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Fiji Rains on our Parade!


737RainBut it fails to dampen our enjoyment! Our arrival at Fiji’s Nadi airport literally started with a BANG! As we paraded through the airport, over to the baggage carousels, the rain, which had already started, became much more intense, and the electrical activity began. You know how you were taught to count from the lightning flash “a thousand one, a thousand two…” so you could tell the distance? Just as we got to the carousels, FLASH-BANG! NO time at all. That bolt struck right at the airport. You can see our incoming airplane there; they waited 1 – 1/2 hours before downloading our luggage, until it was safe to do so. (I was thinking that if I had been handling baggage out there when that bolt hit, I might’ve tendered my resignation right then and there! ;-))
NamaleGateFor our first night, we lodged at a Hilton Beach resort; next day, we caught a local flight from Nadi to SavuSavu on another island, destination Namale Resort and Health Spa. What a beautiful place, and what great accommodations we found! Namale is said to be “Fiji’s Most Romantic Resort,” and we can’t argue that, for sure. 🙂 They’re very flexible and accommodating of anything you want to do here, whenever you want to do it. bedFor us, having been traveling through New Zealand at a relatively hectic pace for the past month, Namale provided a no-brainer escape, where we could just kick back and relax, without any particular schedule for a couple of days at least. Just take a look at the bed they’d prepared for us.
FruitBatSo we didn’t do much at Namale; we were going to use their massage services on our last day here, but alas, an earlier-than-anticipated departure ruled that out. We saw some interesting flying creatures here, not all birds. Check out this Fruit Bat in flight, looks like about 18″ wingspan. When I first saw these featherless “birds” flying around, I thought I was seeing a pterodactyl from way back!
FruitBatFaceTheir faces are even weirder!

I didn’t have a Fiji bird book, but I deduced by looking on the Web that the bat is known as a “Tongan Fruit Bat,” and evidently they play havoc with the local Mango crop when it’s ripe. We also saw (and tried to photograph) “Collared Lory,” a very brilliantly colored bird. I did get a presentable photo of the female?FemaleLorikeet

A little about Fiji’s geography. Fiji is an archipelago with more than 332 islands, only about 30% of which are inhabited. We landed from New Zealand at the Nadi (pronounced “Nandi”) airport, which is on the Venu Vitu island, containing about 87% of Fiji’s 850,000 residents. SavuSavu, where our Namale resort is located, is on Vanua Levu Island, the 2nd largest. With all those islands, we’re told there are many different dialects of the Fiji language (Melanesian origin), throughout the archipelago. It’s also interesting that about 40% of Fijians are of Indian descent.

CavaPotFrom talking to Fijians we encountered, you could say that most of the Fiji residents would be living at a level we’d consider to be below our poverty level. In fact, most natives can’t afford to fly away from the islands, and have been here all their lives. 

One of the things Namale does is cultural presentations each evening prior to the normal dinner time. We heard some good singing, saw some good dancing, and one night, we participated in the drinking of Cava, the legendary Fiji drink that has all kinds of properties, including being a type of relaxing seditive. I drank about 5 shots of Cava (made from crushing the roots of a pepper plant), and all I can say is it made my mouth feel a bit numb. Hudson, Namale’s PR attache, says that Cava and Weed both achieve the same result, except that one is legal, the other is not.

We went down to the beach to swim in the Pacific on our last afternoon at SavuSavu, and after a while, a torrential downpour began. We holed up for awhile under our beach umbrella, but decided to run back to Ani, our little cottage. Both of us got wetter than h___, but we enjoyed it anyway. JaneRainThe temperature is so moderate here you never feel cold; as you can see, Jane and I are both happy to be out in it, and happy we’re finally coming home!

JohnRain

Dunedin – Our Last NZ Hurrah!


