Travel Thursday: New Zealand

Today on Travel Thursday, we feature my last trip to the Land of the Long White Cloud, New Zealand, where it rains and snows in summer but have the most beautiful cave in the world! Land of Kiwis, but not Kiwi fruit. . .

Kia Ora, people!
Didn’t expect to find myself on another trip just a couple of weeks after being in Europe, but here I am in rainy Auckland–it ALWAYS rains when I’m here–because the photographer who had the job broke his leg. And since I’m I always need the money and I love New Zealand. . .
13 hours later, after some sleep, which is a miracle, and of course fun with the best in-flight entertainment system in the biz–thanks Air New Zealand!–as well as Paulina Logan’s latest CD, time to pretend it’s a new day. . . actually the day after the new day, time zone issues. As always, first thing to check is the hour, then make sure the McDonald’s is still in the same place. It’s a funny thing, changing hemispheres–thought it was a simple four hour difference (and a day), except of course they’re not on daylight savings down here, so make it 5.
Someone called New Zealand “Scotland with ferns.” that is the most awesome description ever. Some of you may instead love this place for being the first to let women vote. Others may like it for inventing the 8-hour work week. . . unless you wish it was 6.

Auckland
As I stood looking at the roaring sea, I could convince myself I was all alone.
Then I turned around; there’s high-rises behind me. Damn!
The Maori name for the place–before the whities named it after the boring Earl of Auckland–was Tamaki-makau-rau, which as anyone knows means “spouse of a hundred lovers.” There’s a Mormon joke in there somewhere, until I realized it coulda been a woman. Oh well.
Auckland has 1 million people sandwiched in a narrow strip of land, though the city itself is supposed to be larger than London or Paris; don’t see it, even from the tower. The locals do love saying it’s probably the only city in the world with harbors on two separate bodies of water; yippee.
Queen Street, of course, of course, is the local big hooey place. When they told me this street was the most expensive on the EnZee version of Monopoly, I decided I’ve seen it enough before.
It makes me laugh that there’s a “Khyber Pass” in Auckland, or the suburbs, at least.
Of course I spent the first day doing more than the McDonald’s thing, checking out all the old places I remembered so fondly, like Underwater World–I did not walk the 8km back to town this time.
Has there ever been a TV show called Mt. Eden? Because the other high place in Auckland is called One Tree Hill. Too bad it’s Mt. Eden where the driver to the airport told me usta be the red light district, although he called it “massages.” Bet that’s not in the travel literature, but if you don’t see the makings of a TV pilot there, I sure do; I can even work the observatory into it. . . wait, that’s on the other hill, dammit. So much for new uses for that telescope. . . but the old prison has its possibilities. . .
By the way, One Tree Hill actually did have one single pine, though they’ve added an obelisk, earliest settlers memorial or such, John Logan Campbell buried underneath it {don‘t know who he was, but if he‘s a Logan, it’s gotta be a good story}. I say “did” because people, particularly Maoris, kept trying to cut it down in protest, even more often than the Little Mermaid gets beheaded. So now it’s (N)one Tree Hill {Wish I could take credit for that one, but some jerk thought of it before me, dang it!}. The park that surrounds the One or None Tree Hill, Cornwall, will make you think you’re in England. More useless trivia: both hills are volcanoes, so virgins beware. And neither is more than 643 feet high, so Hill is a better descriptive than Mount. If that’s not too high for you, go up and get the shots that’ll impress the neighbors/book club/yadda-yadda. {Hell, you can take a taxi or bus all the way to the top!}.
I remember Kelly Tarton’s Underwater World for many reasons: the snowcat-type vehicle when you go in, the penguins, the
guy who seemed way too anxious to meet me and shook my hand without letting me know he was missing a couple of fingers–that was startling. Also a lot of blurry shots of sharks overhead, cuz it’s kinda dark, though I did get the shot of the moray eel {what kind of eel is that? Sing it: That’s amore. . .} on my first trip. But most of all I remember having a lot of time but no money left on my last day–other than what I was saving for the airport tax, glad they told me about that–and walking the 8k back to town. Well, I did have enough for a soda on the way, and there was this beautiful Canadian pro cyclist redhead resting at the park. . . but still, 8 km! My feet ached in sympathy for the past just by remembering the road from the bus!
MOTAT is a typical acronym, this time for the Museum of Transport and Technology. The best display: in 1903 or 4, an eccentric South Island farmer and mechanical genius built and flew a powered aircraft on a controlled path either a few months before or just after the Wright Brothers, but because New Zealand was so remote back then, the name Richard Pearse is never heard in discussions of aviation. The special exhibit of Hillary (Mr. First to Everest) to the South Pole was also fascinating, but really, there’s so much stuff in this place it’s crazy!
There’s also the War Memorial museum, up on the hill, but I did not go this time, mostly because I’d been in it last time. I remember the war canoe and the giant moa, and other stuffed extinct animals, but I had other places I was ordered to shoot. . . sigh.
Another place I missed on this trip was the Auckland Art Gallery, which I remember accidentally wandering into my first time here. Very nice and not at all huge like the ones in Europe! Missed the zoo this time as well, even though it’s close to MOTAT; kiwis–the birds, this time–not worth all the hoopla, pretty boring non-fliers.
Ignoring all the jokes about “American” being an “ethnic cuisine”–seriously, don’t go there–I HAD to find out if Rick’s Café Américain was real. Unfortunately I once again didn’t have the chance to go, and then was told it was gone. Let that be a lesson: gather ye burgers whilst thou may {okay, I’m a poetry geek too, is it that surprising?}.
Since I’d already been to the Sky Tower–the local version of Centrepoint in Sydney or CN in Toronto and the granddaddy of them all, the Space Needle–I didn’t feel the need to go up to the top of the BNZ tower, but I did go to the basement, cuz that’s where the food court is. I remember a McDonald’s in a rococo-type place around here that usta be the Bank of New Zealand, but didn’t think to go catch a photo of it. There was an “American Embassy” {as the bus driver my first time here coined the McD’s} closer to the hotel which I already knew about anyway, so I didn’t have to go without my fry fix. But back to the Sky Tower. I remember my first time here, with a giant telephoto getting a shot of a huge banner advertising a new Star Trek movie–don’t remember which one, but I think Picard’s bald dome was taking up quite a bit of it. But I didn’t know about all the other stuff on it–casino, theater, a whole friggin’ hotel–till this time. It’s one thing to spend 13 hours on a plane, but this is ridiculous! Bad enough to be on a regular skyscraper, but on something that looks like a futuristic space elevator? Why don’t I just faint from the vertigo right now, and you can wake me up when we’re back on the ground, ‘kay? Of course, all that was before they told me the complex is at the base of the tower, not up in the tower itself–why fuckin’ call it SKYcity, then? Idiots–so it was a waste of perfectly good rant. Though I’ll never take back the part about the bunjee jump; fuck ‘em.

