This post is a compilation of my daily journals from our second trip to New Zealand. They used to be on our web site until Rogers started eliminating a lot of the free stuff. Pictures to come eventually.

February 6, 2007

The lost travel day on the plane….
The food on the plane was good (even in our economy class). Supper included beef, roast potatoes and zucchini, followed by cheesecake for dessert and cheese and crackers. It was accompanied by a glass of New Zealand pinot noir. Now we’re onto something! Breakfast was a cheese omelette with hash browns and baked tomato, peach yogurt, cranberry muffin, juice and coffee. The entertainment included lots of choice of movies, TV shows and games (Suduko, Blackjack, mini golf, solitaire, etc.) I didn’t watch any movies, but they did have Sideways and Lord of the Rings.

February 7, 2007
Auckland

Landed in Auckland at the untimely hour of 5:45 a.m. and spent some time mulling around the airport. No point in showing up at the hotel when you know your room won’t be ready.  We did eventually take the shuttle into the CBD (Central Business District) to our motel in Parnell. We stayed at the Barrycourt Motel, which is also a Best Western. Out came Rob’s rewards card for the Best Western chain. My description of the room is the following: good for one night, when you spend your day exploring. It’s not that it was dirty, just a bit dingy.

Once checked in, we set off to find the discount store we had shopped at last time. Without a name and with our jet lag it made for a bit of a challenge. Eventually we asked a woman working in a dry cleaning store. She knew exactly what we were looking for: the Warehouse. We stocked up on a few supplies, then did a boat tour around the harbour. Learned all kinds of things about the commercial aspects of a harbour.

In the evening, we met up with Erika, my second cousin, for supper. Thankfully she came to pick us up. I’m not sure we would have had the energy to walk to the Viaduct and back. And we were so unoriginal, all ordering the same fish and chips. Neither of us knew the other existed, and we almost didn’t meet up at all because Rob and I were only in town for one evening. It is nice to know you have family, however distant, half way round the world. She emigrated from South Africa, and originally planned to stop in New Zealand on her way to Australia. But she’s fallen in love with New Zealand and has no plans on leaving now.

February 8, 2007
Auckland – Kerikeri


Today we drove from Auckland up Highway 1, through Dargaville (where we had lunch), then to the Kauri forest on the west coast on our way to Kerikeri, where we’re staying in the Kauri Park Motel, just outside of town. Upon our arrival, we were treated to a complementary drink (wine for me, beer for Rob). Computer and Internet access is available in the main building, which doubles as the owner’s family room.

The drive included some rain and a bit of an argument about when to fill up with gas. Some parts of the drive were quite remote and I was growing a bit concerned when Rob hadn’t wanted to stop at a gas station in one small town. We did make it to the next one, but I think we view gas gauges differently.

February 9, 2007
Kerikeri

Today we drove to Paihia to book tomorrow’s boat cruise around the Bay of Islands. We also drove down to Kemp House, the oldest house in New Zealand, then drove up to Mangonui, where we had ice-cream (I had kiwifruit and Rob and chocolate). With our ice-cream in hand, we strolled along the waterfront, until I stumbled off the curb and fell. Right-hand outstretched, I managed to save the ice-cream and just endured a bit of embarrassment until I was able to get back on my feet again. From there, we drove up to see 90 Mile Beach (which is actually only 60 miles). Unfortunately, flooding from major storms had closed the road and prevented tours from going right to the top (Cape Reinga), but I imagined what it would feel like driving along the beach. It’s not encouraged by rental companies, so we only used the beach as a turnaround point. Ironically the speed limit on the beach is still 100 km/h.

On the drive back we stopped in Cable Bay to look at the beach, which was beautiful white sand. Once back in town, we discovered the New World grocery store, which has a much better selection than the Woolworth chain. In the parking lot, a sign asks that you return your trundle (that is shopping cart). It seemed a bit odd that such a small town would have one, but the motel owner explained that the rural population is actually booming and the local high school now has about 1500 students.

February 10, 2007
Kerikeri – Russell – Kerikeri

Today we went back to Paihia, then to the ferry over to Russell in the morning. From town, we walked up the steep zigzag path over the hill to Long Beach, where we spent some time in the water. It was a beautiful sunny day and the beach was really sandy and not crowded at all. To get back, we took the longer less steep route along Long Beach Road. Back in town we ate gelato (mango for me and cappuccino for Rob), people watched and then took the ferry back to Paihia in preparation for our bigger boat cruise around the islands.

The afternoon was spent o the Fuller’s cruise around the bay. We saw Piercy Island the “hole in the rock.”  The swells were 2 m high and a few people were sick. WE had an hour an Urupukapuka Island, docking at Otehei Bay. The island did offer hikes, but we opted for a drink each and a quick dip in the water. The afternoon reminded me of the Thousand Islands back home, full of boats and lots of millionaire homes.

February 11, 2007
Kerikeri – Whangarei


Our morning started at the Kerikeri Farmer’s Market, where we picked up a small watermelon and a bag of mandarins, all locally grown. Rob even donated to the local musician, who was singing Neil Young (better than Neil Young sings!)

On our way to Whangarei (pronounced Fan-ga-rye) we stopped at the Whangarei Falls, which included a quick walking loop. Just as we arrived showers started, which made the falls look that much more mystical. The showers didn’t last long, and were gone by the time we reached the city. We stayed at the Cypress Court Motel, which is part of a rewards program with other motels, stay 11 nights and the 12th is free. Too bad we’d already booked all of our accommodation. We’ll keep it mind for next time.

In the afternoon, we walked over to Mair Park and hiked up Mount Parihaka. It was a gruelling 22 minutes up for my knees, but thankfully the up was mostly shaded. We took the longer route down, then dropped off the water bottles and head down to the centre of town. On the way we stopped in Farmers, a kiwi department store, where I picked up a long sleeved top to protect from sun and provide a bit of warmth when you’re near the ocean. From there we saw and heard something completely unexpected. A black youth was driving an adult tricycle that was loaded with a huge boom box playing rap. He was cycling down the street and sidewalk as though he was driving a flash sports car. It really did leave you speechless. Should have taken a pic, but was so surprised I didn’t think to take the camera out.

From there, we walked down to the street Town Basin, adjacent to the marina. They must have poured a bit of money into the area. It’s not too touristy but that might have been because not too many people were around. The Town Basin is a mix of restaurants, cafés, patios, artisan and craft shops, with the odd souvenir shop. After browsing and talking with a few shopkeepers, we headed over to the Brauhaus Frings, a local brew pub, for a pint. On our way back, we picked up a flame-kissed double wrath pizza with olives and a side of kumara chips with garlic mayo from Hell Pizza. Hell Pizza is a kiwi franchise that is expanding world wide. Visit  http://www.hell.co.nz to see the menu. The pizza box includes an extra cut out where you can make a smaller box to keep your last slice. Very clever – it works out to be a miniature coffin with “Hell” on the outside.

February 12, 2007
Whangarei – Coromandel Town


From Whangarei to Coromandel Town is a long drive and reminded us that 50 km is New Zealand is rarely a half hour drive. The Coromandel Peninsula’s main town is Thames, and we had thought of driving back there after we found our motel, but the 50 km took much longer than we thought and was mentally taxing on Rob. Think of Highway 323 to Mont Tremblant, then add one-lane sections, more curves and double trailer logging trucks. And don’t forget the steep falls down to the ocean, the possibility of flooding at high tide. At least road crews are out regularly inspecting the road for slips and washouts.

