Our Honeymoon in New Zealand
- Submitted by: Ron Ozarka
- Submission Date: 15th Feb 2005
One of the many things that need to be planned for a wedding is the honeymoon trip. Since the time that Janet agreed to become my wife, the wheels had been set in motion for the many other plans, and when it appeared to be the right time, we began to give some serious thought to the travel arrangements. It didn't take long for us to agree on a few simple ground rules.
First, the destination had to be a place that neither of us had visited previously. We wanted the experience to be new for each of us as a sign of our new life together. Next, we were mostly against the typical places that newlyweds go to, such as: Hawaii, the Bahamas, etc. Because we both have a free-wheeling, adventuresome attitude towards travel, and like to get away from tourists and regimented itineraries, neither of us would even consider being a part of a tour. We did, however, insist on having confirmed reservations for all air travel and sleeping accommodations, because if any of these were not right, it would mean wasting time straightening them out when we could be enjoying the vacation. We visited several travel agents, both together and separately, and boiled our choices down to two: Switzerland and New Zealand.
If we went to Switzerland, we would definitely want to ski. Our April wedding was well into Spring. We figured that the snow would be waning, and Switzerland became our second choice to New Zealand.
In between the other wedding plans, we managed to squeeze in some time to talk to travel agents, and to call several airlines to explore discounts that the travel agents might not know about. Still, the best fare that could be found was about $1,000 round trip. We were ready to book it when I found an ad in the Los Angeles Times Travel section showing the exact same ticket for $750. And the agency was located not too far from my house.
One Saturday in January both Janet and I went down to ANZ Travel (Australia New Zealand Travel) located upstairs from the Bijou Theater in Hermosa Beach. There, we got some helpful suggestions from an agent who was born and raised in New Zealand. Her accent only made us more voracious for the trip like a shark smelling blood and wanting to go into a feeding frenzy. But, with her help, we pulled in our horns a little bit and decided on just seeing the North Island of New Zealand, so that we would avoid the mistake that many travelers make by trying to see too much in too short of a time. A rental car was easily arranged for the trip so that we could drive to each destination and stop to see the scenery along the way as we desired. Almost all of the trip was planned, except that the agent was to research some information on the farm stay, and then send us a letter with the plans fleshed out.
We waited a reasonable amount of time and then began calling the travel agent. It took a total of two weeks to get us the information that we had expected to get in two days. This was mostly because the travel agent with which we had dealt left ANZ Travel, and partly because our plans were being neglected.
The first cut at the trip looked pretty good with the one exception of a fairly expensive hotel in Wellington. As I talked to the new agent about changing this hotel, I was informed that the air fare had gone up by $200 per ticket because of an increase of the airlines. I confirmed this on my own with the airlines directly, to make sure that the agency was not trying to do a bait and switch, and then proceeded to become very angry at the situation.
That evening, during our twilight jog along the beach, I discussed the situation with Janet and we concluded that we would not enjoy New Zealand as much after this had happened. We tossed around a couple of ideas and came up with alternative destinations. Since time was beginning to get short, we made a snap decision to scrap New Zealand and substituted a trip to Amsterdam.
But when we returned home, there was a message on the answering machine from the travel agent who had found a way to get us the same ticket with only a $38 increase. Even though this was more than the original fare, it was much lower than any of the airlines, so we vacillated back to New Zealand.
With a number of phone calls and a couple of trips to their office, we finally got the plans finalized and the tickets purchased. We even got the 'expensive' Wellington hotel at a reduced and acceptable price. The final itinerary was:
April 9 10:00 PM Leave LAX
April 11 6:00 AM Arrive at Auckland. Pick-up rental car from
the Southern Cross Car Rental. Drive to Te Hana.