Bay of Islands
This was the first place those darn white people came to, particularly the whalers. {In case you’re here looking for that very first settlement, Kororareka, it’s now called Russell and you can’t miss it.} The whalers called in at Kororareka for provisions, and also for women, in the numerous brothels which sprung up, so the town quickly earned a very bad rep, a place without laws; it became known as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific.” Actually, all of New Zealand was known throughout the world as a land without law and order, which always makes me laugh, because now this country and its people can be oh so prim and proper when left to their own devices. But this was the Wild West before there was a Wild West in America. On the other hand, it was probably no different than the waterfronts of London, Lisbon, Athens, probably even Copenhagen and such. And now it’s just a place with cafes and gift shops rather than people, though of course it’s one of the most picturesque locales in the world, one of the places where you don’t bother to describe it, just look at the photos and make plans to go. Or as I muttered to the guide, “Screw the sights. I’m gonna spend the whole day shooting land- and seascapes.” With more than 150 small islands in deep blue waters, tall pines growing side by side with banana plants and fat palms. . . I could spend weeks just shooting this place. Might even try a sailboat ride, one of those Captain Cook wind-in-your-hair flapping-sails things that always make me seasick, but with hundreds of hidden coves and secret beaches that you can’t get to by car. . .
By the way, do not laugh when they tell ya the history of the flagpole. Don’t even bother imagining it, because that’s what made me laugh. . .
AND
Most people, I’m sure, love going all the way to the northern tip of North Island, but I didn’t find it much of a much; seen too many of them, I guess. But in my usual mindset of not letting anything go, why is 90-Mile Beach called that when it’s 64 miles long? Yes, obviously it’s 90km, but that doesn’t make it right!

Waitomo
Last time I was in Waitomo was with a lovely lady named Alice who told me she hardly ever laughed, but I made her giggle three times. Haven’t seen her since, but being here again makes me miss her. Especially as we wait in line to get on the boats; I told her that time long ago that this wooden staircase reminded me of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland (before they remodeled it and destroyed the memory. Don’t ya hate Disney and their greed?)
Anyhoo, I was vera vera scurred that the Waitomo Caves would be a huge letdown, since I’ve been in there before. It might have been exciting if I was allowed to take photos, not that I would have the slightest idea how to shoot it, but of course that didn’t stop me from going in. And thankfully I did. Right through the first two little caves without stopping, onto the aforementioned wooden staircase and then the boats. You never get used to the dark passage, but it’s necessary, because as you come into the main cave you can’t help but gasp. For a moment you think you’re outside, looking at the stars, even though there’s no way stars are ever that bright without leaving Earth. This time I was ready to answer a question I had the first time: is it bright enough to read by? Yes! Those glowworms, like butterflies, are better to look at from a distance than close up, but it’s definitely one of those things you have to see in your life, not like that stupid book that gives you a list of places that probably paid for inclusion. And now I’m sure that no matter how many times I pass through that cave, I will always feel the grandeur and magnificence, even if I break my neck looking around frantically to squeeze every drop out of the experience.