We had planned a walk in Thames, but decided to visit Driving Creek Railway, a narrow-gauge railway up the side of the mountain. Barry Brickell bought 60 acres for New Zealand$8000 in 1973 and slowly built his railway over the next 27 years. Resident and visiting potters all contributed and their art is displayed along the track, including retaining walls made of wine bottles. The newest one includes the artist’s name made in different coloured bottles.

Not only is Brickell an artist, but he’s also a conservationist. He believes an artist needs to struggle to be creative and at the end of the year he donates any money that hasn’t gone into the railway to charities, mostly conservation ones. To ensure the railway lives on, he is leaving it to the New Zealand Trust so that all kiwis will be able to visit and enjoy its beauty. The railway includes 3 short tunnels, 2 spirals and 5 reversing points up to Eyefull Tower (Rob loved that pun!). The trains were all built on site, with seats that can be reversed so that when the train is reversing you can still face forward.
We went to the Admiral’s Restaurant for supper. It was the most massive meal so far this trip. The seafood chowder alone would have been a meal, but I ate the catch of the day and Rob had rack of lamb. Need to get on some big walks to burn that off.

February 13, 2007
Coromandel Town – Tauranga


Today was another crazy road trip day, with stops along Highway 309, including a couple of waterfalls and more kauri trees. We stopped for lunch in Whatamanga  and had a most delicious sandwich at the Port St. Bakery.

We’re now in Tauranga, and are trying to book our activities for tomorrow. In a few days we’ll be in Gisborne, and finally able to unpack for a few days. Back to enjoying the scenery. Did I mention it’s incredibly hot today and the sun is scorching?

February 14, 2007
Tauranga – Whakatane – Ohope

We woke up early for our drive to Whakatane, where we took a boat to White Island, home to New Zealand’s only active marine volcano. We couldn’t have asked for a nicer day. Sunny and warm, and the ocean wasn’t too choppy. As an added bonus we even got to see dolphins on the way to the island and on the way back. I happened to be in the washroom when they sited the first dolphins and couldn’t understand why it felt like I was spinning around. 

Our tour guide Henry was a Maori fisherman before he began working for PeeJays Boat Tours, so he had some interesting insights about the island going back almost 20 years.

To get to the island we were brought by dingy from the boat in groups of 8, then we climbed the ladder on the old crumbling wharf, then over some boulders to where the factory used to stand.

The island has been mined several times, for iron and sulphur, but neither business succeeded because of the challenges with the island.

The last eruption was in 2000, but a landslide happened in 2006. That covers two of the dangers on the island, the third is the risk of flooding from the crater, which is filled with water. It almost overflowed last year, but has started to recede. Scientists monitoring the water have seen something odd in the last few months: normally the water sits at 45 degrees, but now it’s at 68 degrees C. Thankfully, there were no dangers while we were there. 

The tour also included lunch on the boat after we walked around the island. On the way back we also saw several schools of fish. I was even able to use my German, as there were two girls visiting from Germany. The night before our motel clerk was Swiss, so we were able to speak both French and German. It seems like people come here and just never leave.

We were a bit burnt after our boat cruise, since I didn’t reapply sunscreen on my face, and Rob missed the side of his neck. Let’s just say I look like a raccoon!

We arrived at Oceanspray B&B to a warm welcome from Frances and Barnaby, the cat. John arrived from work a bit later. Frances runs the B&B, which was full, but they graciously invited us to stay with them in the house. While we waited for John to return home from work, Frances told us stories about her drunk pig, John kayaking out1 km out in the ocean to lay the fishing line, Frances having married two forestry men and learning that money doesn’t grow on trees, and the Canadian pilots who stay for a month each year. Rob and I went for a swim at the beach, which is about 20 m past the backyard. On our return, Frances told us about the three bronze sharks on the beach about two weeks ago. Don’t think Rob would have gone swimming if he’d known, which is exactly why Frances didn’t tell him! When John was made redundant, they tried farming for two years near Hastings (hence the drunk pig story), then bought the current house about eight years ago. Frances opened the B&B a year later. Frances tried convincing me that every seventh wave is the big wave, but I’m still not sure. And John showed us his tidal clock – very cool.

Supper was a wonderful meal of fresh snapper, roasted vegetables, rice and spicy cheese sauce, accompanied with the citrus wine I had bought at Castle Rock winery. Overall a lovely stay.  I would highly recommend their Oceanspray B&B to anyone who is visiting the area. They also appreciated the jug of maple syrup that we brought over (bought from Costco).  For those Ontario teachers on my list (i.e. Sherri) you might be interested to know that we passed by the forest that the Ontario teachers’ Federation purchased as part of your pension plan. The trees are doing well and the value has gone up.

February 15, 2007
Ohope – Gisborne

Frances prepared a lovely breakfast for us to anchor us for our drive. Both John and Frances said that we really should take the scenic coastal drive to Gisborne. Ironically they haven’t even completed it, but said it was on their list of things to do.

Our drive to Gisborne followed the coast and took us almost 8 hours. We stopped along the way taking pics and admiring the views from several lookouts. One of the main attractions just off the route is the East Cape Lighthouse, which is reached by following a 10 km gravel road (one lane in many sections) to a parking lot from where you climb the 600 stairs for some wonderful views. It’s the first part of New Zealand to the sun each morning.

The next main attraction was at Tolaga Bay, which boasts New Zealand’s longest wharf at 660 metres long. It was built to accommodate ships at low tide, but was never used for that purpose. It’s crumbling away now, but the community is trying to raise enough money to restore it so that tourists like us will continue to stop and spend money in town (although we didn’t). Locals use it as a fishing spot, bringing out coolers and lawn chairs to pass the time.

Between these two attractions, there wasn’t much to stop for. The area is quite isolated and some of the small towns had seen better days. Abandoned buildings had been torched or covered in graffiti in some places that had been described in the guide book as a place to stop.

For supper we stayed in the cafe that had Internet access. It was called the World Cafe and was more of a restaurant with one computer in a back corner. Our waitress was quite knowledgeable about local wines and recommended a local beach as a must do before we leave. Rob had the mussel and prawn salad and I had the chicken skewers, served on a bed of salad. We both had flat whites to end the meal. I had ordered a “regular coffee” but got the flat whites which are like a latte. Total cost including Internet use was $71. Quite reasonable, but definitely more expensive than our last visit to New Zealand.
February 16, 2007
Gisborne

During our last visit to New Zealand, we discovered the Bella Vista chain of motels. We’re now in our first one. The bathroom has a heated towel rack and a heater fan above it. Excellent for drying clothes! I’ve noticed that even laundry costs more than last time. 

Today we did the historic walk of Gisborne in the morning. A cruise ship was in the harbour, and all the locals kept asking us if we were from it. We got a good view of the city from Kaiti Hill. It’s part of a park that includes a “fitness” route, which we took to the top. Reminded me of walking up the stairs at work.  There are several local beaches, including Waikanae and Midway, which we’ve seen so far. Gisborne is known for its surfing and we saw a few learners setting off. There’s even a small Canadian Totem Pole in the city, which was a gift in 1969 on the bicentenary of the landing of Captain Cook at Kaiti Beach. We capped of the day with a drive to the Lindauer Cellars, where I tasted 6 different wines, while Rob watched and sipped a few. Bought a bottle of Pinot Gris, which was one of the six.

Supper was at the Meeting Place, a local Irish pub, where the TVs were glued to the Kiwi/Ozzie cricket match and everyone cheering when New Zealand won. Then Rob gave me the Rugby 101 lesson in preparation of next Friday’s game in Wellington. I think I finally understand, now that I’m not watching him get injured.