April 11-13 The Retreat Bed and Breakfast Inn
April 14-15 The Fernleaf Motel, Rotorua
April 16-18 The MacKenzie Ranch, Hawkes Bay
April 19-21 The Bayview Hotel, Wellington
April 21 8:30 PM Leave Wellington
April 21 9:30 PM Arrive Auckland
April 21 11:59 PM Leave Auckland
April 21 5:00 PM Arrive LAX
The final piece of the puzzle was a carefully thought out budget for each day taking into account the places that we were likely to souvenir hunt, pay admissions, and go out on the town for a nice dinner. There was quite a bit extra in the budget planned-in for unforeseen emergencies. Under duress, the bride-to-be agreed to keep to the budget.
With the major items all planned, we started to plan in more detail the activities which were associated with each area we were to visit. We re-read all the travel brochures that we had collected, and the first chapters of the book 'A Maverick's Guide to New Zealand' which covered the North Island. We made lists of interesting things and left out those things which sounded too touristy such as the Glow Worm Cave at Waitomo. The list was extensive, so we knew that we wouldn't be able to see them all. It was all right with us to pick and choose from the list as well as to add other activities as we went along.
On the advice of a co-worker, I joined the Automobile Club of Southern California which is part of the AAA. For the price of $1.00 we got a fairly detailed map of the North Island and were able to trace out our route and find the cities that we were going to visit. Membership in the AAA also entitled us to get all the local maps that we might need from the New Zealand auto club, the AA.
Chapter 1, April 9: The Trip to New Zealand and the First Day
The wedding went off without any major problems on April 8th. We spent that night at the Manhattan Beach Radisson Hotel which was right next to the reception hall at the Manhattan Country Club. After checking out of the hotel, our first stop was at Janet's mobile home for some last minute packing. Even though Janet's mom, sister, and sister's boyfriend were staying there, the place was empty. Later we found out that they went with Janet's other sister, Chris, and her husband, John, to Milesquare Park in Orange County to see a radio-controlled model airplane show.
Janet packed her big blue suitcase half expecting that Copper, her extra-fluffy cat would be peeking around a corner at any minute, even though she had personally dropped him at the kennel for a two week stay. Besides clothing and necessities, Janet packed a collapsible suitcase for the purpose of filling with souvenirs from New Zealand. This kind of forethought had me worried about being able to keep to our budget. Janet wrote a note saying good-bye to her relatives and thanking them for making the long trip out to California just for the wedding. Placing the note conspicuously, Janet then said good-bye to her carefully redecorated mobile home, not for two weeks, but forever since upon our return, we would be living in the Manhattan Beach house which is where we were now heading. Things were more animated at this address. My parents, sister Marge and her family, husband Nino, son Carmine, and daughter Aggie were staying here. I began to pack, and, upon completing the first suitcase, carefully locked it in my truck where my second piece joined it in due time. You may think that I am paranoid, but I remembered my Mom telling us of how they used to tie the bride and groom's clothing in knots before they left on their honeymoon as a prank.
My parents had brought the numerous wedding gifts from the reception to the house, so we opened them in a Christmas morning-like frenzy of gift paper shredding. We were careful to attach the card with each gift so that thank you notes could be written upon our return.
Once Marge and family left about 3:00 PM for their long drive back to Mesa, Arizona, the house suddenly quieted down. We made a final foray to the refrigerator to finish off anything that might go bad in the next two weeks and called it dinner.
Afterwards, my parents and I played a few hands of Pinochle to relax the groom. At seven o'clock we packed our suitcases in Dad's Chevy, and I parked my truck on the rear portion of the lot to avoid getting parking tickets twice a week on street cleaning days while we were gone.
My parents dropped us off at the Bradley International Terminal at the Los Angeles airport. We said our good-byes over reiterations of directions back to the house, and then carried the three big suitcases and carry-on luggage into the always busy terminal.
Even though we had planned the trip for many months, when we saw the mass of people of various nationalities crowding the terminal, we finally realized that the trip was no longer an idea but was now becoming a reality. Our trip to New Zealand had begun not only in a physical sense, but in our thoughts and attitudes as well.
