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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Middle of Middle Earth ... Again

This will be my 4th time in New Zealand. 
I did a mini trip to the Cook Islands a few months back and during that stay I got an email from Scotts Cheap Flights that United, my most despised airline, had what they call a "Mistake Fare" of $396 RT from San Francisco to Auckland. Usually it's $800 on a really good special. Having an opportunity to stick it to that horrible airline (and knowing I would actually be on an Air New Zealand flight) I clicked buy. Shortly after, I made my morning coffee with Hokey Pokey ice cream as the cream in my coffee. 


So here is my blog about this recent trip back to the land of Middle Earth and what was essentially a reconnaissance mission to travel by gravel road and perhaps drive on the left side to decide if I would come back and ride a dirt bike all over this beautiful country. 

My first meal. The amazing eggs here and bacon. 
They call it streaky bacon. It's not like any bacon you ever had.
And they serve 4 slices. Not 2 like here in the US. 
4 slices of bacon. 

After a short stop in Auckland I hopped on a flight to Dunedin to meet up with my ADV pal Trevor. 
We met on ADV years ago and again the last time I was in New Zealand a few years back to visit Milford Sound and some friends of mine one last time before they moved back to the US. 

Here is Trevor.

One blue eye. 
One brown eye. 
Tall as a willow. 
Loves riding dirt bikes. 
Super duper nice guy and funny to boot.
Our bond?

My room. 
Twin bed.
Soft mattress. 
Flannel sheets.
Down comforter.
Soft pillow (which I loved so much I took it with us in the Ute...more on that later).
Slept like a baby.
Where's Grindle?

View from my room downstairs into a gorgeous garden.
I'm going to bring your attention to the clouds.
The clouds in New Zealand are by far the most beautiful I have seen in the world.
Watch for them in each photo. 
You'll see what I mean. 

Most of you know my deep affection for butter. 
Some of you in my inner circle know of my shameless annual butter contraband. 
I love Canadian butter so much that I pack 8-10 lbs of it in a cooler and check it on my flight home. 

Trevor's fridge had this super awesome contraption to hold the butter in the fridge but keep it at just the right temperature. No more hard butter or having it go rancid because you leave it out and don't eat it fast enough (not a problem in my home). 

So here is the view from the upstairs of the house of Dunedin below. 
Yes. That's my finger in the left corner. 

This is how Trevor welcomed me to Dunedin.
Full tub of Hokey Pokey ice cream and one big spoon.

Pretty little fuchsia's all over the driveway that he expertly backed into at, what I would call, a high level of confidence (speed) to his house. 

He drove 40 mins to the airport outside of town to pick me up.
And he gave me the nickle tour of Dunedin the day I arrived.

He drove us up to this tower that gave an epic 360 view.
And he took this lovely photo. (as I forgot my phone back at the house).

Then he took me to Henry's.
A place to buy booze. 
You see, I've fallen in love with Gin.
And I stumbled across an article of all the great artisan Gin's of New Zealand.
I picked up a bottle of this Rhubarb Gin. 
OK. OK. Yes there is more than a bottle of Gin here. 
Let me explain. 

Left most bottle. Cuban rum. What else?
Then next bottle is the Blush Rhubarb Gin which did make it home without being sampled and is being promptly consumed. 
Then the middle bottle is a chocolate flavored Gin by Sacred Springs. (bottle has some neat Maori drawings) which made one fantastic stirred up drink last night. 
Then 2 bottles of Golden Syrup. (this is the stuff you can make Hokey Pokey with). 
Oh and for Yavor and a few other people who know my demanding expectations of toothpaste, lemon toothpaste. 12 tubes. I bought the whole store out. 

All right. Back to the actual driving gravel roads. 
Some sheep on our first pass. 

So we did the Dunstan Trail. (old dunstan road)
to the Styx into Waipiata.

