Dispatches are stored at PerpetualTravel.com
It was November 23, 1995 and the first Kiwi we met on the three-hour flight across the Tasman Sea set the tone for New Zealand by inviting us to stay at his home. Unfortunately, our plans did not take us near his town. On arrival, the maritime weather was typical for our seven-week visit: cool, overcast, and the occasional rain. We got off to a slow start since we knew very little about the country. There's plenty to see and do, so we had to decide which direction to head in, given so little time. The Kiwi dollar had strengthened in the last couple of years, so cost also played an important role in our plans.
The city was packed with fans for the Eagles concert, and the only rooms available were at the Auckland Central Backpackers. This did not seem so bad after seeing all that they offered, but we had not planned on getting jetlag from the all-night party above our room. The management refused to do anything about it and very few people in the large hostel slept that night. Another aspect which surprised us was the lack of security, as we found drunken locals, who were allowed up to the rooftop bar, coming downstairs and strolling through the halls all night. Only later did we find out that this was one of the worst backpackers in the country.
We moved to another that wasn't much better, which seemed to be the norm for the backpackers downtown, but finally settled in at the comfortable and well-run YHA. The suburb of Parnell would have been a nice place to stay, but there was much to do in town.
At the YHA, we met Dawn from Brisbane, Australia, who sat down for breakfast next to us and started talking and sharing her huge meal. She is a well-travelled great-grandmother who is twenty years older than she looks and acts. She is a typical Aussie woman -- strong, independent, and feels and acts equal to men. It seems that our trip to Oz started in Malaysia and may never end since we keep meeting friendly Aussies.
Dawn reads many books and stays young by keeping an extremely positive and optimistic outlook on everything. Like us, she uses the old logic of comparing worse situations to whatever happens. We liked her happy-just-to-be-alive attitude. We were all ears for six hours, until hunger drove us out and Dawn introduced us to our first batch of fish and chips. We will no doubt visit her when we return to the Gold Coast.
Babbie, a friend of an Internet acquaintance visited us. She and her husband are halfway into sailing around the world for twelve years, while working along the way. When they leave a place, they know it better than those who live there. She is full of raw enthusiasm, talks fast, and has lived in Curacao, St. Maarten, and Fort Lauderdale, so we had plenty to talk about.
When we went for our final Hepatitis-B booster shots, the nurse kept our attention with stories about her years as a dive instructor in Vail, Colorado, before working on a live-aboard in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.
We stopped at the GPO, and were surprised and happy to receive a couple packages, a few letters, and many postcards. Karin found a Dutch foodstall at the wharf where she was able to satisfy her craving for drop, a salty licorice. Then it was over to the library for free full Internet access, making it easy to reply to all the mail and email we received -- this probably kept us in town an extra day or two.
When we were not at the computer, we were walking around the city shopping for sleeping bags. We broke down and bought them since we were having a difficult time sleeping comfortably. We knew things would only get worse as we headed further south into colder territory.
The major intersections, where all motor vehicles must stop to allow pedestrians to cross in all directions caught our attention. We were especially entertained by the human traffic jams in the middle of the street.
On one of our strolls through town we met a Maori (mao ree) artist at the docks. He had just returned from the islands where he was doing pastel sketches; he also sculpts and carves Maori art. The Kiwi accent took awhile to get used to, but when we this man, we had to concentrate to catch up with his accent. We were in a hurry, but could not tear ourselves away -- he was a proud man with much to share. The best part was when he kidded around with Marc, saying: "We stop you Americans from buying our land, or docking vessels with nuclear weapons here." Environmental activism is very strong, with Greenpeace being very popular. There has been quite an uproar since the French exploded their fourth nuclear test in French Polynesia just a few days ago.
The Domain is a large park with rolling hills, rugby fields, and large tree-covered walks. The Auckland Museum, in the middle of The Domain, made for a nice day trip. It had an excellent display of Maori artifacts and culture, including carved wooden homes and an 8m (25 ft) war canoe. One room was dedicated to wooden outrigger boats of the South Pacific, another to the bird life, including a life-size 4m (12 ft) model of the moa, an extinct, flightless bird. There also were Polynesian and Southeast Asian arts and crafts.
