Monday, December 28, 2009

I'm sure you're tired of hearing about it

I have been back home for... uh... I hate math... 6 days now. I was able to post my NZ pictures online (I'll send you the link if you want) and did my first of probably many slide shows for the family. And they didn't fall asleep, despite my try at the monotone drone made famous by Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

I paid off the credit card, so the only debt is the house mortgage again. Amazingly the trip didn't make me bankrupt. The Christmas bonus from work helped. I've been sleeping till noon... only because I can't fall asleep till after 2 am.

I have now dreamt about NZ for the last 4 nights, just before I wake up. And they have been anything but normal. Mostly about a few people I met there (but they aren't quite right either in the dreams) and places that I didn't visit. Very strange. I have no idea what it all means.

I've also (insert dork joke here) started re-watching the extended version of Lord of the Rings and noticing more places I went and saw. So cool.

I have 6 more days before I have to go back to work. Not looking forward to it, but gotta work for the money. I would love to be able to take my nephews (sister's) to NZ and do the REI trip with them. I think they would absolutely love it and I would love sharing that experience with them. Unfortunately that's a lot of money I don't have and doubt I could save for before they are out of high school. Plus sis is getting married next fall and I need to be able to get myself to Hawaii for that.

So I guess it will just be strange dreams for now. And figure out what the next stage of my life will be.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lets do the time warp again

Dec. 22nd
The longest day ever

I am now home in Gilroy. Tired, but can't sleep. I left Auckland this afternoon at 6:45pm. Arrived in Sydney at 8:15pm. Arrived in Los Angeles at 3:30pm. And finally arrived in San Jose at 7:00pm. All on December 22nd. whoa, freaky. Ok, not really.

I had from hotel checkout time (10:00am) till 3:15pm to do whatever in Auckland before I needed to catch the bus to the airport. So I walked down to the harbor and finished reading the book I brought with me and watched the boats and ships come and go. And I watched tourists (a cruise ship docked earlier that morning). And I got a bit of a sun burn. Not a bad one, just a little pink. No flaking will ensue. I had packed my sunblock in my luggage because I didn't want it confiscated by the silly TSA agents.

Every flight was packed full of people and crying babies, except the last flight from LA to San Ho, which was delayed due to weather in Chicago. That ended up being a good thing because I would have missed it otherwise. It took FOREVER just getting off the plane in LA. I was in the third to last row of the plane so we stood there for what seemed live forever. Then I just happened to plan being in the customs line when they did a shift change. Stood there and watched them do their "shift change" for another 30 minutes. Then of course the domestic terminal I need is on the other side of the airport. So I huffed it over there and then had to stand in line at the counter to get my boarding pass, and then stand in line for security. I always pick the slowest line. By the time I get dressed and repacked, I have 10 minutes before my plane is to leave. I run down there and I see "DELAYED". Never been happier to have to wait. It's not like I was excited to be on another plane.

The flight to Sidney was just under 3 hours. The flight to LA was 12.5 hours, which is 2.5 hours less than when flying the other direction. And the LA to San Ho was an hour. I will say this again, no matter how much more it costs, pay it and get a direct flight.

My dad picked me up and took me home. I have showered, unpacked, did my laundry, and went through my pile of mail (mostly junk). I should be exhausted, but I am wide awake. To me it is 8:00pm Wednesday night, not 11:00pm Tuesday.

I guess I should be happy to be home, and see my family. It was great taking a shower in my shower. And I'm sure it will be great sleeping in my own bed. But I really didn't want to go home. I know I said that before. Now it's: get through the holidays and birthday, and then *shudders* back to work and reality. However, I will cut down on the amount of time I spend at my job. I get paid a 40 hour work week, and that is what I will work. Not more. I don't get compensated when I work more than that, so why do it?

And so to leave this New Zealand experience on a good note. I am very glad, extremely super glad I decided to finally go. I went places and saw things that I will most likely never get to see again. I met people whom I will never forget. I truly enjoyed my time there, and hope that one day I can go back and experience it all again.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

And so it ends

Act VI
Dec. 21st

Kia Ora. Today was my last full day in New Zealand. Tomorrow afternoon I head off to the airport for the long trek home. Auckland is huge with people everywhere. It sort of reminds me of San Francisco without the urine trashy streets and homeless people. There are a few homeless here, I think I saw two. So to get away from all the people and the noise of the city I took the ferry over to Devonport. It is a suburb of Auckland across the harbor. There were still people, but a lot less. I walked around the shops and cafes and such and then went down to one of the small little beaches and just sat there and contemplated. I had the little beach to myself except for a little old married couple sitting in their beach chairs.

After I got back to Auckland, I went to Skycity, which is a hotel/casino/restaurant/store/mini Vegas, and got all my gift/tourist stuff taken care of. I should have done it in Christchurch. It had better stores, but hindsight and all that. And now I am back in my hotel room where the TV doesn’t work. Not that it is a big issue, they only have 10 channels here in New Zealand, and two of them are sports 24/7.

I still don’t want to come home. I don’t want to go back and be responsible and junk. Why does living have to cost so much? Touring around on my own isn’t a whole lot of fun, but it beats not coming here at all because I had no one to come here with.

I came here to get away from my job, which seems to have taken over my life. And here is what I have figured out, or sort of figured out, or whatever.

1. My sister’s boys (especially the younger one) would absolutely love it here. I think they would have a great time doing the REI Adventure tour. Heck, I want to do it again! I think this country is right up their alley. And it would get the older one off his cell phone. Heh heh.
2. I don’t think I want to do my job anymore. Or in the very least spend as much of my time as I do at it. In the grand scheme of things, it isn’t that important. The world will not come to a crashing halt if I don’t finish that report that no one will ever read on time. If I do decide to quit though, I have no idea what to do. I put a lot of time, money, and education into this job, but that in the long run doesn’t mean squat either.
3. This one is personal so no sharing with the world.