MuseumLong post coming – keep your attention riveted! 😉 After we drove out of Queenstown on Thursday morning, nearby Arrowtown came up first on our list. There we had breakfast, and visited their excellent Lake District Museum. Lots of detailed exhibits on local history, quite interesting and well presented.
JaneMuseumThere’s Jane standing by a display depicting how little appreciated the work done by women was in New Zealand (and elsewhere, for that matter). Women were the “silent partners” of pioneering men, but as such, they had to cook all the meals, sew all the clothes, mend them too, do the same for visitors, etc., not to mention bearing and raising the children. A tremendous effort to perform, and little recognized.
Johnmuseum John felt a kinship to the smithy. Jane became particularly enamored with the shopping in Arrowtown, which speaks of high quality, affordable merchandise, with a variety of shops offering such.JaneArrowtown

After we left Arrowtown, it was Pinot Noir we sought, venturing into the Otago wine regions. First we stopped at the Gibbston Valley Winery, and found some good examples of fine Pinot Noir wines. (Remember this region is at -45° latitude, which puts it at about Oregon’s latitude above the equator). PinotGrapesAs I was driving, Jane got to be our head sampler, with 4 of Gibbston’s finest from which to choose.
JaneSampling We chose one from their private reserve, and who knows, one year we may drink it? 😉 Here she is confronting those samples. Tough job, but someone’s got to do it, right?




CarricksFrom Gibbston Valley, we headed for Cromwell, but bypassed it for the Carrick Winery in Bannockburn. Very nice place, and quite informative about the local vineyards and their winery. Jane (and I, slightly) enjoyed some good wine there, leaving with a Pinot Gris and a Pinot Noir to somehow fit into our suitcases to go home. (Not to mention the Gibbston bottle!)

MaggieWildingsBetween Arrowtown and Bannockburn, we stopped for a look at the “Roaring Meg” river. The inset photo shows a couple of significant features, namely hydro-power not derived from dams, and also the attempt to control “wildings.” Wildings are, like many things introduced to New Zealand “innocently” by foreigners hoping to improve the landscape, plants which, having no natural enemies, grow to overpower native plants and throttle the native ecology. So in this photo, you can see the far hillside and left bank of the Meg, where the wildings have been purposely eradicated to create barren land which can now be taken over by native grasses and other indigenous vegetation.

RockySoilTraveling from Bannockburn on to Dunedin, we passed through what seemed like a variety of climates and sublimates to be seen. In the beginning, we saw rocky, dry soil, like this example taken along the Clutha River.SheepCountry Further southeast, nearing the East Coast and Dunedin, the terrain started looking more like the familiar pasturelands we had come to expect in most New Zealand scenery. At a coffee shop in Roxburgh, we chatted briefly with the owners, who themselves are Wellington transplants. He used to be a Wellington cop, she was a former social worker. Their coffee shop is making it, though it’s a “first” for both of them, and it’s also a “first” for them to be working side by side every day! 🙂 But we enjoyed meeting them and learning a little about their existence. After we finally arrived in Dunedin and checked into our centrally located Scenic Hotel, we strolled over to a nearby restaurant (Etrusco at the Savoy) and enjoyed a great Italian Valentine’s dinner.

TrainStationBusNext morning, we jumped on a doubledecker tour bus, which took us all over Dunedin to show us the town’s major buildings, architectural features, etc. Our bus stopped in front of what is Dunedin’s most photographed sight, its old railway station.
FirstPres We were also introduced to the Dunedin First Presbyterian Church, which has a 54 meter (about 177′) spire, having been operated since 1873. I was able to leap up and shoot a photo showing the spire at actual height (well, me and Photoshop that is!) for your benefit. One of the few spires I’ve seen not obscured by wires! 😉

ArtGalleryInterior We were quite impressed by the Dunedin Free Art Gallery (interior shown here) which had an eclectically interesting bunch of artwork, from French impressionist etchings and lithos to local artists.
ChiefWharepuOne painting by Charles Goldie I found quite interesting, of a Maori Chief named Te Aho-te-Rangi Wharepu. Though his getup may look like a joke, it actually demonstrates how serious the Maori were in assimilating themselves into the European cultures of the alien settlers they encountered, Here rangatua (chieftain) Wharepu shows his tribal-custom-dictated facial tattoos, while dressed in western clothing. We were VERY impressed by the gallery’s restaurant – delicious Fush & Chups, and very good quality food.