February 17, 2007
Gisborne

This morning we set off early (or so I thought) to get to the local weekly flea market at Cox park. By 8:20, many of the stalls were already leaving, but we were able to pick up local produce including bags of mandarins, tomatoes, sugar pears and royal gala apples, which cost about New Zealand$7. Much cheaper than the grocery store and a great way to meet locals. Now I understand why the brochure said arrive in the dark with your “torch.”

Today is much cooler, with the arrival of a southwesterly from Antarctica. We’re still in shorts and sandals, telling the Kiwis they don’t know cold! The cooler weather will be nice for some of the longer hikes we have planned at our next stop, Taupo. 

We visited Millton Vineyard. Our host was a winemaker after Rob’s beer-loving heart. He said that to make good wine you need beer and coffee so they make their own beer. The vineyard offered free tasting, and so after tasting about six glasses (Rob was driving), I did buy a bottle of chenin blanc. At the vineyard we also learned about Maori pronunciation. It’s a lot like Italian or Spanish, except “wh” = “f”. For anyone who knows the international phonetic alphabet, the main vowel sounds are [a] [e] [u] [i] [o]. Have to say that the French course I took at StatsCan is still paying off.

For supper we got takeout from the Charcoal Chicken. Rob really gobbled it up! That was followed by Rugby 201 over a few beers. Who knows, maybe I’ll understand the game on Friday enough to enjoy it (at least to know when the team we’re cheering for does something good).

February 18, 2007
Gisborne – Taupo

Today’s route to Taupo followed the side road away from the coast past Te Reinga, where we stopped to look at the Te Reinga Falls. Then we stopped in Napier, New Zealand’s art deco town. It was almost completed destroyed in an earthquake in the 1930s and the fire that followed the quake. The town took the opportunity to completely rebuild in the art deco style. This past weekend was the town’s annual Art Deco Festival. It explains why we weren’t able to find accommodation here. We did eat lunch in the park, watched a few skateboarders in the skateboard park and then looked at all the “ladies and gentlemen” who were wearing costumes from the 1930s and driving around in old cars. We were also fortunate enough to be there when the old planes flew over. Love the new camera, was able to catch a few of the aerial tricks.

Tonight we went to the Wairakei Terraces Maori Cultural Experience. For NZ$79 each you got to participate in the welcome ceremonies, experience the haka, take a tour of a reconstruction Maori village and eat food cooked in the traditional hangi. Before going in, our group needed to elect a chief. Dave, from the UK, was the lucky one. He was coached by K (name was really long beginning with a K so he said we could call him K) our guide. 

During the welcome, the Maori warrior approaches full of bravery and offers a gift of peace. During this time, no sunglasses, laughter or smiling are allowed. Then we were led through the grounds past the silica terraces and the village. Maori actors explained carving wood with green stone, weaving flax, and games that were played by children. 

The hangi included chicken, pork, lamb, kumara, potatoes, some sort of squash/pumpkin, salads and pudding.

During the meal, a Maori performance took place. I was invited to participate to learn how to dance with the stick. It was used in a song about Maori travels as a paddle in a canoe, etc. 

This tribe has re-created what was taken and lost. The power company across the street uses most of the geothermal activity to generate power. As a result a lot of the landscape has changed. The Maori have recreated the silicone terraces and, for 50 years, are receiving free geyser water from the power company.

February 19, 2007
Taupo

Today we rented bikes in Taupo and went off-roading for about 5 km to Huka Falls. Let’s just say that the off-roading for bikes is like taking the back roads in the car. Winding paths cut into the side of hills with no guard rails and only enough room for your bike. They claimed the path we were on was a shared path for cyclists and walkers, but I couldn’t imagine what would have happened if we’d seen any oncoming traffic (pedestrian or cyclist). We’d seen the Huka Falls last time, but it’s still worth a look at the amount of power that goes crashing through the gorge. They’re not steep, but a lot of water is pushed through a very narrow opening.

Tomorrow we’re going to Tongariro to do the Tongariro day walk. We’re taking the bus at 5:40 a.m. (yikes) and will be hiking for 7 to 8 hours. There’s nothing between the drop off and pick up points so we’ll also need to carry all the water, food and clothing we’ll need for the day. Should be interesting. Not sure if I’ll be able to get to the Internet tomorrow. If not, the next update will come from Martinborough, a wine region just north of Wellington.

Today was a scorcher (26 degrees but the UV was extreme again). Raccoon eyes are finally starting to disappear but now I have bike helmet strap marks on the side of my face! For supper we fuelled up at the Max Café with lamb roast, lamb chops and chocolate cake for dessert. Very yummy.

February 20, 2007
Taupo and the Tongariro Crossing

I can’t believe I’m still awake. We were on the bus at 5:40 a.m. to go to the Tongariro Crossing. It was another scorcher of a day, and we had to carry all of our food, water, fleeces and rain gear. 

We were on the track by 7:30. The earlier bus gets you there ahead of the crowds. Sometimes there can be 500 people all starting out at the same time. The starting point is 1150 m, then you climb to 1886, then down to 700 m at the other end.

Starting from the Mangatepopo car park, it’s an easy hike up the valley to Soda Springs, which took about 45 minutes (the instructions said an hour, so we were feeling pretty good).  The next section is called Devils Staircase, and you soon learn how it got this name as we spent the next 40 minutes climbing a steep hill full of lava boulders and rocks. This brings you to the entry of the South Crater, where you can choose the summit sidetrack to Mount Ngauruhoe, or continue on. The instructions we were given say that if you had a problem with the Devils Staircase you should not attempt to climb this mountain. It’s basically just a volcano, so there is no vegetation and no path to follow. We applied sunscreen, had a nibble and took a few pics of Mount Ngauruhoe, the highest point in the North. Then we continued on, crossing over a relatively flat crater to get to the Red Ridge. This climb wasn’t as long, but about half way up you are walking along the ridge of one of the craters.  The instructions say that caution is required as this section of track is steep and has big drops on either side. This section can be a little scary when the winds are strong as you may get pushed around or even find you may need to be on hands and knees. You are also warned not to walk too close to the edges of the Crater because if you fall in you will not come out. It’s also the point of no return for this walk.

We had hoped to find the sidetrack for Mount Tongariro, which was supposed to be a quick 1.5 hour return walk on an easy track, but we missed it.

At the top of the Red Crater, you can sit down on hot spots on the ground to get warmed up if the weather is cool. The track from there is almost all down hill, as you pass by the three Emerald Lakes (no swimming) a long way down. On the left the slope isn’t as steep but the boulders would probably kill you if you slipped to that side. Once you’re at the bottom, you’re in the Central Crater, which is flat and easy and shows the lava flow from the last eruption.

From there, we walked around a blue lake, stopping briefly for lunch. We continued on, eventually getting to the Ketetahi Hut, which is used by overnight trampers who are on longer multi-day hikes. Although we knew we would be early for the bus, we thought we should continue on so our legs wouldn’t seize up. The track down was really treacherous. You slid down the gravel path, with your feet sinking about 6 inches every time you took a step. On the really steep parts, you had to walk sideways to not get too much speed.

The trail from the hut zigzagged down the side of the mountain, through bush land and eventually into the forest. After crossing the Red Ridge, my vertigo was starting to reappear (means another bungy jump when I get to Queenstown) so I was thankful that clouds were in the valley and I couldn’t see the steep drop down.

I’ve never been so thankful to see the posts of a parking lot. Quite an accomplishment for both of us. Rob kindly help me down a few steep steps when my knees were starting to lock up in the last hour or so. All in all about 6.5 hours of hiking.

Oh yeah, our bus driver on the way back told us that there is a race for that track. The record is 1 hour 47 minutes. Yikes! We were totally filthy when we got back and I had to do laundry yet again. It’s great here though because the washing machine is free, you just have to buy the detergent. And I had already picked some up.