See you all on the flip side.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Now what?

Act V
Dec. 19th.

I’m bored. I slept in till 10am… or tried to anyway. I woke up at 8am and told myself that I’m on vacation, go back to sleep. I walked down to the Botanical Gardens and walked around and then went to the Canterbury Museum and walked through all the exhibits. Both were very nice and the museum is set up much like the Te Papa in Wellington, just not as big. But I learned more about the Maori people and European explorers and the birds etc. Well, that was all I had planned to do today and I walked out of the museum at 1pm. There’s still over eight hours of daylight left. So I walked back up towards my hotel and looked around at the outdoor markets at the Arts Centre and Cathedral Square and got lunch from a street vendor. There isn’t much to do here without leaving town. It’s pretty windy so I don’t really want to get on a boat to see whales or dolphins, I’d end up feeding them. And I’m waiting to do all my gift shopping till I get to Auckland, so that I don’t have to carry it all around with me. So I guess I will sit around and watch people the rest of the day. I fly back to Auckland tomorrow but not until 3pm.

Christchurch is interesting and a bit different. It is very much set up and designed like a British city. Most of the buildings are in that English style and architecture. There are lots of parks in the squares. Lots of pubs and restaurants, and at least 3 Starbucks within a ½ mile radius of my hotel. Of course I've never been to England, so what do I know? I think I’ve decided that I don’t really care for big cities. I like being close enough to them to go to the symphony or a sports game, but that’s about it. I don’t think I’m a city girl anymore.

Now, what to do with the rest of the day…


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Not yet, please!

Act IV: Scene IX
Dec. 16-18th.
Braemar Station

As I write this I am back in Christchurch, had been dropped off at my hotel for the next two nights in the early afternoon. The REI trip is over. And I’m really bummed. I didn’t want it to end. I still have 3.5 days left here in New Zealand, but being back in this city with all these people and buildings and alone is well… lonely. I’m meeting B. for dinner tonight because she doesn’t fly home till tomorrow, so this will be my last meal here with someone to share it with.

Well, on Dec. 16th we had some time before leaving Manapouri to wander. I went down to the beach of Lake Manapouri. I also have a picture of the view from my room at 10:00pm overlooking the lake. I forget how far south we really are here. The sun is up by 5am and doesn’t set till just before 10pm. It will be strange going home and having the sun set at 5pm and up at 7am. I kind of like these long summer days here. But I suppose the trade off is really really short days during the winter months here. Anyway, we left Manapouri and drove back through Te Anua and Queenstown, where we were on our own for lunch. Most of us went to “The Ferg Burger” and split burgers. They were big but mighty tasty too. B. and I walked around Queenstown a few times and got bored. So we just sat down and people watched till it was time to meet back up with the bus. Then we drove some more, and stopped at the bridge where the first Bungee Jump took place. We watched a few people bungee, but none of us did it. We drove some more and stopped at a salmon farm where we fed the salmon what looked like rabbit poo and smelled of dog food. The salmon liked it but none of the humans wanted to try it. S. picked out some fresh salmon for dinner and then we drove some more to Braemar Station.

Dinner was salmon. I tried it, but didn’t like it. It was the only meal she made I didn’t like. Braemar Station is beautiful. It is a HUGE sheep/cow/horse/etc farm. We are staying in a house that was used by sheep shearers. So there are beds everywhere. We had some time before dinner would be ready so most of us just went wandering. I walked up to a small hill and just sat down in the grass and stared at the mountains and the water (There’s a lake there too). I watched the clouds roll over Mt. Cook (The tallest mountain in New Zealand). I think I sat there for 20 minutes. So very very peaceful. I then went and looked at the baby sheep with their moms in a paddock nearby, and had a staring contest with a lamb. The lamb won.

The next morning (Dec. 17th) was our last hike and the most challenging hike. Sealy Tarns. Only a 3-hour hike round trip but practically straight up a mountain. Only 5 of the 7 of us did the hike, plus S. and M. It was challenging going up. It is not for short people. But it was amazing at the top. We had lunch at the top and did a group picture and stuff. Great view of Mt. Cook and the surrounding glaciers and rivers. I had jelly legs all the way back down but I did just fine. Everyone made it down safely. We took a small break back at the bus and some of us went and did another small hike (not uphill) called The Hooker Valley Track which if you go to the end you get sort of close to one of the glaciers. This walk though had a crapload of tourists on it. And we didn’t have time to do the entire thing, so most of us turned around after an hour or so. I walked it back by myself, and was first back to the bus, at which point I woke M. up from his nap. Sorry. He and S. didn’t do the second hike with us. M. took us to the visitor center there at Mt. Cook and we walked around and learned all sorts of things about the mountain. Then it was an hour drive back to Braemar. Dinner was BBQ venison sausages, beef steak, and lamb chops. Yummy!

This was our last night together. So we had the “what was your favorite place/hike/meal/etc” questions and giving M. and S. their thank you cards and tips and such. We all watched the sunset and the Space Station cross the sky, and then at around 1:30am some of us got up and went to look at the stars. OH MY GOD!!! WOW! I have never in my life seen that many stars. I have never seen Orion completely, or the Milky Way at all before. Just amazing! We went out there to see the Southern Cross, but none of us could figure out where it was or if we were too early. But I didn’t care, it was still really cool.