The topography was spectacular. 
There were these jagged rocks which I compared to shark fins coming up out of the ground on the ridges of the mountains we traversed. 
And the wind. Lord the wind!

Miles and miles of this. 

Remember my comment on the clouds. 

First stop in time for lunch. 
New Zealand pies are special.
They are delicious. 
Usually hearty enough for two meals. 
This place made their own but every gas station, mini mart, grocery store and bakery has these little round pieces of heaven. 
But be careful. Lots of food poisoning problems if they sit too long.  

4 million people in New Zealand.
40 million sheep. 
So. Lamb pie for sure. 
Only made it through half this thing.
And some of you know how much I can eat.....don't worry, first breakfast the next morning. 

Cool old piano. 

From Chicago.

Waipiata is on a bicycle trail in the South Island and along the way there are these cute, cute hotel/restaurant/bar places for them to stop and eat or sleep. 

I have a lot of respect for people who tour by bicycle.
Once I saw a guy heading to Death Valley, down this remote road and it was already 88 degrees at 9 am. Crazy. Anyhoo, give me fossil fuels fun. 

The Hayes family. 
They were the only game in the south part of the south island to make any metal work or equipment. 
The story of work hard and prosper.
Not quite true anymore...

This was the waterwheel house that powered most of his workshop.

This place was beyond cool.

So let's talk about how chubby I look. 
When I bought some reasonable nylon hiking pants for the New Zealand weather and rugged outdoorsy demands, I bought one size bigger so that, well, should I eat a little too much HP or pies it would still be all good. Same thing with the shirts. 
So I'm going to blame it on the clothes fitting too loosely. 
Never-mind that I did actually eat HP ice cream everyday.  And pies. 

Neat old bottles. 

This tree is amazing. 
Looks like a dead Ent crawling down the hill.
I loved it. 

So the folks that run this place took some weird old stuff and made them into lamps. 
I love lamps.
If only we had room....

This was their home. 
There was a placard that said to not touch anything and that there were camera's watching us as we visited this historic house. 
Trevor casually placed his finger on a piece of furniture and stared at the camera as if saying 
"I dare you", while I made whooping alarm sounds. 

Cooking dinner on this must have been fun in the winter. 

Forged in Dunedin.

Then we drove up the rode a bit and he drove into this field and said "this is where we do the brass monkey motorcycle event every winter". Yep. That's right. In winter. 
Hence the large trees being burned here. 
Crazy f*ckers. 

There is the UTE. 
Ute means utility vehicle. 
They are everywhere here in New Zealand.
Some have those long snorkels too. 
Basically, 4WD. 
Rugged. In a good way.
I called her 'kitty kat'.
Every time we started her up and heard the distinct bbbrrrgggrrr of a diesel engine.
I could only think it was the purring of a happy kitty. 

This little house is for seasonal workers.


Then we turned off to Ranfurly and took a back road to Moa Creek and to the lake where some LOTR scenes were filmed. 

45 mins drive on gravel. 
Dead end. So we got to drive that road again.
Badly maintained gravel road. 
Totally passable though.

Anyway. Worth it. I took the photo without the summer homes so you could let your imagination wander and try and figure out what was filmed here. 
Hint. Rohan.

Coming back out. 

The road ahead. 

Remember...the clouds!

Just more of the beautiful same....

Next on to Alexandra/Clyde to check into our airbnb then on to Crawford Hills Road. 
Nice twisty gravel through an area known as Gallowan. 

Which included the Nevis Valley.
Found this amazing graveyard. 
Also found a recent grave here. 
A 3rd generation settler. 

The valley's here are gorgeous.
Gorgeous and a bit scary.
People lived here.
In the snow.

This family still survives here.
Great old mining equipment arrayed about their yard. 

Old homestead.
Chimney at each end of 50 foot long house made entirely of stone.
Must have been pretty cold. 