Rotorua
Made a Maori kid laugh when I stuck my tongue out at him.
Was told that there are only 3 geysers in the world that qualify as “Old Faithful,” the obvious one in Yellowstone, one in California, and the one here that I missed the first time I was in this place; it was not on time and I had to make a restroom run. Rotorua and Yellowstone are incredibly similar, but since I’d never heard of the one in California, gotta go find that! Here you go along a wooden path to a small cleared area with benches, almost an amphitheater to nature. Eventually you hear a gurgle, see the steam from the six-foot-high cone increase, and you hope it’ll be soon so you don’t miss it again. . . okay, I’m projecting, but then, so’s the geyser. Steam, water, and a loud roar like Mother Nature’s pissed. . .
“Don’t worry about drowning in quicksand. It’ll boil ya first.” They’ve been using that line for decades. They also tell you there’s no digging, because your hole will collapse and you get steam–if you’re lucky–in the face. Which of course means you get buried above ground, and until you’ve seen steam coming out from a grave. . . our first ghosts of the trip! But not the last. . .
Still selling the corn at the end of the walk! Don’t know if was the same lady, and luckily the sulfur smell doesn’t go into the corn, but this is still the best tasting corn in the world!
Back in town there’s a place called Government Gardens. . . not really a big deal, except I think I took a picture of Alice here. . . ya know, I think I still have her dad’s phone number somewhere, from when I visited them a few months after in the Pacific Northwest. . . hey, less stalkerish than looking her up on the internet! I think.
I don’t remember if I ever showered in Rotorua before–I hope so–but to jump into a bathtub full of this water is an experience in itself. The female guide, who’s probably older than she looks, claims she’s swum in the water all her life, and I do have to admit she doesn’t have wrinkles. I can’t believe they’re not selling little bottles of the stuff. . . maybe they are, didn’t go into the little shops. Then I remembered hearing about a hotel where you could jump into a heated spring from the window of your bathroom, but that’s way too adventurous for me!
Wow, the Agrodome is still there! I think I still have the sticker somewhere, but did not go this time. Seeing sheep being sheared, herded, and made to jump obstacles–once was enough, since I obviously still remember it. Yeah, I’m pretty sure the ram’s “escape” was fixed. . .
Past Blue Lake and Green Lake, and they really are those colors, is the biggie body of water, Lake Tarawera. I stared across the water for a very long time, looking for the ghost canoe that had appeared a couple of weeks before the volcano blowup of 1886 {when asked, I said I was trying to imagine how the Pink and White Terraces looked before the explosion}, but of course the more you look for a spirit the less it shows up. I haven’t seen Nessie either. . . yet. And seeing the dug up remains of Te Wairoa, the town destroyed by the volcano. . . don’t know why, but it seems a lot more poignant than Pompeii or Herculaneum.
Didn’t get to go to Southridge this time, don’t even know if the restaurant with the amazing steak is still there, but one day I need to find out! Such great memories of that place, not just the food, especially of having to share a table with the aforementioned Alice and a stuffy old English lady. Like the time I said that when I first went to England I had no idea what a quid was. . . only to be interrupted by the old lady with a condescending “That’s a pound, dear,” so I gave her a much deserved, “NOW you tell me!” which made Alice break out in loud hoots that left her embarrassed. Hmmm, I remember taking a photo of that, wonder what I did with it. . .