We checked in at the Air New Zealand ticket counter for flight Number TE1, passed through airport security, and began waiting at the gate. To pass the time Janet read 'Parting the Waters', and I began reading a collection of short stories by Edgar Allen Poe. The first was 'The Murders of the Rue Morgue'. I am one who can never just sit and wait, so I paced the length of the concourse, tried to get a refund for returning a rent-a-cart, but failed, and then walked all the way back to the street entrance where I mailed some last minute thank you cards.
In between all this running around, I did manage to get a few pages read in my book, but now I put it away as the Air New Zealand 747 had just arrived at our gate. This also signaled Janet to stop reading and gather our things together for boarding. Being always early for any event, our habits got us in line early, and we were the first people to board in Los Angeles, right behind the people who always get on airplanes first to block the aisles.
Our seats were next to a young gentleman, who was flying from London to Auckland and looked as if he was ready to fall asleep at any moment, which he did, and right in front of a dark-skinned Polynesian man who we assumed to be of Maori decent. Our carry-on luggage fit neatly in a recently emptied overhead bin and under the seats in front of us. I quickly kicked-off my shoes in favor of a pair of slippers that had been packed in the carry-on luggage, and we settled in for the twelve hour flight. Janet sat patiently and read a few more chapters of 'Parting the Waters', while I continued reading the book of Poe short stories and actually finished reading 'The Murders of the Rue Morgue'. Janet found the airline magazine in the seat pocket, and, while browsing through it noticed that an exhibit was being shown at the art gallery in Auckland. We would have some time later that day, so we mentally added this stop to our list of things to do.
They fed us a pitiful dinner. Afterwards I stretched my legs by going to the rear of the plane and took out my contact lenses. When I returned to our seats, I convinced Janet to exchange her aisle seat for my middle seat, and then tried to rest. I managed a few hours of sleep interrupted by moderate turbulence, while Janet stayed up to watch the movie, 'Working Girl'.
At this time the young gentleman in the window seat woke-up and started as much of a conversation as the lack of sleep would allow. We found out he was flying from London to Auckland with only the stop in Los Angeles for a grand total of 23 hours in the air.
The hours passed slowly. When it appeared that a few people were stirring, they served us a breakfast which was on par with dinner. We felt obligated to pick-over what looked edible. This also served the purpose of killing more time.
During the flight, when they were not in use for a movie or other presentations, the movie screens and TV monitors on the plane were connected to the navigational computer and displayed a map showing our progress towards New Zealand by indicating our position on a map with a little red plane. Next, it would show our altitude, the outside temperature, airspeed, and distance traveled, both in English and metric units.
We could see that we were nearing the International Dateline, so we were very near to our destination. The final hour seemed the longest, but we arrived in Auckland at 5:00 AM on Tuesday, April 11 almost one hour ahead of schedule.
In spite of our luggage taking its sweet time to arrive on the conveyer belt, we were through customs in a flash. The customs agent got a kick out of my claiming sporting equipment - a diving mask, and food - a small jar of mustard being brought into the country, but I was following the customs declarations to the letter.
We scouted around the Auckland Airport, and, failing to find the Southern Cross Car Rental booth, I went over to the information booth while Janet watched over the luggage. I didn't know it for the few minutes I had to wait in line, but the lady from the car rental company was directly behind me in line. We were quickly introduced by the information agent when I reached the front of the line.
She was ready to take us to the rental car office right away. We were anxious to get the trip underway and did not want to wait in the long lines at the airport Bank of New Zealand branch. We could always exchange some traveler's checks at a bank in downtown Auckland, so we decided to wait to exchange our money. It wasn't until a few hours later that we regretted this decision.
The lady packed us in a small van and drove us a mile or so to their office. While signing-out the rental car, the friendly agent could not contain herself any longer and asked why we wanted to spend our honeymoon in New Zealand instead of some interesting place such as Disneyland. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the ocean.