We walked over to the Winter Garden greenhouse to see the flowers and rainforest display, then retreated to a courtyard where a Kiwi gamelan orchestra was playing slow Javanese-style music. On our way back, we unexpectedly found a path in The Domain that went through a dense forest, along a stream with occasional waterfalls.
The bus out of town gave us our first glimpse of what most of New Zealand looks like: rolling grass fields covered with grazing sheep, a few cattle, and the occasional tree.
Although Rotorua (roto-rua) is a big tourist stop, we were just stopping to rest for the night. The area has many active volcanoes and is famous for its thermal activity, and the pungent sulphur-smell of the air. After we had walked around for awhile, the town turned out to be not so bad after all.
Few tourists make it to the East Cape where some of the nicest weather and the most fertile land can be found. Gisborn (giz-bin) boasts being the first New Zealand city to see the sun. We were here to visit Sally and Rodney, friends who own a sheep station. They have travelled extensively, and he told us interesting tales from his trip around the world in the early 1960s. He had travelled across the US on a 99-day Greyhound bus-pass, and by motorcycle from England to Nepal.
One of the first things we learned about Kiwis is their spirit for outdoor adventure. Every chance they get, the entire family heads outdoors with just a tent, sleeping bag, fishing rod, and cooking pot. Their children continued this adventurous spirit and are now scattered about the globe.
Since New Zealand is so remote, there is a natural urge, almost like a national drive, to travel. They call it The Big OE (Overseas Experience), which usually means one to two years travelling around the world with stops in Australia or England to work. We thought RTW travel was special, but it seems to be an everyday occurrence here.
We helped out around the farm by moving the sheep (self-propelled lawnmowers) from pasture to pasture, and rounding them up for shearing. We will never look at wool sweaters the same way now that we have seen that shearing is not a bloodless process.
One of the 6000 sheep made it to dinner as a succulent, fragrantly-seasoned roast, accompanied by fresh-from-the-farm broad beans, potatoes, kumara (sweet potato), and salad. When it was our turn to cook, we treated them to our famous yoghurt masala on pilau rice, featuring turkey instead of the usual chicken.
Another day was spent walking along the windy beach, then roaming through their extensive flower and herb garden, with its fish-ponds, gazebo, streams, and vine-covered archways. After a nap, we set up their new computer before feasting on lobster that their son had caught earlier in the day. We were then introduced to one of New Zealand's secret delicacies, ice-cream with all the cream still in it.
New Zealand is popular for hitchhiking, so we jumped out on the road Within five minutes, a friendly Maori forest surveyor named Harry gave us a ride to Wairoa. Ten minutes later, a good-looking Maori named Sid needed a break from his morning drive and took us the rest of the way.
We learned a great deal about Maori life and history from him in the two hours it took to drive down the coast. His daughter is going to Japan as an exchange student. This is a popular way for high school students to get introduced to travel, similar to the overseas experience. If we did not have friends to visit, we would have accepted his invitation to stay at his house on the beach, but on our next visit we will definitely travel to the East Cape to see him.
Since most of the old buildings in were destroyed by an earthquake in 1931, the city of Napier (nay-pure) was rebuilt in the style of the times and is now famous for its well-preserved Art Deco architecture of the 1930s. We arrived early and wandered around town, then went to our favorite relaxation center. Libraries always have toilets and air-conditioning, never try to sell you anything, and let you stay as long as you want. They occasionally have Internet access, as did this one. Nobody was taking advantage of this since they did not know to check the tranceiver cable. Basically, it was not plugged in! We kept ourselves busy for a few hours, then left to meet our friends.
We never made it to the rendezvous point, as we ran into Marion and Barry just outside the library heading in the same direction. We were visiting Marion, who is a member of Zonta Club of Melbourne, a worldwide service organization of executives in business and the professions working together to advance the status of women, which Karin has been actively involved with for many years.