Wellington
Zooming further and further south, I caught sight of a sign and remembered I had been here before, spending a week on a sheep ranch with a beautiful model. . . thank goodness it wasn’t Rachel Hunter!
Every American who comes to Wellington says “It’s San Francisco!” so the locals were very surprised when I didn’t. While here there was supposedly an earthquake; I didn’t feel it, and the locals didn’t either. Don’t know if that’s good or bad. . . and they do have cable cars, but they look nothing like the cute little trolleys in Es Ef.
But hey, at least there’s no fog! That’s because there’s a real bitch of a wind that can go up to 80mph and rain horizontally; people don’t even use umbrellas, though from what I saw galoshes and waders are a big hit. But it does keep the air clear. . .
I’m no engineer of any kind, but you don’t have to be to appreciate the way this place is built on the steep mountainsides, while still having to be earthquake safe. I didn’t know until after walking along the waterfront that all that land was underwater before the 1855 earthquake. That was kinda spooky.
So. . . is this where they invented Beef Wellington? Or was it the General dude?
If you’re one of those people who love the view as much as the food, the best place to eat would be at the top of the cable-car run at Kelburn, a place called Skyline Restaurant; as always, food tastes better when someone else is paying. And if you don’t want to eat at a place where the view is more delicious than the food, I can’t help ya. Sit on the left side of the cable car going up, it’s a better view. It’s a bit funny going from the business district through a university and then a suburb, and finally you’re on top of a hill. . . well, it was funny to me. There’s a botanical place right where you debark, and they claim to have glow worms too, but didn’t see them. Didn’t go to the observatory, not even to get out of the rain.
The other great view in town is from Mount Victoria–but you can call her Vic–and also has a monument in the shape of a tent. . . at least that’s what they call it. To me it was just a standing triangle, then I thought of one of the “sails” of the Syndey opera house. To my absolute shock, it wasn’t in honor of Edmund Hillary or any of the British Antarctic explorers, but rather Admiral Byrd, an American. More on those guys in a later chapter, but don’t forget to take in the view! This time without eating.
Not much to say about the Parliament buildings, other than I shot them for a while, enough to make me lose track of time. The most interesting government building is called the “Beehive,” for obvious reasons, if you look at it. For a while I thought about asking a gardener if there were any beehives in the nearby gardens, with the building in the background for a visual pun, then decided my bee sting allergy made it simply not worth it. By the way, I’d always heard there was a place in the Parliament building called Bellamy’s, which is supposed to be the most exclusive restaurant in the country, just for the politicians. I almost asked the tourism minister, when I was taken to his office, if he could get me in, but in the end I decided not to, wasn’t really worth the trouble. But someday. . .
Close to Parliament is the National Library, so I had to go in there for a while, trying not to compare it to the one in Vienna. Yes, I’m a geek. Even more fun was Government Buildings–don’t know why it’s plural–and at first it looks a lot like an Italian-style structure made of rock. But when you get close to it, you realize it’s actually made of wood! They say it’s the second biggest wooden structure in the world–temple in Japan of course number one–and yet it’s supposedly earthquake-proof! Didn’t hang around long enough to figure that one out, but next time I’m taking the tour. . . if they have one. If not, I’ll just bully or sneak my way in. . . as usual. They also say it will never be duplicated, because the wood used to build it is now protected; good way to make it one of a kind.
As you must know by now, I love zoos, and there’s one here near Mount Victoria. More kiwi birdies in the night (enclosure), but I found the opossums interesting, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen one outside of cartoons. The guide was dead on as she said, “Most people only see them as road kill.” Some slang’s the same, huh? And really amazing is that the elephants don’t smell! The only animal that smells worse at zoos is penguins, but there was a long explanation as to why the pachyderms smelled fresh; it was just too scientific for me.
One more thing, even if it was kinda out of town. Most of you who read these blogs would be shocked to know I served in the United States Marine Corps. At McKay’s Crossing, there’s something called the Memorial Gates to the U.S. Second Marine Division, who were stationed here in the Second World War. My favorite note–and not one they tell you officially in the place–is that 1400 Kiwi women married Yankees during that time. Make up your own joke there. The plaque reads, “Half the world distant from their home they came here. This plaque was erected by the New Zealand-American Association to record the grateful thanks of the people of New Zealand to the U.S. Marines. They camped at this spot from June 1942 to November 1943 while helping to defend this country. Later they fought on the Pacific islands where many of them made the supreme sacrifice and cemented an everlasting friendship.” By the way, the crossing between the highway and the railway is supposedly very dangerous, just so you know, you’ve been warned, etc.
Finally stayed in one night and caught Waitress for the first time a long while. Couldn’t help but wonder what the locals thought of those accents! Nathan Fillion was born to play a bumbling fool, but Keri Russell is so luminous. . .
No way was I taking the ferry across the big islands; when people call the local waters “confused,” you know it’s better to hop on a plane. And not a scenic plane either, because the air gets confused too. I’d never thought about it, but heavy waves and turbulence are exactly the same thing. Found out later they call it the “ventura” effect, but I decided not to look it up; I was just happy not to vomit. At least when my fear of heights manifests, I only get dizzy. . .

