Trips and Vacations

Safely back home

We arrived back home safe and sound last night (this morning) at 12:30AM or so.  We had a good day in CT with the family, but were glad to get home and sleep in our own bed.  The Kunichi looks startlingly black for some reason, and is very happy to have us home 🙂  The house is in great condition, thanks to the help from our friends while we were gone.  We were thinking how wonderful everything was; the fridge is cold and running fine, Kunichi only left us her lunch in one or two places, nothing is torn up or ruined, the yard looks fine… basically as if we’d never left.  Except then Eli opened the freezer to get some ice, to find this:

So our freezer is nearly solidly packed with frost/snow, with ice coating a lot of the surfaces.  So we unplugged it so it can defrost, and used the conveniently cold outside to keep our ice cream frozen while we diagnose the problem.  Either the door was slightly cracked while we were gone, or else there’s a broken sensor that needs to be fixed.  We will see!

So now we’re trying to unpack, clean, and get things back in shape before we have to go back to work, and Eli goes off on another job right away.  Tomorrow, the exciting task of grocery shopping!

WV, finally.

Well, we caught an 8AM flight on United out of San Fran (SFO), and got into Dulles (IAD) at 4PM this afternoon. There’s 24″ of snow here in WV, and the roads are still only partially cleared. No problems for mom’s Isuzu Axiom, but it’ll slow us down as far as local travel is concerned. Another storm is looming for Christmas Day, so we’ll be leaving for CT on the 26th around noon or so.

Days 30-31: Oakland

We had a really great time in Oakland, visiting with Hilary and Aaron, and having dinner with Jerry and Carrie. Tea, Ethiopian, Italian, Ice Cream, cards, and other such relaxing pursuits.  Typing from the airport as we attempt to fly to West Virginia.

Lessons learned: always always always call more than one cab company when you have a plane to catch. That way when one of them doesn’t show up, you don’t miss your flight waiting for the next cab to come. It’s tough to find a new flight around the holidays! It figures that we’d make every other flight on this trip (including the Paris one, with a night bus transfer to a train to the airport, and miss the domestic flight from an easy airport in our own country.  Sigh.  Hopefully we’ll make Dulles/Baltimore before tomorrow night.

Days 27-29: More Oputere and Flying Home

With our last full day in NZ, we stuck around Oputere. We borrowed kayaks from the hostel and did a morning kayak up to the bird sanctuary through a lovely section of marsh, then kayaked around the bay a bit.  Then we took a much needed nap in the van, and set out to drive to Whangamata for dinner at the place we’d been to a few nights ago (the one where I couldn’t taste the delicious pasta).  The restaurant didn’t open for dinner until 6 (it was only 4), so we walked the main street (I looked for local NZ yarn with no success), and we decided to head to Auckland and spend the night there.

I (Mel) drove to Auckland, since it was time to give Eli a driving break, and I felt much healthier and up to it.  Meanwhile, Eli read the guide and found an area that sounded good for dinner.  We had a lovely meal at an Italian place, he had duck and I had organic chicken that was stuffed with meat and cheese. Yum!

After dinner, we found a close-by holiday park and called it a night.  We were awakened quite early the next morning by the park proprietor (since we’d gotten in too late to pay the night before, he wanted to make sure we paid), and we were stuck unable to fall back asleep at 7am. Yuck! So we got a start on our day.  This involved packing everything up, which took a while, since we’ve acquired quite a number of fragile things here 🙂

Then I did some quick online research and found a local yarn shop in Auckland, called Wild and Wolly Yarns.  It sounded promising, so we drove over. The owner was a lovely woman, who listened to my desire to buy some locally-made yarn, and basically told me that it was a very hard thing to find on the North Island, since most of it is exported. And she said “HA, good luck!” to my inquiry about a place to find a blanket or shawl made with local yarn, and said if I do find any to let her know.  But I got some great opossum and merino wool produced in NZ to take home and make myself a scarf.

Then we headed to Kelly Tartan’s Aquatic Encounters, a local aquarium that was the first to install a plexi tunnel to walk right through the tanks.  It was getting close to time to leave, but we had almost 3 hours which I hoped would be long enough.