After touring the area, we returned to their home for an interesting evening of conversation over a delicious dinner of grilled steaks and veggie kabobs on the back terrace. They host foreign exchange students through the Rotary Club, and when they retired they travelled for nine months visiting friends. It is starting to be a New Zealand theme, discovering that many of the people we meet here have travelled around the world. Barry teaches music and singing, and we enjoyed his collection of classical music.
Visiting families with children always gives us an opportunity to see the way they are raised and interact together. It was refreshing to see their grandchildren get along so well, and that they are not possessive with their toys. They were not shy in demonstrating the piano skills that Barry had taught them. New Zealand has only three TV channels at the moment, which in our opinion is a good thing since people spend more time together.
Continuing with our cultural education, we went to the park to see a cricket match. We had watched it on TV for many weeks and were starting to understand the game pretty well. We noticed that the bowler (pitcher) seems to suffer from the tremendous stress placed on his shoulders and knees.
It was time to get back on the road, and since we enjoy meeting people, we headed out past the airport to hitchhike. Ten minutes later, Judy picked us up for a short ride to the intersection we needed to be at, reinforcing our opinion that Maoris always pick us up and are extremely friendly. She parked the car and continued to tell us about Maori life and her business exporting fruit from her orchard. Once again we were invited home, but did not have the time to accept. There is no mystery now why so many travellers stay much longer than originally planned. The people here make it difficult to pass by quickly.
Within minutes we were perplexed to see a car with two Pakeha (white) women stop for us. Rachel Ennor and her 87-year-young grandmother were two of a kind. Grandma shared her knowledge of the history and geography of this area better than any tour guide as she had grown up here. Beautiful Broom flowers lined the road in huge golden-yellow piles for most of the way, contrasting the brown scrub and green grass. We stopped for lunch at her favorite tearoom.
Rachel just returned from a six-month RTW trip to raise money for the Children's Cancer Fund. She was the only entrant in a contest where she left with NZ$100 (US$65) and was not allowed to take commercial airline flights. She took a potato cargo ship to San Francisco, delivered a drive-away car from Los Angeles back to New York, hitched aboard a diplomatic flight to Britain, hitched through Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, returning to New Zealand with her original NZ$100 bill, which was then auctioned off. She learned a lot, to say the least. She is now travelling the country giving speeches and is finishing a book, which we look forward to reading soon.
We left our bags at the Rainbow Lodge, and accepted Rachel's offer to take us to a few places on her way to Rotorua. Our first stop was Huka Falls, a fast, high-volume deluge of water with a 5m (16 ft) drop. The water is full of air bubbles and looks crystal clear, giving it a light turquoise-green color. It looks like a very tempting stream to jump into, but is very dangerous.
She dropped us off at a remote, thermal area called Orakei Korako (o-rah-kay ko-rah-ko) before continuing on her way. It was a short boat trip across the lake to the silica terraces, geysers, and hot, mineral water pools. While there, we met Graham and Yvonne from Vancouver, who offered us a ride since they were heading back towards town.
We stopped at Craters of the Moon for a 2km (1.2 mile) walk along wooden paths, winding their way between the colorful steamholes and bubbling mudpools; we made sure not to stray from the path, since the surface is very unstable and every stray step could be your last. You feel like you are on another planet. Another stop at Huka Falls before we returned to Taupo (tao-poe) and settled in at the guesthouse.
Taupo is very similar in size and geography to Lake Toba in Sumatra, Indonesia, but the air is much cleaner. It is a relatively quiet place compared to Rotorua, and is well known for trout fishing. Mark Dumble, the owner of the comfortable Rainbow Lodge, made time from his busy schedule to share travel stories about his trip around the world with his wife. While there, we met three Israeli girls fresh out of military service, who were having as much fun as possible, especially at the expense of unsuspecting males.
We were all geared up to tackle the Tongariro (tong-ah-ree-row) Crossing, but since the weather was not going to cooperate for many days, we jumped out on the side of the road in a light drizzle. After thirty minutes, heavy rainstorms started moving in over the mountains and lake. We had just thrown our packs on to find shelter when Taurapa (toe-rah-pah) came to our rescue. He was a large, stocky, and powerful-looking Maori with long, wavy, black hair, a full goatee, and a moustache. Just hearing him say hello was enough for us to know we could trust him.