Dec.18th. we got up and had breakfast and packed up and got back into Christchurch by 1pm. And I’m sore from the hike. I’m pretty ho-hum about the rest of my stay here. It feels like nothing can top what I have seen in the last 10 days. And it went by so fast. M. and S. were great. Just awesome guides. They were funny, informative, friendly, and just great to be around. I don’t really know what to say. My fellow REI travelers were good too. No complaints really. They were all friendly and pleasant. I didn’t strike up any lasting friendships with any of them (I think), even though B. lives in SF and C. and P. live in Pleasanton. I didn’t feel any real lasting connection. But I am so glad I did the REI trip because I never would have seen or done any of the things we saw or did otherwise. And being with the group was good. I liked not having to think about where or what I would eat, where I would sleep, where I needed to go.

I accidentally left my hiking boots on the bus. I don’t know if I’ll get them back, but if I don’t, then it’s one less thing I have to pack. It is strange. I really wanted the trip to go on. M. and S. were exhausted. They have 2 days off and then are doing the entire thing over again with a new REI group over Christmas and New Years. I thought about it, it would be cool to spend my birthday here. Not by myself but if I had chosen the next trip as opposed to the one I just did. Oh well. All I know is that I don’t want to spend this birthday watching the dumb dog again, like I did last year. Sorry sis, but I am not babysitting this year.



The fish were hungry

Act IV: Scene VIII
Dec. 15th

Got up way too early this morning after not sleeping well. Ugh. Breakfast was at 6:30am, but I never made it. I was up, but didn’t have time. Ended up being a good thing to miss later on. It rained overnight, but by the time we were getting ready for kayaking, there was hardly a cloud in the sky. Milford Sound is jaw dropping beautiful. Kayaking was great. Playing in the swells from the cruise ships was fun… until I fed the fish. Well actually I felt much better after I fed them. Despite that part, it was great. We paddled into the spray of a waterfall, saw seals, nesting sea birds, and sand flies. Heh. We were on the water for just over 4 hours. My arms were tired, but it was great. Great weather. Once we got out of the water, the clouds started rolling in. So it was perfect. Now the clothing they put us in was hilarious! Horizontal stripped long johns, then a fleece sweater, then the waterproof jacket with neoprene (the stuff wet suits are made of), and the skirt. We looked like a bunch of characters from a Dr. Seuss book.

All the pictures I took while kayaking are on the disposable waterproof camera, but hopefully I will get a few good shots. It’s hard to capture this place on camera; it’s just too much.

Apparently my paddle partner, B. didn't even know I puked. How can you not notice me leaning over the side turning my stomach inside out when you're sitting right behind me? I suppose it was good that most people didn't see that.

We had lunch at the backpackers. S. made chili. It would have been great had I not fed the fishies earlier.

We left Milford after lunch and headed back to Te Anau, and then to Manapouri. We did a just over 2-hour hike (about 5-6 miles) along a portion of the Kepler Track. Portions of Lord of the Rings was filmed there (i.e. the end sequence of the first film were Frodo and Sam leave the Fellowship. Where Sam runs into the water while Frodo is leaving). Anyway, that was a nice hike.

Dinner was venison tonight. It was really good. It didn’t taste like the gamey stuff I have had before. Then I got asked out on a date by the weird guy. Now the last few days of the REI part of the trip will be weird. Ugh. Why couldn’t our cute guide ask me out? Heh heh, probably not even allowed to anyway. That and his personality is such that every woman on the trip married, single, lesbian, or for that matter anyone bipedal is smitten with him. So why be just another annoying bee buzzing in his ear. Whatever. Did I mention Milford Sound was AMAZING?


huff huff oh look at the view, huff huff oh look at the view

Act IV: Scene VII
Dec. 14th.

We left Queenstown this morning around 8am. We stopped in a little town called Te Anau. We stopped in at the DOC office there and walked into town. M. and S. had sandwiches and huge muffins for us for lunch. We then drove into Fiordland National Park(apparently I'm not the only one who can't spell), which is also a World Heritage Site. We did a little walk to Mirror Lakes, and then we had our big hike for the day. We did a portion of the Routeburn Track (Key Summit Alpine Walk), which is about a 3-hour roundtrip hike. At the summit there are alpine marshes and small pools of water. Very cool. And we had awesome views today! Just amazing vistas. Now this is what I had in my head when one thinks about New Zealand!

We did two little walks after the Key Summit Alpine Walk on our way to Milford Sound, which isn’t a sound at all, it’s a fjord. Anyway we went to the viewing gantry for Lake Marian and then to The Chasm. Both were very beautiful walks, I took a crapload of pictures today.

We saw lots of Kia, the Alpine Parrot. And snow. P. put snow down M.'s back, so he threw a snowball at her in the bus, some of which hit me, so I threw some back at M. and hit him in the head. I think I pissed him off. S. just looked at him and said, "You're cleaning the bus." We drove through a mountain. It was the longest tunnel I’ve ever been in besides the BART train from Oakland to San Francisco.

We are staying at a backpackers lodge here in Milford. It’s the only place to stay. Simple rooms with 2 beds and a heater. We share bathrooms. Tonight we are eating dinner at the pub. So who knows what will ensue there. Tomorrow we have an early day. We start our 4 hour kayaking on the sound at 7:15am. Ouch. But it looks to be a beautiful day with no rain!!


Why am I doing this again?

Act IV: Scene VI
Dec. 13th.
Queenstown day two

WOO to the friggin’ HOO!!!!!!!! It rained all night and then by morning it was sunny with some very big clouds. I met D. and D. outside at 9am and we walked into town to the place where we were to be picked up to do the Canyon Swing. Only in New Zealand would they think something like this up. I don’t think I can describe it in words without writing a book, so here it is in picture form. I will say, that the hardest part was taking the leap. After that, it was AMAZING! Enjoy!