It turned out to be plenty of time; we saw the aquarium, which had a lot of nice exhibits, and some HUGE stingrays, and were done seeing everything in an hour; it was a small place.  So we traveled down the street and had an excellent lunch (mmm, lamb kabobs), and drove to the Jucy rental place.

After returning the van, we went to the airport and had the most hassle we’ve had on any of our flights. It was ridiculous. The worst was right before security when they weighed my “purse” and our carryons.  They told us there was a 7kg limit on carryons (ours was 10), and a 3kg limit on purses (mine was 8), so they made us go back downstairs and check something.  Meanwhile, all sorts of people managed to sneak by while they were harassing us, without having anything weighed!  But it was “for our safety” and there was no argument.  To make matters more ridiculous, you can buy large bottles of liquor and wine after security duty-free, and those don’t count toward your weight.  ARGH. So frustrating.

But, after the 11+ hour flight to LA, clearing customs, flying to Phoenix, and flying back to Oakland, we’re safely in the States.  We’ll miss New Zealand and our foreign travels badly (especially the food!!), but I can’t wait to be home.  Just another week.

Meanwhile, we’re in a hotel right near the airport in Oakland, and I can’t wait to re-pack (since I apparently packed a dead crab, so all my stuff smells terrible), and go see Hil and Aaron!

Happy Holidays!

Day 26: Vegging in Oputerie

Yesterday we hung out in the Oputerie area all day. In the AM we totally relaxed by hanging out in the van until after noon, watching movies and reading. Then we drove up to a marine reserve about an hour north. It had the most gorgeous ocean/cove views I’ve ever seen. We drove by lots of stunning beach scenery to the top of the bluff, which overlooked about 180° of beautiful scenery. I’m going to try to stitch a bunch of the pictures together to get one good panorama later. There was a little cove called Gemstone Cove that has a great snorkling course laid out in it and some fantastic wildlife. After hiking town there (127 steps and a big hill), we decided it’s not the best idea while we’re both still recovering to actually snorkle there, but we hung out for a few minutes and checked it out from the surface.

Then we hiked back up the hill (deciding all the way that snorkling down there tomorrow was not a good idea), and sat on the hill and admired the view awhile.

Then we drove back to Oputerie and the lovely hostel workers there let us stay on their premises for the night and use their facilities (including their internet). We hung out in the common room awhile, worked on a puzzle (which they cleaned up on us before we could finish!), and chatted with a lovely group of four ladies here with their families. They were having a craft night, and one of them (Debbie) gave me a lovely ball of NZ yarn 🙂  Everyone here thinks we have lovely American accents! We think the same of them.  We stayed up way too late, and went to bed around 12; which was probably not the best idea, since the ideal kayaking time is 7-11 in the morning tomorrow!

Day 25: Mel’s Sleepy Day II

So I had another sleepy day on the 15th here, and spent a good part of the day snoozing in the passenger seat while Eli drove north. We got up in the AM and made a quick drive to Taupo, so Eli could catch the noon jetboat trip. He had a blast; “stupid fun on the water”.  (more pics of Eli and jetboat on website)

Before, we stopped off at Lava Glass, a glass blowing place that had amazing pieces, with color and texture nicer than I’ve seen before. We didn’t have time for a tour, but we did stop at the cafe. I had a delicious egg/bacon/feta on a Turkish bread, and Eli had a yummy spinach and chicken fritata and another piece of tasty carrot cake.

Then we hopped in the car, and drove up to Oputerie, a small town that reminded me a lot of the Cape. Folks come here from Auckland (about 1.5-2hr drive) to come to a slightly nicer climate, hang out on the beach, and veg away from the touristy areas. It’s quite lovely here, with beautiful views and a relaxing atmosphere.  On the way, however, we did a lot of looking at this…

There is a LOT of logging on the way to this area. The GPS also got us lost by trying to take us down a gravel, steep, logging road (which was closed), so we did some backtracking through beautiful country.  We found a cute little campground right in Oputerie, and parked our van to take a walk through the forest to the beach.

where we wandered for a while, sat for a while, and collected shells. It was lovely and peaceful, and we got to watch some oystercatchers standing one-legged on the beach, hanging out, and an Australasian Gannet fishing in the shallows.  It was a lovely evening, followed by dinner at a tasty small place in the next town over (I just had the leftovers now, which were TASTY. Since I couldn’t taste when we were first there, I think we’re going again tonight!)