February 22, 2007
Taupo – Martinborough

On our way out of Taupo, we were stopped by the police. No, it’s not what you’re thinking. Rob didn’t get a speeding ticket. It was a spot check for seat belts. The police officer said to us, “You’re good as gold.” Been a long time since I’ve heard that description of us!

One thing I did want to mention (because it happened again when we filled up for gas) is that retail clerks here seem to really check your signature when you use your credit card. If it doesn’t look right they ask you for ID. Very different than what happens at home.

On our way to Martinborough, we noticed a large sign on a roof at the side of the highway just before Mangaweka: The Wool Shop. So we (I mean I) decided we should stop. Lots of good deals on merino, possum and other wool clothing and knitting supplies. From there, we drove through a gorge from Ashurst towards Masterton. It was really amazing to see the wind turbines stretching forever along the ridge. The gorge itself was amazing as well. The road was a series of bridges built into the side of the mountains. On the other side of the gorge, you could see the railway line. 

After that we stumbled across the Tui Brewery just outside of Pahiatua. We did take a break for lunch here, but Rob said he didn’t actually like the beer, so no point doing the tour or buying anything. The slogan for the beer is “It’s the beer round here” and almost every town after the brewery only seemed to have Tui signs on the pubs, bars and restaurants.

Then we arrived in Martinborough, a small rural town of about 800. It has no McDonalds or any other chain restaurant or store. There is only one bank, the Bank of New Zealand. There was no Internet cafe, but you could get access through the library. She was supposed to charge $1.50 per 15 minutes, but she gave us a deal of $1.50 for 35 minutes when we logged in while we were there.

Our motel was located on the outskirts of town, in a quiet corner, with sheep and cows on the other side of the fence. The room was more of an apartment, with a loft bedroom on the second floor and a pull out couch, kitchenette, dining area, and extra bed on the ground floor. The bathroom was on the ground floor, which was a bit of a challenge the first night, when by knees were still a bit wonky.

The first night we had a BBQ, buying local sausages from the butcher’s shop. We also stopped in at the Martinborough Beer & Ales, since Rob was going to spend the next day visiting wineries. Rob did pick up 6 wheat ales. The stroll to town from our rural motel was good to stretch out the stiff muscles from the long hike.

February 22, 2007
Martinborough

Today we did a group winery tour for New Zealand$68 each. It included 4 wineries, lunch and a snack at the end of the day. We were the only people actually staying in Martinborough. The rest had come in by train to Featherston, and were picked up by the bus before we got on. Our group included 3 Ozzies, 2 Brits and 2 Americans. The Ozzies were in the late 50s and had come over to tramp. They had done Milford Sound and the Charlotte Sound.

There are about 35 vineyards around Martinborough, most of them specializing in pinot noirs. Many also do weddings. Some of them include accommodation, and one even offered a “Girls Night In” for 10 ladies.

The first vineyard was Tirohana Estate, a boutique winery. Tiro comes from Scottish meaning family and hana is Maori for from the earth. The host was a young Canadian-born guy with some amusing stories. He first explained the history of Martinborough and wine in the area. There were vineyard here until Prohibition, then they were dug up an replaced with pastures. The founder, John Martin, built the centre of town in the shape of a union jack, so that there is a small square in the middle with lots of trees and flowers, then 6 roads lead out of that to a larger square.

He also explained the loud booms that we kept hearing. These were coming from the gas guns to scare away the birds. The birds also explained the netting that we were seeing on all the vines. They also use a plastic crow that is attached to a long pole and flutters in the wind. He said that one time a gust of wind was so strong the plastic crow flew about 150 m. 

Going back to the loud booms, he told us a few stories about some new folks in town who had fled Iraq. They came to work on the vineyard and seemed to have no problems adjusting to the loud sounds. Wonder why? There was also a visiting NYPD officer who automatically thought it was gunfire and went to draw his gun (which wasn’t there). And one last story about a man who ducked when he heard the sound, at the precise moment a gust of wind blew his hat off. He thought he had been shot. 

Back to the winery itself. This one doesn’t irrigate any of its grapevines, but it does use heaters and windmills to keep air moving when frost is forecast.  We were offered four wines for tasting at this winery.

Then we moved on to the Muirlea Rose. This winery is run by one man, who took over from his father. He makes only old world wines and was quite opinionated about the new world wine which is taking over. He only believes in corks, not screw tops and says that wine needs to be aged to taste good. His thoughts on a bit of sediment in your glass: you can filter red wine so much that it would become white wine. Most of his wine was pinot noir (which the area is known for).  Unfortunately, frost destroyed most of his crop so he’s not going to bother making any wine this year. He says he’s too small to do anything to prevent frost damage because it would cost too much. Most of the time he benefits when neighbouring vineyards get the helicopters to fly over to move warm air in.  This tasting included four wines.
Then we had lunch at the Village Cafe. It included trays of smoked salmon, cheese, pepperoni, sausage, humus, bread, salad, roasted red capsicum, roasted mushroom. Very tasty. It also included two more tastings each as we ate.

Tasting number four was at a larger winery called Alana Estate. The host was very marketing focussed and didn’t really tell us much about how they make their wines or the history of the company. It was the only place where I actually spat out one of the wines. It was a very sweet almost dessert wine. I did learn that Rieslings can be kept for longer than most people think. We had 6 wines for tasting here.

Our last winery was Te Kairanga Martinborough. The cottage, where tastings normally occur, was closed and a temporary area was set up near the wine vats. There was a wide selection (11 for tasting of which we had 8). The cottage was built by Mr. Martin in the 1800s. My memory of this visit was getting a bit blurred because of all the wine we’d had by then, but I do remember our hostess also being named Sarah and the best wine being the Syrah (also known as Shiraz), but it was too expensive and I need to downsize before the ferry crossing.

For supper we went to Est. The service was horrible so we left no tip. The main course was good, but didn’t include “sides” which would have cost another $6-10. The dessert was heavenly. It was Chocolate for Two and included chocolate/walnut ice-cream, a warm brownie, chocolate cake and chocolate mousse.

The walk back to the motel made me realize what a city girl I am. It’s quite dark and isolated, with few sounds except for the grunting pig that really startled me and got me walking fast. Then something scurried on the other side. Rob said it was a possum. I said it was a rat (after having watched a TV show on New Zealand homes infested with various pests).

February 23, 2007
Martinborough – Wellington

This is the one hotel that has truly disappointed. The shower tiles were so mouldy and disgusting I decided not to have a shower. But on with our activities…. We first walked over to the WestPac stadium so that we know how long to walk there for tonight’s rugby match. Rob has even bought a jersey for the home team.

For supper, we went to the Featherston Public House and then headed to the rugby stadium to see the Wellington Hurricanes vs. the Canberra Brumbies. The first half wasn’t very exciting because the Hurricanes couldn’t seem to take advantage of opportunities. At the end of the half it was 5-3 Brumbies.

At half time the cheerleaders came out. Can’t believe that they made the old Renegades dance team look good! The most exciting part of the game was in injury time in the second half. With great second effort, No. 8 Thomas Waldron scored to give the Hurricanes an 11-10 win. Rob was really in his element and managed to almost lose his voice by the end of the game.
Saturday February 24, 2007
Wellington – Blenheim

On the ferry over to the South Island, we read the Saturday edition of the Dominion Post. The career section was full of positions with the New Zealand national government. Too bad I didn’t bring my CV and business suit. We’ve taken the ferry before so the suspense wasn’t nearly as great. The news was reporting on the outcome of an inquest into why a captain took 10 hours to cross (it usually takes about 4) in swells of up to 10 m. Thankfully, our ferry ride was uneventful, but it’s too bad they no longer use the faster one.

