Thursday, May 1, 2008


Hokitika to Arthur’s Pass - The last day
We returned to the Café de Paris for breakfast today. They have great coffee and crepes that were stacked with apple slices and bacon between. They don’t use the maple syrup that we use but a Golden Syrup which is much lighter and less sweet. Yum, two cups of the most frothy cappuccino I’ve ever had and I was flying.

The morning’s ride was on a country road by a lake. There was very little traffic but many curves, and although the description was “undulating” - we felt that it was more “undulating up”. I felt cheated on the downhills, which seemed altogether way too short, given the amount of time needed to go up them.

Along the way we passed abandoned machinery - a boiler, cog wheel, and pistons that were left over from the gold mining days that the area was known for. Great excuse to stop for a water slurp and a sugar fix while admiring the plants growing out of the boiler. Picture time! (Every picture means I can stop to breathe deep, drink water, and give my thighs a chance to relax. Let’s see --- I have about 1,000 pictures. )

With some reluctance our ride ended and we headed off to lunch at an old time saloon with a great view of the mountains from the front porch. Even though it was a little cool, we sat outside and munched on whitebait sandwiches and soup. Whitebait is a little tiny fish that is scooped out of the sea in a net and mixed with an egg batter and sautéed like a pancake. It’s served on white bread and is rather bland. Could be an acquired taste.

Soon we were off in the van, headed to Arthur’s Pass and the Trans Alpine Train. The road made steep sharp turns as it climbed up and up. We were incredulous that Brooke was actually riding this road, which was very, very narrow with little or no shoulder. A car going too fast around one of those hairpin turns would take him out. Up over the pass we went and then down to the other side and the little town of Arthur’s Pass. There we spotted Brooke outside a cafe, just finishing lunch and looking fresh as a daisy in spite of the grueling ride. (Must be those thunder thighs.) He was suffering from post-ride high, that temporary euphoria one gets from an adrenaline infused rush of energy that gives you the final boost you need to make it to the top and then free-ride down the other side at speeds upwards of 70kph. His eyes were wide open as he described the ride, one of the best he’d ever experienced. (Caution: Don’t try this at home. This ride is for experienced professionals only. Consult your local bike tour guide for professional advice.)

The Trans Alpine Train is a scenic journey through the heart of the South Island, starting in Greymouth and ending in Christchurch, a four hour ride. Arthur’s Pass is midway in the route, but the views from the train were nonstop panoramas, first of mountains, snow, tunnels, and gorges and then leaving that behind to traverse the plains dotted with sheep and cows. Even though the constant motion of the train was soporific and we were all a bit tired, we chattered the entire way to Christchurch (no doubt to the annoyance of the other passengers who were all very quiet). The train has a “viewing platform”, basically an empty car with no windows where you can stand and take pictures. The wind rushes by making it very cold and very noisy. And there didn’t seem to be any shock absorbers on that car, so just maintaining balance was a real trick. Taking pictures? Ha! Just try to focus on a target moving at 100kph while you’re bouncing up and down. And yet the car was full of us crazies trying to immortalize the fleeting view as we jockeyed for position. Honestly, paparazzi to the mountains!

If taking pictures in the freezing air isn’t your thing, there is a bar car serving light fare, beer, wine and bubbly. And although you could pass the time reading or playing cards (there are booths in some of the cars), you will end up distracted by the scenery outside. On our trip, there was a gorgeous sunset and an almost full moon to mark the end of a challenging adventure that forged thighs of steel and relationships and memories to last a lifetime.

We pulled into Christchurch where we were met by Tim, the operations guru, who handed me a DHL envelope containing the needed proof of my existence. Behind the scenes, Tim had been corresponding with my husband to receive the courier package I needed to get a new passport in Auckland. I was instantly relieved but at the same time wary. If something were to happen to this envelope’s contents (my birth certificate, prior passport, photocopy of another passport and much needed money) I might not only truly be without a country, but I may cease to exist as well! From that moment on it never left me. I even slept with it under my pillow at the X Base Hostel in Christchurch, which was crowded for the Anzac weekend holiday.

Once I checked in at X Base I headed out to dinner with a young attorney from Sydney, Katie. From her I learned that all of the new hires at her firm work for about 6 months and then leave for about 6 months for an overseas experience (O/E) of their choosing. Some go to the firms overseas branches to work, others just travel overseas, but they all go back to the firm having had a travel experience. Brilliant idea! They bring back new perspectives, a more mature outlook and a less restless demeanor. This is a very common pathway in Europe and Australasia I have found from talking to so many recent graduates.

Of course we also talked about girl stuff. She was going to visit an old school chum who was engaged to a guy that she didn’t like and thought was manipulative. We explored all the possibilities of that relationship and the visit, and an entire soap opera unfolded before me. I admit I was hooked. I wanted to hear how the story ended and whether the girl married the guy in the end. Katie? Are you listening? What happened? I like happy endings!

And Now A Word From Our Sponsors………..
This is the commercial where I’m going to tell you about these various tour companies so you can book your own unforgettable adventure.

Ultimate Hikes New Zealand
Guided hikes of the Milford Track or the Routeburn Track
Phone: +64 3-442-8200

Adventure South Ltd.
Guided hiking or biking tours of New Zealand or Viet Nam
Phone: +64 3-942-1222

And Brooke and Pam also have their own tour company in Colorado
Dream Cycle Tours
Phone: 719-473-3110

But don’t go away………..Mrs. Q isn’t home yet and there are more adventures to come.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

FRIDAY, APRIL 18, 2008

Franz Josef to Hokitika - A long ride to get to tea -36km
The morning ride was supposed to start off at 8:15, so as to arrive at Hokitika earlier than we had been arriving. We were all ready - but apparently the weather didn’t get the word because it started showering about the time we wanted to leave. Our original schedule called for us leaving at 9am and sure enough, we pulled out at 9. So much for trying for an early start.

One of our guides, Rachel, was going off that afternoon to ride in a race of 100kms. It was supposed to be a fun ride with everybody dressed up like Halloween. We convinced Rachel that since she wasn’t going to be finishing the tour with us, then she should at least ride the mornings ride in her costume - a pink fairy. True to her word, we pulled out of town with Rachel cum Fairy and as we turned the corner out of town, an older couple on the corner just stared at Rachel as if they’d seen a ghost. It was hilarious. Unfortunately she changed due to rain and transformed back to a regular guide.

The morning ride of 36km took us through a beech forest and along side Lake Mapourika and Okarita lagoon, with some sporadic rain. The road “undulated” along until we ended up in Whataroa at the Kotuku gallery for morning tea and a chance to warm up. The gallery was owned by a Maori individual we does carving in Jade himself and contracts with others. His work was beautiful - delicate bone combs, large jade symbols and mammoth bones carved with Maori faces. It was fun to look around and I saw a “rock” I really liked, but not at $1,500NZ. It was very upright with one face highly polished and the other side au naturel. Very contemporary.

The Aussies and I skipped the middle ride -17km to Hari Hari after looking at the large uphill it involved. I was saving my strength for the later ride which was on an unpaved road along Lake Kaniere. It was scenic and shaded. We stopped for a group photo using a timer at Dorothy Falls and took turns posing in front of the falls for pics. I’m telling you - at our age, men and women don’t belong in tights and Lycra shorts. I just don’t feel dressed in public like that.

Dinner that night at the Café De Paris seemed strange without Rachel who left us for the following day’s race.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Haast to Fox Glacier - About 60Km - BEFORE Lunch
Yeah, that’s right. We skipped the biggest hills and let Brooke do them for us, but we still had our share. We also squeezed in a nature hike at Ship Point where Alison explained a lot of the local flora and fauna. I went down to the beach at the Tasman Sea to rinse my hands in the ocean, but ended up in water up to my calves. Unintentional, but refreshing nonetheless. Afterwards we drove to tea further up the coast.

From there we cycled 49K over gently rolling hills past pastures full of cows and over creeks such as Quad, Windbag, Kia, Kiwi, Hostel and many many others. Because the Aussie couple headed out first we all thought they were in front and when the Coloradans passed me, Rachel stayed behind to make sure I made it there. Though I had my doubts, Rachel kept encouraging me, giving me the updated Km left to go regularly. At one point she had a jelly type candy that runners use to get instant energy on the run, called Shock Blocks, and I wolfed it down and a granola bar with water. I would have sworn she had a little motor in her pannier - I’m huffing and puffing and there’s Rachel whistling to the birds calm as can be. It was brutal, my arms almost died, I need to find blister pads for my butt and I’m thinking of drastic measures - stealing the hotel pillow to cushion my poor posterior!! At the end of that ride was lunch at a very very picturesque beach, Bruce Bay. Lovely as it was, all I could do was crawl into the van, lay flat, and breath deep and slow. All this time I’d been trying to catch up to the Aussie couple, and here they had gone off the road and stopped for a tipple at the local fish farm. We were all tying to catch up to them and were very impressed at their speed. Little did we know that they were well behind us. After much encouragement to eat something, I made a plate of the lovely salads that Alison had prepared and bolted back to the van.

Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones enjoying the beach. Sandflies, which like to come out just before storms, were swarming everywhere. Sandflies bite like mosquitoes and the itch lasts longer, driving you crazy if you are unfortunate enough to be bitten. Usually a bit of breeze keeps them away, but it looked like rain was in our near future.

Not being a glutton for punishment, the Aussies and I rode the rest of the day in the van while Brooke and Pam rode on. We all finally reached Fox Glacier around 5PM.

Dinner was at Cook Saddle Café & Saloon, a local pub with old time photos and artifacts of the gold mining days. Can you decipher this sign that was on the wall?



Fox Glacier to Franz Josef
Water- Liquid and Solid
The weather had been iffy the day before and we were afraid that it would be cloudy in the morning, but true to our luck it was clear. We arose very early and drove to Lake Matheson, otherwise known as Mirror Lake. We were just early enough to see the mist rising and the sun shining on the lake, casting a mirror image on the water’s umber smooth surface. We walked around the lake, which has a hospitable path and platforms at key spots for viewing the mirror images. When we got to the most well know viewing platform there were already several photographers there, so we all jockeyed for position on the small platform then hurried on to the next event. Breakfast!