Day 24: Mel’s sleepy day

This morning, Eli made another new friend; the quietest duck we’ve ever met. He barely quacked at all while begging for scraps (the duck, not Eli!), which Eli gave him from our old bread. Eli was trying to teach him to jump… apparently ducks don’t jump, but if enticed with bread, they’ll flap upwards a bit.

After packing up camp, we drove a short ways (Eli drove, Mel snoozed) to the Pukaka Mount Bruce Wildlife Centre, where they work hard to protect and increase populations of native birds. In particular, they take kiwi eggs from the wild, and hatch them with a much higher success rate, and then re-introduce the birds to the wild.  They also work with other species, like Kokako (pic below), Kaka, and Stitchbird. Human-introduced pest species have severely reduced bird populations all over the island, and they’re trying to help ward off extinction.

Then we (Eli) drove north farther to Napier. We drove around and looked at the art deco architecture, then stopped at the ocean spa and tried to get a really affordable massage. But as with all good things, you need a reservation, so we had a lovely soak in the spa, then hopped back in the car to find a campsite and call it an early night.

In Napier, we also stopped for our second Turkish Kabob evening, which was quite tasty.  Oh! And earlier in the day we made a short stop at Norsewool in the town of Norsewood. We checked out their seconds sock offerings, bought a few, and stopped for a snack. I had the most delicious-looking scone I’ve ever been served, but my sense of taste was distressingly gone at this point, so at least the texture was delicious!  Eli had his first carrot cake of the trip, very good. Apparently, carrot cake is a big thing here; most of the cafes have it, it’s usually homemade, and always a little different. I’m sure we’ll try it again before we leave!

Day 23: Drive to the Ferry

So we could sleep in this morning, since we didn’t need to make the Ferry until 5pm, and the drive was only 5 hours. So we had a bit of a soak (as they call it here) in the hot tub at the holiday park, trying to work out the kinks in our tired muscles. Then we packed up and were on our way.

We drove most of the way straight through (or rather, Eli drove and I napped), and had plenty of time, so stopped for a late lunch at a winery near Blenheim. Unfortunately, we’re still not used to New Zealand time, so they were done serving lunch, but we had a lovely cheese and fruit board, and sampled some of their wine. They had a lovely Sauvignon Blanc, and a very nice riesling (quite mild compared to the Finger Lakes ones I’m used to).

Then we made our way to Picton and hung out for a few minutes before boarding our ferry to Wellington. We used our ferry time to read the guidebooks and try to figure out what we wanted to do… and Eli watched cricket with some locals. He’s still not entirely sure how it works, but was fun to watch with people who cared!

Day 22: Fox Glacier

We woke up today to the sound of rain on the campervan roof. Not just sprinkles, but on and off downpours interspersed with mist or no rain at all. It didn’t bode well for our glacier hike. So we decided to wait it out, and see if the weather improved, since there was an afternoon hike option we could take advantage of.  This was wishful thinking, since the west coast of the South Island is the rainiest place in New Zealand; the town at the base of the glacier gets 5,100mm of rain a year (over 16 feet!), with even more as you gain altitude. Much much more than home (Boston gets ~1,000mm a year).

So it looked like it was letting up in the morning, so we decided to have a hike in the rainforest. There was this neat forest hike, which involved a lot of downhill and uphill treking, with wonderful dense plant life on both sides of the trail, and a really long, bouncy suspension bridge over a glacial river at the end. It did start to rain again while we were hiking, but what do you expect in the rainforest?

We were somewhat moist after our hike, but feeling generally fit and up for a half-day glacier hike. Eli was feeling better by this point (if still a little tired), and I wasn’t feeling sick yet, so we thought we’d do it.  We drove to the bottom of the glacier before the tour to check it out, and so Eli could collect some glacier pieces to fill his Nalgene with.  He’s thinking he’ll bring them back to the States with him (in liquid form, of course).