Blenheim is about 24 km from where the ferry lands. It is the heart of the Marlborough wine district and New Zealand’s largest producer. The town has about 25,000 permanent residents, but increases during the summer months as visitors tour the many wineries.

For supper, we went to Chequer’s Wine Bar. Have to say this was one of the best meals so far. Good service, good food, not too expensive. I had Cajun salad, which included warm Cajun-spiced chicken, BBQ banana, roast kumara on a bed of greens. It also came with a side of vegetables. Rob had lamb shanks with  a side salad. I had two glasses of a wonderful 2006 Sauvignon from Withers Hills, a local wine. We also shared some yummy garlic bread.

February 25, 2007
Blenheim
Another scorcher. Set off at 9:00 for the Farmer’s Market and picked up corn, zucchini, tomatoes and strawberries for supper at the motel. Also bought a jar of red currant jam with port.

After dropping off the groceries, we set off to Walk the Withers, a working farm of 1100 ha, just north of Blenheim. We climbed up to the top of Mount Vernon (the lookout is at 382 m, the trig at 422 m), then followed a track around for a bit before descending and finding our way back to the car. The walk took almost 3 hours and was pretty much all in direct sun. Trees were planted in the 1980s and 90s, but the 2000 Boxing Day fire swept through 6000 ha of farmland, so not many are still standing. Sheep and cows were scattered about the hilly pastures.

From the top of Mount Vernon, you could see all the way over to the North Island, to the east. Wellington is actually farther south than Picton in the South Island, so it’s confusing at the top of the South Island to get your bearings. It was definitely good exercise, with few obstacles (other than when going over the fences).

After lunch at the motel (and Rob’s catnap), a trip to a few wineries was in store. Stops included Cloudy Bay, where I bought a bottle of 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, then Allan Scott Family Wineries, where I bought 2006 Pinot Gris. Rob also bought two large Moa premium lagers because they also make beer, bottling them in champagne bottles and corks. After that we stopped in Wither Hills for a bottle of the 2006 Sauvignon Blanc, which I’d had the night before.
February 26, 2007
Blenheim – Kaikoura

Kaikoura is on the east coast of the South Island. Our original plan was to do whale watching or dolphin watching. But given that we lucked out seeing dolphins on our way to White Island, we decided to find a few walks then go out for a pub meal.

The first walk was along the beach in town. The beach was terraced in smooth flat small stones washed in by the ocean. It was a “no swimming” beach, likely because the stones dropped off quite quickly to fairly strong waves. Walking on it reminded me of the treacherous Red Crater Ridge, but this time in sandals not hiking shoes. When the really tiny stones got under your feet it was like walking on hot coals. (I know, when it’s really cold I’ll be saying hot coals isn’t so bad!)

Then we went back into town and found ice cream. I tried the Kiwi favourite: Hokey Pokey. It’s a really rich vanilla with little tiny morsels of hard toffee in it. Not too bad. Rob shocked me by not choosing chocolate and instead trying the cookies and cream. The cones were $2 each for a single scoop, about the size of the ones at Balderson (if you haven’t been there, it’s pretty big.) While walking back to the motel, we noticed a bunch of police cars around the back of house on the side of the road. We weren’t sure if it was related to the volunteer fire siren we’d heard when we first arrived, or whether it was related to a recent crime. About 2 days before we arrived a woman was sexually assaulted in the washroom of a campground. She screamed and fought back and was able to scratch her attacker, but he hasn’t been caught yet. It was a bit creepy, but it was good to see police out doing their jobs.

After our walk, we headed back to the motel and Rob had another cat nap and I watched a bit of the Oscars. For supper we strolled back into town, taking the shortcut down a really steep path. Originally we were going to have supper at the Strawberry Tree Pub, but opted to just try the Sheep Shaggers Ale (which was pretty tasteless), then went to the local chippie for takeaway. The catch of the day was Hoki, and we got 2 fish and an order of kumara chips for $9.60. We could have opted for the even cheaper special of the day: fish, chips and can for $3.50 each, but sometimes it’s just more important to get what you want. Besides, less than C$7 for two people to eat supper isn’t that bad. Finally, we’ve reached the less expensive New Zealand we remember from last trip!

The takeaway had a really great booklet on the history of the town. The peninsula used to be an island until 80,000 years ago. The town fell on rough times in the 1980s, until whale watching was introduced in 1989 as a tourism industry. Now you can watch whales, swim with seals, go fishing or hunting, tramp or experience 4WD adventures. There’s also skiing nearby in winter.

It was a terrific sunset and we got some great pics of the kiwi Christmas tree. From our room we could see the mountains, and from around the corner we could see the ocean.

February 27, 2007
Kaikoura – Christchurch

Last night the winds really picked up and blew in a bit of a cold front. We woke up to light rain, but the forecast did improve on our drive to Christchurch. In fact they never did get any rain today.

So now we’re downtown, and I think I’ve found a brew pub that makes real ale. The tour starts in about half an hour so I have to make sure I get Rob there on time. Here’s really excited, because he thought he’d found a real pub near Blenheim. And although it looked like a British pub, it didn’t have the real ale.

Tomorrow morning we’re taking the TranzAlpine train to Arthur’s Pass for the day. We’ll do some hiking and hopefully have good weather to see some of the spectacular scenery along the way.

We did find the Twisted Hop, and it did have real ale, three types in fact. We each had a Challenger. We opted not to do the “brewery tour” as the entire brewery could be seen behind a glass wall. 

For supper, we walked to the local Speights Ale House. It felt a bit like going to the Barley Mow in Barrhaven, but the beer and food were tasty and good value. I had the chicken filo wrap with almonds and apricots for $15.50, and Rob had the bangers & mash for $16. Remember that the price includes tax and tip too!

On the walk back, we bumped into a lost Japanese backpacking girl. She needed to get to the other side of the city centre. And we thought she must be looking for the train station (as the ale house was next to it.) We were able to help her out, since it was our second trip to Christchurch, and we’d already walked to the city centre earlier that day.

February 28, 2007
Christchurch – Arthur’s Pass – Christchurch

In the morning, our motel owner drove us to the train station, which was packed with tourists and trampers for the two Tranz trains. There were about 20 cars for our TranzAlpine trip, with only a few empty seats in each. We sat opposite two Ozzie brothers who planned to tramp for 4 days. They looked fit, but not like other trampers we’ve seen. Chatted with them for a bit. They’re from the west side of Australia, and it took them longer to get to Brisbane than from there the New Zealand.

Eventually I decided to trek through the 14 or so cars to the open-air observation car. Everyone was on one side and I couldn’t see most of the views. 

When we arrived at Arthur’s Pass, we made our way to the Visitors’ Centre to find out weather conditions and what tracks were open.  The weather was cool in the morning, and a bit cloudy and windy, but turned fine in the afternoon.  

We started the Devil’s Punchbowl Waterfall walk first. Unfortunately, parts were under construction and we couldn’t go very far. These falls were the really picturesque ones. We followed another path past the Bridal Veil falls, not as impressive because the lookout was too far away. The path did include some nice ups and downs though to help us earn our supper.

On the way back, Rob spotted a kakariki, a type of parakeet that is close to extinction. In fact, they estimate that only 100-200 are left.  And I was able to get one good photo. Who would have thought Rob the birder. All in all, about 2 hours walking. Not as much as I would have liked.