Most days we had continental breakfast in our rooms - cereal, toast, coffee, juice and most days yogurt. Believe me, if you don’t eat it all, you will be hungry and weak after the first 10ks and dipping into your stash of granola bars and “lollies”, a sort of Juicy Fruit. Sugar seems to be the drug of choice for serious bikers. And keeping sugar levels stable over long periods is the way they conquer mountains.

This hotel also had the best Internet connection - $5 for as long as you want. I could send email the night before, go to bed, and get the answer the very next morning when it was evening stateside. I furiously typed away, getting the answers I needed for acquiring a new passport. The good news: I could indeed get one, as proof of my existence could be couriered down to me relatively easily. The bad news: actually getting the passport could take up to a week. Grrrrr,…….I begged my new Auckland friends, Don and Jude to take me in and fortunately they agreed. Whew….at least the Girl Without a Country would have safe harbor from the storm. Hooray! So now as long as my documents arrive in Christchurch before Sunday, when I fly back north to Auckland, I’ll be somewhat set. No worries, mate - at least not at the moment.

Off to the next event. The town of Fox Glacier has……….a glacier. And of course an optional tour to allow us tourists the opportunity to experience it. We donned hiking boots, heavy wool socks, woollies, jumpers (sweaters) and gloves and hiked up the hillside - approx. 400 steps - to the face of the glacier. As we climbed the stairs you could see people walking on the glacier, but they were so far away they just looked like specks on the blue/grey surface. The walk was so steep, we lost a few in our tour group, either to fear of heights or inability to climb. Once we were ready to go onto the ice we put on crampons to grip the slippery surface. Our guide was a former Sherpa in Nepal and he was full of insights into hiking and the glacier. He carried a pick ax, which he used to chip away some of the ice on the ice stairs to make the surface easier for us to grip. We learned that the guides take turns spending the day grooming and cutting away at the ice stairs used as paths. They do it with the pick axes. Just imagine spending 8 hours a day chipping away at ice on a slippery, irregular surface in 30-40 degree weather. No desk, no coffee, and worse yet - where’s the bathroom? The nearest one is a 10 minute bus ride away, after climbing back down the mountain for half an hour. And if they miss a day of grooming, the ice paths will disappear.

One misstep and you could slide into a crevasse. The guides must pass a test whereby if someone falls into one of these cracks they have to unload their backpacks, drop lines down the crevasse to you and haul you back up within one half hour. Our guide said he hadn’t been able to pass it yet. I’m extra careful where I step. No crevasses for me.

We hiked past holes in the surface where glacial water pooled and then to a spot where there was a deep pit, about 12’ down, the size of a room. We scrambled down the ice stairs and looked around this marvelous room with a waterfall and deep sculptural cuts. On our way back to terra ferma we passed ice climbers as they picked their way to the top of a glacial wall. Apparently, the town of Franz Glacier has an indoor ice climbing wall. How cool would that be to try on a hot summer day?

Well, enough ice, we’ve got pavement to hit, and although it’s only 25k to Franz Josef, it isn’t flat! Not by a long shot. In fact the description of the ride is “Short but Grunty”

You can say that again! After all the hiking of the morning, the Aussies and I ride in the van to the top of the peaks in the road and cruise down hill to the next uphill, where we again catch a ride downhill. (We’re beginning to catch on the the downhill concept)

This was a really fun descent - fast and deep. But these roads are narrow and have hairpin turns so the risk of being bumped off the road is real. I was a little unnerved to know that there was a car on my tail following behind me as I wound on down the hill to a very sharp hairpin turn that led to a one lane bridge. At 40-50kph, one misstep can have you careening off the bike and into the mountainside. Ouch! Just at the point of the hairpin turn into the bridge the “car” passed me. It was an ambulance. No siren, just lights. Another thrilling day on the mountain.

By the time we ate dinner we were all already dreaming of bed, so dinner was somewhat of a blurr with painfully slow service. It happens.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Wanaka to Haast - A lot of Km
This day’s ride took us first to Lake Hawea via gradually climbing hills. We followed along Lake Hawea with it on our right, giving us something cool and calm to gaze at while our (ok - MINE) thighs burned. Morning tea with some great gingerbread and cookies was at the top of the lake, with the mountains as a backdrop. A folding lawn chair was an improvement over a saddle.

After tea commenced the afternoon’s punishing uphill ascent past an elk farm, water falls, and signs with falling rocks up to the Gates of Haast (personally, I think it should be the gates of hell). That’s one looong and steep hill. Many grannies. I’ll even admit to walking a bit. Alison, one of the guides, came by in the van at one point and said “You’ve not much further to go. It’s just up and around that wiggle and then just a little way further.” And I and the Aussie couple believed her. But when we got to the top of the next “wiggle” what did we find but another jog. Groan. Keep going. Get around that “wiggle” and then there’s Rachel with a camera and Alison half way down the jog cheering us on as if it’s a marathon. Gotta have a good finish you know, so the thighs be damned, I’m off. I’ve got to tell you that there’s no cool overlook, no stunning views and I wouldn’t have known I was there except that for a sign and Alison and Rachel telling, no promising, me that there wasn’t any more uphill. I guess that means you’re at the top. Photos all around.

And then we get to the good part. A really really steep and long down hill that curved and curved and gained more speed and then there was a runaway truck ramp (you know it’s fast when you see those) and another curve and then a really cute one lane bridge that you prayed no one was going to come through. And then we stopped for the photo ops that presented and then there was yet more downhill. Not like a rollercoaster where it’s done all to soon. And it didn’t stay as steep as the first part, but it definitely was still downhill a good 4Km. Alison picked us up at the bottom at a stop where there were stunning views of the mountains enshrouded in clouds with mist coming off a lake.

Further down the road, we stopped for a short walk in a rainforest area of Mount Aspiring National Park and then had lunch on the banks of the Landsborough River. A team of kayakers were just steaming by as we ate.

At the end of the day’s cycling we arrived at the hotel about 5PM, very tired. After a shower and cup of tea, we headed to dinner at a restaurant festooned with antlers draped over the rafters. As this is a seacoast town I ordered
the local fish, grilled. It had been panfried, but no matter - I just wanted to eat. It was still tasty. Alison took a lot of good-natured ribbing over the “last wiggle” and we all recounted the days events and the next day’s ride.

After that, all I wanted to do was go to bed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Immediately after I checked in to the YHA I dropped my plastic bag and headed out the door to retrieve my suitcase and backpack, which had been stored at the other YHA in town which had more storage space. After I returned, I set about downloading my pictures onto the computer and preparing for another post to my blog. There is an internet café right next door here so that’s where I headed to inform the world that, yes indeed, I still existed. I returned to the YHA at about 9PM and went to my room where I stayed like a good little girl until morning.

This was supposed to be 3 days of R & R in preparation for the cycling tour, so I took advantage of my private ensuite room and slept in late. I was just preparing to go find a good cuppa when I thought I’d best bring with me my passport and other important stuff - like money! - that I had put in the plastic bag. (Don’t ask me why I put the money in the plastic bag,.I do do dumb things occasionally, but only when the negative consequences are really bad.) So I started to take things out of the bag, sure that it was all there somewhere…….. Somewhere……. Yes, it’s got to be there somewhere….. Ok, where is it? …. These things don’t just walk away. ….Right?…. Right?… Now I know I put it in here…. Ok, I’ll take everything out of the bag and sort through things one by one…. Ok, so it’s not here…. So I’ll take everything out of my suitcase and sort through it one by one. ..Not here. Ok I’ll take everything out of my backpack and look there. Oh God it’s not there, where can it be? Oh no, it’s not here, what has happened to it? Ok , let’s look once more. Ok, I’ll put everything out of the suitcase and put it back one by one. Ok, now the backpack. Now think…..when did you last see it? And so on and so on for 2 hours. Even the garbage was suspect.

When it became clear to me that it wasn’t here, and I didn’t want to think that it wasn’t, I decided I needed to go back to the tour company and see if anyone had found it and turned it in. Could it be on the bus? Could it be in the backpack? Or the small travel bag? The whole day was consumed with what ifs, could it, or is it possibles. But still no luck. I decided to take account of where I stood. I had approx. $NZ190 and one credit card. Making telephone calls cost $NZ5 per phone card. I used up 3 just trying to contact the American Consulate in NZ. I would call and get voice mail. That’s $2. Once, I got a real person and was in the middle of having her explain what I needed to do when………click. Time’s up. I called back after buying another phone card only to hear…..“Our offices are open………“ - obviously not now. That will be $3 please for that stellar information. My taxes at work. Grrrrr. That thought only served to increase my agitation.

Sigh, obviously this was a situation that I was not going to resolve on my own with phone cards so I headed to the internet café. First order of business, find out what the consulate needs to issue a passport. The connection was slow. The connection died. Won’t someone please help me? A geek came over and fiddled with the settings and, the part that always scares me, he writes code. On my computer. I hope I didn’t catch anything - like a virus. A minute later I’m connected again. Time is valuable here. I just can’t type fast enough. I can’t write what I find fast enough, and printing is $.30/pg. Next order of business, email home:


Do you think that was too subtle?

During all my back and forths to the tour operator I ran into one of my fellow hikers on her way to the beauty parlor. I explained what had happened and she said she’d stop by later. I didn’t think anything of it and continued roaming and thinking and - what any sane woman would do in this situation - shopping! After all I still had one credit card and I thought I’d better try it out soon before I really needed it, like after I’d eaten a meal. I wouldn’t want to end up having to wash dishes.