Albatross&ChickWe also embarked on a nature tour at 3PM. The booking said we’d see Albatrosses, sea lions, birds, etc. We didn’t really read the fine print closely enough, for as it turned out, our “safari” lasted about seven hours, returning us to the hotel (without dinners) at 10 PM! Nonetheless, What we saw was very interesting and worthwhile. Elm Wildlife Tours, our tour operator, has an exclusiive piece of property on the Otago coast that contains habitat and shelter for Hooker Sea Lions, and the rare Yellow-Eyed Penguin. Jane and Donna, our travel guides, took us first to the Royal Albatross refuge. From a blind that we had to climb to, we could see a few mothers nesting. One in particular was actually hiding its chick, and it was exciting to see the squawking baby revealed! It is a very interesting process. The young hatchling is nurtured by its parents for about 8 months until it fledges. When it fledges, i.e., leaves the nest for the first time, it flies away from the nest and embarks on a 5-year circumnavigation of the Antarctic Continent. So, as soon as it leaves the nest, it has to manage to feed itself, and fly vast distances. (The Royal Albatross has wingspan up to 11 feet, is a very efficient flier, but…?) I wondered about how much attrition the birds experience, how many actually make the trip around and return to the nesting site. Donna informed me that the success rate is 80%! Amazing, isn’t it?

Yellow-eyed PenguinWe left the Albatross reserve and tootled out to Elm’s special spot on earth, hoping to find some Yellow-eyes. Bingo! There was one right on the path down to the beach, and we saw several others while we were down there. Beautiful rare birds, it was really quite an experience to see them relatively close-up. I also took a head shot of one, just to bring out the details.

Yellow-eyed PenguinFace

 

 

 

 

Yellow-eyed Penguins are endangered, and are one of the world’s rarest species of Penguins. Only about 4,000 exist at present, and many efforts are underway to preserve them, including Elm’s small preserve at Otago.
Hooker Seal LionWe also saw several Hooker Sea Lions out on the beach. These get to be rather large, maybe up to 900 lbs, so it’s not good to provoke them. Elm’s beach is a “bachelor pad” for Sea Lions, as the females hang out elsewhere, only show up a couple of weeks/year for doing the necessaries. This big fella had just rolled in the sand before this shot was taken. Jane (the guide) said that being chased by one of these rambunctious critters is no fun at all, considering they are feisty, aggressive, and can run at 20KM/hr! (about 12 MPH).

FursealSucklingFinally, we went over to another beach to see the fur seals. It was getting dark, so they weren’t all that easy to photograph, but I did manage to capture a little one suckling its mother. Very nice scene, I thought. For you camera techies, that shot was at 1/20 second, handheld, 350mm focal length. (Thank God for my stabilizer!)

Dunedin is a translation of Edinburgh, and Dunedin has New Zealand’s only castle, a large edifice built and refined over the years 1871-87 by William Larnach on a high bluff
LarnachCastleoverlooking Dunediin’s Bay of Otago. We visited its restored gardens, but didn’t enter the Castle itself. The gardens were very interesting, but a little sparse, we thought, probably because of our late-summer visit. However, the view from the Sea Walk lookout was another one of those postcard moments, to wit:

LarnachOverview

Jane said “Who wouldn’t want to live in a place with a view like this?” For our last hurrah dinner-wise in New Zealand, we drove down the hill and visited the beach at St. Clair, then enjoyed nice fish dinners at a restaurant near the boardwalk. Then it was home to the hotel for packing and blogging. See you from Fiji!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s NOT to like about New Zealand scenery?

EarnslawThe title is a preamble to three days of breathtaking scenery we witnessed in the Queenstown/Milford Sound/Dart River area. Each of our 3 days there seemed to get better and better, as we were caught up in a crescendo of ever-increasing beauty. To start with, we walked around historic Queenstown, in and around its business/shopping district. Queenstown figures in the gold rush era of the 1850s, and as the urban heart of the Wakatipu region, it hosts many skiing enthusiasts in the wintertime. As the Pukeko flies, it’s only about 40 KM or so from the famous Milford Sound to the west, but getting there by road is more like 5-6 hours, stops included. It’s a happening place, is Queenstown!