After that, I came back to my room and ate, because I purposefully didn’t eat before. I then got picked up at 1:30pm for my “Lord of the Rings Tour”. That was interesting. Very beautiful. And I could imagine the scenes when the guide took us to places from the movie. However, the fan belt broke on the Land Rover. No cell service, and we were too far out for the radio to work. So he would drive about 5-10 minutes and then stop to cool the truck. Then drive 5-10 minutes. He finally got cell service and called in and was able to get another truck out to get us back to Queenstown. I was with a family from China, and so the gal would translate everything for the other three. That trip was just sort of… weird. I don’t know. I did get some cool pictures. But the highlight was definitely the Canyon Swing. We got together for dinner and ate at “The Cow”. We had pizza. It was good. The end. Heh. Tomorrow we leave for Milford Sound… back to the sand flies.


What's this blue stuff?

Act IV: Scene V
Dec. 12th.
Queenstown day one

Breakfast was bacon and eggs plus the usual assortment of everything. We did a small nature walk, the Makarora Bush Forest Walk. That took us into town, only a 15-minute thing. Then we were on the bus and off to Wanaka and the Mt. Iron Loop Track. I huffed and puffed up all the switchbacks, but once on the top… wow, what a view. Breath taking – literally in my case. Heh heh.

AND IT WASN’T RAINING!!!!!! There was some blue sky! Oh my! Our first day of actually seeing blue sky, and *gasp* the sun! We had meat pies at the bakery in Wanaka for lunch. Very good, but really salty. We spent a little time in Wanaka and then left for Queenstown. We got into town around 1:30pm. I’m sharing a 2 bedroom apartment with B. and L., and it has a little view of Lake Wakatipu. It was mostly sunny in Queenstown so B., D., and I walked around town. It’s small. We did it in 20 minutes. Very touristy. M. said kiwi’s don’t live here, the tourists have taken over. We all got together for dinner. M. and S. have tomorrow off, and we have the day to do crazy, only in New Zealand things. I’ll tell you all about tomorrow, tomorrow. I don’t want to spoil it. Muwahahaahahhahaa.



Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's Raining....STILL

Act IV: Scene IV
Dec. 11th.

Our search for that elusive mystical orb called sun has failed. And the outlook for the rest of the trip looks just as soggy. WARNING: Swearing ensues!!!! You either bitch and complain the entire time and have no fun or you say fuck it, I’m going to frolic in the rain and I’m going to have a great time doing it!

We had crumpets for breakfast, good smothered in butter and honey. We left rainy Okarito and went to Fox Glacier, which was plan B. We got to the trailhead and the river had washed it out. So we got to see it from afar. We then went to Lake Matheson and walked around the lake, which was formed by the glacier receding and left a big crater, which was plan C. It rained there, go figure. We then drove to Ship Creek and did the Swamp Forest Walk where M. demonstrated his Tarzan swing, and the Dune Lake Walk, which was plan D. We walked along the beach for a while taking in the stormy Tasman Sea one last time.

We had lunch on the bus, because it was raining… still. We then drove to the Bridle Track (plan E), which was a nice hike down a slippery trail, but it was still beautiful. I got soaked. Our final hike for the day, plan F, was a little 30-minute roundtrip hike to the Blue Pools. However because of all the RAIN, the pools were flooded and all you saw was a raging river joining another raging river and the water was grey, not blue. But fun suspension bridges.

By now my shoes and raincoat couldn’t handle another drop and were no longer waterproof. But again, at this point I don’t care about the RAIN! I’m here to have a good time and see beautiful things even though we can’t see much through the clouds and rain.

We got to out Walton’s style house in Makarora around 6pm. We had dinner around 8pm. Tomorrow we have a hike or two (depending on the RAIN) and then into Queenstown for the “Adventure Capitol of the World”. Forecast says RAIN. M. said he feels really bad about all the RAIN. He said he would hate to be on holiday and it rained everyday. And it has rained everyday I have been here in New Zealand. I’m bummed about the weather situation, but then what can you do? Except, just accept it and have a good time jumping in mud puddles. So what if all my pictures are grey and have rain drops on the lens.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's Raining... some more

Act IV: Scene III
Okarito Beach House (Remu House)

Had breakfast at 7:30am of eggs, bacon, cereals, yogurts, fruit, and toast. And of course coffee, tea, and orange juice. At 8:00am, we walked down to the kayak place and we met our guide, Sh. We got a little lesson, life vests, and skirts (they fit over the kayak so water doesn’t get in). We all rode doubles. Seven of us and Sh. Good thing we had him because we would have gotten lost. Normally they send us out on our own to explore but because of the heavy rains and the strong currents and poor visibility, they gave us Sh. He took us out on the lagoon and off we went. It was hard going against the current. We paddled and paddled and it would look like we were moving along when you looked at the water, but then you look over at the forest and you realize that after a minute you are still passing the same freakin' tree! It drizzled and rained the entire 3.5 hours we were out there. It was still beautiful and we saw a lot of black swans and their little babies (signets), and a few wood pigeons who don’t know when to stop eating a certain berry and then it ferments in their stomachs and they get drunk and are known to fall out of trees or forget how to fly. We paddled up some river channels that are normally mud and marsh and then on our way back we rode the current in the lagoon. My hands are a bit sore and I think I agrivated my tendonitis in my left arm, but I took some drugs so hopefully all will be well tomorrow. Tonight S. cooked lamb and it was good. We had lamb with potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, and parsnip all roasted with gravy (which M. put vegemite in). It was all good. So far I have no complaints about any of the food.

After lunch we were hoping the rain would clear out but it never did. A few went on a short hike down to the beach, but I stayed in and played scrabble with L. and B. I lost because I am a horrible speller. But it was fun. It was unfortunate that the weather never cleared for us here but we have no control of that. Tomorrow on our way out of here to Makarora we will either do a challenging 4-5 hour hike or do to short ones near Fox Glacier. It all depends on the weather.