So my wanderings took me into a jewelry store full of black pearls. As I’m perusing the cases trying hard not to let my backpack fling anything valuable off a shelf, I look up and there is another fellow hiker, Rebecca, admiring a ring she had just purchased. After a few minutes of chatting she suggested we get a coffee and lunch to celebrate her purchase and she would treat. (Why is it we women celebrate large purchases with another purchase?) We passed a lovely lunch watching a slide show of my pictures and reminiscing the hike. (I carry my computer everywhere now. Losing it would just push me past the edge.)

Back at the hostel is a message board with my name in big letters at the top. Gee, I must have a message. It’s two of the group of Kiwis from the hike, inviting me to dinner. I gladly accepted and they picked me after I made a stop at the police dept. to file my “Missing Property” claim. As we walked up the hill to the house they had rented for 10 of them I gave them the story of what happened. And then when I got to the top I repeated it, mostly for the other women. Collectively we worked out the possibilities and what ifs and maybe this or that’s, but all came to the same conclusion - Yeah, it’s missing. And it’s all very strange.

I was so delighted to be invited to a Kiwi barbecue, and Brent, the group’s chef did a marvelous job with steaks, Waldorf salad, leaf lettuce salad, potatoes and lots of wine and champagne. After dinner everyone reluctantly brought out their stash of cookies and chocolates from the walk to share. It was so funny to see who had the largest pile.
And they are all so very animated when they are discussing politics, rugby, their shared past, education today, and any other subject, that the time passed very quickly and all to soon they took me back to the hostel, but only after arranging to pick me up at the airport when I arrive in Auckland to deal with the passport issue. One of the women also had quietly asked me if I needed any money to see me through, and I was so touched it just about made me cry.


Aside from spending the day writing and emailing I managed to eat. Even though I had a credit card, I didn’t really want to use it. It’s almost a challenge to see how well I can get by for at least the next 2 days. So…..
Breakfast There is instant coffee, tea, and creamer in the room
And I had pitas left over from before the Milford tour.
In the common fridge in the “free food” bin was
Margarine and jelly. No cost

Lunch Left over cookies from Milford and an orange from

Dinner Packaged udon noodles, one large carrot, $NZ 1.20
Tomato, garlic, spices, oyster sauce, soy sauce
In “free bin” No cost
Broccoli left over from Before
Milford No Cost
Made a delicious stir fry
Dinner was served with a $NZ 30 bottle of Voigner that I had purchased in the wineyard at Renwick. I served it out of a plastic glass because the wine glass I had broke.

Internet to email $4.50

SUNDAY, APRIL 13, 2008

Back and Forth, Back and Forth
And still no luck. The manager of the YHA reviewed the tapes of the hallway to my room and saw no one come into my room other than myself. So it boils down to somewhere in Milford Sound. I believe at this point it’s a lost cause and just want to get on with my travels. Oh well. Might as well go shopping.

Breakfast More pita bread, tore off moldy parts
Instant coffee No Cost

Lunch Candy bar left over from hike No Cost

Dinner 2 eggs, tomato from “free bin” No Cost
One portabello, small piece cheese $1.15
Made an omelet with mushroom, tomato
And cheese (cheddar)
Served it with the Voigner in a plastic cup

My afternoon snack was a ginger hot chocolate at a café that had free WIFI so I got to have a snack and do email for $4.50

MONDAY, APRIL 13, 2008

The Weakest Link - Queenstown to Wanaka
Oh yeah that’s me! Monday started the West Coast Escape bike tour, six days of biking up the West Coast of New Zealand through Mount Aspiring National Park, Haast Pass and the Southern Alps to Hokitika where a trans apine train will take us through Arthur’s Pass and on down to Christchurch.

The first challenge Monday morning - figuring out how the brakes work. They’re backwards here, small gear on the right, big cogs on the left. And the gear shift! There are 2 clickers on each handlebar. Push the lever down on the right to make it easier, but up on the other side for easier. I’m constantly getting it backward, and consequently either falling off because I’m in too low a gear, or killing my thighs because I just pushed into too hard of a gear. And the helmet adjustments. I’m being strangled.

Second challenge - a very steep decent down with harepin turns. Well, I thought, that was fun. But then we kept going. It was hard to get warmed up after that because it was so windy and cold coming down, but a few miles of roadway and I warmed up. And then we hit the first hill. No, correction, this was no hill (to me). This was every bit as steep as the first decent, only it was up, and with a lot of truck traffic and dust to boot. Oooohhh - what have I gotten myself into. Two of the group went ¾ of the way up before being picked up by the van, and 2 went the whole way up. One of those two was long gone before we even got near the place, and that’s after he had already ridden I don’t know how many Km just getting out of town while we all took the bus. And what did Mrs. Q do? Hah - she hopped on the van at the first bend in the road. Thighs of jelly. And knowing for sure that I am the weakest link!

At the top of the hill was a very nice sign, a downhill truck on a wedge and a sign below saying “Downhill next 43Km”. Very nice indeed. We took that road down partway, ( I got up to about 50KPH on that road) then turned off to go into a little town called Arrowtown, a leftover from the gold rush days. It was here that we had morning tea, under the trees of the city park facing the mountains with their brightly colored fall trees. Could have been Vermont it was so cute. But soon enough we had to head out of town on a road that was gently rolling hills until we had lunch at the Cadrona Hotel. This Hotel, another throwback in time, is about the only thing in town, and if you saw it, you probably wouldn’t stop, but you would be missing a real treat. Out the back is a large yard with picnic tables and umbrellas and a lovely rose garden and a handsome stone fireplace that would be great for evening cocktails on a cool evening. We had huge bowls of soup with crusty rolls and lemonade, a drink similar to Sprite. After lunch we loaded the van and drove actually past Wanaka to a park from where we cycled on a single-track path that went up and down and around always following Lake Wanaka on the right side. Parts were very narrow with steep drops to one side. Further along the track goes by some beautiful homes with stunning views of the lake and the mountains. These homes I later learned would be $2-3 million each. It seemed that all to soon we rolled into town and, groan, up a hill to our motel. I was thrilled to have a private room there being no other single people on the tour. After a hot shower and brief rest we headed to dinner down the hill and fille our stomachs with local fish and a great dessert. I staggered up the hill and barely made it into bed before falling asleed.

The Real Cyclers - And Me
The group consists of a Colorado couple ^v^v^, an Australian couple ^^, and me _ _ _ _. Brook, from Colorado, is off to climb Denali when they return from doing this and the Milford Track, not the luxury walk, but the one where you carry all your food and sleeping bags. He and his wife, Pam, have climbed (I forget which mountain) and Brook hasn’t ridden in the van yet. Whereas we may drive 40K to get somewhere to bike, Brooke will bike the whole way, probably over 100K, and arrive before we do.

The Australians are regular cyclers who talk about some of the races and rides they’ve done in the past. His seat looks horribly uncomfortable with absolutely no padding, but he swears otherwise. I can’t get enough padding.

(Finished this at 12:30AM and haven't had time to edit to terribly but must go to cocktails now. Long day in the saddle.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Read the post after this next one first. I couldn't fit all on one post and couldn't get it to post in order. Sorry. I have about 300 pictures in between these two and picking two was hard. Sorry I can't add more but they take too long to upload.
Love you all. Thanks for reading my blog.

The Climb, The Descent, The Very Sore Feet - 9 miles (6-8 hours of blessed torture)
Today was the “big day” - one meter of climb for every 8 meters distance. We had to start earlier today- 7:30, and we are told that if we normally packed one sandwich, to pack two and to not hold back on snacks and water. We do as we are told. (One of my fellow hikers commanded me to make another sandwich because I looked too skinny.) The walk starts out fairly flat, but soon starts climbing. The rocks themselves that line the path are so colorful that you have to remind yourself to look up, though do it to often and you risk twisting your ankle. Quartz, feldspar, gneiss, and many others all different sizes and colorings. There are trees with bluish berries that are edible and taste similar to a blueberry. Up through the trees we went constantly climbing, hemmed in by mountains. About 16 rocky switchbacks needed to be traversed. Periodically you are reminded of the danger as there are signs saying “Danger Falling Rocks, Do Not Stop Next 200 Meters”. And you don’t. Who wants to get whomped on the head after all.

Finally we climb above the tree line and the landscape changes dramatically. There are all low-lying shrubs and grasses, but it isn’t as parched looking as a tundra. Way, way down below is the valley and a view of Pampolona Lodge, a mere speck in the far distance. The wind picks up and it is definitely cooler. No longer is there a wall of mountains to look up to. It’s like arriving on the set of “The Sound Of Music”, only this set has a friendly guide to greet you with a hot cup of Milo (NZ hot chocolate). Oh, and Julie Andrews wasn’t wearing a dress but several layers of wool, a hat and gloves. Very chic, especially the long underwear. Believe me, I was glad for every last fiber.
I leaned against a rock out of the wind and sipped the warm fluid, my hands trying to sap the heat from the paper cup.

The view was stupendous as the day was a clear one with few low lying clouds, which allowed a rare and unobstructed view of the valleys on either side of the pass. A memorial to Mackinnon is a touching reminder of the travails endured to get here in 1888, but hey, it’s too cold to linger here for long. A quick tour of the top, a few pics (until my camera started acting up from the cold) and I continued on. The little ponds around the area (they reminded me of giant water-filled pot holes but really they’re called tarns) reflected the clouds, and in the sky was a group of Kea birds, a type of parrot that doesn’t ask for crackers, but sings rather nicely and is apparently very mischievous.

Holding on to my hat against the wind I started the descent and about 20 minutes later reached lunch, a very welcome sight where I could briefly take my boots off to rest my aching, bruised and very tired feet. A cup of hot soup, a sandwich and a cookie helped fuel me up for the afternoon fun. Just outside the hut is a “long drop”, a port-potty that has a window so you can view the valley below while taking care of business. Personally, I found it to be a bit scary - the wind just howled and I was sure that at any moment I was going to be carried off, dropped drawers and all.

Several of our hikers were having problems making this part of the trek and a few of the stronger ones hiked back a bit to relieve them of their packs.