Truth be told. 
I was a bit nervous.
I learned that Trevor was a great driver.
Calm through rugged terrain and water crossings...oh yes. We traversed small rivers. 
So this was an 'unmainted' gravel road.
It was the latter part of the afternoon...sun going down.
But hey...I had some cashews, water, pillow and my satellite tracker, worse cast scenario. 
We did make it out but didn't get back until 9 pm. 
Definitely an epic day.

So the route was Cromwell and over to Bannockburn and then the Nevis Valley where it comes out near Garston. Up the side of Lake Wakatipu to Frankton (and successfully avoided Queenstown), then back to Clyde via the Kawarua gorge and Cromwell gorge which I didn't see because it was dark by then. 
I did see plenty of possums dead on the road. 
Seems these things are indestructible. 
Even when one is roadkill, it looks like it's napping.
No gore. 

Last part of the drive.

After the second half of a long day of driving gravel roads. 
Stopped for dinner. 
Meal was OK.
Garlic bread was weird.
But the fireplace was awesome.

Our first night was in Clyde.
Found a great place on airbnb.
These people left the house to go to the store and left the front door wide open.
So we got our keys then headed out for another dirt road. 
My hard single bed in the living room.
But that's OK. 
I've got Grindle.

We started with a nickel tour of Dunedin.
After today, we are up to the fifty cent tour for sure!

Here is a map of these days.

Next morning.
Ah. The food!!!!
My finger again on the left corner. 
As you can see, I've used my cell phone for all the photos. 

Another cute town.
Don't blink.

The only thing I love more than HP is the hot chocolate. 
The milk...oh the milk. Hormone-free, free range, grass fed, happy cows.
The milk here is musky, intense and just delicious. 
Takes a couple of days to get used to it.
And they don't drown it in super sweet chocolate sauce.

Cute tavern. 

First time we gassed up. 
Decided to fix the problem of very large bug splatters on the windscreen.
Their gas station windshield batons are bristled scrub brushes. 
Serious brushes.
For serious sticky bugs. 

Cute bridge...on the way to another adventure. 

And another ridiculously cute, bicycle trail, stop/hotel. 
See the repair service vehicle in front?

Next stop is an old mining town. 

Always windy.

This place is haunted.
That comes from a really reliable source.

So why did the photos look like this?
Same camera.
Creepy glossy, shaded and translucent.

Trevor waiting for his sandwich. 
In aforementioned, creepy hotel front desk.

This is the whole town by the way. 
Don't blink.

This lovely cloud just spun on itself. 
I could also hear the wind flowing through the poplar trees.

Daily ritual.
Find hot chocolate and some sticky, sweet thing. 
Drive some gravel.
Around lunchtime, find ice cream shop and have a triple scoop of HP ice cream. 
Loosen pants. 
Oh wait. Already loose.
Drive more gravel. 
Find dinner. 
Find airbnb. 

Next day.
St Bathans then Danseys Pass.

Stopped at this awesome lavender farm.

The place had all these beautifully hand knit things.
Rydhima, thought of Aarzhu when I saw these. 

Many property dividing walls are built like this. 

I wished I had a smurf to put underneath.
Asked if these were edible.
Best not to find out. 

Then we stopped off in Kurow to get wine for Trevor's sweetheart.
Who let us borrow her Ute.
Who later found out I drove it. 
And was still a sport about that. 

Well I didn't drive this day so.....chardonnay? 
Why not.

Another thing I appreciate here is the bathrooms always have actual towels to dry your hands. 
No paper.

Then we crossed a river at Kurow and through Hakataramea Pass and on to Haldon Road until we got to this place called the Dog Kennel corner. No dog kennels there now and through Burkes pass (also Bollocks pass) and stopped at this neat roadside attraction where I saw this awesome airstream. 

After this we drove to Geraldine for the night and I saw this cute store.
Well at first I smelled fresh made donuts and I thought it was coming from her shop. 
But no, no donuts. Just a bunch of other great stuff. 
Hundreds of bags of flours, sugar, nuts, candy, seeds, spices and...Dark Chocolate Hokey Pokey!