WalterPeakCafeWe signed up for a cross-lake trip on the TSS Earnslaw (Operating since its commissioning in 1912) to Walter Peak, for a buffet lunch and sheepdog/shearing demonstration. As we approached the Walter Peak station shore, our restaurant came into view, a lovely place full of good buffet food.

After lunch, we watched the sheep demo, first dog work, then shearing.ShearingDemo
The sheep took it all in very stoically, losing its entire coat to the shearer in just a couple of minutes. Our cowboy also demonstrated sheepdog artistry such as what we had seen at Arthur’s Pass, but he used verbal commands, where Neil at Arthur’s pass had used a series of whistles to instruct the working dogs. (Not to mention retired Tess, who worked without orders! 😉 )

JohnJaneSoundOn day 2, we took a bus excursion to Milford Sound. Now, I had always thought the famous “Milford Track” was a trail which skirted around the edges of this beautiful Sound, treating the hiker to all sorts of coastal kinds of scenery. Not so, it seems. If you hike the Milford Track, you start inland at Te Anu, and trek for 4 days, overnighting in park-provided accommodations, and really see the Sound only towards the end of your journey. If you want to do the Track, you need to reserve your time a couple of years in advance; they really limit people numbers, and it’s a very popular destination. And another interesting point is that Capt. Cook really mis-named the place as a “sound,” when it should rightfully have been called a “fiord.” “Sound” should refer to inlets carved out by river(s), where “fiord” refers to inlets formed by glacial action, which is the origin of Milford Fiord Sound.

SealsJane and I went out on a high-speed Catamaran to traverse this lovely body of water. We enjoyed the ride, and saw lots of great things along the way, including some sea lions on rock outcroppings.



Everywhere you looked, a postcard popped up:

SoundShot
HouseinRoadI’ve already mentioned how narrow are the New Zealand roads. This snapshot from the bus will give you an idea. There’s someone hauling an actual HOUSE down the road, and it’s wide enough to consume both lanes, diverting oncoming or passing traffic completely off the road! Pretty amazing.

On Day 3 in Queenstown, we took an early bus ride to Glenorchy, up on the northern end of Lake Wakatipu. JaneJohnWe had been programmed for a Jetboat ride on the Dart River. Oddly, our boat driver had to swap boats twice during our excursion, but I guess it’s understandable, given the low draft of those boats (6 inches!) and the high speed at which they course the shallow river. The Dart River snakes down from the mountains north of Wakatipu, and is a braided river, meaning the water flows in channels interspersed with low islands of glacial sediment throughout its length.Royce These water channels can change from day to day, so boat drivers always have to be aware of current conditions as they scream along at what, 30 knots? There you can see our driver Royce explaining more about the braids to us as we await the arrival of a new boat! But we were really awestruck by the ever-more-beautiful scenery we saw from the boat, and throughout this region. Postcard after postcard… UpRiverComing back from the Jetboat drop off point to Glenorchy, Rod, our guide/driver, told the story of how the chairman of Coors Brewing came to visit. He was taken by the beautiful backdrops, and commented to Rod (who escorts lots of film crews around the area), “Wow, that looks like the photo we use in the Coors logo!” “Strange you should mention that,” replied Rod, “In fact, I escorted the film crew from your Ad agency who took that photo right here.” “IMPOSSIBLE, nothing shot in New Zealand would be allowed on our cans!” said Mr. Chairman. “Well, it really did happen, as best I can remember,” said Rod. “Would you please check on it for me, so I won’t be misleading people?” So 3 weeks later, Rod got an e-mail from Mr. Chairman: “You were right, but not for long!”
JaneBjornBut it is true that many filmmakers and commercial people love the beautiful backdrops available down here, not just Peter Jackson. And why not? Those of you who followed Lord of the Rings will be pleased to see Jane sitting in Bjorn’s chair. I’ll close this blog installment with a couple more scenery shots. Since leaving Queenstown, we’ve migrated to Dunedin, our last New Zealand stopover; we went on a great nature tour yesterday, and you’ll hear more about that next post (maybe from Fiji?)

UpRiver

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On to Lake Moeraki!