After taking our small red Fiat hatchback on a practice lap around the left side of the block in the still deserted industrial park, we headed towards downtown Auckland. With maps in hand, we felt well prepared to brave the morning traffic. We made a few wrong turns and missed a few streets that we wanted because they were nearer to each other than we figured from looking at the map. Our problems were compounded by the fact that street signs and traffic rules were different from what we were used to, and it was not easy to find first gear on the transmission. Several false starts in third gear brought glaring eyes from anxious commuters behind us, but no horns.
We were forced to take a few side streets, but eventually reached our target, the Auckland City Art Gallery on Kitchener Street. To our chagrin, the only parking available was timed, (i.e., 20 minutes, 40 minutes, etc.) or metered. We circled the block passing many banks whose locked doors held the local currency we desperately needed to feed the parking meters. One such meter was moved by our predicament, and presented us with every Californian's dream. Directly across from the art museum we found a parking meter waiting for us to park in front of it with the pointer indicating 34 minutes remaining on its timer. The banks would not open for another hour, but rather than just sit there, we decided to challenge the light drizzle and walk around for an half-an-hour and then return to the car to move it to a timed spot to wait for the banks' opening.
This was just enough time to circle the block once and return to the car. We did some window shopping and compared currency exchange rates at a few banks. Janet felt Mother Nature call and went into a public facility which she reported was spotless. We made mental notes as to the route we would take to the bank and several shops to purchase a few necessities that we had already realized that we had forgotten to pack.
When we returned to it, the meter had realized our situation, and kept its indicating hand firmly pointing to the 34 minute mark. This solved a number of problems, so we now took our time as we wandered around Queen Street waiting for the ASN bank to open at 9:00 AM.
We were one of the first customers through the doors of the bank and the first at the foreign exchange window. We exchanged $225 US dollars for $367.20NZ at a rate of 1.632 to one. On the way out of the bank, we asked the doorman/security guard to recommend a restaurant for breakfast. He was a congenial sort of a chap and took pleasure in describing his favorite place to us. We hiked over to it, but did not find it to our liking since it looked too much like a cafeteria. As luck would have it, we were right across the street from the Visitors Information Centre, so we went in, bought some postcards, and asked there for a breakfast spot. They directed us to another nearby restaurant which suffered the same fate as the first. Putting our appetites on hold for a minute, we walked back along Queen Street and shopped for the few items that we needed. We bought shampoo at a chemist's; and an umbrella and camera batteries at Dekka, a New Zealand department store much like our Woolworth's. To the price of the purchases the ten percent Goods and Services Tax (GST) was added. This sounded outrageous even though we were accustomed to paying six-and-one-half percent in California.
As we walked through a tiny mall which led away from Queen Street, we found a carvery, called the Beef Baron, where they served sliced-to-order sandwiches. This sounded good to us since our stomachs told us it was lunch time even though our watches said it was 9:30 AM. Janet had roast beef, while I had my first taste of New Zealand lamb. We both liked it very much, but it was not enough for the voracious new husband. The proprietor was able to discern that we had just entered the country and asked about our itinerary. He gave us a friendly welcome to the country, then disappeared into the back to complete another chore.
After dropping our purchases at the car, we spent the time we had before the 10:00 AM opening of the art museum by taking a walk around the adjacent Albert Park which separated the museum from the Auckland University. Our trusty cameras 'found their mark', and, even though the flowers had closed-up for the fall season at the flower clock, we managed to get some memorable photographs. Besides, we were so tired that we would shoot anything.
When we returned to the museum entrance, there was a short line of school children and other lucky people waiting to enter. In a few minutes, they opened and we paid our admission of $7.25 each and spent a good hour-and-a-half looking at the exhibit entitled 'From Monet to Picasso' which was touring the globe as part of the Reader's Digest Collection. Bleary-eyed, we said good-bye to our trusty parking meter, which still had 34 minutes on it, and pointed the car north over the Auckland Harbour Bridge into the Northland.