I didn’t want to linger at this point fearing that I would seize up and I didn’t want to miss the “optional” hike (1.5 hours total) to Sutherland Falls that was near the Quinton Lodge where we were staying that night. So off I went. About 20 minutes later, in the shelter of the mountains to the right, the wind died out and I was able to peel off a layer of clothing. From this vantage point the mountains had more shadows. Watching my footing was a real concern here because you are dropping your weight onto your foot, so the walking stick became very useful this part of the journey.

Once I reached the tree line, about 3:00, I entered what the guides call “The Enchanted Forest”. It was dark here with lots of shadows. The trees weren’t straight up but often curved in eerie shapes with moss dripping from the limbs. Roots were abundant, thick, and spooky, like vines spread upon the forest floor. To put it mildly, I would not want to be here alone at night. I’m sure there are goblins and elves and hobbits and all sorts of creatures I don’t need to know about. All the same it was awesome to think that something like this really exists in the world. It was cool there and water ran in little streams everywhere. Birds continued to sing and soon the sound of rushing water reached my ears. Falls. Glimpses of them seen through the trees gave a burst of energy to descend the many-tiered steps to see the full fury of the water at the base. Lots of pics here. Further on though my feet are about to burst through the toes of the boots and it’s time for the poor dogs to be let out. A damp rock, a moss covered stream, ice cold water and my feet thank me. Of course a snack and some water don’t hurt either.

Soon I was off again, singing out loud whatever was on the Ipod at the moment. It’s great for motivation and we were all so spread out by this time that no one could really hear me, so Grace Kelly danced on down the track without a care. That is until nature called and this time It was a long drop in the woods without a door. Geez, I was glad no one was too close behind on the track.

The Ipod really helped keep my mind off my feet and thighs to such an extent that by the last half mile I was dancing away, skipping over the stones. But once I reached Quinton Lodge and a soft chair and a glass of Tang ………aaaahhhh. I dared not sit too long for fear I’d never get up again and there was still the walk to Sutherland Falls, the 5th tallest in the world. I didn’t come this far to miss anything good. That’s for sure.

The climb was worth the effort because the falls were spectacular, though certainly not as wide as Niagara. The force of the water was unending and I really wondered where it all came from there was soo much of it.

As I showered after the hike the sounds of “aaaahhhs“, and “oooohhh that feels good” could be heard throughout the co-ed bathrooms.

The level of chatter rose yet again during cocktails and dinner that evening as by now we were all getting to know one another and there was much to replay of the day, as two of our hiker were limping in at the end and one of the hikers missed the lunch spot, causing a brief panic. (How can you miss lunch? I mean, that to me is a really key part of the day.) And of course the Kiwis and Aussies regularly tore into each other. As arduous as the hike was that day, I hated to have it end. My feet and thighs, however, thought otherwise.


The Final Trek - 13 miles (6-8 hours of walking)
The lights came on at 6:15AM and I think there was a chorus of groans, though not audible because, well, there is this Aussie/Kiwi rivalry thing going on among the boys. Everyone staggers up. I took another hot shower to warm up and be nice to my dogs, who were barking. Made lunch. Packed. Ate breakfast and out the door. After two minutes of walking I realize I’d forgotten something and turned around and went back. Aaaaahhhh my feet yell. Back on the track I try to speed up to make up the time. The walk followed a river and, while it wasn’t as demanding as the prior day’s, it was actually longer. Footing was always a challenge. Big rocks, little pebbles, sharp edges, wet and moss covered. Today’s walk is all about endurance. Everybody was hurting. I used the walking stick in one hand, but that arm quickly became sore so I switched to the other.

It was very cold out and daylight had barely begun. But when it did cross the mountains and seep through the trees it changed the whole nature of the track, giving the leaves of the upper branches of the trees a whitish glow, sort of like iridescent confetti. The rhythmic music of the Ipod helped keep a pace until tea time where the track ran through the Boatshed. A hot Milo, a cookie, a bandage and fleece feed me and my feet for the next few hours. The potty stop here was scenic - open slats in the floor of the building that sits about 5’ off the ground. Is this for ventilation?

The walk to lunch was cold and damp with climbs over piles of downed trees and rocks (from avalanches). I passed several walkers only to have them pass me when I stopped for photos. And although I heard the river beside me, I couldn’t see it very often for the trees and brush. I thought the stop for lunch would never come. And just when I thought I’d have to stop anyways for a break, there it was - a swing bridge over a river and a roaring falls with sunshine and a large group of our walkers eating lunch out on the rocks, soaking up the sun. Heaven, at least until the sand flies started helping themselves to me for lunch. Lovely as the setting was, there was a timetable for the ferry at Sandfly Pt. to take us to Milford Sound and our hotel. So there was no time to linger.

Keith stayed behind as I finished my lunch to walk with me, as I arrived shortly before everyone else was heading out. Even though they all had a good 10 minute start, we soon overtook them. Keith kept asking me what I did for training for this trek because I walk rather fast. I said that I just got on a treadmill, set it for 3.5mph and walked for an hour, mostly uphill. And now that’s my pace and I can’t slow down without feeling like I’m crawling. So after about 10 minutes of trying to walk slowly, I passed a slew of hikers, ignored my feet, and picked up the pace. (If you want to be sociable, set your treadmill for a more modest 2.5-3.0) This bus didn’t make frequent stops for pictures; it was an express to Sandfly Point and the finish line.

And it seemed like that point arrived before I knew it. The end of the track. A cold glass of Tang. A bench and a fire. And the wait for the ferry. A walk that rose to 3,278 feet in height and 34.2 miles over 4 days. A real sense of accomplishment and endurance.

The other walkers trickled in and soon the ferry arrived, we boarded, and took our last look at the track, the water, the trees that we had gotten to know those last few days. The ferry took us through equally stunning scenery to Milford Sound, where a bus drove us the last ten minutes to Mitre Peak Lodge, our home for the night. We suffered through the orientation and schedule briefing and then headed to our rooms where our small day bags awaited. As I opened the door of the room, offloaded the backpack I’d carried for 4 days and looked around, my eyes spied a tub, and the thought of looking around the grounds or of anything else drifted away. I had this wonderful room with a gorgeous view of the mountains and a garden all to myself. And a long hot bath in my own bathroom was just what my sore body craved at that point.

As you can imagine, the cocktail hour was celebratory and dinner was a virtual din of chatter. The menu was either roasted rack of lamb or fish and chips, both with fresh veggies and potato. Dessert was a giant chocolate cupcake with whipped cream and I don’t think anyone left hungry.

After dinner was the usual tea, coffee, and cookies accompanied by the issuance of certificates of accomplishment and the final briefing. There were many speeches and an exchange of addresses. And of course, because so much was made of my being the last on the bus, I was the last to receive a certificate.

Many in the group progressed to the local pub for additional carousing, but I headed for the gift shop to pay my bill, purchase a t-shirt and then head off to my room to do laundry in preparation for my next adventure. Little did I know that an adventure of a different sort would soon unfold.


End Of The Road For This Adventure?
The generator never stopped, and I wrote and read until I couldn’t see and then fell asleep. My internal alarm clock woke me early the next day, so I folded the remaining laundry and finished packing my stuff into the large plastic bags they had given us. Then I headed down to pack my lunch and eat my final breakfast with the group I had become so fond of.

After breakfast we brought our backpacks, small travel bags and large plastic bags down to the lobby where they were separated. The large plastic bags went in one pile for transport on the bus to Queenstown. Then I headed off, walking down to the wharf for the boat ride around the sound and out into the Tasman Sea. It was a bright, sunny, but very cold day and the tour was jaw-dropping as it cruised along. The mountains literally came down to the water and the light cast amazing shadows all around. The sun finally peaked up over the tops and then a new set of shadows appeared. We headed for a large waterfall and were drenched in spray as we neared, but the shear power of the water was magnetic and it made patterns in the water like a spider web as it hit and rippled outward.

All to soon the ride was over and we boarded the bus to take us out of Fiordland and back to TeAnau. But even the bus ride was interesting as the driver gave a running commentary on the area, the length of time it took to build the road, and the care taken to prevent avalanches from closing it.

Back at Te Anau ,as the bus rolled in, we spied a group similar to ourselves 5 days earlier, all awaiting a photo. They were as curious of us as we were of them and the guide asked us, in all seriousness, to put on a good limp for them when we got off and to look a little haggard. What fun. The circle complete.

We bid farewell to a number of our own, who were going on to hike the Routeburn, and two of our four guides, who were going to go off with the new group, hiking the trail yet again. They do the trail about 30 times in a season, taking groups of up to 50 each time. I can’t even imagine what their feet look like. Is there a podiatrist in the house?

Back on the bus, we had another 2 hour ride to Queenstown, during which most of the group dozed or at least had that glazed over look about them. Once we arrived in Queenstown, we collected our plastic bags and headed off in our own directions to our various hotels, with nary a goodbye. Exhaustion took over and autopilot engaged until I could finally check in, unload, and put my feet up to rest.


To Be Continued
Ha Ha Ha………I love a good cliff hanger!!!!!!

The Briefing Meeting - 3:45
I have anticipated this tour for so long now as its’ own unique challenge - 5 to 7 hours of hiking in a World Heritage area - that I came and asked the time of the meeting twice while I was roaming the streets of Queenstown making last minute arrangements. So it was with some trepidation that I walked in for the briefing. I looked around and sized up the group. The English are supposed to be born hikers I’m told and the Kiwis live here so they must hike a lot. Home field sort of thing. Look at their shoes. A few have on serious hiking boots. I’ll avoid them for sure. No high heels. And pants - none look new and they all look practical. No weak society matrons with manicured nails here. Damn! I’m in trouble. There are two teenage boys. Hmmm…..A few older retired types. Hmmm……..What sort of group will this be?

Who will be fast, who will drag, and who will everyone wish could be voted off the track? I hope it isn’t ME!

