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Fasten your seatbelts it's going to be a fun ride

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.