I used my disposable waterproof camera on the kayak, but I doubt any of the pictures will be any good.

I think we are all hoping for a bit of sun tomorrow. I guess I didn’t make this entry sound very exciting but I am still having a great time, just want a bit of sun now.



Saturday, December 12, 2009

It's Raining!

Act IV: Scene II
Dec. 9th.

M. and S. made pancakes this morning in honor of being near Pancake Rocks. Delicious. We then headed out and started our first hike of the day, which started at the beach in front of our bungalows. The Inland Pack Track. M. said it was a 3-4 hour hike with a river crossing. But if it starts to rain too much we would not do the river crossing because it is unsafe to cross if it is waste deep. Ok. M. looked at my pants and said, “You’re wearing those?” and I say, “yeah”, and he says, “didn’t you read the thing about wearing cotton?” and I say “yeah”. “Alright then”, he shrugs. The trail was very cool. Most of the time we were under the canopy and only felt a few drops here and there. M. would stop and tell us about the plants and trees and have us sample the greenery, i.e. eat it. I remember the Tarzan vine that tastes like asparagus (but that isn’t its real name) and the pepper plant, which you chew and the more you chew the hotter it gets. The Maori would chew it and stick it in a bad tooth and it would numb the pain. I only chewed it a few times and my tongue was going numb. Everything that was edible he said tastes like radish or asparagus. And then after we would all try something he would say it was used as a diuretic. Ha ha, very funny. We climbed over a ridge, lots of stairs and muddy slopes. All very safe though, and then the river crossing. The water was up to just past my knees. It was cold but it felt good. We then squished the rest of the way, which was only a half hour or so. Saw some birds and some young male horses. The hike ended in town and we had time to use the restroom and do a little tourist shopping if we wanted. M. and S. went to get the bus and they drove us to a little trail to Truman’s Beach. He said it was just a little 30 minutes hike to the beach and back, and lunch will be on your seat when you get back.

Truman’s Beach was pretty cool too. By now is was raining not hard but consistently. We got back and sure enough, we had sandwiches and a little chocolate waiting for us on our seats. M. took our wet shoes and socks and we changed into dry socks and shoes and off we went on the bus to Hokitika. The last real town with a gas station and grocery store for the next three days. It is famous for its greenstone (Jade). There are a lot of shops that sell jade and M. dropped us off at one where you can also watch them carve it and talk to the carvers. I bought a piece of raw cut jade. They had lots of jewelry, but mom is so particular that I didn’t even try. M. and S. went to the grocery store to stock up for the next 3 days for us and to get petrol. So we had about 1.5 hours to wander around town. It was really raining by then so I tried to stay under storefronts as much as possible. Went into Kodak and used the internet for all of five minutes (shared time with B. (another REI-er). $3.00 for 15 minutes. Then I met up with most of the others at a coffee shop and we sipped cappuccinos until M. and S. got back. Then it was off to Okarito. Man was it raining! All the rivers were full at the edges and just gushing. Waterfalls everywhere, pastures were flooding, well parts of them were. The pastures here are designed so that there is always high ground and so that water will flow out of the pastures. M. said the town has 32.5 people living in it. The .5 is a boy. We are staying in 3 houses. D. and I have one house (3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, and a kitchen), the others are staying in a bigger house where we all eat and M. and S. have another small little house, but they have to use our extra bathroom because their little place doesn’t have one. Very nice. There is a leak in the roof in our kitchen and a small one in my bathroom right over the toilet, so if you sit there long enough, you get a drop in your lap.

We will be staying here 2 nights. Tomorrow morning after breakfast, we will go kayaking on the lagoon, which is all of a 1-minute walk from our houses.


It begins

Act IV, Scene I
Dec. 8th.

I met everyone but one at the hotel lobby this morning. Everyone seems very nice. Our guides showed up at 10:30. M., our main guide is from Auckland and now lives near Christchurch, and S. who helps him out and does most of the shopping and cooking. She’s originally from Austria, and now lives near Christchurch as well. We have our own little bus thing with a small trailer attached where they keep all our food supplies and whatnot. So we were waiting on our last person. We were told to meet at the lobby of the Copthorne hotel; well there are three Copthorne Hotels in Christchurch. So our guides check all of them. They then drove us out to the airport to the “Antarctic Center” which was the place to meet if you had flown in that morning. And low and behold, there she was sipping coffee. They loaded her up and off we went. There is enough room on our little bus for everyone to have their own row and then some. Our guides provide yummy snacks of fruits, granola bars, and other snacky things and books on plants and animals and history. M. drives like a Kiwi. Fast. We headed west and our first stop was a short hike around Kura Tawhiti. I know this because I took a picture of the sign, but I already forgot the enligh name (Castle Hill). It is a limestone formation on the eastern slopes of the Southern Alps. And it is also the location where they shot the first Narnia movie, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, specifically the final battle scene. Also, some scenes from the LOTR: The Two Towers was filmed here, specifically where Aragon, Legolas, and Gimli are surrounded by the Riders of Rohan and where Viggo Mortenson broke his toe while kicking an orc head. I asked about the possum clothing thing and a whole discussion broke out about how great possum is for clothing. It is mixed with alpine sheep wool (merino) because their wool is finer and it is suppose to be great because it keeps you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold and doesn’t smell like wool even after you get wet or sweat in it for days on end.