We were all issued numbered backpacks, sleeping sheets, a rain coat and told what we should have with us to keep the packs light and ourselves warm and comfortable. Leave behind - makeup (eeek), multiple changes of clothes (live in one set of hiking clothes and one set of evening clothes.), money, credit cards, passports, anything that add extra weight, no matter how small. We were also given a small bag into which we could put a change of clothes and other small items we may want in Milford. This was also their opportunity to sell all the little things you may need like a wool T -shirt (cotton is not advised as it traps moisture), wool fleece for your feet (not to keep them warm but to cushion blisters and other sore spots), walking sticks, and a “torch” which is a small flashlight for midnight trips to the potty.

A few dollars poorer (I really needed that torch and fleece sounded preventative. And who can resist an all wool T-shirt, especially one with mountains on it? Heck all I have are cotton and I sure want to wick!) I headed up the hill to my room to sort out my clothes and do a load of laundry. What to wear in the evenings? Which shoes? Yikes, the bottle of sunscreen is FULL and weighs 8oz. Which shoes are lighter - the sandals or the moccasins? To decide I held them both out to the side at shoulder height and closed my eyes and waited for one arm to feel heavier. They felt the same. Sandals won because they had open toes and I thought my feet would appreciate that after a day of toe banging in boots. Bug spray for sand flies- another full can. Well, I can’t spray half of it out and I’m told that the flies are vicious, so in it goes, even full. And in spite of the weight I brought my money, passport and credit cards, not trusting to leave them at the hostel for 5 days. I thought it was enough of a risk to leave my computer in their locked room. I went to bed mentally making sure I packed everything I would need.


Wake Up To The Adventure - .8 miles of walking
I was up extra early, writing my blog (yes, I do think of you) and making last minute packing decisions. After a lovely breakfast overlooking the Lake, Mandy called a taxi for me and I loaded all my luggage. Off we roared to the storage area of the hostel, which was further out of town than I thought it would be. After offloading my own backpack and suitcase (which has now been expanded to fit all the stuff I’ve accumulated) we raced through town to pull up beside the bus to Te Anau five minutes before departure. Imagine my surprise when I walked up to a full bus, stepped aboard and was greeted by everyone in unison saying “Hello Beth” (pronounced bayth). Sigh. My fate is sealed. I’m sure to be voted off the track. I’m also at a grave disadvantage now; everyone knows my name and yet I know no one at all. (Mercifully, we all wore name tags the entire trip) In defense I reminded them all that I still had 5 minutes, they were all way to early and there was still time for a cuppa. They all laughed and I slipped into a seat, wishing anonymity, but knowing all the while that that was now totally impossible.

The bus took us to a hotel in Te Anau where we had lunch - hot soup and an array of sandwiches. I sat at a table of mostly men, one of whom I had sat next to on the bus. Keith is a retired air traffic controller who likes the outdoors, particularly hiking. His wife was unable to make such an arduous trek, so he came alone. The other men indicated that their wives would not enjoy this sort of activity so they, too, came alone.

After lunch we were milling about waiting for a group photo when a bus rolled up. Murmur went around that this was a group that was just finishing, and so we were keen to see their expressions. Were they haggard? Were they limping? Or were they smiling and happy go lucky. Mixed. Hmmm……… No severe limping, some smiles, all together didn’t look too bad. Soon we were back on the bus and on the way to the far end of the lake. The ferry boat that transported us had an upper deck and a lower seating area inside. The captain provided a running commentary of the area we traversed. The lake was smooth and surrounded by mountains with high cliffs and small caves that the Maori used for shelter in winter. Further along was a small island with a memorial cross for Mackinnon, the first to cross the Mackinnon Pass in 1888 and a famous mountaineer in these parts. They know his boat wrecked in this area but all they found of him was his skull, which they buried at this spot. Now isn’t that a lovely way to start such a trek? On and on we went for an hour’s boat ride in the waning afternoon light to our dropping off point - a small dock and path. I felt like a cast member of “Survivor” as I stood and watched the boat drive off - without me. Committed. No way out but to walk to the other end.

But once we started the 20 minute walk to Glade House it was like being transported to a surreal place. Even though I was still sizing up the competition, I marveled at the scenery we passed. This was a rainforest and moss coated all the trees, their branches, the forest floor - everywhere. So many different kinds of shrubbery and trees and birds singing. I expected and alligator to pop out at any moment. Fortunately there are none in New Zealand. And just like that the walk ended and we came out to a clearing with a stream and a lodge in the midst of a grassy clearing. It could have been Montana for all I knew.

We were greeted with tea, scones, and cookies, a daily afternoon ritual. We were assigned our rooms, where we dropped our packs and explored the lodge and its’ small museum dedicated to the track. To reve up our appetites there was a nature walk through the moss covered forest where many of the trees and shrubs were identified, including a black pepper bush, which actually tasted like pepper. The Maoris used it as a pain killer. Could we rub it on our sore feet if needed? On the way back I noticed the head and antlers of a large deer, recently picked clean, leaning against the back of the lodge.

The choices for dinner were venison (Hmmm…..) or Blue Cod, all simply prepared with steamed squash and carrots without any seasoning and mashed potatoes. Very lean and healthy. Dessert, however, was different. A delicious apple strudel with some sort of baby gooseberry was offset with vanilla ice cream.

The Trekkers
This group of 42 includes a large contingent of Aussies, about equally matched with Kiwis, one Korean (who has moved to Sydney), 1 Tasmanian, and 2 Americans, including myself. One group of Kiwis are high school and college chums who, along with spouses, have decided to do this together. Another group of Aussies all seem to work in the same ENT practice. All told there are about 3-4 doctors, a lawyer, a finance person, several retired couples, a young freelance photographer (US), a physical therapist, 2 teen boys, a management consultant, a few single women and a few single men (some just not with spouses). The group is very congenial, the Aussie/Kiwi rivalry notwithstanding. It actually was fodder for good humor.

After dinner everyone introduced themselves with a few comments, the guides gave a humorous presentation, there was more coffee and cookies, and a slide show about the next day’s walk. This all ended about 8:30PM, at which time some people stayed around for another beer and others, myself included, slipped off to bed. The generator stopped and all went dark at 10PM sharp.


The First Real Day of Tramping - 10 miles (5-7 hours)
The lights came on at 6:45, waking everyone up without the need of an alarm. Fast shower, repack, and make your own lunch. At a long table were several stations of lunch meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and all sorts of sauces like chutney and chow-chow in addition to the usual mayo and mustard. At another station were several types of packaged cookies, chocolate bars, granola bars and fruit. No need to fill your water bottle as the stream water is drinkable and refreshing. Be sure to eat all your food and drink all your water we’re told. Don’t need to tell me twice. There’s muesli and other cereals with yogurt or milk, “porridge”, bacon (thin ham slices), baked tomatoes, poached eggs, crispy potato squares, and toast. Food is plentiful. As we hit the trail about 8:00 in a cloud of eau de bug spray, I can’t help but sing and skip to “We’re off to see the Wizard” because it seems we are following “The Yellow Brick Road”.

There is so much eye candy here - bare trees clothed in moss with little ecosystems growing on the moss, the tree branches twisting and intertwining in eerie shapes. The path is lined with a ditch along which giant ferns grow. White moss on green, reddish moss blending in - it’s just one amazing view after another.

We are following a river as it babbles along the wide Clinton Valley. We cross streams that feed into it either by suspension or wooden bridges. There are brown trout (fishing for one’s self is allowed with three licenses), eels, and ducks. The birds, whose names I’ve never heard of don’t chirp - they sing and flit around the trees. Rocks look like gold in the crystal clear water that we pass over on suspension bridges. On a short side track is a birch tree so wide that 7 people can stand around the trunk. Off another side track is a bog with spongy moss as far as you can see of all colors and shapes. You would sink to your knees if you walked on it, which you can’t. One moss looks like Italian parsley, another like curly. Some are yellow, others are white, and yet others are red. Interspersed are bushes, some with bare branches others with small leaves. And the mountains in the distance are ever present, rising some 3,000-4,000 feet above all around. At Hirere Falls shelter we stopped for lunch and a hot cup of soup or other hot drink. The break was needed and the soup, while powdered, tasted delicious. After the break the path climbed and at one point there was a break in the trees to provide a glimpse of the Mackinnon Pass, which we will traverse the following day. Along the path is a moss covered shape with twigs for antlers and two stones that someone has placed for eyes. It makes the shape look like a dinosaur of some sort and adds a little humor to the walk. Towards the end of the walk is a ramshackle building with a sign “Bus Stop” on the front, a little ironic given that there has never been a bus here, but this is used as a shelter in the event of flooding.

We were met at the entrance to Pampolona Lodge by fresh glasses of water or Tang and the lodge hostess, who showed us to our cabins. The night before I had been sharing a bunk house with an attorney from Tasmania, but this time there were 4 of us sharing - a couple from Auckland, the attorney and myself. After a little finagling the attorney and I moved to a separate cabin, allowing the couple a cabin to themselves.

The tea hour melted into the cocktail hour which melted into dinner. Conversation was decidedly more animated this evening and groups tended to mingle. Many of us made it a point to sit at a different table each night so as to meet each other.

The entré choices this evening were pasta bolognaise or salmon with a red pepper sauce. And after dinner, tea, the next day’s briefing, and a day full of glitter I melted off to bed.