Christchurch
What can you really say about floating down a river in the middle of town? It’s relaxing, nothing more.
With a name like Christchurch, sure as hell–sorry–sounds like a religious place, but then you notice the locals abbreviate it to Chch, and suddenly you feel much better. But there’s a damn good reason they call it “The most English city outside England.” Personally, I’ve seen plenty of cities in England more EnZee than this!
The aforementioned river flows right through downtown, forming a nice park with its bends. According to the story, it was named Avon to commemorate the Scottish Avon; I’m guessing they call it that so people won’t think it’s Shakespeare’s version. In one of the river’s loops is the Botanic Gardens, a must-see because everyone in this town is garden-happy; they even hand out awards. Even the big industrial factories compete.
I’m just reporting this–certainly didn’t taste anything special to me–but everyone made a big deal about the town having one of the highest-quality water supplies in the world, purest and cleanest water on the planet. They went on to talk about aquifers and pumping stations all the way from the foothills of the Southern Alps that provide natural filtering and such. . . I got this huge speech just for asking where I could buy some bottled water!
Christchurch has a history of involvement in Antarctic Exploration–told ya I’d get back to those dudes–and this time they have a statue of Robert Falcon Scott, sculpted by his widow. That must be pretty cool, having your spouse do an art work of you that’ll stand for possibly centuries. On the other hand, you’re dead, so who cares, but you know what I mean. I thought about going to the International Antarctic Center (Centre, whatever)–their website is the very cool iceberg.co.nz, ha!–but then I remembered my two hours in that Viking version of Hell down south and decided those explorer pioneers of the past centuries weren’t going to be pissed if I didn’t pay my respects. And speaking of pissed, do you ever wonder how they went potty in places like Antarctica? Brrrr!
As you might expect from me–since most people think I’m a pagan, and yeah, I hate the name of the town–I was anxious to finally catch the Wizard of Christchurch–recently elevated to Wizard of all of New Zealand. I was hopeful he was still alive–he is–but then got the news he only did his Cathedral Square rants in the summer. . . summer down under of course, not right now in winter. Dang. After all, how often do you meet a guy who brought 42 assistant wizards–I think he must be a Douglas Adams fan–and came down the hill {in a gondola} with tablets bearing. . . his website. Utter genius.
The Town Hall is no great shakes to look at–but go ahead and take its photo, especially with the river and that weird dandelion-type fountain in the foreground–but if you’re into music or acoustics, you must go inside to the two auditoriums, which they claim has the best acoustics in the world! Unfortunately there were no violinists nearby to show us, so we had to make do with some pathetic opera trilling–I passed–which wasn’t satisfying at all. So next time I’m here I’ll have to bring Felicia Day along. . . (private joke; I mean Hilary Hahn).
One of the many places I’d wanted to check out on this trip but didn’t get to is called Oakland Gardens. When I first heard about it, I wasn’t told it was a cemetery. Since I have nothing but disgust for people and businesses that make money off of death, I demurred at first, until they explained it was no ordinary Forest Lawn. First thing, everyone’s cremated. Okaaaaay. . . so why waste a perfectly good lawn? Then they tell ya that each person’s ashes is used to plant a rose tree; you’d think you were in a nursery, except for the plates with the names and birth/deathdates. Okay, I get it now. Not a bad idea. . . but didn’t get to see it, don’t even know if it’s still there. Next time. . .

Mt. Cook
Was supposed to take the Trans-Alpine Express–on their website the call it TranZ-Alpine, like they from da hood–but that got cancelled, which is fine, I’m no longer a train traveler, certainly not for more than a couple of hours. Where’s the airport? Oh, it’s a float plane? Okay, where’s the dock?
When I looked at the map I saw that Mt. Cook was almost directly west of Christchurch, which I thought was weird, until I noticed how the South Island diagonals its way further south. . . yes, I’m a map geek, that’s what my degree is in, after all. But because I was merely flying over it–way too cold for the likes of me right now–I didn’t have to worry about programming the GPS or navigating from the passenger seat. But isn’t it weird how I get all freaked out on towers but I’m okay with little float planes? Also very weird, at least to me, was how high this mountain looks–maybe all the snow made it seem that way, and it does kinda tower over all the others–but it really isn’t any higher than the “hills” surrounding the LA basin, even those on fire. Probably the most fun shot I took from the plane was of a glacier slicing its way through the very green bush, like a huge white tongue. I loved that imagery so much that I. . . okay, I need some further inspiration there, but something will come to me!
By the way, the local name for Mt. Cook is “Cloud Piercer”–so much more poetical than simple English. I did get to spend a few hours at Hermitage Village, which has some amazing hikes from which to shoot the mountain and some wildlife, but soon enough it was time to get back on the plane and head off to the west coast, actually flying due north to get to the starting point of the long drive along the coast.