Our next stop was Arthur’s Pass and the Devils Punchbowl. Here there is a ranger station, it’s called a DOC Station (Department of Conservation), but it’s the same thing. You go inside and they sell all sorts of stuff from kiwi playing cards, clothing, maps, trinkets, and possum pelts. You can also learn about the history of the area from displays and such. The possums here look nothing like they do in the states. But they are an invasive species that is wreaking havoc on the bird populations and such. So they have tried everything to try and stop its growth. So you are allowed to swerve to hit one with your car. We had lunch here and then took a short walk to see the Devils Punchbowl waterfall. It was raining a bit but it wasn’t bad. We then headed all the way to the west coast and the Tasman Sea. According to M., the people who live here are “just different”. The sea is beautiful. We made it to Punakaiki and checked into our lodging. They are bungalows right on the beach! They are very nice, full kitchens and bathrooms, and little patios. Wow. I strolled along the beach (mostly rocks – a rock skippers paradise), mostly limestone rocks. I saw some marine fossils (shells) and picked up two rocks for the nephews. That’s what they said they wanted: so easy. We then went and had dinner at a café owned and run by the “biggest bushiest eyebrows you have ever seen”. He is only open for lunch, but M. and REI have an arrangement, so he makes us dinner. Sweet. We had fish n’ chips. I know I don’t eat fish, but I liked it. I also got the free beer because I was the prettiest. Woo Hoo. It was good too. Every area has their own beers. So this was the West Coast’s beer, Speight's Dark Ale or something like that. After dinner we walked across the street to the “Pancake Rock’s”, which are another limestone formation that really does look like a huge stack of pancakes. Very beautiful here.

Things I have learned today… that I can remember:
1. M. is a Jafa, which stands for Just Another Friendly (or rather that other F sounding word) Aucklander. Which is what south islanders call most north islanders.
2. The kiwi bird is a lot bigger than I thought. They are bigger than chickens, and completely flightless. A lot of birds here are flightless because before Europeans came, there were no mammals. Absolutely no mammals except 2 species of bats. So a lot of birds got their food on land, so why fly?
3. The largest (and only) Alpine Parrot lives here; it is also the smartest parrot species in the world. They love to chew on rubber, so you will see them eating cars, bikes, anything with rubber. We saw two knawing on a Volvo. S. said she found one in our trailer when she was packing it back up after lunch.
4. There are more people living in Auckland City than there are on the entire south island.
5. The average rainfall per year on the west coast is 10 meters! That’s roughly 32 feet.
6. The Tasman Sea tastes saltier than the Pacific Ocean, to me anyway.
7. There are sand flies here. Nasty little buggers, but if there are sand flies, there won’t be mosquitoes. They are just as annoying though. Swarm and bite all the same.
8. It doesn’t get dark here till after 9:00pm. I’m not used to that.
9. Toilets don’t flush clockwise or counter-clockwise, they flush straight down and with a vengeance too. I don’t think either nephew could clog these puppies up.
10. And finally, “Kick the Tires” means I need to use the toilet.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

just a little hello

Hello from Hokitika!

Only have bit of time on the internet here at the kodak camera shop. So this is just a little check in to say Woo Hoo, this place is awesome. I've been keeping a written blog on paper so when I get more than a few minutes, I'll write it up and send it off to you all.

It's great out here, some rain but it is actually really nice.

Better jet,

Yee Haw!



Monday, December 7, 2009

It’s cold… but it’s so pretty


Today was a relaxing day of sitting on my ass. The morning was a bit hectic, but it all worked out… or soon will. So I used to book my room in Wellington, and well the hotel doesn’t recognize them or whatever. So I ended up paying for it again. I will try my darndist to get my money back from the website. So for the future, I recommend not to use that website. I figured out what bus I needed to take to get me to the Interislander Terminal where my ship was waiting. I got on the bus and the guy says, I don’t go there; you have to go to the train station where there is an Interislander bus, which you take to the ship. Oh crap. He says he’ll take me to the train station. He was nice and told me exactly were I needed to go and what platform I needed to be at. So it worked out but man it was five bucks to go maybe 10 blocks. Ouch. Then it was another 2 dollars for the bus to the ship.

The ship is BIG. 10 decks, and two decks just for cars. I spent most of my time on the 10th deck, which they call the “Sun Deck”. It’s basically the roof of the ship with chairs and viewing areas. I was up there in the cold and wind because if I’m outside and can see, I don’t get sick. I did go down below for a bit because I was getting too cold. But once we got to the fjords, I just had to be outside to see them. Plus by then it had warmed up. Here are some pics:

The little town of Picton where we docked on the south island

A view from the waterfront at Picton

I had an hour before I had to be on the train. So I sat on the shore for a while and made friends with a sea bird and some ducks, then went to Subway to get lunch. I know, I know, I’m in a foreign country and I eat at Subway? Here’s my reasoning: I haven’t been eating much of anything, that’s what happened when you leave a Larsen on their own with no one to make decisions for them, and I needed something familiar, so there. Well, all the choices of meats and extra’s are all the same but the meats themselves are different. I had a turkey sandwich and it was dark meat. I had no idea they made dark meat turkey slices. So it wasn’t quite familiar after all.

I got a seat all to myself on the train and facing the right direction, which was fabulous. Unfortunately I was on the inland side and not the coast side of the train. But since I had a seat all to myself, all I had to do was stand up to see out the coast side. It was pretty. Lots and lots and lots of sheep. I took a short video, just for you sis! I believe the route I took, the Tranzcoastal is the least popular. The most popular is the Trazalpine, which leaves from Christchurch on the south island and goes into the Southern Alps. Supposedly spectacular views!

So the ferry The Interislander was about 3 hours, and the Tranzcoastal Train was about 5 hours. So now I am at the hotel in Christchurch, doing laundry at 9pm. Tomorrow morning I meet the REI folks, and off we go on a hiking and kayaking adventure. I will not have internet access for much of this part of the trip, so my blogging will be sparse from here on out.