While we passed Tongariro National Park and smoking Mount Ruapehu (roo-ah-pay-who), which had recently erupted, he shared his travel adventures living on dude ranches in the US, shearing sheep, then working and travelling in England and Holland. He is a funny man, and theorized that Karin is a Maori from a different canoe which turned left instead of right! He was on his way to his uncle's tangi (funeral), a ceremony with mandatory attendance for friends and family, regardless of distance. It is not a sad event, and the main feature is that everyone shows up and eats all the food in the house.
He dropped us at the visitor's information center when we arrived at our destination two hours later. If our friends had not been expecting us, we would have accepted his invitation to join him, meet his family, and experience a Maori tangi (tunn-gee). Once again, we will have to wait until we return to visit his home in the Coromandel.
We shared lunch in the park with a duck and twenty or so sparrows before taking a bus to Massey University to visit Terry, another of Marc's Internet acquaintances. He gave us a tour of the campus and beautiful botanical gardens of this old agricultural and veterinary college before dropping us at our friend's house. Elizabeth wasted no time in making us feel at home. While dining on the finest salmon we've ever had, and listening to African music, she told us stories about teaching with her husband in Zimbabwe, Denmark, and Fiji.
We awoke the next day to the aroma of rich, homemade, chocolate muffins, which we enjoyed on the back terrace, surrounded by flowering plants and fruit trees. All the walking was taking a toll on our feet, so we relaxed during the day foregoing a stroll through the city.
At the gas station we were intrigued to see that cars were filled with LPG (liquid propane gas) and CNG (compressed natural gas), instead of the usual petrol. We toured through the Manawatu Gorge before going out to a Kiwi restaurant serving huge meals of ribs, pizza, and burgers.
We had completed five months of travel and it still seemed like we have seen very little in the places we visited, while still having plenty of the world to see. We still don't understand why everyone thinks we will tire so soon.
After two short lifts south and a 45-minute wait, our third lift pulled up suddenly in a gold Ford Fairlane 500. Most drivers pick up passengers to be entertained, but we kept Jeremy, like other interesting people here, talking for two hours. He lived in Miami in his teens, then returned to get a marketing degree. He had his own international company selling Merlino wool active wear. He let us out in Wellington at our favorite place, the library, which did not have Internet access, but did have a good cafe.
The Windy City is very similar to San Francisco and lives up to its nickname. We hiked to the office of our friends, Geoff and Graciella, who own a broadcast equipment sales company. We retreated to their home in the suburb of Ngaio (nigh-oh), at the top of the gorge, where we met their children, Nicholas and Jennifer. Nicholas is heading to Japan as an exchange student. That evening we sat out on the back terrace watching the sun set while enjoying a wonderful Thai dinner.
The next day they celebrated their 17th anniversary, which was very exciting for the kids. They met in Chile, Graciela's homeland, and were well-versed in Spanish, so Karin got to practise a little of her language skills. Jennifer impressed us with her piano medleys.
One day Geoff and Jennifer took us for a tour of the area. We drove up to Mount Victoria for a panoramic view of the city and harbor, around the exclusive Oriental Bay and along the coast of the steep-cliffed peninsula before meeting Graciela and Nicholas for lunch at a harbor-side cafe. The chicken, brie, and cranberry on foccacia sandwiches were very tasty.
We met their friends Desmond and Jan at the annual neighborhood Christmas party. They used England as a base to work and travel for six years, and spent a year in South America travelling on motorcycles. Desmond kept our attention with stories of when he ran with the bulls in Spain, and gave us the inside scoop on techniques which would be useful should we decide to pursue this rite of passage.
The time we spent on their computer allowed us to complete the third dispatch and mail it off. Their cat, Luna, kept us company while staying warm while perched on top of the monitor, proving that computers in the southern hemisphere come with a cat as well as a mouse.
Things were going our way since the seas were calm for the three-hour ferry ride out of the harbor, across the Cook Straits, through the Marlborough Sound, and into Picton on the South Island. The two-hour bus ride to Nelson winded through the mountains before following the mudflats where boats lay on their sides awaiting high tide.