West Coast
So sparsely settled you’d think you were in the Australian outback, except green instead of brown and red. Tiny villages, rain forests–right now the whole country’s a rain forest!–glaciers, the Southern Alps at your back as you‘re looking at the brilliant, tumbling, almost breathing–sometimes seething–waters of the Tasman Sea. The area between the mountains and the sea is 300 miles long but only 30 miles wide, and it reminded me of the coastal roads through Oregon and Washington, minus the snow.
Unfortunately I didn’t get the names of a lot of little villages and scenic lookouts we drove through or by, since at this point I’d given myself over to full enjoyment of the spectacular drive. . . though I imagine it’s better heading north, simply because they drive on the left and I had to shoot through the driver’s window to catch the ocean. On the other hand, I was close to the gigantic ferns that grow alongside the road, mixed with other forms of plant life that I‘d have no chance of identifying even if they were popular all over the world; yes, I got a D in botany, are you surprised? Even though there was hardly any traffic, we were forced to go slow because of the constant twists in the road, and of course the frequent one-way bridges. It tempered the enjoyment a little, the great vistas of the sea not quite able to override my increasing fear of all the curves! It particularly reminded me of the road from Durango to Mazatlan in the Western Sierra of Mexico, an eight-hour ride in what is about 100 miles as the crow flies.
Hokitika is a lovely little town with a river running through it, and of course a beautiful coastline, but its best time-waster is the jade factory! Though factory was too fanciful a word; I was expecting some behemoth building with assembly lines of beautiful green translucent rock, when it was a studio and gift shop. . . ok, it was bigger than that too, but that was all I saw. Still, for someone who enjoys photographing glass-blowing, this was pretty fun. The town even has a glow worm dell, but didn’t get to check it out.
Got into Franz Josef just as it started to rain, got some awesome pictures from the porch of the motel, but that was probably the photographic highlight of this part of the trip. I’m really beginning to think the previous photographer broke his leg on purpose so he wouldn’t have to deal with these conditions. . .
For a while I’ve been really anxious to get into a glacier cave–you know, the kind that let light in and make the ice translucent–and had a chance to do that on the Franz Josef glacier, or the Fox glacier, but I still haven’t found gloves that’ll keep my fingers warm while thin enough to allow me to flick and push buttons on the camera. At least with the temp this low, I wouldn’t have to worry about any water dripping on the camera, but c’mon now! It can wait. For that same reason I skipped over Westland World Heritage Park. I’ll be back some warmer day, and I got more than enough aerial shots–and from the car–to please the bosses.
Glad I wasn’t driving, the roads were icy! But if you want to get away from it all. . . still, if the weather’s nice and you got plenty of time, definitely take route 6 down the coast, should be just as much fun as PCH north of El Lay.
At first I thought I wanted to know who named Mount Aspiring, but in the ended decided it was none of my business. Another national park for another time. . . can I go back to the Bay of Islands? Preeety please. . .?

Fiordland National Park
“Some areas have never had a human being set foot.” I loved this brochure line so much I’m bringing it home and framing it. Another quote says that a formerly thought-to-be-extinct bird was found here, so now people look for moas and maybe even albatrosses. Pterodactyls, anyone? The bird that was found, by the way, if you’re interested in that kind of thing, is called the Takahe, and like all the others here can’t fly. There’s also a flightless parrot, called the Kakapo, which I have to think would make the perfect pet that doesn’t have to be kept in a cage! Well, at least you know it wouldn’t fly away, although birdy litter issues are something else. Can’t have ‘em anyway, they’re endangered, and don’t you go looking for trouble with the smugglers! One bird that could and did fly was the infamous Haast’s Eagle, which weighed 40 pounds and killed humans! Kinda not sorry to see that one extinct. And what I promise is the last avian note: the simple answer as to why birds around here didn’t fly was because they weren’t scuured some other animal was gonna eat them. See, most college courses would make a whole lecture on that, but now you can skip that day and go study at the library. . . yeah, right.
There was some cool stuff about a river with black water–fresh water on top, sea water beneath–but didn’t go there and neglected to get the name. I’ve got quite an itinerary for my next trip, in warmer times.
Of course Milford Sound is by far the most famous part of this place. The brochures call it “the world’s top travel destination,” which doesn’t sound likely, the usual travel hyperbole, but it sure looks like it could be. Don’t try to drive here, or take the bus, in the winter, and definitely do not walk the 33-mile Milford track in this weather. Gotta fly. . .
I can finally admit–to myself–that I have, at least photographically speaking, a waterfall fetish. The funny thing is it’s officially the wettest place in En Zee–although I guess you need all that rain for the waterfalls–but this is practically the only place on the whole trip where moisture did not wet my hair. . . or hat, you know what I mean. The trip here isn’t complete without a boat tour, which I took last time, but you gotta see it from the air too. Try to do both on the same trip, unlike me.