So we spent the rest of our time doing the historical walk of the town (more on that later) and sitting on a patio. From there, we spotted the two Ozzie brothers walking down the road and wondered why it them so long to get ready for their hike. We also had two keas (a type of mountain parrot) running around the patio. One of them was so bold it jumped on a table and grabbed the sandwich off a woman’s plate. Keas are notorious for stealing things. Trampers have lost boots at night. Keas also attack the rubber on cars, but they don’t kill people (yet!). 

So here’s a bit of history about Arthur’s Pass. After Canterbury was settled in the 1850s and gold was discovered on the West Coast, construction of an east-west road became urgent. The first road opened for coach traffic in 1866. Later the Midland Railway converged on the Pass from both coasts. The construction of the Otira Tunnel completed the rail link in 1923. The National Park was formed in 1901 and is a place of botanical and geological interest. The University of Canterbury still has a botany building along the track. 

The town is named after Arthur Bealy, who, with his brother, went over the Bealy Otira Pass from the Waimakarri side in 1864. Skiing was first tried in 1927 on the lawn of the Hostel.  

Today the town has a general store with one gas pump and Internet and a cafe. There is also an interdenominational chapel, a couple of motels/backpackers, the hostel and two other restaurants. Around the main road there are about 50 houses scattered. But most of all on a sunny day, the town has stunning views.

We saw the Ozzies again and learned they were setting off the next day. 

On the return train trip, we were lucky enough to spend most of our time on the observation car. When we got back we realized that it had made our faces and clothes black from the diesel, but the views were great and going over the viaducts with the wind in your face was an awesome feeling. When we got back to the station, we walked along the tracks back to the road to get to the Speights Ale house (yes, again). 

This time Rob had ham steak with apple chutney, chips and salad. I had chicken with cherry sauce on a bed of mashed kumara and salad. Speights is a large commercial brewery, but I’ve discovered their summer beer, an apricot wheat beer. It’s almost as good as McAuslan’s back home.

March 1, 2007
Christchurch – Dunedin

Today we set off for Dunedin, about five hours south of Christchurch. The road is fairly straight and flat for the first two hours so we stopped in Timaru for coffee. Then we continued on to Oamaru (home of the blue penguins) for a picnic lunch. It has so much potential to be the Napier of the South.

While driving, we heard a radio ad by Qantas about not fearing travel to Canada. Two guys were talking about going to Vancouver and taking a road trip to Niagara. One guy wanted to go over the Falls in a barrel, but was afraid of beavers.

More after we do some hiking tomorrow, then yellow-eyed penguins, Albatross and Larnach Castle on Saturday.

March 2, 2007
Dunedin

Let’s start off by saying that staying close to the university on a Friday or Saturday night is interesting. Last night they really partied hard. Thankfully we were both tired enough that we did eventually fall asleep.

Rob was very happy that the motel owner was able to point us in the direction of three local microbreweries. We were able to find all three, but one wasn’t open. Not to matter, it had a sign directing us to the Liquorland down the street. It was an interesting walk on a Saturday morning through the student ghettos. Houses in need of work, with front yards littered with beer bottles (most empty, but some still full) and old couches and armchairs full of holes. It brought back memories for both of us. So back to beer … the three microbreweries were McDuffs (across the road from the motel), the award-winning Emersons and the Green Man (in the heart of the student ghetto). 

Today we drove out to Tunnel Beach. It was a quick 15 minutes down, but 30 minutes to get back up. To get to the beach, you need to walk down about 20 steps in a tunnel that was cut out of the sandstone by a rich landowner back in the late 1800s so that his children could get to the beach. The tide was coming in and we had to be careful not to stay down too long. Once you climb back up, you can venture out near the cliffs, but given the power of the ocean I wouldn’t suggest getting too close. 

Then we walked around the city centre, partially following a historical walk pamphlet that we had picked up. We dropped off it for a while when we found the Duke of Wellington pub, thinking we had perhaps found some real ale on tap. No such luck. They did have Tetleys, London Ale and Hofbrauhaus. So we sat and had a pint, trying to figure out the riddles on the coasters. So who can answer this riddle:

At a secret fox meeting, every fox shakes hands with every other fox present. Altogether there are 45 handshakes. How many foxes attended the meeting?

After figuring out the riddle, we continued along the walk, passing by a very grand old train station. Unfortunately it’s no longer used for regular trains, but you can take scenic trains to Queenstown or Palmerston. While we strolled around the station, we noticed a couple with fully loaded bikes and a small child in a seat on the back. Yikes! Too much effort for me!

Our last stop for the day was Cadbury World, where Cadbury bars are made in New Zealand. We had to wear hairnets, remove all jewellery and leave all bags, cameras, cell phones locked in a cupboard. Guess it’s to protect the Caramilk secret! It started with a video about Cadbury, where we learnt about cocoa beans coming from Malaysia, sugar from Queensland, Australia and the milk comes from local cows and is pasteurized at the plant. The favourite part of the tour was when you walked into the top of an unused silo and watched 1 tonne of liquid chocolate drop in 30 seconds right before your eyes. It made for a slippery walk down to the bottom! Throughout the tour, she asked questions to see if we were paying attention. Whoever got the answer right got extra chocolates. She seemed to warm to Rob and kept sneaking him more chocolate when nobody was looking.

March 3, 2007
Dunedin

On Saturdays the train station hosts the weekly Otago Farmers’ Market, which is where we headed first thing in the morning. It was a bustling place, with lots of fresh veg and fruit, plus jams, oils, chutneys, bread, coffee, cooked breakfast and plants. We picked up strawberries, tomatoes, fresh local cheese and baguette to bring along for a picnic lunch on our way to Larnach Castle (New Zealand’s only one), the Royal Albatross Centre and Penguin Palace.

The drive to these destinations wound along the coast and sometimes inland into the mountains. Our first stop was Larnach Castle. When we arrived it was in the clouds and you couldn’t see more than about 500 m ahead of you. It really gave you a sense of how isolated it must have felt to live there. The castle was built in the 1870s by an Ozzie banker. He married three times and had several children. He killed himself in the New Zealand Parliament Buildings, allegedly because his third wife was having  an affair with his son. Another scandal was that his second wife was the sister of his first wife. 

The castle is now privately owned, bought by Margaret Barker shortly after she was married. They raised their children there, while slowly restoring it. Today you can book one of 12 rooms in the Lodge (boutique accommodation in period decor) or rent the stable area, which has been converted into bedrooms, and a party room. The grounds included a pond, rock garden, and loads of flowers and bushes. When the clouds finally lifted, you could see a spectacular view of Dunedin. 

From there, we drove to Sandymount for a hike down the Lover’s Leap/Chasm trail. The view from Lover’s Leap was breathless. Literally, I stopped breathing when I looked down the cliff into the water. 

Exercise completed, we continued our drive to the top of the peninsula to view the Royal Albatrosses on Taiaroa Head. The Albatrosses breed every two years, and produce only one egg. They soar through the air at up to 100 km/h by riding the prevailing winds. This particular colony is the world’s only mainland colony. The birds can travel up to 500 km per day and not touch land for five years (as adolescents). Their wingspan is about 3m. We also saw shags (another type of bird).

Next stop was Pilot Beach for fur seals. Didn’t stay long because the chain to the lot was going up at 5 p.m. and it was about 10 minutes before. From there we drove back to Otakou, a small fishing village for take away (fish & chips, followed by ice-cream) and watched the sun break through the clouds on the hills. Spectacular view.

Then we went to Penguin Palace to see the Yellow-Eyed Penguin, which is one of the rarest in the world. Penguin Palace is a private conservation reserve. They have built tunnels so that you can view and photograph the penguins in their natural (well almost natural) habitat. In addition to the tunnels, they have built nests for the penguins, since much of their natural habitat was destroyed when the Europeans clear cut the land for farming. The reserve is also planting new trees and bushes so that one day the penguins will be able to build their own nests again.