Note: Noir, you would love it here, in the bigger cities. Auckland and Wellington. So many shoe stores so little time.
Sis, they DO make and sell possum clothing. I saw a sign!
I’m glad I came early on this trip. If I had arrived the day before the REI part of the trip, I would have been miserable the first 3 days. It took me 3 days to get the system back in check. I finally feel ready for fun. Yesterday and last night I had a bad sore throat, and I went to bed at 7pm last night. Today the throat is almost completely healed, yay!

I am now ready to be awed.


Saturday, December 5, 2009

I don’t wanna get up!

Act II

Today I went to Wellington, the capital. I got up at 4:30am, to meet my shuttle to take me to the airport. My flight left at 7:00am, and I arrived at the Wellington airport at 8:10am. Man was that early. Too early. Ugh. What is pretty cool is that the entire check-in system in Auckland for domestic travels is automated. You go to the kiosk, type in your confirmation code, out pops your boarding pass. If you have check in luggage, you put it on the scale, and out pops your luggage tag. You put it on, then place your bag on the rolly machine thingy and off you go to your gate.

I took the bus to the closest stop to my hotel, and hoped I wasn’t too early to check in. I wasn’t. I went up to my room, and crashed for 2 hours.

I got up at 11:30am and headed out to see Wellington. It is WINDY!!!!!! Holy crap! But it remained dry almost the entire day. If you like shopping then this is the place. I had lofty goals when I set out. I wanted to see the Parliament buildings (The Beehive), and the Oriental Parade (the beach), and the Weta Workshop (where all the stuff from Lord of The Rings were made). But only made it to Civic Square which houses some parliament buildings, the National Library, which is decorated in poke-a-dots. I’m serious! I walked the waterfront around the harbor to the Te Papa (The National Museum of New Zealand) This place rocks! It’s FREE!! There are 6 floors of awesome stuff. From sculptures, paintings, tons of Maori and European history, and natural stuff like plants, animals, the Largest Giant Squid on display (their claim to fame), fossils, landforms, etc. The south island has a major fault line running straight through it. Part of the island is on the Pacific Plate and the other half is on the Australian Plate. Huh. The museum is very hands on, great for kids. Lots of things to touch and play with. There are also exhibits that you have to pay for, such as the Pompeii Exhibit that is touring here right now, and there are also rides you take, yes amusement park type rides, but you have to pay for those as well.

After the 6 floors of awesome I walked a little farther down towards the Oriental coast, but it was crazy windy and I was tired. So I turned around and went back. There was some Go Wellington Bus (the local public transportation) thing going on in a park. They had one bus where the entire side was cut out and made into a stage, and another bus where they were letting people spray-paint it.

I got back to the hotel just in time for it to start raining. I hope this doesn’t become a theme. I got to my room by 3:45pm. Still plenty of time to go see something else, but I’m exhausted. Sucks. Oh well. I think I’ll order room service tonight. I’ve never done that!

Tomorrow I will be taking the Inter-Island Cruise ship to the south island (Picton), and then the TransCoastal Train to Christchurch. This will take all day. Then the next day will be the first day of the REI portion of the trip! I hope it doesn’t rain. It’s supposed to be SUMMER!


Ouch ouch, are we there yet?

Act I: Scene II

After being a zombie for 29 hours, I slept very well. I awoke at 9:00am NZ time, and amazingly it was SUNNY! Well, there were large puffy clouds, but I’ll get to those later. I was out of my room by 10:15 and on my way down to the harbor (Viaduct Harbour). I stopped at a little coffee shop and got a dark mocha. Oh was it delicious. Creamy, frothy, and chocolatey. The Auckland waterfront is gorgeous. It really is a city of sails. Huge, and I mean HUGE sailing ships, yachts, and what-have-you. There are a ton of restaurants, shops, and the like. Apparently New Zealand will be hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2011, so there are lots of shops for the All Blacks (the national NZ Rugby team). Ironically, the NZ football team (soccer) name is the All Whites. There must be a reason for the names, I just don’t know it.

I walked around to look at all the boats, there is one called the Søren Larsen, which is a wooden sailboat. And you can tell by the name that it was originally from Denmark. It’s been in a couple movies (none that I’ve heard of) and has circumnavigated the world twice. You can take cruises on it now.

I went to the visitor center and picked up a map of the Coast to Coast Walk. It starts at the Waitemata Harbour. So I start off… and get lost. The map provided me was mostly useless and the walk itself…. Not really marked… at all. Supposedly I was to walk through the University of Auckland, I found the university, just not the road I was suppose to walk. I eventually find one of the roads much past the university on the walk and just went on. It took me to Auckland Domain (a park) where I got lost again. You will notice, this becomes a theme. It is a large beautiful park. With a War Memorial Museum. I didn’t go in, because, I was lost. I watched some cricket, still don’t understand it. Eventually I found my way out and then the walk takes me to Mt. Eden Domain. This park is cool. You can walk up to the summit, which is a near-perfect crater of Maungawhau (volcano). Stunning 360-degree views, and I again, couldn’t find my way out… lost again. So after going in circles a few times, I went out the way I came in to the park and walked all the way around it to the other side and picked up the walk a few streets off. But at that point, I didn’t care anymore. I walked around Auckland College of Education, and was suppose to go through Melville Park, but again, I missed that street, which on the map had no name so I guessed, and guessed wrong. Oh well. The walk then takes me to Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill Domain and Cornwall Park). This is the largest of the parks that I went too. By now, I was hungry and tired, and my feet were killing me. But this place has some very cool Maori history. Ironically when you get to the summit of One Tree Hill, there is no tree. There was a native tree there, but it died, so they planted a pine tree, which some protester took a chainsaw too, so now, there is not tree on One Tree Hill. Just an obelisk and a dead guy who donated the park to the city. He was one of the “founding fathers” of NZ apparently. Again this park was formed by volcanoes so the landscape is cool. I stopped at the café/restaurant/ice cream place and got a raspberry sorbet in a waffle cone. Why not? I stopped and sat down to watch some kids playing tag rugby. And then headed out for the last leg of the walk. I was so close, I didn’t want to stop. I took some short cuts, and finally made it to Onehunga Lagoon. The end of the walk. I sat down at the lagoon, and the sky opened up and I was immediately drenched. I would have walked around the lagoon to Manukau Harbour but I was drenched, tired, and just didn’t feel like it. I still had to walk to the bus depot to catch a bus back to the city center. I made it to the bus depot, and figured out which bus would get me closest and it came about 10 minutes after I got there.