We passed through several small towns, but did not stop until we were north of the town of Te Hana looking for 'The Retreat', our bed-and-breakfast inn. Although in the condition we were in, it sometimes came out as bread-and-bekfast inn.
We knew we were close because we had traveled the indicated miles on the directions. We stopped at two houses each on a small ranch, but neither was our quest. Nobody was home at either location to give us directions to the B&B, so we drove back to Te Hana and asked for directions at a small grocery store. One friendly lady knew exactly where we wanted to go and gave us explicit directions. We drove to the indicated house, one we had already passed several times, and drove up the gravel driveway to park near the house.
It looked deserted, but after pounding wearily on the front door for several minutes, it opened to reveal Tony Moore. He and his wife operated the B&B on a shoestring budget. He showed us to our room on the second floor where we made a not-so-serious attempt at unpacking before we both plopped down on the bed and fell fast asleep.
Chapter 2, April 12: Whangarei and the Bay of Islands
Having once traveled across many time zones and the International Dateline before, I knew that it could be almost any time. All that I knew for sure was that it was dark. I laid still for a few minutes to see if my body would demand more sleep, but when it became apparent that I was awake for the day, I gave up trying to go back to sleep. Not wanting to awaken my wife of three days (or is that only two days, since we passed over the International Dateline?), I quietly reached for my wristwatch which I had placed on the floor next to the bed the day before. It showed 6:00 AM. Straining mentally in a still incomplete state of consciousness, I finally figured that I had slept for sixteen hours straight. I continued to lay there in the pre-dawn darkness waiting for the first rays of the New Zealand sun to greet the day, and giving Janet the opportunity to break the family sleeping record.
I maintained my motionlessness for a full hour wondering what our vacation would be like, hoping that we would be able to: meet some friendly sheep up close, find good places to SCUBA dive, eat local food that was as good as we had heard, and a number of other items that we had been reading about in the travel brochures, when the sun began to creep up over the horizon filling the room with a faint glow, and gradually, enough light to see by. The first thing that I noticed was the dainty drapes being wafted ever so gently by the cool morning air through a slightly opened window near our bed. The air was like a breath of air from heaven. It seemed to beckon us to stop wasting our precious vacation time and make some progress checking off things on our list of things to see.
Janet began to stir, and I officially welcomed her to the land of the awake with a kiss. I'm sure she toyed with the idea of returning to sleep, but since we already heard movement in the rest of the house, we knew it was time to drag ourselves out of bed.
Since I had a head start, I showered first, and spent a few minutes trying to see the water go down the drain 'backwards'. The shadows of the shower stall prevented me from making my observation. While I was shaving I filled the sink and then let the water run out all at once. Sure enough, the water swirled in a clockwise direction. I guess simple things amaze simple minds.
After getting the voltage converter from one of the suitcases, I used it to plug in the hairdryer to the power strip located near the bed. The motor ran a little slow since the power was 50Hz. Having less air to cool the heating elements, after a few minutes the automatic heat sensor shut down the unit. We had to wait five minutes for it to reset itself before we could use it again.
While Janet readied herself for the day, I stole a few minutes to explore the upper floor of the one hundred and fifty year old house. We had the entire floor to ourselves because the other guest room was vacant. The balance of the rooms were furtively discovered to contain: a showroom for woven goods, a small, but overpacked library, and a weaving workroom. As Janet was getting dressed, I started filling in a few postcards. Our list of recipients was long, so I picked a few names of people who lived in California so that they would receive them before we returned home. Even though we had only been in the country for one day, we had no trouble filling-up the left side of the card with our past activities and future plans.
By 8:00 AM we both were ready and went downstairs to the kitchen for the other 'B' in B&B: breakfast. There we met Colleen who we had missed the day before since she had not returned home until after we had fallen asleep.
As we sat at the kitchen table, Thomas, the family kitten, introduced himself by pawing and scratching at my leg which was occupying his favorite chair. Upon closer examination Thomas was found to be entirely black except for a small white patch on his chest. He was not ready to meet the strangers in his kitchen, and, since he lost the battle to regain his chair, he fled from the kitchen to parts unknown.