So we had a quick bite of lunch, packed our pack (with rain-resistant cover, thank goodness), and got outfitted for the trek at the tour headquarters.  Leather boots, rain pants, rain coats, wool socks, wool mittens, and a spare pack.  Plus, Eli broke down and bought himself a new cap so I could have mine back 🙂  The tour company bussed us the short distance to the base of the glacier, and it was time for our hike.  It was about an hour hike to the glacier, an hour on the ice, and an hour hike back, in theory.

In my defense, they said that this trip was for people in moderate health, and was the easiest trip they offered.  The rest were for people in good or excellent health.  Even though I was starting to feel a bit under the weather, I felt I was still in moderate health by my American standards. Apparently New Zealanders have different standards of health.

We started the trip with a nice, relatively flat hike to the base of the glacier. We got to see the streams running into the creek, and they explained a lot about the history of the glacier, how it retreated and advanced, how the surrounding valley was evolving, etc. They had just had 150mm of rain a few days prior, which had completely changed the valley and glacier. There had been lots of rockslides, and the whole cave at the foot of the glacier had closed off and the water pressure had blown an entirely new cave open next to it, much much larger than the original! Our guides told us that this is the most extreme the glacier has looked in recent history, and is a really great time to see it!  We were stoked!!  Here’s a pic of the cave, with some people standing really far away from it; probably at least a quarter mile closer to me than the ice.

So after we got some history and viewed the glacier from below, we were ready to hike up, up, up, to a point away from the face of the glacier to venture onto it. (The face is very active, and dangerous to walk on). So we went up… 800 stairs plus lots of steep path. Our guide kept saying we were picking up the pace so we could have more time on the ice… I wasn’t sure I was even going to make it to the ice.  Just about when I was ready to give up and just sit my butt down on the path, it leveled out.  Then we walked along a fairly narrow ledge with a long drop, and a safety chain to be sure we’d make it safely, and a few more steps and we were there!  I made it to the glacier!!

So we put on our crampons, picked up our alpenstocks (rods with metal spike on the end), and walked out onto the ice. It was much easier than I anticipated to walk on, since they had made nice paths for us of rough, flat ice, and the crampons made our boots stick to the surface pretty well.  We hiked past crevaces, holes, streams, and got to see the layering from processes up at the mountaintop where the ice formed.  We had a nice snack of melted ice, and filled our water bottle, since the ice is very clean, and posed for photos 🙂

We took a bunch of photos of the glacier, lots more on my photo site:

Then after an hour on the ice, and a lot more information from our guides, we trekked back, downhill and down the stairs, and back to the flat plain at the base of the glacier.  The sun was lower in the sky, and aimed directly at the ice cave, which heated the ice, so we hung around there for a while, watching pieces of the cave (some car sized, and some larger!) fall from the roof and make huge splashes in the stream.  We also got to chat with some nice folks and the guides.  Eli mentioned that he worked at sites where humans had buggered everything up… which is the truth, and the British/NZ vocabulary is a much nicer way of putting it than we use back home!

After this, Eli had apparently not had enough punishment for the day, so we took a 15 minute uphill hike to see the other local glacier, the Franz Josef (we hiked on the Fox glacier).

After this, I finally put my foot down, and refused to walk farther than a few feet as a time. So we drove down the city to find a holiday park.  However, they were ridiculously overpriced, so we decided to just drive all the way to Greymouth (well, Eli decided he could do the driving, I was bushed).  We made it there by 10, got a spot at a holiday park, and got a good night’s sleep. It was a great day, but I’m still not sure how we fit so much in!

New Zealand Signage

While I wait for our day 22 pictures to upload, I just want to make a comment on New Zealand road signs. They are wonderful! Many are exactly the same or very similar to signs we see in the states, but the ones that are different are really great.

Then there are signs that are much more direct than those we see in the States; I wish ours were as direct. Like their drunk driving road signs, and road safety signs. Not like MA’s “Over the limit, under arrest” signs, these leave nothing out!

Then there are the comical signs. They’re probably not meant to be funny, but they crack me up.

This sign is EVERYWHERE in New Zealand where we’ve been, second only to speed limit signs. It confused me at first, but once you see if a few times it makes perfect sense. It does not mean that neighboring cars will try to take you out! They’re constantly re-sealing sections of the highways with a gravelly topcoat, which sprays up as you drive by.