Unlike blue penguins, Yellow-Eyed Penguins are more anti-social and want a lot of space between each “couple.” Most couples mate for life, but usually travel alone and return home at different times of day. Feb/March is when penguins moult, which means they can’t go in the ocean, making them more vulnerable. Couldn’t believe how close we got to them. Even blue penguins were hiding in their nests, beaks poking out. 

Yellow-Eyed Penguins were called Hoiho by the Mori. They are 70 cm tall (which makes them the third tallest) and between 5 and 6 kg. The average age is 20 to 25. The total population is estimated at 4000 to 5000. Also learned that all penguins need to moult once a year.

March 4, 2007
Dunedin – Invercargill

Today’s drive could have taken us about 3.5 hours if we had taken the straightest road. But we opted to take the scenic route, with a side trip down the coastal track. Much of this track was gravel winding roads, which meant our drive was closer to 7.5 hours, with all the stops included. 

The first stop was Nugget Point, where we hoped to see more penguins, seals and perhaps a seal lion. No such luck though, likely because it was too early in the day. 

The second stop was Purakanui Falls, one of New Zealand’s finest. Water cascades down in layers, with each layer getting wider as the water spills down. On the path to the Falls we even heard a Tui, New Zealand’s most prolific songbird. We knew it was a Tui because there was a cheesy musical card at the Albatross Centre.

On the road to our next stop, we saw a really hoky sculpture on the side of the road: a sheep skeleton propped on a bicycle as if pedalling, complete with pannier bag and sunglasses.  It was the sign for a local sculpture/artist studio. Didn’t go in and continued on to Curio Bay. At low tide, the bay shows off its fossilized forest floor. We were lucky and got there before the tide came in. Our tidal timing was good for the next road too, which floods when the tide comes in.

The next stop was Slope Point, the farthest point south in the South Island. We could see over to Stewart Island because the weather had turned fine. ON the way back from the point saw sheep being herded, which is a nice lead in to where we are going tomorrow: a real sheep farm, where Rob can try his hand at sheep shearing.

March 5, 2007
Invercargill
Today we went to Wairau Farm, a real working sheep farm.  The farmer, Ray, has one full-time worker, a few part-time workers, and employs a team of shearers once a year. This team was led by a kiwi from the North Island who has won international titles 15 of the last 20 years. 

The farm has about 4400 sheep and 40 rams, as wells as deer, donkey, cows and sheep dogs. Our visit focussed on sheep.

Since we were the only people for the tour, we chatted with Ray while he had a cup of tea in the farmhouse kitchen. His wife Dorothy mixed up some formula, which Rob then used to feed the lambs on our way out. Then we headed to the shed to put on some gumboots. To pass by the ewe in the pen, you had to give her a few nuggets of food. Let’s just say Rob was the participant and I was the photographer. I really am a city girl at heart. 

This year has been quite dry and Ray was concerned that he was running out of water. He only uses rain water and had to call to get a load of water delivered.

Two types of dogs are used to herd sheep: eye dogs in the field and huntaway in the barn (this type barks). After watching the eye dog round up the sheep in the field to the barn, we followed the second dog into the barn.

Here, Rob got to try his first farming task: sorting sheep for shearing. Ray started him with about 10 sheep to sort. Once Rob had sorted these, Ray let the rest go through. Only one misplaced sheep, so Ray was impressed.

Then Rob put on overalls and learned to sheer a sheep. Ray has a couple of merino sheep, which is really soft and fine. The majority are Romney,  which produces quite tough wool, mostly used in carpet.

Christchurch is the main centre in the South Island where wool is auctioned off.

On the way back from the farm, we stopped in Riverton for a picnic lunch, then drove through Invercargill to Bluff for a Bluff oyster each. Very delicious. We also stopped by the former Paua House. It no longer exists after a family feud resulted in the shells being dismantled. This all occurred while we were in New Zealand.

Off to Queenstown tomorrow. Hoping for another bungy jump and a ride down the concrete luge. Can’t believe our holiday is coming to an end soon. It just seems you never have enough time to do everything you could do in New Zealand. All the trails we passed by undiscovered, unwalked and not photographed. I think our next trip will be a backpack each and a month to walk all the tracks.

March 6, 2007
Invercargill – Queenstown

First, I’d better finish the sheep shearing update. Realize I’d left out some very important information. As you drive along looking at sheep in the field you sometimes notice different coloured markings on the backs of the sheep. It used to be a way to identify a farm’s sheep. However, Ray now uses it in an interesting way. When we were in the barn he showed us a harness that he puts on the ram before he goes out to the field to “find” the ewes. The harness includes a spot on the underbelly where Ray puts a crayon. This then gets rubbed on the back of the ewe so that he knows the deed was done. After 10 days he changes the colour. So one ewe may have more than one colour. Then the ewes are sorted by colour for birthing.

I also learned a bit more about the meat identification. Lamb meat is up to 18 months. Then the adolescent meat is known as hogget. After that it becomes mutton for a full grown adult.

Now on to the drive from Invercargill to Queenstown. There has been a lot of new construction since our last visit two years ago. In fact we think there may even be a few new streets going up Queenstown hill. 

After checking in, we took the gondola up Queenstown Hill and did five luge runs. The first run has to be on the “scenic” route, but after that you get to take speed. Rob had an injury (scratched wrist) when his luge’s breaks “underperformed” when he tried to pass me and he hit the side barrier, using his arm to brace himself. I was down first three of four times on the fast track.

We went to Dux de Lux for supper, a brew pub/restaurant. We each had the Alpine Ale. I had shepherd’s pie (made with lamb) and salad. Rob had lamb roast with vegetables.

March 7, 2007
Queenstown

The rain started last night and is continuing today, so it’s definitely umbrella weather. Everyone here is delighted to see rain because it’s been almost 36 degrees every day for three weeks. Unfortunately I’ve left my pink waterproof jacket in Christchurch. Maybe I’ll buy another today. It’s supposed to stop later this afternoon so hopefully we’ll be able to go for a hike. We spent part of the day in Arrowtown, darting from store to store and trying to read historic plaques.

By suppertime, the rain had eased, and we went to the Pig and Whistle for our meal.  And on a final note, Rob got his haircut today. A number 2 buzz cut. It’s taken at least two years off him. He keeps rubbing his head and says it feels tingly when the wind blows on it. I think it’s as soft as a teddy bear.

March 8, 2007
Queenstown – Wanaka – Queenstown

The rain on Wednesday did eventually stop around 4:00. Most flights in and out of  were cancelled or delayed, so it’s a good thing we ‘t leaving on Wednesday. There was also quite a bit of flooding, and we could hear the siren for the volunteer  going off most of the afternoon. 

Today we drove to Wanaka, which is to Queenstown what St. Jovite is to Mont Tremblant. It’s also one of New Zealand’s fastest growing towns. We hiked up Iron Mountain, the tallest point in the Wanaka area. I’m happy to say we hiked up with no breaks, and once again were able to finish before the time posted on the sign. Last time I thought I was going to pass out. You get a great view from the top, and I took a photo of the outdoor maze at Puzzling World.