As we talked to Colleen, we began to find out about Kauri. All this time I had assumed that it was the name of a tribe of natives since I had seen it used to describe the Kauri forests and the Kauri Homestead that we were staying at. It turns out to be a type of wood, as an example, the table we were sitting at had a top of roughly three by seven feet made from one solid piece of Kauri wood. Tony had reconditioned it to its original finish. The fine grain with absolutely no knots could be seen under the lace table cloth.
Breakfast was now ready. It consisted of country fresh eggs, whole grain toast, cereal, milk, and tea. In New Zealand the eggs have yellow-er yolks and the bacon has meat about two or three times the width of the fatty part that we are used to seeing in the United States. When the toast was served to us, we discovered what is called a 'toast rack'. This device consists of vertical wires bent like croquet hoops arranged on a tray such that slices of toast can be inserted between them. The idea is to allow air to come in contact with the toast to keep it crispy. If you were to lay it down on a plate, the residual steam escaping from the still hot bread would cause the toast to become soggy. We didn't ask, but we were sure Colleen was not going to part with her toast rack, so we added this to our list of souvenirs to look for.
Everything seemed to taste better. It was hard to tell if our exuberance for the country was playing tricks on our taste buds, or if the food was actually better. We tended to believe that the food had to be better being fresh from the local farms, but if there is any illusion to this, it is well worth the twelve hour airplane ride to experience the difference. Our day planned itself with some help from Colleen. We plotted a course north to Whangarei to see the waterfall and to find a SCUBA shop that might have charters to take me out to a secluded dive spot the next day, then, up to the Bay of Islands to explore the picturesque scenery.
What sounded like a simple schedule turned out to be more wonderful that we could have imagined.
We drove north along Highway 1. Not too far from the B&B we found the 'little tea room at the top of the hill' as Colleen had described it. Officially it is called the Skyline Tearoom. For the price of a cup of tea you can sit in the small enclosed patio dining area and get a bird's eye view of the surrounding countryside. The bright sunshine beckoned us outside where we took a few photos from the deck while our boiling hot tea cooled down below scalding.
After the tea disappeared, we got back into our Fiat and drove north towards Whangarei. I don't know what drew me there, but there must have been a sign somewhere that made me point the car towards Marsden Point. Located at the end of Bream Bay, it forms the mouth of Whangarei Harbour still fifteen miles to the city of Whangarei. After driving through a small seaside village, we came to the end of the point and parked near a jetty that extended into the bay.
We strolled out the jetty, snapping pictures as we paused to admire the view both across the bay and back towards land. On the way back, we stopped to climb down the large boulders that formed the jetty to the water's edge. It was clear and cool, but not cold. You might expect to find this in a pristine country such as New Zealand, but not next to an oil refinery.
We went into the Visitor's Center and pushed the button which began the multi-media presentation on several screens around a large model of the refinery. At the appointed time the automated controls illuminated the corresponding part of the model to highlight the video presentation's explanations. Upon completion of the presentation, we exited through the lower level lobby. This was the first stop of the part of the trip I called the 'techno-tour'. Coming from a technical background, I enjoy seeing how things are done in other countries.
What struck us as unique from our experiences in the United States is that the New Zealanders actually did things to protect the environment instead of just paying lip service. Notable, was the way that 100% of the crude oil is processed and used without waste. In the United States, you don't have to go far to see 'useless' gas being burnt off into the atmosphere almost every night. I guess this situation can be explained to some degree because gasoline is about twice as expensive in New Zealand. On the way back to Highway 1, Janet evened the score by suggesting that we stop at a local antique shop. We searched for a toast rack among the various object for sale. The small store did not offer much, and since it was early in the trip, we didn't buy anything.