This one just looks comical when you first see it. But it makes perfect sense, since there are so many areas where the ground could collapse downhill underneath you.

There’s also a great sign that indicates that pieces of glacier may spontaneously fall and cause huge waves or flooding that could be dangerous! I’ll find the sign soon, since the ferry is leaving!

Edit (12/16/09): I found my own picture of the falling glacial ice sign 🙂

Day 21: Drive to Glaciers

We left Murchison in the AM and drove to Fox Glacier. On the way, we made a stop in Greymouth to check out the Jade museum and exhibit that our guidebook suggested, but it had been bought out and converted into a gallery since publication. We did get a chance to visit a small coop of Jadeworkers, and looked at some lovely things.

We also made a few other stops along the way, although it was starting to rain pretty consistently, so they were shorter stops than we planned. We first stopped at a random beach we saw while driving, which had smooth pebbles instead of sand, and collected some rocks and shells.  It was also quite windy, so the sea was very active and interesting to watch.

Our next stop was planned, at the Pancake rocks. They’re comprised of very distinct layers, formed by stylobedding (which I can’t find a good definition for online, but it relates to the water pressure during formation of the rock from dead marine creatures over long periods of time).   We were there at the wrong tide; at high tide, there are huge spouts of water that come through the blowholes in the rocks.

The pictures are a little dark because of the weather (I’ll fix in photoshop later), so if you click on them you can see larger sizes for more detail.

We arrived at the Fox Glacier holiday park at a very reasonable hour, and got a great parking spot, where our hatch opened underneath the overhang at the bathroom/kitchen building. This was key to our stay, since it rained pretty hard from when we arrived until we left. This was probably the cleanest and most modern park we stayed in.

Not much else to say about today; Eli’s feeling better, but I’m feeling like I’m getting sick, which is usually how it works. As long as it’s not raining too hard we’ll probably still try to do a glacier walk tomorrow. The west coast of NZ is the rainiest area of the country; the glacial region gets around 5100mm of rain a year (over 200 inches!). So the guide company is well prepared to deal with it!

Day 20: Abel Tasman

This morning, we packed up camp and headed one town south to Kaiteriteri to take a cruise of Abel Tasman park. We had planned to kayak, but it was a quite windy day, and at this point Eli was still sick, so we didn’t want to chance it. So we hung out on the beach in the morning (wearing appropriate sunscreen… the sun is MUCH more intense here than it ever is back home). There were construction guys moving sand from one end of the beach to the other. Alex would have loved it! We got some fun shells, and had a delicious lunch at a local cafe (we ended up having HAM paninis instead of LAMB paninis, because of our difficult American accent, but they were still good!).

Our boat tour of the park was a good idea; it was super-breezy on the water, and we were thankful to be on a larger boat. We had great views of the golden-sand beaches, mountains, rock formations, and all the other beautiful things that the coast had to offer. We also saw some fur seals playing in the water around one of the islands (there were lots of islands, from small single boulders to pretty sizeable ones).

We were still in the harbor when I took this pic of Eli, so it hadn’t gotten rough and windy yet!

It had gotten a little windier when Eli took the pic of me. My wonderful floppy jungle hat from my Florida trip wasn’t quite the appropriate headwear for such a windy day (it spent most of the day covering my eyes or blown back onto my head), but someone was wearing my baseball hat!

Here’s one of our pictures of the beautiful coast. The water is a clean-looking teal-blue, and the shoreline alternates beautiful sandy beaches with really interesting giant rocks. It was a good cruise!

After the cruise we were going to try to drive to Greymouth. Well, I was trying to drive while Mel snoozed in the passenger seat. (These antibiotics are making Mel sleepy). We made it as far as Murchison, where we stopped for dinner at a small cafe. The plan was to continue on, but the fine New Zealand wine and cooking put a halt to that plan 🙂 We made it down the street after dinner, and stayed at the local holiday park. Mel couldn’t get the doorknobs to function properly… it was hilarious. We had a lovely night’s snooze to prepare us for the rest of the driving to the glacier tomorrow.