We checked in at the YHA and walked around town familiarizing ourselves with the friendly little town. It is not hard to understand why so many people we met have moved here. After an excellent Turkish Iskendar dinner, we treated ourselves to a semi-annual night at the movies. The movie Seven was a pretty gruesome thriller with an ending that makes you think. The theater had assigned seating and ushers -- what a novel concept. Our trip to Abel Tasman was cancelled once again due to heavy rain forecasts for the week.
Our friends in Gisborne suggested we visit their friends Harry and Joan, who live in a log cabin on a bluff in a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. They felled red cedars and built the cabin with the help of friends. The cabin is surrounded by trees, flowers, and the most birdlife we have seen in any one place, including large, colorful, and acrobatic wood pigeons. It rained for a few days, so we stayed indoors learning to card, spin, and ply wool.
Conversations with Harry were intense as he does not forget anything you tell him, and continues to follow a subject well, especially philosophy and religion. One night, he read us some cute poetry from C.J. Dennis' century-old Australian book, The Sentimental Bloke. He also had interesting tales from his 100-day road trip in North America. Like many Kiwis, he knows much more about our home than we do. It stopped raining long enough for us to tour the farm and see Harry's very own reserve of native trees that he planted twenty years ago.
We gave up any thought of hitchhiking on the west coast since the population is so sparse and the few vehicles that passed by were full of people and luggage. The fact that it was cold and rainy made it an easy decision.
The bus took us through Buller Gorge to the beautiful west coast. The bus drivers here are glad to answer questions, and are like tour guides at times, even stopping at popular tourist attractions like the Punakaiki (poon-ah-kai-key) Pancake Rocks long enough for us to walk through the rainforest full of tree-ferns, and to see the waves crashing against the cliffs, creating geyser-like blowholes. The rocks are formed from a weathering process known as stylobedding and look like thin slabs stacked on top of each other.
We heard that the YHA in this ghost town was the perfect place to escape for Christmas, and the rumor turned out to be correct. Clara and Claire served up a traditional, calorie-laden banquet that started with spiced hot chocolate and ended with Pavlova cake, a national dessert consisting mostly of sugar, but very good. It again stopped raining long enough for everyone to head to the beach for a brilliant sunset. We helped build a bonfire, then huddled around it in the cold, talking with Marcia from Gloucestershire, England, about her sudden decision to travel and her adjustment to a whole new lifestyle on the road.
Dear Santa, Please bring some dangerous animals with you on your way south. The cold waters here have a great variety of life including penguins, seals, whales, and sharks, but there really isn't anything dangerous to man on land other than volcanic eruptions, landslides, snow avalanches, floods, earthquakes, fellow mankind, and maybe in some circumstances, a mischievous bird called the Kea.
As you can see, the tramper is missing out on the excitement of being preyed upon. There were no mammals here originally, however, people from distant lands brought quite a variety of species such as dogs, cats, sheep, cattle, deer, rabbits, possum, llama, pigs, goats, and horses.
Although the native bush and animals have primitive defense sytems, it doesn't look like things will go back to the way they were, so this would be an excellent opportunity to help out endangered species throughout the world. The weather and food supplies on the South Island are perfect for polar bears. The rest of the introduced animals on the North Island, including the salmon and trout, would keep the brown and black bears happy. There are plenty of sheep to go around for wolves. A few snow leopards from Nepal and Tibet, and some tigers from Asia would also be nice!
Merry Christmas, Marc
The weather hadn't cleared up, but we did manage to bargain with one of the backpacker-bus drivers for a ride down the coast. We stopped in the even smaller and quieter town of Hokitika (ho-kee-tee-ka) to see the jade shops, then at Ross where many of the passengers panned for gold and jade. This coast had an intense gold-rush in the 1800s, but quieted down after the mines were exhausted. The view of the mountains across Lake Mahinapua was limited since it was overcast, however the forest was at its nicest since it had been raining.