Which wasn't that good anyway. 
The milk chocolate compliments Hokey Pokey better. 
I'll suffer through my 1/4 lb bar. 

Trevor suggested we stay at this old historic place.
The online photos looked amazing. 
And the room was $40 on the website so I agreed.
Once we got there....well it was expensive, old and smelled like stale smoke and had no wifi. 
I got cranky on him and he went along with making a switch. 
Found this great 2 bedroom house that was newly remodeled. 
Had a full kitchen and washing machine.
I had a nice comfy twin bed.
Right on the main road. Good thing I brought ear plugs. 
Grindle liked it. 

The patio was just on the edge of the river in the back. 
Good thing Trevor was a good sport about it. 
So I washed his laundry in appreciation.
We were both starting to smell like little ducks with broken wings. 

Next was the LOTR highlight.
Mt Sunday.
Also known as Edoras
This was my first day driving on the left.
Stick shift no less.
Wide gravel road and I had a blast. 
After 30 mins or so, turned a corner and there it was in the distance. 

Close up.
You are looking for the small hill behind the tree line. 

This little stream was quite cold. 
There weren't any tour buses or large groups.
We had a rather private and quiet hike to the top of the mound where they constructed the hall. 

And there it is. 

Steep hill with an unbelievable wind.

View from the top. 

I tried to do a video. It's an attempt at a 360 but the wind was just too much.
I had to stop filming because a gust of wind nearly knocked me down.
At least they put the Rohan flag up here to prove you came here. 

There is farmland in the distance so Peter Jackson had to be careful with camera angle. 

Frankly, it was humbling just how majestic and gorgeous this place was. 
It really did take my breath away.
Having learned something from Icelandic ponies, I picked a safe spot in the grass on the less windy side to sit and appreciate the view for a bit. 

This is the other side of the valley. 
Looking North.

Cows graze everywhere.
So there are many cow patties on Edoras now. 
Their ears were so fluffy.
I was dying to touch them. 
Trevor cautioned not to.

Next we stopped for lunch at a bakery in Darfield. 
And refueled, (both the Ute Kitty Kat and us) we went on to Oxford and another gravel road through Lees Valley to Hanmer Springs. 

This was one of the scarier water crossings. 
I know it doesn't look all that scary.

Our route for today and tomorrow.
The tour is at a dollar now. 

Found another great place on airbnb in Hanmer Springs.
The listing said "animal park".
I thought that was just the name of the neighborhood.
Nope. This place was an actual working animal park. 

My room. Trevor insisted I take the big room.

After we settled in, we took a walk around.
With Wallabies!

She let us go into the pen and feed them. 
Their fur was so soft. Gentle cute little buggers. 

Check out those mountains in the background of the photo.

Then there was a pig family. 
She was a rescue.


This guy was freakin scary and was making these guttural noises. 
Felt like something you would record and play back in a horror film.

It started to fight with the deer!

This one had ears that look like  my helmet horns and quite the attitude to go along with it.

View of the animal farm from the upstairs of the house we stayed in. 

Went into town for a meal.
I had left over pie so I was good.
I had a liquid dinner. G&T.

Trevor got a foo-foo drink.

Later that night was a howler. 
The winds started coming off those mountains I just showed you.
The last time I was in 50-70 mph winds, the clouds did some really neat stuff.
Just like this....

The daily ritual. 
Get up.
Start the Ute. Bbbrrrrr (remember big Kitty Kat)
Stop for hot chocolate. 
Maybe say yes when they ask if I want marshmallows. 
Off we go.

Last dirt section.
The Molesworth.
By now, I'm used to these signs. 
(and gleefully looking forward to what lies ahead)

Total distance would be about 200 km. 

Flat, long valley after beautiful long valley.
Some sheep. 
Some cattle. 
Some horses.
Some dogs.
One cute musterer. 