Queenstown
Don’t know how they got me a rez during full-on ski season, though going from 100 degrees in El Lay to snow is a special kind of hell (Firefly shoutout). Glad I did though, cuz my room had a huge satellite hookup and I got to see Wozniacki take out Kuznetsova at the US Open. Didn’t I tell ya that Danish beauty would go far? {Yeah, I never heard of the little American girl either.}
Okay, I don’t know if they grow these gorgeous girls locally or are brought in by the tourism department, but every single female worker at the airport, from the airlines to car rental to food services to money changers to gift shops. . . no, go ahead, you take the next taxi, I can wait. . .
Wakatipu is one of the coolest lakes in the world, and I mean that metaphorically, although I wouldn’t want to dunk myself in it either, especially after the Rotorua hot springs. Glaciers scooped it out of the bedrock millions of years ago into the shape of a backwards Z, 1000s of feet deep in some places, but the really cool part is that it can change several inches in depth in just a few minutes. No one knows why, though there are plenty of theories, my fave being the Maori one that says there’s a demon breathing under the surface. Another Nessie? Awesome. But no matter what you’re doing in town, the lake inevitably draws you in. Go down to the shoreline, find a bench or sit on the beach, and simply let yourself enjoy the beauty. You hear about beautiful-looking water in the tropics, lighter shades, but here the lake is so intensely blue; the reflection of the Remarkables is majestic. . . until that damned steamer chugs by! I kept coming back to my bench the whole time, occasionally wondering what it would be like to live here. Less concerts and sporting events, for one, but I’m sure that’s not what I meant. By the by, have you ever seen tame fish outside of a room aquarium? It was so weird going down to the wharves, where fat tame trout follow you around like ducks, waiting for you to toss bread at them. You’re not allowed to fish, and I think they know it. . . if fish could be described as arrogant. . .
Hint–don’t take the steamer after going on a jetboat. You’ll feel stuck in slo-mo.
And I want to know what early pioneer named these mountains the Remarkables.
Like most towns, including El Lay and NY, they have a double-decker London-style sightseeing bus here. Yippee. . . ever have sex on one of those things, especially up top? No, that was rhetorical. . . {but be careful if you’re in an area with skyscrapers!}.
Shooting like a maniac from the gondola, partly because it’s so beautiful but mostly so I wouldn’t have to remember my fear of heights. Like in Wellington, the Skyline cable car–more like European gondolas–take you right from city/suburb streets almost straight up 1500 feet to the peak. . . Bob’s Peak, if you can believe that moniker. Thankfully I was alone in the gondola for 4, there not being much call for it at that time of day, so I could do my little shuddering freakouts at the ever-increasing distance between me and the ground without anyone noticing. But hey, it should be worth it, if I ever see the photos, especially the ones at twilight; both the town and the lake glittered, kinda like a Swiss ski town at Christmas, but the water and reflections added so much to it. Should make for an even better shot without clouds, of course. It also helped, in this cold weather, to have the chalet just a few steps from where you get off the gondola, though it’s carpeted–watch out for the electric shocks. There’s a restaurant and theater up there, but nothing beats the view. And since we’re speaking of restaurants now, something I rarely do, beware of the Lone Star: you’ll go deaf, both from the loudness and the country music itself. . . no food is worth this, certainly not the “Redneck Ribs” {okay, “Shanks for the Memories” was funny} and the tribute to Elvis. After all, there’s a McDonald’s here now. . . heh heh heh, that was evil, but I couldn’t help it. There’s a Subway and KFC as well, but just for the name alone you might want to try the Beefeater! That just sounds more inviting than the Cow Restaurant, don’t ya think? Unless you’re into eating grass. . .
Walked by a girl who really smelled like a good time. . . havta think this is party central in EnZee. . .
Next to the gondolas, on the ground floor that is, there’s a bird park–more boring kiwis, but plenty of other birds if you’re into that. There’s also the Queenstown Tourist Gardens, though I don’t recommend visiting in the winter. . . well, except for the ice-skating rink, but don’t expect to see the roses. And they don’t grow from grandma’s ashes either. . .
From the plane you can see just how gigantic the Z of the lake is, although conversely the mountains look smaller. Queenstown does too, but then it is small. What’s really funny was those tiny white spots on the grass that had to be about 1000 sheep. But they don’t look nearly as dramatic as horses or gazelles when they run with the plane. . . Out of Africa, anybody? Opening credits of Firefly? No? you people need to stay in more. . .

Dunedin
Didja know September 6 was Father’s Day in New Zealand (and Australia)? So this entry is officially a shoutout to Sean Kinney, who’s so Celtic he named his new daughter Ireland. Gawd, I hope she’s a redhead. . .
So it’s kinda-close-almost appropriate that I spent the day in the Edinburgh of the South, as Dunedin is called {Dunedin is actually Gaelic for Edinburgh, so they got that part of the similarity right.}. Having been to the original earlier this year. . . I don’t get it. But I’ll try to squeeze some fun out of it. Which won’t be that easy, if the people here are anything like the Presbyterian Scots who emigrated to Northern Ireland and then the American Colonies. I had no idea that “clever” and “original” and “innovative” were bad words here! That explains why “Flight of the Conchords” is a hit everywhere BUT their native land.
I find it hilarious that the California Gold Rush was started in a distinguished-sounding place, or at least serious–Sutter’s Mill–but here the place where gold was discovered was named Gabriel’s Gully. The alliteration helps.
Dontcha love the name of the main zocalo-type plaza? The Octogon! Somewhere between a military building and a fight cage. . . I wonder what the statue of Robbie Burns thinks of that.
As much as it may shock you, I did not take the Cadbury tour; I like being the only person in the world not into chocolate. But there is something to be said for a town where the most awesome-looking building is the train station. . . I don’t know what it says, but it definitely says something. Either way, this is not the most exciting town. . . in the world, in the southern hemisphere, in Oceania, in New Zealand, on the South Island. . . you get the point.
But, as explained before, I’m into all things Logan. Here there’s a Lake Logan, along with Logan Park, the place to catch soccer, rugby, artificial hockey(?), lawn bowling, and tennis, even futsal (beach soccer) because three universities are close to it. There’s even a cricket stadium, and by that I mean purposefully-confusing baseball British style, not a place where crickets fight each other for money (believe it or not, in some parts of the world they do that, for all you inveterate gamblers). There’s a Logan’s Point Quarry too, and let’s not forget the one and only Logan Park High School, home of the. . . couldn’t find the mascot, don’t even know if they have those things here, although the local basketball league has Pistons and Nuggets and such. They did tell me most EnZee rockers went to this school, though I’d never heard of any of them; no Conchords down here. And did you know there’s a New Zealand Idol? Imagine the long lines for those auditions!
The Otago Peninsula is the most fun part of the area, as you might expect, and the ultimate most-fun has to be Larnach Castle, not just for the sight but for the story. I’m shocked no one has yet made an opera of this guy’s life: rich chap builds this huge place for his wife, only to have her die. Another wife did too, and then the third one ran off with his son. Ouch. Then came the money worries, which of course was a lot worse than the piddling problem of spouses. Not only did he shoot himself, so did the son. . . which made me really curious as to what the gal they shared looked like. But damn is it a beautiful castle, especially for being the only one in the country, if you don’t count the crumbled Cargill’s Castle (shoutout to Christiane).
I was a little leery of the penguin tour–at the appropriately called Penguin Place–because as I’ve stated before, the only animal smellier than the elephants are the penguins. Luckily you don’t get too close to them. It’s much like the place I saw years ago on Phillip Island near Melbourne, where you sit on stands and watch the penguies come up on the beach and drop into their holes in the sand.
As for Glenfalloch Gardens–love the name–when it’s raining, the chalet is more impressive than the garden. That’s all I gots.