JaneatFoxAfter we left the Fox Glacier behind (see photo of Jane there?) we drove on down the Coast on  Route 6, skirting the Tasman Sea on our right. At one point we checked out a beach filled with driftwood, very interesting formations and arrangements, not all of them natural?TasmanDriftwwood Seems like you could have a great cookout on a beach like that, but I think campfires aren’t legal, given the danger that the fire might spread further than one would want? I’m just saying…

Finally we tootled to our destination, the Wilderness Lodge at Lake Moeraki. It’s the sister lodge to the Wilderness Lodge which had housed us at Arthur’s Pass; in fact, Jerry and Ann McSweeney are the parents of Michael, our host at Arthur’s Pass. When we first arrived, Jerry led us on a nature hike through the nearby rain forest, where he showed his brilliance at identifying all the plant types, calling birds with his handy-dandy little whistle, and pointing out various bird types on the Lake.Lake Moeraki He’s a really interesting guy, and seems to love what he is doing for a living, attacks everything with great gusto. The lodge has its own power generation plant, operating from the energy gathered from a 6 foot drop in the Moeraki river. Jerry took us to the power plant at one point to show us how this “primitive” power source, built in 1979, supplies enough to handle 15 ladies’ hair dryers at once! 😉 So their monthly power bill is zip, however there is of course some annual maintenance needed, to the tune of about $3000NZ. This, however, is less than one month’s power bill for the Arthur’s Pass lodge, so it’s well worth it.

Wilderness Lodge

The Wilderness Lodge is nestled between Lake Moeraki and the local rain forest. Many trails start at the Lodge, including one which led us for a couple of hours one day down to the Tasman Sea through the rain forest.

BellbirdAlong the way, we saw and heard many birds, though they weren’t anxious to have their photos taken, still they created a beautifully musical backdrop, especially in the case of the Bellbird, which pipes up with some of the most beautiful bird trilling I’ve ever heard.

When we finally got down to Monro Beach on the Tasman Sea. (Incidentally, you may think that New Zealand is just a couple of little islands stuck in the middle of the South Pacific, right? Not so. In fact, its Eastern shores border on the Pacific for sure, but its Western shores are washed by the Tasman Sea, named for Abel Tasman, the great explorer of yore) Anyway, there we found ourselves on a beautiful isolated beach.
Monro BeachAfter 3-4 people left, we had the entire beach to ourselves! Try THAT in California! 😉 We did notice that there weren’t many shells on this beach; consequently (methinks) we saw very few sea birds patrolling overhead. Not much in the way of vittles for those birds, it seems.
eelsAfter traipsing back from the beach, we went down to the Moeraki River beach with Jerry to watch him feed the eels. They swarmed over the detritus he was handing out!

On the Sunday morning we departed, we started the day with a Jerry-led kayaking tour of the lake and river. Quite relaxing, and beautiful way to start the day!John Kayak 

In our stays at both Wilderness Lodges, we were impressed by the hospitality, the informal, friendly atmosphere, and the excellent food. Highly recommended, these two spots on Earth! Oddly enough, after we left Lake Moeraki to head further south en route to Queenstown, we kept encountering another couple who had left the Lodge about the same time we did. Maybe 5 or 6 times we
Tasman Cliffsencountered them at various stops, until finally we ran into them at a petrol station towards the end of the day. One last view of the Tasman seacoast ere we traveled inland to our final destination. Once settled into our hotel in Queenstown, we embarked on three days of viewing and enjoying some of the most spectacular scenery we’ve ever seen, from Walter Peak to Milford Sound to Dart River. Stay tuned for more episodes, next to be posted from Dunedin!

 

Tess the Wonder Dog!


1-TessHeadshot
Let me introduce you to Tess the Wonder Dog. Tess is an 11-year old “retired” New Zealand sheep dog, the pet of Michael McSweeney, lodge manager for Wilderness Lodge at Arthur’s Pass, where we stayed on the Cora Lynn Sheep Station as our Alpine visit for a couple of days. More about Tess later, but suffice it to say, she provided some really unique experiences for us that we’ll always remember. More later. Let’s get us up there?