Even though we were fast approaching our 'first' stop, we took our time and pulled over to the side of the road every now and then to view the idyllic scenery of verdant pastures that rolled away from the road to the horizon in every direction. Each stop refreshed our spirit, and we began to forget the hustle and bustle that we left behind in Los Angeles.
Upon reaching Whangarei, we felt pretty confident about driving on the left of the road. This was quickly shattered in the small city. You see, in the big city of Auckland, it is easy to follow the traffic and be safe. On the open road, you have plenty of time to remember, 'stay left, stay left'. In Whangarei there is just enough traffic to be dangerous.
Our objective was to find a SCUBA shop in the city, so we navigated through the business district and headed toward what looked like the most logical place on our map to find our quest: the harbor area. On the way, the streets and turns came at us faster and faster like the progressively more difficult levels of a video game. In the middle of a sweeping right-hand turn, we almost received a dent on, logically enough, Dent Street. A quick swerve in the middle of the intersection avoided the blunder of going the wrong way down a one-way street into oncoming traffic. We found the other half of Dent street heading in the right direction and followed it to a small fish market where we stopped to gather our wits. Janet ordered a fresh crabcake on a stick, while I got directions to a SCUBA shop which turned out to be near the center of town on Water Street.
We almost arrived uneventfully. While hunting for a parking spot, we found ourselves going into the exit of a parking lot and ended-up on the sidewalk! The Fiat, being a small car, made a quick three-point turn and put us back on the street heading for a legal parking spot.
The SCUBA shop, simply called 'The Dive Shop', was run by Kevin Butler who warned us of the southwester that was kicking-up making a trip to the Poor Knight's Islands out of the question. His charge would have been $200.00 plus fees for equipment rental. This was too rich for me, so we decided to check out the diving opportunities at the Bay of Islands, an hour's drive to the north.
But first, we walked around the town to further calm our nerves and happened across the Clapham's Clocks Museum. Inside, the walls were completely covered by clocks of all types and descriptions. While we were admiring our favorite, the Speaker's Clock, that was used in Parliament to limit speakers to a reasonable length of time, the curator mechanized a number of the older clocks which set a flock of cuckoos announcing the time of the artificially advanced minute hands.
We also found out that the waterfall was not flowing because of a lack of water in the river, so we spent some time further exploring the park. Behind the clock museum, through the rose garden and over a small creek, we found the Snow Fernery. The three connected greenhouses provided the perfect climate to grow the numerous rare and exotic flowers and plants neatly arranged in rows along corridors of arching native ferns.
Heading back towards the car, we discovered a small shop selling items carved from Kauri wood. While searching for an unusual souvenir, we noticed that the shop was also selling weavings from Colleen Moore's loom. Knowing we would have an opportunity to make our selections directly from Colleen, we only purchased a Kauri letter holder made of two cylindrical pieces of wood which, when pulled together by gravity on their concave platform, form a crevasse that will hold letters thrust between them. The final adventure in Whangarei was a stroll through the business section of town where we priced wool sweaters among other things, but didn't find any we wanted. Making a large loop around the many stores and shops, we found our car which was as glad as we were to get back on the open road. On one of our picture stops, we realized that we were both taking pictures of identical scenery. From then on, we resolved to use only one of the cameras and share the photographic responsibilities to maximize the number of different shots.
Paihia, the city at the Bay of Islands, arrived before we knew it. Parking near the building that housed various charter and tour companies, we only received direction to the SCUBA shop since none of the occupants dealt in SCUBA charters. A short walk down a touristy street brought us to the 'Paihia Dive, Hire, and Charter' shop which offered SCUBA charters. Their price was a reasonable $100 which included the equipment rental, but they were booked-up until after we had planned to leave the area.
We wandered through a few of the closely spaced streets and purchased souvenirs at a couple of shops. Loaded down with packages, we stopped for a rest and a soda at an ice cream parlor. Our last stop in town was the Post Office where we bought stamps and mailed the first batch of our completed post cards.