Friday, April 11, 2008


We Interupt This Broadcast......
Today has not gone well at all. As I started to unpack my plastic trash bag that was given to me back in Milford to replace the backpack I'd been using, I realized that my passport, 2 credit cards and American cash was missing. You can only imagine how I started to calmly go through the bag, piece by piece to meticulously sort things out to find it, only to become frantic at the prospect of being an individual without a country. Where did it go!!!! I am reluctant to accuse, knowing my propensity to tuck things away in pockets "where they will be safe" but having sifted through all two times now I unfortunately have come to the conclusion that foul play has been afoot. As a result, unless I am able to find free internet access in the next week, I will have to suspend this blog until I get home. Internet cafe fares are not in the new strict budget I have to see me through to next Sunday when I return. In the meantime, I'll be contacting the American Consulate and credit card companies and skipping through hoops. But don't go away. Stay tuned for the next installment. It's really just all part of the adventure - albeit one part I'd rather SKIP!!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dunedin in Daylight
When I think of Dunedin I think - hills, English architecture, pastel colored ranch houses with corrugated steel roofs in the suburbs, an Octagon for a city center that on a map looks like a bulls eye, streets that do not run parallel (which make it REALLY easy to get lot), and did I mention…..hills? Once I arrive in a city I don’t drive as a rule. It’s less stressful, safer and I have the luxury of really looking at my surroundings and listening to the rhythm of the city. But the Chalet is about a tenth of a mile up a very steep hill from the city center. And it keeps on going up for a good ½ mile from there. In fact Dunedin is supposed to have the steepest street in the world, according to the Guinness book of world records. I didn’t try it, but not for lack of want. I just ran out of time. I also heard a beautiful cacophony of song birds this afternoon. Not like the pigeons in American cities or the crows that flock together, but a very sweet sound that I at first thought was a recording until I saw the birds on the roofs of the shops.

The Tunnel Beach
Feeling adventurous and needing a good walk to gear up for the Milford Track, I packed my backpack with my computer and other stuff to get about 15pounds, hopped on the city bus and headed out of town to the southern suburbs. At the end of the line you walk 1.4km, turn left, walk 400m and arrive at a gate. On the other side is a mowed, fenced in path that - as the sign says, takes 20 minutes to walk down but 45 to get back up. The guide book said the whole trek , there and return, is 45 minutes. They obviously weren’t counting the 1.4km, the 400m, or the amount of walking around you do once you get there. The path down goes by pastures with sheep and ends up at an area of steep cliffs with interesting striations and coloring and a large, oddly shaped rock formation. The man that used to own the property liked the area so much he had a hand hewn tunnel carved out of the rock with cement stairs that descend to the base of the cliff where he and his family could enjoy a private beach. Talk about having a little excess cash to throw around! There are lot of ankle turners down there and a few large boulders, perfect for sunning or reading a book or just staring out at the ocean. It’s very peaceful and as I arrived late in the day it was deserted. The thought occurred to me that if I fell off the cliff no one would find me unless I washed up to shore - I had all my credit cards, cash, passport, computer and camera with me. It’s ok, don’t worry, I made it back and I was careful. Very careful.

An International Dinner
One of the best parts of hostels is that there is a kitchen and dining area and I have found that the young people very often cook real meals. Although at one place a Korean boy was going to proudly cook for a Canadian girl some Korean food. I asked what he was going to make and he showed me a package of Korean style ramen noodles. He said they were his favorite. I didn’t laugh, but it was hard. Tonight one of the German girls make a lamb stew, the French and German boys made steak, mashed potatoes and fruit salad and earlier some other nationalities were making some sort of shrimp with rice. I concocted a stir fry with red pepper, carrot, broccoli and cod fish with a Thai sauce that came in a little container. Cooking for one has its limitations, but eating out every meal is prohibitively expensive and often not that healthy. There is usually a refrigerator to store perishables , dull knives, two sinks/stoves and a complete array of other utensils. On the wall in just about every language possible is a sign to the effect that mom has gone on strike so clean up after yourself - which everyone does, amazingly enough. This particular backpackers has one long dining table and it facilitates conversation as everyone talks about - what else - travel itineraries. Who has been where, seen what, what was good, how long traveling, etc, etc. I have found that one month is the minimum that most of these kids travel, with most taking two months to a year. Most don’t know what they will do when they return, but all hope to find jobs.


The Road To Queenstown
The car needs to be returned today so it was an early departure and pell mell to Queenstown - need to be there by noon. Missed breakfast and certainly missed a good eye opener cuppa but oh well. The road passed through central Ontaga a partly hilly, partly flat landscape. A big wine region - the grape loaded vines were being covered against the birds, for acres and acres you saw this sheeting of gauze as if Cristo (the artist who drapes bridges, Central Park, etc.) had popped in for a day. Of course there were the ubiquitous sheep. Further inland the landscape changed to be somewhat rocky, like giant sharp edged boulders sticking out of a sort of mossy floor. The area reminded me of The Narnia series where Aslan sacrifices himself on a large rock altar. But I think they filmed that further south from here.

And then the road starts winding. And going up and down. I had pulled an apple out of the trunk to munch on, but with the high speeds and turns I had to put it down so I could drive. This is a real racecourse. I got passed by 2 cars on this road, one going well over 120kph, and he leapfrogged over the next car also and disappeared in a cloud of dust. Never saw him again. (Must have been late for work) I rounded a curve to see Shouting Meg’s Falls and had a laugh, but unfortunately couldn’t stop for a pic. Sorry Meg. Eventually the climbing stopped and the road descended into Queenstown.

This place hops! As you drive into town you see parasailers floating to and fro from off of a high hill over the town. Traffic is thicker and the lake finally comes into view. This is a fairly young crowd and a sure attraction for teens testing their immortality, or just seeking thrills. Every corner seems to have an “Information Center’, a front for booking thrilling adventure of all kinds - heli flights, sky diving, bungy jumping, jet boat rides on the lake and on and on and on. There seems to be no end to ways they have devised to separate you from your money. Walk along the street and the pace is quicker; the music is frenetic. It isn’t that it is that large a town - it only has one gas station - but it is packed with hotels, shops selling every sport catered to here, bars, cafes, clothing stores, jewelry, and everything in between. And…if you aren’t staying IN town, you’re walking/driving up a steep hill. Guess where I am? Not only up a steep hill, but down the other side. Good thing I only booked one night. As no one answered the door at the B&B, I dropped my bags and walked into town. I couldn’t waste time waiting around, I had to sort things out. I immediately made a reservation at the YHA backpackers - right in the thick of things and across the street from Xbase, another well known backpackers. Double-shared room ensuite (that means there’s a bathroom in the room - a luxury!) for $NZ85. The cheapest accommodation the tour companies recommended was about $NZ125 and up. After that I really needed something to eat .

Let’s see - there’s Thai, Indian, fish and chips, chocolate, and Fernburgers. Hmmm…they looked huge! Way too much for me, but then I was hungry. Aside from all the usual they had a lamburger and a Bambi burger. Yeah, that’s right. That’s what I ordered. It was mouthwatering. A thin but very large patty, charcoal grilled to perfection, with a Thai chutney sauce, leaf lettuce, and tomato all flowing out of a sesame seed bun. And I ate almost all of it. Bambi never tasted so good. I really wanted to post my blog, but time was scarce and I had a meeting at 3:45.


I’ve missed my computer, my blog, my connection to you all. But I have had the most amazing adventure and now I’m back, with bigger, flatter feet, stronger quads, and wider eyes. The Milford Track is truly one of the Great Hikes of the World. Splendor, strength, majesty combined with fairyland - It truly is the Yellow Brick Road to Oz and anything I could write would be but a snapshot of a 360 degree view of God’s incredible imagination and majesty. These are merely “Cliff Notes” if you will of my 5 day journey, which begins in Queenstown, the day before. (April 5, Saturday)

Friday, April 4, 2008


Fishes and Birds
First thing in the morning I headed out on a tour with about 50 other people on a fast boat out to the edge of the continental shelf to view sperm whales. These people have this tour down to a science. They know where the whales are, how long they stay under, approx. when they will surface and how long they’ll stay on the surface. The info they give on the way out, which is about 15 min. is very informative and stresses the ecological/scientific side vs. the sensational. They make no excuses for their opposition to Japan and Sweden, both of whom harvest whales. It was pretty humorous to see everyone grab their cameras and jump out of their seats at the word that a whale was nearby. We ultimately saw 2 sperm whales, both male. They told us all about the two, their names, markings, approx. ages etc. After the whales, we cruised by a few seals frolicking in the water and then headed over to where some dolphins, albatross, and other birds were having a party. The pod of dolphins we saw were just youngins. We couldn’t get near the larger pod because there were already 3 boats nearby, the max allowed by law. On the way back they showed a movie about the layers of life in the canyon area we were over, which was very slickly produced. All in all not a bad way to start the day - sun and water.

I Did What Mothers’ Always Tell Their Children NOT To Do
I picked up a hitchhiker. I never have in the past, and I might not ever do it again, but something just struck me about this kid and I pulled over - probably just my extreme Catholic guilt about passing by a stranger who may be in need. So I stopped and a very disheveled young man with a heavy backpack hopped in the car. The mother in me can’t help but ask why he is hitchhiking - Didn’t he know it was dangerous? And then the story unfolds. He was on the ferry from Wellington, talking to some fellows and buying some beers. He thinks he must have flashed too much cash because when the boat arrived in Picton he was offered a ride to Nelson, his first stop in his travels. At some point along the road the driver pulled over, pulled out a knife and told him to get out and leave his wallet. Stranded by the side of the road, he was hitchhiking his way to Christchurch where he had a friend who would lend him some money to continue his trip. He had been standing by the side of the road for 2 ½ hours when I happened by on my way to Christchurch, a three hour ride. His conversation was a welcome relief from very patchy oldies radio. I pulled some olive cibatta bread, blue cheese and bottled water from the trunk for him to eat and we were on our way.

Cody, 30, is from the North Island where he gives horse back riding treks from his family ranch. He started riding English about the same time he walked, but after his first Western saddle he never looked back. The family has over 100 horses , 1,500 head of cattle, and about 1000 sheep spread over thousands of acres. Riding is his passion and trekking gives him a connection with the outside world. Conversation ran the gamut from the difficulties and technicalities of putting down horses to the commitment involved in taking over management of the ranch to the cameras the police use to trap speeders. He and his girlfriend plan to travel for three years while his parents are still able to manage without him. As we approached Christchurch, he was able to direct me to a backpackers hostel right next to the cathedral on the square. It was great not to have to read a map and drive, and the hostel was not much more than parking overnight in a garage. He eventually got hold of his friend, and last I saw him he was headed back into the hostel’s bar, where some Aussies were spotting him some beers.