2-TrainPhotoOn Tuesday morning, we boarded the Kiwitrain that would take us up to Arthur’s Pass at the Christchurch station. It makes the run from Christchurch (East Coast) to Greymouth (West Coast) daily, though not always precisely on schedule. We left Christchurch in a light rain, but it soon stopped as we headed West, and by the time we were climbing into the Southern Alps, skies were blue, and the scenery spectacular. We shot lots of photos through the train windows, so here’s one replete with the inevitable reflections.

3-ArthursPassMichael met us at the station, and whisked us off to the Lodge. Here you can see the beautiful entrance to Arthur’s Pass National Park.

So it’s a sheep and cattle station, is Cora Lynn, sitting on about 6,000 hectares of property. It’s small as those stations go, but this one combines the station agriculture with the tourism trade to manage a profit. One example of tourism vs. ranching tradeoff: Sheep should normally be sheared in August there in the southern hemisphere, but because they need to do shearing demos all year around, they reserve about 100 unshorn sheep for demos, like for people in February, for example? 😉 4-JanefeedinglambWe saw other demonstrations of sheepy-type things. Here’s Jane feeding a lamb, don’t ewe know?

We and another couple (Jim and Joan from Miami) decided we’d go hiking one morning on the Moa Valley trail. That’s Jim, Joan, John, and Jane in a group, if you hadn’t noticed? The lodge staff packed us lunches, and Michael said “Maybe you’d like to have Tess along? She knows the trail, and loves to hike.” Sure, why not? So the 5 of us headed out. 6-TessFlockAlong the way to the trailhead, we entered a large pasture through a gate where a flock of about 30 sheep was grazing in a far corner. No sooner had we closed the gate, Tess bounded across the field and rounded up the flock, and marched them over to us for our review – Amazing! We marveled at that, but continued through the pasture’s far gate, and on up the trail, figuring we’d probably lost Tess to the sheep. But no, she joined us minutes later, and proceeded to lead us as a group up and down the trail. She’d stop and look back just to make sure there were no stragglers.5-JoanJaneTess

So we got back down the trail, and decided to eat our lunches at the picnic table outside the far gate. Tess leapt through the fence, rounded up the sheep again, and brought them right to the gate for us to see again. Just an incredible display of doggy brilliance that we’ll never forget.

7-KiwirailThursday morning we packed up once again, Michael took out to the train station, and the old reliable Kiwitrain “whisked” us off to Greymouth. Couple of interesting happenings there: At the station at Arthur’s Pass, I met a local B&B owner who is now a Words with Friends opponent; at the Greymouth station, Jane recognized an old Lewis & Clark college friend whom she hadn’t seen in 52 years! Small world, what? In Greymouth, we rented a little Mazda stick, which we’ll hang onto until we wind up in Dunedin at the end of our Kiwi tour. If you’re ever contemplating travel in this country, BTW, be advised that, aside from big old Auckland, and Wellington to a lesser extent, there are very few freeways in this country! So driving 300 km, which you’d think you could do in say, 3 hours at 100 km/hr? (the national speed limit) Safe to double that for estimation of your travel time. One weird thing: One-Lane bridges are very common. Yield signs at either end of the bridge tell you who has the right-of-way, so you just take it slow and proceed when clear. 

8-HokitikaFrom Greymouth, we stopped first at Hokitika for a bit of French Onion soup at the Cafe de Paris. Hokitika is famous for Jade, or pounamu, as the Maori call it. (The soup was good too!) We visited the interesting Hokitika Museum, and the Jade Factory.
9-JadeHokitikaHere’s an ancient Jade carving from the Museum.

Well, one can’t say they’ve done the SW New Zealand coast without some Glacier visit. The two most famous ones are the Franz Josef glacier, and the Fox glacier. Both are still active and stable even in this day and age. We stayed the night at the village of Franz Josef, and in the morning before striking out, we took a very interesting tour of a Kiwi preserve. Kiwis are nocturnal birds, endangered, flightless, quite vulnerable to enemies, mostly introduced ones such as Stoats and Possums. But in this sanctuary, we were able to see and hear 3 of the little creatures. Very interesting to see. Then, we drove south to the Fox Glacier, and hiked up to see its tail end. Which, because the pesky photo file wouldn’t let me upload it, amounts to the tail end of this post! Hang in there for more Kiwi adventures!