We spent about an hour doing the maze at Puzzling world. Taking to the photo was of no help because much of the maze either has a canopy or goes under the bridges that are scattered throughout. It would be a great place to take kids that have too much energy. My feet were starting to hurt by the end. Once done we headed back to Queenstown through the Crown Range. What an awesome view of the mountains. Not sure I’d ski here though. We drove past Cardrona, and like the Remarkables, you have to take a shuttle to get up to the base of the hill. Most shuttles only run twice a day. One of the locals told us that most people who come skiing here say it’s not very big. The best part of the drive back was the view of Queenstown just before the zigzag. We stopped at one lookout (actually a chain bay for the winter), where you could see the airport runway. Now I understand why they say Queenstown is one of the most difficult airports in the world to land at. It’s surrounded by mountains and the runway is fairly short. Weather and winds are also a challenge. The zigzag is literally a series of switchbacks with a lot of one-lane sections, but Rob is an old pro at these roads now.

For supper, we had our last kiwi meal at the southern man’s local – the Speight’s Ale House. Our last lamb meal and an apricot ale. We were feeling quite energetic and opted for a walk by the water before going back to the motel. A large crowd had gathered and was watching a busker’s performance. He was an Ozzie and made fun of Japanese, Americans, Kiwis, Ozzies, Brits and Canadians, while juggling knives, flames, and lying on a bed of nails suspended on a pole about 2m high.

When we arrived, a Japanese tourist lay on the ground, surrounded by gas the busker had poured around him. The busker had called him “Well Hung.” Then the busker did a demonstration of the ways that different nationalities juggle knives. For Britain, he simply dropped them all. For Australia, he juggled them by placing them on the ground. For Japan, he juggled them with a samurai gesture added in. For the US, he used really big throws. For Canada, he repeated the American one and said it’s the same because Canada copies everything the US does. Then he showed the kiwi version, which he called the best of them all. The audience showed their appreciation, with many Japanese giving $20. Rob and I arrived late and each donated $5 to the cause.

March 9, 2007
Queenstown – Auckland – San Francisco

Today we hung around town until it was time to go to the airport. We still had two beers left in the fridge, but in Queenstown there is no liquor ban so we may actually have them at the airport. Liquor licensing is a big debate in the area right now. There are no mandated closing times for bars or restaurants and some stay open until 5:00 a.m. Nearby  imposed a 2:30 a.m. closing time and says it’s helped with rowdiness. Of course, Queenstown bars that want to stay open until 5:00 say closing earlier will just lead to more binge drinking before closing time. 

Taking off from Queenstown was interesting, a very steep ascent, with awesome views. While I was trying to spot the motel, I saw the luge runs we did at the top of the hill. The we flew over Mount Cook, and other snow-topped mountains, passed by the beach in Nelson, and Abel Tasman Park in the South Island. In the North Island, we flew near the Tongariro Crossing and was able to take pics of the volcano.

We arrived in San Francisco in the morning and had only a slight detour at customs, to explain why we had answered “yes” to the question about being in contact with livestock. Rob had wanted to take the BART to the Hotel (Travelodge – Millbrae), but I convinced him to check out the courtesy shuttles that most hotels provide. Sure enough, our hotel was on the list, so we called for a pick up. After about 45 minutes watching all kinds of shuttles come and go, and with no sign of our shuttle, we called back again.  Eventually they did show up and drove us the short distance (10 minutes) from the airport. Rob did find us a sweet deal at US$94 (tax included), which included continental breakfast for two and transfers to and from the airport. The neighbourhood was fairly safe, and had groceries and a pharmacy within an easy walk. Best of all it was about 700 m from the BART station. The only down side was the shower stall had seen better days. Not bad enough to have to wear flip flops, but on its way.

After we’d checked in, we walked over to the BART station at Millbrae, which is the end of the line. Rob bought two return tickets, but his didn’t work in the scanner so he hopped over the gate. From Millbrae, we took the BART to Union Square. But Rob’s ticket didn’t work again, so he had to go back to the ticket agent and get a voucher. We then did one last hike up Powell through Chinatown and back to Fisherman’s Wharf. Our destination this time was the chowder at the Blue Mermaid. It’s definitely the place to go in San Francisco. If you do go you have to try the award-winning crab and corn chowder. We started with some popcorn shrimp, and now I think my craving for seafood is finally satiated. From there we walked down to the start of the F-line tram. We’ve taken this line quite a bit. It goes from Fisherman’s Wharf along the Embarcadero, up Market to the Castro. The drivers are real characters talking about the history of San Francisco or just making wisecracks.

At the corner turning onto Market, a delivery truck was blocking the track. The tram ahead of us was already blocked and an electric bus was stuck behind it. Rob and I decided to walk. But as we looked back at the scene, we noticed that the MUNI inspector was asking a driver of a pick up truck to push the delivery van up on the curb. So we watched as they first opened the door to release the parking brake, then gave it a good ram in the back, then re-applied the brake. With the way clear, we climbed back on just in time for Rob to make friends with the homeless black man who sat down beside him. Usually it’s Rob who has the questions for new people, but this time the homeless guy beat him to it. Finally Rob found out that the guy was from Chicago originally and knew a lot about airline routes from working at American Airlines.

We disembarked at Union Square and were flagged down by Girl Scouts just outside the stairs to the MUNI/BART station. Thinking that we’d likely be spending time in airports getting hungry, we picked up a box of chocolate brownie cookies. Then Rob had one more hassle with the voucher he’d been given. The first agent hadn’t filled it out properly and the new guy was giving Rob a hard time. He did eventually let him through and we made it safely back to the hotel.

March 10, 2007
San Francisco – Montreal – Ottawa

We got to the airport early and had no issues with weight restrictions for the luggage at check in. Rob and I both sat down in an area with a view and started to watch the planes land and take off. Tired of that, we then dove into our books. Eventually we made our way to the departure gate and took seats close to the agent’s counter. It was like watching an episode of Airline live. They were paging people and explaining they couldn’t take the plane, and I thought to myself that that’s what happens when you fly standby. After about 20 minutes or so, they paged a Robert Poirier. I elbowed Rob and we both jumped up. It was explained to us that there was too much weight on the plane and we would have to take the Toronto flight an hour later to get to Ottawa. Yikes! Toronto! But we did everything we could to avoid Toronto. When the agent came back, I explained to him that flying through Toronto was like flying through Los Angeles, and that’s why we were in San Francisco. I said I’d be happy to do it if we could fly first class. I think Rob was still thinking about how many Aeroplan points he was going to ask for, but the agent had already said “no problem” to my request. Ironically, the later flight would have us land about half an hour earlier. And the weather forecast for Montreal was looking stormy so further delays there would have been possible.

So there we were sitting in first class, really enjoying our cutlery, big plates full of larger portions of better food (although the salmon was a bit too peppery), with lots of wine, appetizers, anything you could ask for. Our luggage even appeared in Toronto, and no problem going through customs, even with the farm visit. This vacation was really going to end on a high note!

And then we arrived in Ottawa on the Saturday that ended the Quebec March Break and the start of the Ontario March Break. Six planes had arrived at the same time. Luggage was everywhere. The two carousels weren’t saying what flight was coming out where. Teenagers high on too much sugar were screaming and jostling for position at the luggage carousels. One of our bags came out, then nothing. Several people on our flight were still standing there so Rob continued to be optimistic. I, on the other hand, looked over at the lost luggage area and saw about eight people standing there. So I decided to wait in line just in case the situation got worse. And did it ever. By the time Rob came over, about 20 people were in line behind me.

We finally arrived home about 1:30 a.m. Did I mention it was also the night that the clocks spring forward? So it’s really now 2:30 a.m. We stayed up for a while going through the mail while we had a beer to unwind. It does have a happy ending because the lost luggage did appear the next day. And my two bottles of wine (boysenberry and grapefruit) survived the trip for New Zealand (including the three weeks around the country).

I’ve already planted the seed in Rob’s mind: New Zealand in 2011 (when they host the Rugby World Cup!)

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