large molten ball of lava, amazing topography.

I saw a huge white tower with steam billowing out the top, NZ only geo-thermal power plant.
We arrived at the geothermal park and Maxime and I enjoyed the 1.5 hour walk around arsenic and sulfur bubbling pools. Want a quick divorce? Just send your spouse for a closer look into one of those pools.

Drove through one of the national forests. It spans from coast to coast and is quite beautiful. There is a whole industry around just keeping the forest trees properly trimmed with huge piles of branches dotting the land.
Next stop was some more adventure stuff and a honey store. Honey soap, honey cream, honey wine, honey candy, honey condoms (just kidding) although it was pretty funny when this one guy was calling out "honey" for his girlfriend and both sales girls looked up like, yes, I know there's a lot of honey here but which one do you want???

Stopped next at a bungy jump platform high above the river.

It's a gorgeous site. There were tubers and kayacking going on. The water was a gorgeous color of light turquoise. Looking at it made me feel like a junkie in need of a fix.
Finally arrived in Taupo, we (Frenchie and I) are taking the sail boat out to some immense Maori stone carvings along the water. Very much looking forward to that. Then a late dinner of fish, oops, I forgot to mention some cocktails before.
Holming said there is a much higher rate of drinking here but I wouldn't know it, everywhere we go it's dry.

OK now I took a photo of a flush button for the toilet.
I couldn't really grasp the difference between a half flush and a full flush. Well let me educate you now. A half flush, leaves half of whatever you don't want and a full flush gets rid of all of it.
That's the difference.

The sailboat is called the Barbary,

it's 52 ft long and was owned by Eroll Flynn, it's home was Alameda but most impressive of all, the sleeping cabin has mirrors on the ceiling. (3 wives and countless affairs)
Our captain was agreable and fun. Spewing facts like Ruaehu Volcano once did pumice stones and ash.
It was a calm 3 hour cruise that involved two very friendly ducks who flew on board to get some dinner.

The carvings are not old but they are of a great great grandfather of one of the Maori artists who did this 28 years ago.

Came back to town and headed to Mulligans where the crew liked to drink. Ordered a double whiskey and ginger ale, and got a 1/2 ounce for each normal full "U.S." ounce. (Erik this should remind you of our quest for a long island ice tea in London). So then I decided to try a triple but she couldn't put it in the glass. She was required by law to serve it in a shot glass but remember we only have an ounce and a half of alcohol now in a glass full of soda and that's called a triple here so I left it on the bar.

I did have a real glass bottle of coke though....

I decided that I was too grumpy and stinky to hang out with the gang so then I wandered back to the hostel. I kept seeing this one taxi go round and round and wondered if there was more than one so I tried to notice the license plate. Now this town is quiet, with wide streets, all shops closed. It felt like a small one horse town and this one lonely taxi buzzing around city blocks like a girl playing hard to get. I would have gladly flagged him to get me to the hostel since I was tired and slightly disoriented.
Got back and found they had booked me in a co-ed dorm room. I don't think so. I got upgraded to a private room with a heater right out of hell. I turned it on, went for a shower and came back to a sauna.
Made it back to "downtown" (consisting of a few bars and a burger king) and found everyone had already returned so I picked an empty bar for some peace and solitude and hopefully a strong drink. Nice kiwi bartender sympathized and gave me a normal Castro style cocktail, it hit the spot. Got some bar food and tried to ignore the drunk next to me who wouldn't leave me alone.
The bars here have ATM card swip pads just like at gas stations. Er, um, yes I'll have a beer and $20 cash back.

Back home to a nice toasty sleep in my room all alone and my double sized bed!
Off on the magic bus again. HIS PERSONAL TRANSLATOR NOW> He's sweet and my french is getting better.

Drove around the lake that is the size of Sinapore (the one we sailed yesterday) and took some photos of the Lord of the Rings volcanoes.
It's a long day of driving today, not much to see until we arrive in Wellington tonight where we plan on going for a good seafood dinner.

We made our lunch pit stop and I had a very very interesting experience. The ketchup containers here are very different and 3 of us all struggled to figure out how to open them. I was the first to find out. It sprouted like the gyser we saw the day before...all over my pink dress. Then as I ate my lamb burger with a bun the size of a loaf of bread and a patty like a silver dollar, dripping that awful mint sauce.
We heard clippers and lots of baaahhaaaaing so wandered down the path to find a shearing demonstration. Hysterical.

Bulls is a town where all the businesses have signs that play on the word.

Trans-port-a-bull = moving company
Const-a-bull = police station
Bloom-a-bull = flower shop
Bank-a-bull = bank

Man today is a long driving day. Stopped off again in a little roadside town and I'd like to say the following.
Hello, my name is Nancy and I'm addicted to Hokey Pokey ice cream.

Wellington is the San Francisco of the southern hemisphere. They in fact imported two wooden victorian homes from San Francisco as an experiment to see if the would withstand the earthquakes.
Absolutely gorgeous city!!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Macaroni & Maori

Had some nice dreams last night. Woke up to the sound of those kiwi birds. They are nocturnal so you only hear them at night. Holming dropped me off for the magic bus a little early where I met a girl Mari from Japan but she was going on a different tour.
Then met the two tour guides, Ian and Greg and we got on the big magic bus, (mushrooms not included) stopped at two hostels to pick up more passengers and off we go to Mt. Eden, an extinct volcano. In total 64 volcano's dot the Auckland cityscape. Nice view from the top...