It kept raining all night; I was too tired to eat so I popped into a little convenience store to get some chips or something. It happened to be an Asian convenience store. Go figure. I found some chips though and a soda, so I was happy.

The walk was interesting even though I probably added a good couple miles to it when I went in circles all those times. It was 16 km, you do the math for miles. I got to see a lot of Auckland and all of the park highlights, and a lot of the burbs. I came away with two blisters on my right foot, and I’m so sore, I walk funny now.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Nobody messes with the Space Time Continuum

Act I: Just getting here

Hello from Auckland New Zealand. I finally made it. Let’s see, my sister dropped me off at the San Jose airport at 3:15pm on Wednesday the 2nd. I flew to Los Angeles, then to Sidney Australia, and then to Auckland New Zealand. I spent a total of 19 hours in a plane, and a total of 28 hours from my house in Gilroy to the hotel here in Auckland. All I have to say is next time, take a direct flight, I don’t care how much more it costs. I am a walking zombie right now. I went through 4 different security checkpoints and through 3 customs checkpoints once in Auckland. Happy to say though that I never got searched and didn’t have to go through the stupid puff machine. Also, just so you know, it’s only us silly Americans who have all these strict rules and regulations. The flight attendants would say things like, “due to us flying out of the US, please….” Or “because of US federal regulations, please…”. And we are the only country, which makes you take off your shoes. There were some American ladies in front of me at the Australian security point and the guy kept saying, “No no, you keep your shoes, I don’t need them.”

Oh, and you got to love Australians. When I got my ticket from LA to Sidney, I flew V Australia, which I believe is a part of Virgin Air. Anyway, you walk up to their ticket counter and they have dance club music piped in, and the walls and ceiling are painted black and purple and the V Australia signs are neon red. These people know how to have a good time. I was not looking forward to the long 15-hour flight from LA to Sidney. My sister can tell you how anxious and nervous I was. But I did ok. No puking the entire time. And I slept through most of it. No screaming babies, a few snoring guys, but luckily the plane was not full. I was in the middle row on the aisle and there was a guy on the other aisle, so there was an empty seat between us. That was nice. However I was extremely jealous of the gal across and one row up from me. She had three seats all to herself. The movie selection was huge. I watched one movie, ate part of the dinner served and then tried to sleep. I guess I slept quite a bit, though it felt like I would sleep for 10-15 minute intervals, but then when I smelled breakfast, I looked up and the screen said, 2.5 hours left in our journey. I couldn’t eat the breakfast, my stomach wouldn’t handle it. I did take the little crescent roll though.

My layover in Sidney was just under 3 hours. I flew Emirates. The female flight attendants have to wear these funny hats. And everything is in Arabic. Lots of interesting people on that flight, and a whole lot of crying babies.

Both the long flights had TV screens at every seat and USB ports. However, I never did take out my laptop or ipod. I suppose it didn’t help that the two DVD’s I brought to watch were also options on their TV’s.

Well, I have been in Auckland for just over 6 hours. It’s raining, and supposedly to rain tomorrow. Kind of bummed about that. I had planned this “Coast to Coast walk” which starts on the Pacific Coast of Auckland and takes you through the city to hit all the cool parks and such to the bay of the Tasman Sea. The walk would take about 5-6 hours for me to walk it, and then I could hop on a bus to take me back into the city center (where my hotel is). If it is still raining tomorrow, I will go to the i-site visitor centre and see what they have to offer cheaply and mostly wet free.

So far in my 6 hours, the people here are nice. I took a shuttle van from the airport to the hotel (they drop you where ever you want to be dropped off). That took about an hour. The shuttle holds 10 passengers and I was one of the last dropped off, and traffic didn’t help. I’ve never been to a country where they drive on the left. Freaky! I hope to get used to it pretty quick. When I finally made it to the hotel I took 3 Motrin for my horrendous headache, and laid down for a little over an hour. Luckily I woke up! (When I got to my room, I couldn’t turn any lights on. Went back down to the desk, and he explained I have to put my room key in this little slot by the door and that will activate the electricity. I felt like a dope. He said it is so that guests don’t leave the lights and such on all day while they are out and about. They are real big here on environmental things.) I was then starving, and went to the café in the hotel. It’s a Chinese/ Malaysian mix. Who knew? It was good. I watched a Cricket game on their projector TV. I don’t understand that game… at all. I took most of the food back to my room, my stomach is still not right. I showered, brushed my teeth, and now I almost feel human again.

Well, no pictures yet. I’ll start that tomorrow when I go exploring. The next time I check in will hopefully be in two days. I’ll be flying to Wellington, the capitol, that morning.

Oh and the NZ Dollars still represent the British Empire. Queen Elizabeth II is on most of the currency. I don’t think it has really sunk in yet, that I’m actually here.

Until next time.

Ps, my bath soap exploded, so everything in my bath room kit is covered in blue soap. I even had the bottle in a plastic baggie!