Invercargill
Passed a sign that basically said that way–and how many km–to “Gummie’s Bush.” When asked, was told the town once belonged to an old Maori who was toothless. Yes, I like short stories.
Invercargill is no big deal, pleasant enough but nothing much to see. There’s a nice but tiny museum, simply called Southland Museum and Art Gallery; doesn’t take even close to an hour. This is really just the place where you go if you want to hop on to Stewart Island.

Stewart Island
Known as the “Third” island, Stewart is pretty big, though you never really get to feel how big it is unless you’re in a plane way high up. It’s kinda shocking to find there are 500 people who live on the island, most of them in one town, but then I didn’t see all 700 square miles. Mountains and forests, so hiking and camping more than socializing. In fact, there’s hardly anything to do but hike. Most people who don’t get seasick might like a boat tour, but I wouldn’t know about that. The sightseeing flight, however, was totally worth it.
Fright Cove is near the southernmost tip of Stewart Island, and of New Zealand, if you read the previous parts correctly. How’d it get its name? This one is too good not to quote directly: “At dinnertime one of those absent on duty was solacing himself with a pipe among the bushes, not dreaming anything that lives or breathes intruded itself between him and his messmates. But a huge seal had previously emerged from the waters and gone ashore to take this siesta beneath the shelter of this very spot. Annoyed doubtless by the unwanted odor of the weed, it elevated its bulldog visage right vis-à-vis to the smoker. {This is the best part!} Their astonishment was mutual.”
Just try to picture that and not laugh!

Well, that was fun! Two and a half weeks of no TV, hardly any computer–though one night I did get bored and watch the whole season 2 of The Guild. And I don’t consider my cameras as technology, just extensions of my eye and memory. . . shut up, let me have this one, okay? I am now guessing the original photographer broke his leg on purpose because he didn’t want to deal with all the rain. I loved it for about a week, then had to go back to the hotel and, after drying off, getting wet again–this time with hot water–and bouncing on the bed a few times, I turned on the TV and saw the 100 degree temps and wildfires back home, and decided I could take rain for another day after all.
While there are many authors that become big hits, you hardly ever hear about screenwriters. Larry Gelbart wrote a lot of episodes of M*A*S*H, and if you ever saw “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” or “Tootsie” or “Barbarians at the Gate,” you’d be sad too about him passing away. I’m no starstruck Hollywoodie, but I would have liked to have met him. . .

Appendix (non-inflamed)
New words I learned:
Afters–Basically, dessert. This was extremely good to know! Also, they sometimes say “beautiful” when they mean “delicious.” Which fits, but when a guy says that about his pudding, it makes me look up to see who passed by. . .
Box of birds–feeling healthy (like “Fit as a fiddle”) Did not even ask.
Bent–crazy. I didn’t need to know this, but it was fun. Also “scatty.” For some reason they wanted me to know all of these.
Browned off–angry, disgusted. Don’t even wanna think about this one. . .
Chilly Bin–portable cooler. This one is just plain cool! Use it at the next football game.
Ear-bashing–yes, it hurts your ear, but it’s from too much talking.
Cornies–corn flakes, though I can think of better. . .
Wahine–I only include this because I already knew this was the word for “woman” in Hawaiian. Never did get to find out if the local hunnies liked being called that.

;o)

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