April fools. The ultimate prank. A group of University students put a huge pile of tires in the hole and lit them on fire early one morning. Residents around it saw the billowing black cloud coming from the center of the volcano and packed themselves into cars for a mad exodus from the city. No one wanted to go up and investigate but eventually the police realized it was a prank and everyone was told to return home. There are cows all over the mount and according to our driver they like to lick the bus tires. So that's the funny taste in my steak last night?!?!

Now one of the worst disappointments of 2008 is that I missed seeing Def Leppard in Auckland by one day.
Second worst disappointment is missing Guns'n'Roses while I'm here on Nov 22nd. (I'll be halfway to Queenstown).

Trees: In the downtown they leave them be, out in the country they cleared them out. It's said that some unscrupulous land sellers in England took advantage of many buyers selling them land say in the lake Waitomo region. Can you imagine? Move your whole family and life, bringing everything you own to your new home just to find out your farm land is at the bottom of a lake.

Stopped off the road at a food pit stop and there was a bacon restaurant. Bacon and Eggs. Bacon on Mac'n'Cheese (which I had and I can feel my arteries clogging as I type) and Ian had a BLT with half a pig between the buns.

Also had a hot chocolate. It wasn't very chocolaty, and it tasted incredibly strong. Everything here, meat, milk, eggs all have such strong flavors. Trying to get used to it.

We went around the bus with a microphone and introduced ourselves. Name, where we live, what we do and a personal problem. Guess what mine was? Max is French, cute and very single, hello Max. Noel is from SF and a tattoo artist. Some more Frenchies, Irish girls who drink too much, and a couple American boys who have crazy girlfriends waiting for them to come home. All in all, an interesting fun bunch. Just passed through Hadley where there is a coal burning power station. Plug in those electric cars and sleep better at night folks.

Of course Kiwi's have funny ways to talk. They say cheers all the time but without holding a cocktail. They also like to say "it's all good" and "right, right" and one more that sounds like "nice ass" but it's something else.

Beautiful rolling hills and green everywhere. Lot's and lots of cows here, apparently cow tipping is practically a national sport.

Giant rolls of hay are wrapped in light green bags so the fields look like the Jolly Green Giant
dropped his bag of green marshmallows all over.

One of the girls who introduced herself said her personal problem was that she gets sick easily so sure enough, she did.
Then pukey girl puked a second time, but this time she sat next to me. If it happens one more time there will be group puking going on. (Thanks Leslie for packing my lunch in a plastic bag...)

Went abseiling.

Free fall on lines to a cavern floor about 6 stories down (maybe more-hard to tell) with Rodney.

It took me 4 times to get his name right...that accent is so hard to get used to. He chatted away furiously (it was only us, everyone else opted for freezing cold cave tubing) and I swear I understood possibly every 6th word.
He had me put on some huge nasty overalls then started strapping me up with ropes and buckles and when we were almost done I said, "this is probably not the best time to tell you I have to pee".

Next on to the glow worm caves where we saw gorgeous limestone formation and glided down a very cold underwater river in a boat to see the constellation above of hundreds of thousands of glow worms. Mesmerizing.

Nice walk back to the bus with cute little flowers that smelled of honeysuckle and jasmin.
I put my nose in one so much all the orange pollen was smeared over me and I got strange looks from a couple people.

Stopped at the town where another power plant is located on a river with a dam. There is a 'Golden Gate' looking suspension bridge from the town to the power plant.

It was built to allow the employees to get to work. Next we meandered through a town where the brand "pump" water is bottled. And let me tell you, it's all slow going. No highways here, just rolling hills and windy roads. Just drove by a sign that said "relief milker available". ???

Next stop Rotoroa.

Arrived at our hostel, the floor above squeeks when someone is walking. (note to self, drink a lot of dig out earplugs tonight).

The hostel has a natural thermal hot pool that I might hit after the event tonight.

Went to the Maori village show and dinner. I cringed a little as I paid $50 and hoped it wouldn't be a cheesy event. All my fears were left behind quickly enough.
I'd like to try and describe the beauty and reverence of the welcoming ceremony, the uniqueness of the village depicting normal daily life, the customs and intricate facial and body tattoos. In one word, awesome. And I mean awesome as the word uttered by the first deep sea expedition where glowing and phosphorescent marine life was found or awesome as meant when one simply cannot find any other word to describe something they have never seen before and are totally overwhelmed by.
(Oh and Leslie, I found hot Maori guy to smear lamb all over) We first went to a welcome area where a challenge was performed, then into the village full of tall trees and shrubs dotted with their small homes where we met them one by one and learned of their ways of life. Then into an audience hall where they performed many dances and most of them quite expressive. Then on to the dining all where all the food is cooked in the earth in their own juices. Wonderful! I filmed some of it below and you can watch a clip of the welcome ceremony. A truly magical evening I will never forget. (will post it tomorrow, come back, its incredible. Not like this internet connection which is far from incredible, or perhaps incredibly slow so I can't get it uploaded.