Dunedin or Mt. Cook……Dunedin or Mt. Cook……….
I couldn’t decide sea or mountains and Tuesday night I was pretty sure it would be Dunedin. However, once I was out of town and sure I was turned around I stopped to ask directions and during the conversation the gent mentioned that many people come halfway around the world to see Mt. Cook but that it usually is clouded over. It wasn’t today. So on the way to Dunedin I got tired of driving and just headed off the highway towards Mt. Cook. Aaaah, the benefits of unplanned travel. Several hours of driving and stopping for Buena vitas, I arrived at Mt. Cook Park. It was an awesome ride and although it isn’t the Rockies, it’s pretty cool. However, when I got to the backpackers I learned that they were all full with a school group. Darn. Tried the Lodge. Full. Double darn. Only one other option - the uber expensive hotel. They had a room. No they had a suite, for 6 people. Sold! Aaaah, the downside of unplanned travel - luxury. Well, I won’t stay long. Night, night - I need to get my money’s worth.

After sadly checking out of my suite with it’s patio and view of Mt. Cook, I drove to the campground and started walking the Hooker Trail, a 3 hour walk (for those who don’t stop to take a gazillion pictures, which of course I did) The walk takes you past glacier lakes and meadows and over 2 swinging, suspended, scary bridges. I found that all the boys loved to get in the middle and sway the bridge. Stupid boys - grow up and be scared like the rest of us!!! Many of the rocks along the way would be unremarkable except that they have white striations in varying designs running through them. It looks like it could be quartz, but then again it could be something else. The path runs along 2 glacier lakes, the farther one complete with ice chunks. Both look grey in color as if the surrounding rock was clay, but my understanding is that the color is just the dirty, melted ice. Such a contrast from the gorgeous aqua colored lakes further down the valley. They look like aqua colored mild, juxtaposed against the brown rocky mountains. Anyways, as this was a “training walk” in preparation for the Milford Track, I had to have something weighty in the backpack, but carrying the computer just didn’t seem right. But a bottle of wine, a glass and lunch seemed perfect. I mean, how many people hike for and hour and a half, reach a glacier lake with icebergs and pull out a bottle of wine and a wine glass? I didn’t see any. The view was divine. De wine was delish and de lunch hit de spot. I headed back in great spirits.

On the road again. Realized I had an extra day I didn’t know I had! I’ve lost all sense of days apparently. Headed to Dunedin on the south east coast - supposedly a 4 hour drive if you don’t stop for a gazillion pictures, potty breaks and gas. I’ve been warned about running low on gas on the inner roads. Not every town has gas stations apparently. Well, Dunedin is much larger than expected, arrived after dark, and went round and round trying to read the map and the street signs. Tonight’s accommodations are in The Chalet, a backpackers with a toilet that has a chain pull and a claw footed bathtub cum shower. I’m on the third floor in a private room, bath down the hall. $38 - and I got TWO towels! Life is good.

Monday, March 31, 2008

SUNDAY, MARCH 30, 2008

Bright and early I had to be at the ferry to cross to Picton. As usual I took a wrong turn and drove way out of the way trying to turn around. I was the last person on, after being scolded that I was supposed to be there an hour earlier. Ooops! I thought it was like Madeleine Island - drive up and drive on. Noooo - this ship is like the Queen Mary of ferries. It has 10 decks, a food court, a bar, a lounge room that looks like the interior of a 747, a sundeck, a cinema, play area for kids, game machines, a premium room (with food and liquor and good seats), a lounge and 2 outdoor observation decks. The life boats are about 30ft. The trip was 3 hours and fantastic scenery as we cruised between small spits of islands.

Marlborough Country
I made a beeline for the backpackers in Renwick, having decided on a plan on the ferry ride over. The owner looked at me askance - as if I was some sort of refugee from justice because I was alone and asked for a room without a reservation. After inquiring as to my length of stay in NZ and what I did for a living I guess I passed because he offered me a room. I think I got the presidential suite - it has a bath attached and cost $64. Wonder of wonders it also has a mirror, something I have found to be in short supply here. (Remember, I’m a GIRL)

Anyways, I dumped my bags asked for a bike, and off I went to explore the wineries in the area. I didn’t get too far when I thought that perhaps I had forgotten my camera. Back I went to retrieve it, though I couldn’t find it after searching through my bags and in the car and in my purse and in all the d___ pockets I have. Just as I was getting a tad frazzled, worried that somehow I had dropped it on the ferry, the owner came by and asked if I was missing my camera. Sure enough I had somehow dropped it as I pulled out of the driveway on my bike and some kind soul picked it up and turned it in. My guardian angel is about 6’5”, named Jeremy and hails from England where he majored in marine biology. He and his girlfriend are traveling for 9 months, but when they got here they ran out of funds and got jobs working in one of the local vineyards. They are staying in a tent at the backpackers and saving money to continue their travels. They are going next to Australia, then on to Hawaii and Vancouver. He doesn’t know what he is going to do once he returns home, but he doesn’t want to do research in marine biology. He would really like to make acoustic guitars. He was strumming one when I introduced myself to him and thanked him with a local bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from one of the boutique vineyards.

Bikes and Booze
Well it only took one stop at a vineyard and I was riding on the right side of the road - sure way to get knocked off. The views are spectacular - miles of vineyards with the mountains in the background. There are 80 vineyards in Marlborough, with the largest concentration in the Renwick area. I really should have started earlier cause I didn’t even hit a tenth of them. But it was really fun talking about the wines at each stop and tasting the grapes of each varietal. I rode about 13K, the last part with a head wind and a full head. Spectacular! One of the stops was Cloudy Bay where they offer tastings of about 8 wines for free. (Kathleen and Lee, hope you’re reading this - got pictures) I have to say that my favorite of the day was a Voignier from Herzog’s which smells like a bouquet of roses and tastes like a tropical garden. Very tasty! Great way to start off the Southern Island.

The “Old Folks”
I stopped by a grocer and picked up the makings of dinner to go with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from another boutique vintner, Bladen. When I walked into the common kitchen I was very surprised to see a group of older people sitting around while a few of the men made dinner for the group. While chatting with one of the men fixing dinner I discovered this was a tour group designed for those over 60 and that they were going to cross the mountains twice on the trip. Their days were about 60K each. The driver was close to 80! One of the women was a cancer survivor, had a knee replacement, bad hip, God knows what else, and was 77. The man telling me this was a cancer survivor himself who was doing his version of the “Bucket List”. They were all just chatting away, having a grand time surrounded by all the youngins’. Very inspirational I thought.

MONDAY, MARCH 31, 2008

On the road to Kaikoura I passed the largest vineyard in NZ, Montana, which goes by another name in the States. It was only about 10:30AM, but what the heck, I had heard that they have tours so I rolled on in. Indeed, I had a private tour and tasting from Amanda, who is 6 months pregnant. (She did not taste.) It was interesting to compare the process of a large production vineyard vs the small boutique yards nearby and those I toured in France. As the tour began I noticed the bus driver from the “Oldies” Group in the tasting area.

The flat valley soon gave way to the hills with switchbacks and sharp curves but the hills appeared parched and somewhat barren. This was a striking contrast to the vineyard area and most definitely from the tropical northland which was so lush by comparison. Although I keep hearing of sheep, I have seen more cattle so far. Have the tourists eaten all the lambies? I’m hoping they are further south in the plains area.

Just about the time all the barrenness starts to make you thirsty, you turn a corner and view the coastline with inlet beaches where the sea foams up and boulders where waves crash and seagulls perch. So gorgeous it’s tough to keep your eyes on the road. I keep trying to hold my camera out of the car, but I keep getting terrific pictures of the hood and the road. The wind threatens to carry the camera away and it’s tough to aim. Finally there is a pull off and I stop to take a picture only to find out that the reason so many have pulled over is because there is a seal colony on the rocks below. They are so cute just flapping around down there sunning themselves. What a life.

Shortly thereafter I pulled into Kaikoura and ended up stopping at the wale watching expedition center. Whales? Sign me up. All that lovely beach and crashing waves and afternoon sun made me hungry - especially for seafood as I kept seeing signs for crayfish as I entered town. Crayfish? Isn’t that the stuff from the bayou? No it’s NZ rock lobster and it’s expensive - about $60/k. But not today. They have quotas and it wasn’t to be found anywhere until tomorrow when a new month starts. Oh well. I settled for 3 just-cooked prawns - $1 each wrapped in news wrap which I took to the beach with an open bottle of Bladen S.B., some cibatta, blue cheese, an apple fresh picked from the hostel and a squeeze of lemon, also just picked from the hostel. The seagulls were intent upon sharing lunch but stones kept them at bay. It was wonderful. The beaches are not sand but small stones and river rock. Hard on the feet but no sand to dust off. Remnants of large weeds from the sea, which look a bit like giant rubber bands litter the beach. A short nap after all that fresh air was welcome.

Friday, March 28, 2008


The Hotel Hostel
The best way to travel solo as a woman is to stay in a hostel or backpacker hotel. You're the oldest person there and NOBODY will bother you because - well, you are old enough to be their mother and they just don’t know how to deal with you in that environment. Take for example the hotel manager - young (maybe late 20’s). He originally put me in a dorm with a few other youngins’, but a little later he decided to change me into a dorm room with no other people in it. He said that the one room had a few people in it who he thinks likes to party a bit so he thought I’d be more comfortable in the other room. YEAH I WAS!! They were up Waaay past my bedtime, drinking and partying up a storm. And I think he has a little bit of an Oedipus complex.