And a LOT of these barrier gates.
That I got to open and close. 
A lot. 

Seems this land was, and is still used, to muster sheep and cattle. 
Original Molesworth station house where they could rest.

We came up on some guys on horseback with lots of excited dogs.
I commented 'oh he's cute' and Trevor asked. 
The guy or the horse?
I replied. Both.

Molesworth is also called Acheron Awatere Valley and we also did Taylor's pass to Blenheim. 
When I say we, what I mean is Trevor drove and I opened and closed gates. 
Oh, and ooohhhh and aaaahhhhed about the scenery and clouds. 

We visited the Omaka Heritage Aircraft Museum. 
It was amazing. 
Seems Peter Jackson, ahem, Sir Peter Jackson spent a boat load of money on this place. 

Our airbnb for the night was just outside of town.
We both had comfy beds. 
Plenty of hot water.

And a well stocked kitchen.
We went to the market and I bought everything to make dinner.
Lamb chops with mint, tomato, olive oil.
French scalloped potatoes. 
Garlic bread.
AND my Rogue with tonic. 

What a fabulous meal!

Ricky the owner of the house had a beautiful garden of flowers.
This is the third man I've met now with a gorgeous, somewhat girlie flowering backyard. 

He made that sleeping figure. 

And Ricky didn't steer us wrong when it came to the best pies in town. 

All the girls were wearing green and I realized it was St Patricks Day.

This was to be our last day adventuring.
We drove another gravel road called Port Underwood along the coast to Picton where I would catch the ferry. Stopped at this lovely beach. We are at the northern most point of the South Island now.

It was very beautiful.

Our last meal together. 
Yes we had Hokey Pokey ice cream before lunch. 
Great friend whom I had a lot of laughs with and who showed me the best parts of New Zealand.
Later that day I would be star gazing in Wellington on the pier and asked by a couple of officers if I was OK. Boy was I more than OK. I gushed about everything we had done and seen and all the roads we had driven and one of them said that I'd seen more than he had in his whole lifetime. 
New Zealand is actually pretty small in some ways. 
Total distance driven together 1800 km. 
Total value of tour?


I was sad to say goodbye but heartened that I was off to my favorite city in New Zealand.
A leisurely three hour ferry ride across the narrow. 
That's Wellington in the distance. 

Across the bay. 

Checked into my airbnb.
Second bedroom in a two bedroom apt in central Wellington.

This place was tiny. 

13th floor did afford it some great views. 

First stop.
Craft cocktail bar just a block away.
Dark. Cozy. Speakeasy.

One of many great cocktails they made me. 

After I became hungry and asked where to eat. 
They could have sent me anywhere mind you....
They sent me to 'Lucky' where I had one of the best fried chicken sandwiches, ever. 
Then I went to the waterside and just enjoyed the familiar view. 

Satisfied about my mission on the South Island and with an already palatable burning desire to return.

Next day I took a walk along the waterfront.

Food truck event. 

I had these butter drenched pancakes. 

And a farmers market. 

Lot's of great art deco buildings.
The main fire station is one of them. 

I've been here twice before. 
To Wellington.
In fact I have a routine. 
I make sure it always includes a movie at the Embassy theater

The lounge at the end of this hallway.
This time I watched Black Panther. 
It's a theme that I always watch a superhero movie at the Embassy. 

Ah but not before buying the whole supply of lemon toothpaste out of the super market. 
Weird I know. I've got an issue with American style toothpaste. 
It's so harsh and burns and I don't know if it's the chemicals, the fluoride or what but I have a Bulgarian friend of mine, Yavor, mule this one brand of honey toothpaste from there and now I have found another option in New Zealand. It's like brushing your teeth with lemon sherbet. 

Lot's of artists in Wellington. 
That wooded area in the background is Victoria park where many LOTR scenes were filmed. 
I'm going there tomorrow on my movie tour.
Stay with me....