After crossing numerous moraines and valleys, we arrived in time to drop our bags, race over to the shop, grab raingear and hobnail boots, then hop on another bus. After a 1.5km (one mile) hike through the rocky valley, with waterfalls streaming down the entire length, we reached the terminal face of the Franz Josef Glacier. With all the heavy rains and flooding over the previous month, it had been moving forward half a meter per day, and a large ice cave had been created on the left side.
The top receives 70m (220 ft) of snow per year. Skyscraper-size blocks of ice break off (calve), falling down with a tremendous boom. This is where the river emerges and drags silt down the valley, filling it up to the bottom of the bridges. The guides took us up a steep, 100m (310 ft) trail of steps they cut into the ice. The ice was bright white with a brilliant blue hue and had deep crevasses where it had sheared apart. We were cold, to say the least, our hands and feet stinging and numb after two hours, but it was worth it. We learned the Franz Josef shuffle, and didn't lose anyone.
Back on the bus, all scheduled sightseeing stops were cancelled by unanimous vote due to heavy rains. We did get a glimpse of Fox Glacier on our way east. Flooding in the area caused landslides, and the driver was starting to get concerned as he was stranded for two days on the road the last time it was this bad. Some sections of it had already been washed away. We set up camp in the triangular huts which served as a dorm for eight. Loud thunder kept waking the camp throughout the night.
After a brief stop in wet Wanaka the next morning, we arrived at the Kawarau River Gorge so a few of the passengers could bungy jump 70m (220 ft) to the water surface. As if a miracle, the rains ceased and the skies turned light blue.
The first thing we noticed in this resort-city was the cold but inviting aqua-green lake with the brown, snow-capped Remarkable Mountains in the background. The rains had filled it over the edges of the banks and the town had some localized flooding. The road to Milford Sound and some of the trails had been temporarily closed; some trampers got stranded in the bush, and the weather predictions were nasty, so we concluded that it would be better to return some February or March when we had more time. We almost didn't make it as the road east was closed the day before and after we crossed it.
Our main reasons for heading to Dunedin (dun-EE-din) were to find better weather and to visit the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. The weather was fine, but the factory was closed for the holiday, however things turned out nicely in the end.
Early on, we started hearing good things about the Chalet Backpackers. It used to be a two-floor hospital for sixty-five years, before being converted five years back. One room had been an operating room, and five were for patients. The kitchen is well-outfitted with many free amenities. The downstairs lounge has a huge, solid-wood table perfect for hours of travel-talk and sharing meals together. Rumor has it that a ghost likes to watch people playing pool on the free table in the next room. The upstairs lounge has a television, children's toys, and a free book exchange.
The showers and toilets are plentiful and very clean, including a luxury we aren't used to, free towels. The rooms have high ceilings, double-sliding windows, old cast-iron hospital beds, wool blankets, nightstands, electric heaters, electric blankets, chairs, and sinks. There are plants everywhere, which they feed with a toy water-gun, sometimes hitting guests. It is also up a hill, with an excellent view of the city and ocean. This home-like feeling was overwhelming to us after being in so many places that were little more than a bed, and cost more. Like most who come across this place, we stayed longer than planned.
Things being slow, we headed to the free Otago Museum at the university. We didn't expect such an impressive display in a place of this size. We jokingly call it the politically-correct museum. It starts off on the top floor with exhibits of animals and their skeletons, with signs explaining all the ways their populations are being reduced, and a request that collectors stop donating stuffed birds, since they have too many and it is leading to the extinction of some species.
The next floor was archaeological exhibits, displaying a few good examples to explain the history of cultures, instead of the usual redundant overkill that leaves your head spinning from having to walk so far and look at so much. These were donated by soldiers who had served overseas during the wars. The signs explained why people collect things, their typical Western interpretations and conclusions about the cultures, then corrected them by explaining the purpose that these objects actually served in ancient and complex cultures. There also was a nice presentation on Maori culture.
Dunedin is an old town influenced by Scottish immigrants, so we wandered around eyeing the architecture. The center of town is called the Octagon, and is a nice gathering place. We also found email access again to catch up with family events.
We didn't want to spend New Years Eve alone, so we called Kathy and Warwick, as suggested by our friends in Napier. Like good Kiwis, they too had travelled around the world. An outrageously funny Scottish friend of theirs, Jim, was there too. He kept us laughing throughout the evening, especially with his jokes about the States.