Patrick, Mary, David and Jenny
I found out why these folks were drinking and partying to the wee hours……….They had just bought $NZ300 of liquor and beer and were intent upon “liquidating” it. As I passed by their room we commenced conversing about their native land, Scotland, and next thing I knew they were passing around a bottle of Glenfiddich as you would pass around a joint - swill and pass. This to them is common scotch, nothing special. They all went to elementary school together but David and Mary went off to University while Patrick and Jenny work in the same factory, he slaying sheep, she cleaning up after. Mary is decidedly the party maker, self-confident and sturdy. David was half-asleep, or rather half passed out. Every other word was an f-word from Jenny, who seemed young and rebellious. Fair-haired Patrick would melt a girl's heart with his smile and follow the group wherever. This was somewhat of a reunion trip for them all, as David and Patrick had just come from India where they had been traveling for about a month. The girls planned on staying for a year, working to earn enough to finance each segment of travel. Yet, in the Bay, other than drinking they hadn’t experienced anything of the area other than walking around. They were going to be leaving to go to the Cape on the far far north coast the next day. I hope they wake up in time to catch the Magic Bus, a tour bus for backpackers.

As I was fixing my breakfast the next morning in the common kitchen I made small talk with Inga, who comes from a small town in Holland. This pretty young lady with long brown hair is traveling alone and enjoying it. As we talked about the relative merits of traveling solo I learned that Inga is traveling to get away from home and clear her head and make a new start of her life. She had been living with a man in a committed relationship for 3 years when she discovered that her partner was seeing someone else. She's financing this trip with money she had planned on using for her wedding. She teaches 4-6 year olds in a small town where this man is also a teacher. Referring to traveling solo she mentioned several times that you “have to make your own party”. She’s taking her party around NZ, then on to Australia and then on home with a rest stop in China and Japan for a few days.


All Things Left

This day was all about driving…on the left. Try buckling the seatbelt - I instinctively reach to the left to grab the belt, but it‘s not there. Look in the mirror…it’s on the left. Gear shift…..on the left. Turnabouts……..go clockwise. There are very few stop signs. At the end of the street on the pavement there is a triangle which makes you think it’s an arrow pointing at you and there’s a moment of panic thinking that you’ve gone down a one way street, but it’s really just a yield sign. If you walk down the street and someone comes at you….stay to the left. Coming into the harbor? It isn’t red right returning…’s red left returning. Hot and cold faucets are often switched and although I’ve been watching, I haven’t seen any toilets that flush counterclockwise….They just seem to go straight down there’s so much force in their flush.

Miracle Cure for Bug Bites - Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc
They may not have snakes and spiders, but the sandflies and mosquitoes more than make up for it!!! Something found my legs on the way down here and by the time I went to bed, I couldn’t stop scratching. I’ve always put vinegar on bug bites and it works pretty well, but I didn’t pack any and was desperate for relief so I took some of the wine and just rubbed it on my legs and feet. Much better. I hate to waste good wine, but it would have been an equal shame to waste good sleeping time.


Men In Skirts and Other Cultural Oddities
So I got up a little late today and sauntered down to the restaurant for coffee and a look at the local paper. After a rousing discussion with the locals on the Glue Ear malady that seems to affect native children, I inquired at the reception desk as to which cultural diversions seemed to be the best value. The consensus was Te Puia, a Maori village with a weaving and carving school, geyser, thermal mud pool, and cultural exhibition. Best of all there was a gift shop. Excellent, beam me up. Great the receptionist said….the bus is turning the corner now. And so off I went, without camera or raincoat (It rained all day). I’m just delighted the bus driver knew where I was going and what backpacker I was staying at to bring me back.
The carvings are incredibly detailed, in a pinch and with a few hemp leaves I could weave a skirt (not!), the geysers were steamy, and the mud pools really did look like Middle Earth. The cultural exhibition was well done, but the best part is watching the men do the Haka, the war dance. I mean, seeing men beat their chests, twirl sticks and stick out their tongues is so manly. It’s so typically male to flaunt the plumage. I’m sure it made every woman there feel more secure.

Other Cultural Diversions
After that I thought it time for culture of a different sort. XORBING. Leave it to the Kiwis to invent an extreme sport that involves rolling down a hill inside a giant rubber ball. It’s not at all what it looks like - IT’S TERRIFYING!! Yet, when I first looked at the hill I thought it looked short and boring - sort of like going on the kiddie rollercoaster. First, some background. It was raining all day, constant drizzle and rather chilly. You have to put on a bathing suit and leave all your clothes and shoes and towel and everything down at the bottom of the hill in a changing room. Given the weather, that didn’t make it any more attractive. They take you up to the top of this hill in a van where you are told to dive into the middle of this ball -within- a-ball into which they have put a bit of warm water to make it easier to slide around in. The hole you have to dive through is about 2 feet in diameter and once inside you can’t see out and your voice echoes back at you. Once they zip up the hole you have to stand up and walk, which - pardon the pun - gets the ball rolling. There you are sliding around inside not knowing if you are upside down or going head over heels as the ball rolls down this grass track like a pinball on a raceway. You are tossed about quite a bit in the process, sure all the while you are going to land on your neck and break it, until you come to rest at the bottom and they unzip the hole and have you slide out. I will never ever again contemplate getting in the dryer for a spin!

More Men in Skirts
The men in skirts were so sexy, I had to go back for more, only this time is was a Hangi. We were picked up in a bus and taken to the Matai family's compound. Upon arrival they led us all into a big tent that was laid out for dinner, but that was just to tease us. We wouldn’t eat for another 2 hours. We learned a little song, a few Maori words, and then they led us down to the river where the warriors would be arriving by canoe. Very cool. It was dusk, the pathway was lit and interspersed with Tiki carvings (only they aren’t called tiki but I forget what they’re called) and there were walkways on both sides of the riverbanks. About 6 warriors rode in the canoe singing, holding torches and paddling in rhythm. When they got up to us they backpaddled so everyone could take pictures, all the while chanting, slapping the oars and doing their thing. Finally they got out of the canoe and led the way to the performance area where they danced, sang, explained their culture and taught us a few hand gestures so we could do our own Haka. (Oh boy!) It was very, very well done . And finally, we got to eat. Lamb, chicken, cumadin (?)(a type of sweet potato), cabbage slaw, cauliflower salad, regular potatoes, stuffing, trifle, chocolate roll and a few other things. Before they sent us home they took us back down that dark pathway to see the glowworms that line the path and live on the edge of the riverbank. They have a blueish electric tint that really makes me wonder: How many light bulbs do you think they used to do that? And how do they get some of them to go on and off (The men fade in and out; the ladies are always on. Just like real life.)
Well, it’s late. Hopefully my laundry is dry. I have to get up early to get my glasses repaired. I’ll need all the help I can get on the road to Wellington.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Lime Bush and a Cloudy Bay

After many winding turns from Auckland I arrived at the Bay of Islands - Paihai (pie-hey-ye) to be preicise and only minutes before two insane bikers that I passed while they were going 50-60kph down a hill and around some pretty sharp curves. (Iwas going slower than they were at some curves)

Checking in at a local backpackers, I noticed a lime bush with some luscious looking fresh fruit which made me think of a gin and tonic, which made me realize how thirsty I was and how refreshing a gin and tonic would be- especially with a fresh picked lime. Shortly afterward, while in the liquor store comtemplating at least the tonic water to go with a lime, I noticed a chilled bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, a "must try" wine that was highly recommended by friends. Perfect for a cloudy day in the Bay. Later I found a restaurant that was a BYOB, which afforded the opportunity to open the lovely bottle.

As I sat sipping my Cloudy Bay, a gentleman took a table near mine. He ordered a bottle of red wine and appeared to be writing notes. When he ordered dinner, I assumed he was traveling solo, and in a scene straight out of the movies, I asked the hostess (who also was the owner with her chef husband) to ask whether the gentleman was dining alone, and if so, whether he would like to share a table. To my relief he enthusiastically agreed, picked up his wine and joined me. (The hostess had this devilishly delicious smile on her face as he moved to my table and all the other tables were definitely taking note, I observed.)

As we dined, we compared notes on places visited, reasons for being here, and the relative merits of New Zealand. Michael is a 55 year old upstate New Yorker with a significant other who does not care to travel, but who doesn't mind his going off for weeks at a time. He has been traveling NZ for almost 2 months, having arrived with absolutely no itinerary. And this is where background and personality helps the independant traveler when plopped down in the middle of a country not knowing much if anything of where they are. If you are a resourceful person to begin with, then you will fall back on those instincts and do things like: 1) Read travel guides to see what others who have carefully researched the area recommend 2) ask everybody you meet what you should be doing while here and 3) Roll with the punches. It is an experience, both good and bad, and you will learn something from both. Not everything will go well, some things will seem humorous in retrospect and others will just be unpleasant. By asking around and knowing what he wanted to do, he was able to get himself invited on a very private white-water rafting trip with some of the nation's leading outdoor adventure-seekers - reknowned bikers, mountain-climbers, artists, etc. , each tops in their sport or field (but note - NOT in their work field. They choose to work to live, rather than live to work so what they do for a living is, to them, irrelevant. He considers himself the luckiest man alive to be able to live the way he does. He has taken time off to deliver boats for friends to the Caribbean, traveled about Europe, and been to many other exotic destinations. He was off the next day to sail the Bay of Islands for a few days with someone he met, after which he would be heading home.


The weather was blowing and threatening rain so the morning's planned sail onboard the Sydney to Hobart racer, Wild Thing didn't work out, but my backup plan worked out just fine! Parasailing 2100 feet over the water was a blast!!!! Because I was too light, one of the boat handlers had to go with me as ballast to keep the parachute stable, so I had a local tour guide with me pointing out all the sights and letting me know exactly what to expect at each turn. Very reassuring until he decided to clown around and do a header in the harness. The boat handler brought us down just low enought that my feet were in the water and my buddy's head was dunked. He loved it.

He's a local who for many years had said "No way - You have to be crazy to do that" but after he had been working for a while the owner insisted that he try it so he could relate to the customers better. One try and he was hooked. He said that since then he has probably been up over 100 times. Asked how many times the line breaks or accidents happen, he said none that he has seen, although once the line did break (in the U.S.), but the customers just floated down to the water very gently. So he's pretty sure that that is what happens. Oh, that's sooooo reassuring.