One of my resources when trying to find unique, stylish, quality establishments directed me to Foxglove. It was on the water and it had a "game room". You can make our my reflection in the glass on the second photo below.

Another gorgeous Art Deco building.
Chartered Accountants. 
Certified accountants are awesome.

So here is Lucky.
I was so impressed with the food, I went twice.
Yeah yeah, it's a small food stall on a busy street. 
So what.
Great fried chicken. 
'nuff said.

I did have an expensive meal at Colonial which was disappointing. 

Another long walk at night along the harbor. 
The other side of Victoria park. 

So today we did a LOTR movie tour. 
First stop was a quarry just outside of Wellington where they filmed Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith. 
There was nothing left and we weren't allowed to enter the site so no photos. 
There was nothing to photograph. I was starting to regret paying for this tour but then we went further out into Lower Hutt and this is the park where they filmed Saruman's tower, Orthanc.

This glade is where they built the stone pass Gandalf rides along under the stone bridge. 

And this is where Saruman walks with Gandalf seeking his counsel.
And berates him for his love of the Hobbits. 

See that tree stump?
Remember the trees that get cut down to fuel the fires?
Well they had one very large fake tree on a hinge and filmed it from many angles being cut down with Orcs all about. This was it. 

Then we drove to another neighborhood and behind the row of houses was this stream. 
This is where the horse, Brego, lays down so Aragorn can get on his back. 
This photo is the exact angle. 

Generally a rather unimpressive place. 
Just goes to show how film can transform a place with story. 

Next we went to Rivendale. 
It's actually a place called Rivendale. 
And it was gorgeous. 

Walkway to Rivendale. 

This is the archway that the Fellowship leaves through when Frodo doesn't know which way. 

Next stop Victoria park and a famous tree.
Recognize the tree?
You will in the next photo.

And she, folks is my very own Sam cooking bacon for dinner. 
She was the Hobbit in the movie who took Bilbo's dining chair. 
She is also one of the tour guides.
She left Ohio to immigrate to New Zealand for the movie and decided to stay.

This is the "get off the road" trail.

After our walkabout through the park, we went to Miramar which is the movie industry section of Wellington. It's near the airport. It has this famous Art Deco cinema called the Roxy. 

It's not actually vintage Art Deco.
It's only 5 years old and was built by Peter Jackson's bank account. 
I guess he wanted something closer to home and his studios than the Embassy.

As usual these places always have fancy cafe's in them.
Who is that statue of through the window?

I ordered this lemon bar and he asked if I wanted the cream on the side or not.
Yep. That little bowl is homemade whipped cream. 
Can I have another?

I decided to take a city bus home.
I used google maps and went to the right bus stop.
Once I got on, asked how much the fare was and didn't have enough.
As I was frantically digging in my purse for extra change and apologizing for how long it was taking...the bus driver said "oh lovely, take your time, no worries".
Everyone here is so patient and likes to just stop and talk. It's wonderful. 

I wanted to load up on Cuban rum before I went back, in case the airport didn't have it. 
And maybe bring back a great New Zealand Gin so I went here and the guy behind the counter started offering me tastings!

Last night in Wellington. 
Had a wonderful time.
But feeling sad because I'm leaving tomorrow.
So I went back to Hawthorn for some flaming something or other rum drink expertly prepared by Patrick. 

The next morning I had a little time to spare and went for my last lamb pie. 

Cool eagles and Gandalf the White hanging in the airport. 

Now I've mentioned clouds more than once. 
Here are my last views of New Zealand, the land of Hokey Pokey and gorgeous clouds.

The 'loot' I made it home with:
Cuban rum.
Rhubarb New Zealand Gin (I'm halfway through that bottle)
Chocolate New Zealand Gin.
Golden Syrup (use this to make Hokey Pokey at home)
and 12 tubes of lemon toothpaste. 
I'm rather sure that my small carry on bag was at least 40 lbs. 

My first G&T when I got home.