We were going to the beach to light fireworks, but got stuck behind a fire engine racing there to put out a dry-riverbed fire that had gotten out of control, which was caused by stray fireworks. This is the time it should have rained. We welcomed in the New Year with fireworks in their backyard at midnight.
New Year's day, we went for a picnic on Lake Lyndon, then for a drive through interesting mountain and river landscapes on the way to Arthur's Pass, and finally for a hike to the base of the 130m (400 ft) Devil's Punchbowl Waterfall.
The weather and population on the Canterbury Plains were perfect for hitching, and within minutes we were rolling along with Phil, a chef who seemed to live for fishing. He was more than happy to tell us all about the area as we passed through pastureland for two hours.
Conveniently, his home in Christchurch was only blocks away from our friends, so he gave us a tour of the city before dropping us at Averil's doorstep. She has a degree in Maori Studies, allowing us another viewpoint on the country's most popular topic. She is a social worker and her aims are social justice and conservation.
Like Dunedin, Christchurch has a well-planned, octagonal city-center, however this one has a cathedral in the center. Some days, a man dressed as "The Wizard" stands on a ladder out front and puts on a hilarious show. He baits the naive tourist audience with controversial opinions, usually having to do with religion, monarchy, or feminism, then buries the hecklers with his loud voice and years of practice.
The other weather extreme is the intense sun, which everyone tells us is caused by a large hole in the ozone, so we started looking for things to do indoors. The museum had an excellent exhibit on Bob Marley, including a documentary film that kept us occupied for two hours. Then to the GPO to collect quite a few letters, Marc's Christmas present (two bags of Keebler's Chocolate Lover's Chocolate Deluxe Cookies, which he has survived on in the past), and Karin's kilo of salty, Dutch, black licorice called drop.
A local Internet Cafe came in handy for checking our sparse email. Sean Connolly, our RTW friend, who was having a hard time accepting his return to Western civilization and especially work, after more than a year on the road.
With a few extra days before our flight, the Banks Peninsula was the place to go, so we took a local bus to the edge of the city. As soon as we got off the bus and stuck our thumbs out, a man in a red car gave us a lift for 9km (6 miles). Many Kiwis, and most people who gave us a ride, used to hitchike.
The traffic was light and we weren't going far, so after twenty minutes we were tempted by the smell of fresh bread across the street. As we picked up our bags and started to cross, a friendly and talkative security guard in a white car relocated us twenty more kilometers (12 miles) in the direction we were heading. He was nice enough to explain the volcanic origins and subsequent erosion of the area.
Although most of the cars driving by were red or white, it seemed rather obvious to us that the next to have mercy on us would be blue, since those are the colors in the flags of: New Zealand, St. Maarten and Curacao (Dutch West Indies), USA, and France (since they settled the city we are going to).
Noline, the energetic mayor of the peninsula, was more than happy to tell us how the British and French had settled the area, while she navigated the twisting mountain roads at high speed. The road wound around the picturesque bay before dropping out of the mountains to the quaint, little village of Akaroa. We followed her to the Fire Services' demonstration of their new 'Jaws of Life' equipment, which rips apart cars to extract people involved in accidents.
Waving and smiling at passing cars, even when you can't see their faces behind the glass reflections, is usually fun, and has real benefits occasionally. Some people turn around if they have room, while others will talk to you when you reach town. It wasn't hard to remember Tim and Tracey waving back from the bright-yellow MR-2 sportscar.
We arrived in Akaroa shortly after they did. When we passed by the outdoor cafe, they invited us to join them for hot chocolate. It wasn't difficult to find topics of discussion since he has worked overseas and is a software developer who surfs the Internet, and she is a poet, desktop publisher, and photographer with a sociolingistics background. Finally, we would be able to accept an invitation for our return to Christchurch in a week.
Le Bons Bay
Le Bons Bay Backpackers picked us up at the cafe and drove us fifteen minutes along foggy mountain roads to a restored haybarn. The reputation of the good places gets around, and this one contributed to our coming to the peninsula. Gary and Heidi are more like mature backpackers, showing us around their place like a host.