Wellington, Christchurch…

After leaving our friends the Ramsons in Masterton, we gassed up and drove west to Wellington, only 120 KM or so, but along the way is a twisty curvy two-lane mountain road that makes it somewhat tricky? But we managed to survive it, about a two-hour drive. We had tickets for a tutorial tour of the Te Papa Tangarewa Museum,
Imageso we drove directly there, and parked underneath in the Museum’s parking lot. This is an AMAZING museum! It has 5 accessible levels of exhibits, covering many facets of New Zealand history and society. We learned a lot about Maoris there, and how the Waitangi Treaty meant something different to the British settlers and the Maori natives at the time of its signing.

We saw Giant Trolls from The Hobbit, which is currently a Kiwi craze. The Trolls are guarding the museum entrance, larger than life fiberglass figures. Pretty cute!Image

One display that really touched me as much as any other was one called “Refugees.” In this exhibit are testimonials and photos from refugees from many of the world’s countries in great turmoil and strife. These people have somehow made their respective ways to New Zealand, and are sharing their stories. Like children from Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, you name it. The sad part is that they became refugees because of political actions taken by individual politicians and governments with very little empathy for the consequences of their actions on the little people, the children, their parents, etc.

ImageWell, we coulda spent the whole night there and maybe another day or two as well, but the durn place closed at 6! So we stayed until then, and then met Bruce Green (Dave from Tauranga’s brother) at our hotel, and together we walked out to a harborside restaurant and had a nice Asian meal. Architect Bruce designs commercial buildings, and seems to be quite good at it; a few examples of his work are evident in the downtown Wellington skyline. After dinner, we all jumped into Bruce’s car and he drove us to the top of a hill overlooking the harbor and the Wellington downtown district. It was warm enough to do that in shirtsleeves that evening, but by the next morning, it had started to rain, and did so as we flew down to Christchurch from Wellington.

We’ve all heard of Christchurch’s recent quake history; there was a large 7.1 quake in September 2010 that caused quite a lot of damage but few fatalities; Then, in February 2011, a 6.3 magnitude quake struck much closer to Christchurch’s heart. 185 people were killed in the quake, and essentially the entire downtown region of Christchurch, every store, building, cathedral, etc, was rendered unsafe. We had visited Christchurch in late 1990, and the big cathedral that we remembered? Well, it’s now being “deconstructed” for possible future restoration. Two years after the 2nd quake, the whole area is still a demolition/construction zone, and probably many years will pass before the physical scars are all healed.

ImageBut there is hope! Christchurch has implemented a “Restart” program, where new stores and other businesses are being built of container boxes. We visited the Restart business district and were quite impressed! Inside this “Simply New Zealand” shop, we engaged Teresa, the proprietor, in a conversation about what had happened, how she felt about the future. It turns out that her original store, like so many others, was totally put out of commission. But within a few months, she was offered the opportunity to open one of the Restart container-based stores. For those doing business in the Restart zone, business
Imagecan be brisk, as the stores are a tourist draw, not to mention a draw for residents who simply need the stuff carried there. So Teresa said she could have left completely, but decided to give it a try, and likes being a part of the resurrection of the downtown district, and she’s excited about the future. There she is with Jane, after she sold me some socks made of Merino Wool and Possum fur. They’re great!

We stayed overnight in Christchurch and then headed off by train to the West, stopping at Arthur’s Pass for a couple of days. A beautiful lodge on a sheep station high in the Southern Alps. To find out more about that adventure, tune in to future installments! 😉


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The Passing of an old Friend…

Erl Russell, 90 years young. Photo taken 2 days before he passed away.

Erl Russell, 90 years young. Photo taken 2 days before he passed away.

We first met Erl and Elaine Russell in Masterton in 1987, on the occasion of visiting their daughter Helen on our South Pacific sweep of that year. Helen had been an AFS friend of Yvette Perodou, who lived with us in 1984-85. We knew her that year (Helen & I ran together in the Bay Breakers race that year in SF) So we stayed with Erl and Elaine in 1987, saw them again at Dave Green’s and Helen’s wedding of 1991. Elaine died about 5 years back, but when we reached Tauranga this year, Erl was looking pretty fit for a 90-year old, had a strong handshake, was still able to walk briskly with the help of his cane. Erl rode with us on the tour bus as we viewed the Tauranga Port facility last Tuesday morning. But alas, on Thursday morning, he was found dead in his condo by his caretaker. Erl Russell lived for 90 years, the first 87 of them in Masterton, the last three in Tauranga, 6 hours drive to the North. Too soon, his funeral will be held Tuesday, Feb 5 in Masterton. We will miss that event, and Erl too.

BlueLakeWednesday we left Tauranga after picking up our rental car there, and caravaned with the Green family south to Lake Taupo to stay in their family’s house there near the lake. But en route, we had lunch in Rotorua, and viewed the Blue and Green Lakes nearby. Here’s the Blue Lake on the left, and the Green Lake on the right. The Blue Lake is blue due to reflections from above from its white Rhyolite and Pumice bottom; it is open to public recreation. But the Green Lake, on the other hand, is a sacred Maori place where no public recreation is allowed. It is green due to its shallow, sandy bottom. GreenLake

On the way from Rotorua down to Taupo, we visited the Buried Village. Once known as Te Wairoa, on the morning of June 10, 1886, it was virtually buried by the volcanic eruption from nearby Mount Terawera. We strolled through the excavation of Te Wairora, to see huts once inhabited by Maori and white residents. A couple of hotels were also destroyed in the event. If you look at the accompanying photographs, you see Mt. Terawera on the upper right
BeforeAfterbefore and after the volcanic event; Below to the left, you see how the eruption leveled the entire village of Te Wairoa, covering it with mud and lava, and destroying all the structures, not to mention trees, in its path.We traveled the site for an hour, including hiking down to the beautiful waterfall on the site. It was interesting to stroll through the now-peaceful site, see the many excavated huts and other structures, and to imagine what it must have been like to actually be a part of the event.

We arrived at Taupo to take roost in the family vacation home owned by the Palmerston North-based Green family. Since we saw it last some 22 years ago, it’s been remodeled under the aegis of Bruce Green, Dave’s architect brother. A very nice, comfortable place, with great access to Lake Taupo, not to mention a stunning view from the deck, to wit:TaupoDeck

Lake Taupo is New Zealand’s largest lake, we’re told. It had a gently sloping shore near the cabin, so it was easy to go out and swim with the boys and enjoy the warmish lake water..

RamsonsReeds

John & Jan Ramson, John & Jane Reed

We were together with the Green family at Taupo when the news of Erl Russell’s death came, as quite a shock to the whole family, who’d just seen him two days before. So plans changed; Greens went back home to Tauranga, and we stayed a night and then off to Masterton, ~4 hours south. We stayed there with John & Jan Ramson, friends we’d met and stayed with while Dave and Helen were getting married lo these 22 years ago. Our daughter Heidi stayed with them later on, and they’ve stayed connected over the years:
RedwoodJohnOne good reason for stopping in Masterton was to check on the livelihood of the California Redwood tree I had planted on Jan. 6, 1991, the day after Helen & Dave’s wedding. It was planted in Russells’ backyard, but since Erl & Elaine have left us, properties have shifted ownership over the years. We did manage to get into the yard and see these two trees, one planted by me, the other by John Watney, also of Los Altos. They had grown quite substantially over the years, maybe about 20-30 feet tall. Sequoia Sempervirens forever!

CastlePointOn our “free” day in Masterton, John & Jan took us down to one of the North Island East Coast most scenic attractions, the Castle Point Lighthouse, See it above, along with Castle Point itself, the big rock to the right.

Have to apologize for covering so much ground in one blog post. Our internet connections have been sketchy to non-existent for several days. At the moment we’re in Christchurch, heading off again to internet-unknown regions tomorrow. But there’s lots to say about Wellingtons and Christchurch, and we’ll see you next time, OK? 😉