Our dorm beds were comfortable mattresses on varnished wooden floors in the roomy loft. The den is covered in colorfully-woven kilim carpets he collected while hitching around Turkey. Besides a fireplace, couches, piano, and a stereo system, there are guitars, books, and toys. There is also a nice view down the mountain and into the valley from the kitchen, or from the huge old-fashioned bathtub on brass legs next to the bay window. The centerpiece of the kitchen is the black, wood-burning stove with gold trim.
Gary also gives bargain penguin and dolphin tours on his boat while he is out checking his fish-lines and lobster-traps for his inexpensive nightly gourmet seafood dinners. Fourteen of us sat around a 3m (18 ft) table for the feast: sole sashimi, salad, boiled potatoes, pan-fried lemonfish, boiled lobster, baked greenlip mussels topped with cheese, and paua (pow-ah; abalone) sauteed in ginger, garlic, and cream.
Another surprise was the free breakfast the next morning. The muesli and homemade strawberry jam couldn't have been much better. The family reunion started out with them beating all the neighbors in a five-hour cricket match, before a potluck barbeque. We were the only guests there for this feast, and were treated like family. This was definitely the best backpackers we stayed at in New Zealand.
The next day Gary called a neighbor to pick us up on her way to town. She dropped us at the Lavender Hill B&B, a nicely landscaped garden home on the slope of a hill, with a wonderful view of Akaroa and the bay. Erica is an artist, who has decorated the place with stained glass and ceramics. Allister, a real comedian, gave us a tour of the town and peninsula, while taking us back to Christchurch, since he was going that way.
The narrow Avon River was too romantic to pass up, so we rented a canoe and paddled under the Weeping Willows in the Hagley Park Gardens. We then managed to find Sumner city for a steak and satay barbeque with Tim and Tracey, who we met in Akaroa. He surprised us with a color printout of our school, Florida Tech, which he had downloaded from our school's homepage.
Back at the hostel, a Japanese man working in New Zealand told us about dreaming in English, but more fluently than when awake, and also remembering and using words he did not know were in his vocabulary. Later, he would look them up in his dictionary, only to find them already underlined.
After five years of trying to find time to read Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a copy was sitting around the hostel, and Marc had a whole morning free. Maybe New Zealand was trying to tell us something.
Christchurch is the prime base for expeditions to Antarctica. A visit to the Antarctic Center taught us that it is an extremely cold and dry place with ozone holes, only suitable for penguins, seals, and whales. A good place to save for last! If you are heading that way, the Antarctic Center in Auckland sounded better since it has live penguins, fish tanks, and snow mobile rides.
We visited our friends, Chendra and Sally. He's a computer engineer and she is a special-needs teacher. Their four wonderful children made us feel welcome and showed us the Kiwi family spirit. Appropriately, our last meal in New Zealand was fish-n-chips, which we shared with their friends Soren and Judy, while listening to tales from Judy about her cruise to Europe and overland travel back through the Mideast and Asia.
The family bid us a warm and caring farewell, and Chendra delivered us to the airport nearby. At the airport, we surrendered the last of our Kiwi coins in exchange for Hokey-Pokey ice cream, a fitting ending.
Of all the places in New Zealand, Christchurch was our favorite. Is is very livable and has easy access to all the attractions on the South Island. The 'Next Time' we visit, we hope to see more of Tongariro, East Cape, Abel Tasman, and spend much more time in the south including Stewart Island. However, it's January 14th, six months to the day we left home, and time to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Back to Asia for 14 months.
After all we learned in Indonesia, and all the good food that awaits, we are looking forward to this.
It's been exciting receiving mail, but we are always wondering if we're receiving all that is sent. We are trying to send out a few replies now. We're not sure how reliable Beijing is, but if you have the time, we would appreciate any mail you might send. Be sure to post it between April 15th and May 1st to:
GPO - Poste Restante
People's Republic of China
We look forward to hearing from you,
Marc & Karin
March 12, 1995
Round-The-World Travel Guide|
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