It was beginning to get late in the day. Reluctantly, we began the trip back to the B&B. Just as we exited Paihia, we spotted a sign pointing to the Opua Forest and Kauri Walk. Without hesitating for a moment, I headed the car down the metal road which led to the beginning of the trail. Don't ask me why, but gravel roads are called metal roads in New Zealand. As we had to limit our speed, it took about ten minutes to reach the sign which marked the start of the path. We left the car in a parking lot, which was really just a wide spot in the road, and began our tramp at first on a dirt path, and later on an excellent board walk. An easy fifteen minutes of walking brought us to a gigantic Kauri tree. We sat at the provided bench at the base of the tree and reveled in the shade of a thousand year old two hundred feet tall gargantuan of the forest.
Now that we knew what we were looking for, on the way out of the forest we easily spotted literally hundreds of smaller Kauri trees waiting their turn to be the tallest tree in the forest.
We drove back to the main road. A cluster of ferns caught our eye, so we stopped for a closer look. These were not like any ferns we had ever seen before. The largest was over twenty feet tall. After the camera recorded this believe-it-or-not plant, we gingerly backtracked over the metal road and got back to the paved road.
We told ourselves that it was because we were hypnotized by the scenery or because neither of us were watching where we were going, but now I am sure that the village of Opua colluded with the road to make the car take a wrong turn down to the seaside village. The sun was just setting over the hilltops behind us which gave a warm glow to the rippling water and the dozen sail boats dotting the quiet harbor. As the sun said good-bye for the day, so, too, we had to say good-bye to our 'accidental' find.
By the time we got back to Whangarei, the growls from our empty stomachs put us on the look-out for a restaurant. We said it was too late to go hunting inside the town, but the earlier close calls made us both agree that the Cobb & Co. restaurant by the side of the road was to be our choice for dinner.
The English pub atmosphere inside and the friendly service relaxed us as we recounted the day's events. Janet was content with the chicken dish and I had the roast lamb special. Neither of the portions were too large, so we both had pavlova, a baked meringue, for dessert.
The road back was pitch black and quite deserted for this early an hour. I had some serious doubts about ever finding our B&B because every bend in the road began to look like the one I had tried to memorize to remind me where to turn. Janet's eagle eyes, aided by the desire to get some rest, spotted the large house on the hill, and we both sighed to have the marathon drive end.
Inside we found the Moores relaxing in their living room in front of a roaring fire which made it the warmest room in the house. Tony refueled the fire, and we sat for a few minutes to recap the day's activities with them. Thomas, the cat, made an appearance to get some attention from each of us and to show-off how sharp he was able to get his claws.
As we said good-night, we were too tired to think of what we would do the next day, but a twinkle in Colleen's eye told us that she was already busy planning it for us.
Chapter 3, April 13: The Kauri Museum and Beach Hike
It is said that thirteen is an unlucky number. Some people we know would have just pulled the covers over their heads and refused to get out of bed. Today was the thirteenth, but it didn't phase us. Instead we were rewarded with one of the most enjoyable days of the entire trip.
Being our second morning here, our biological clocks had already adjusted fairly well to the new time zone, and we had little trouble getting started. We got ready among a few futile attempts to organize our half-packed-half-unpacked luggage and then followed the aroma of breakfast down to the kitchen. Breakfast tantalized our taste buds as it had the day before, the only difference being that passion fruit jam was substituted by feijoa jam, both were homemade, of course.
This little-known fruit is grown locally and is well liked among New Zealanders. The feijoa is not usually exported since the fruit bruises easily as it drops from the bush and in handling. Expecting the other to go first, we both tried it and found it to have a good taste similar, but not like anything we had eaten before.
Like the previous day, Tony had already left to drive the bus for the local grammar school. This is just another way to supplement their income and make ends meet. Over breakfast, Colleen suggested that we take in the Otamatea Kauri and Pioneer Museum nearby, and then take a walk to their favorite secluded beach. She quickly sketched a map for us to follow and assured us that both were easy to find. This sounded like a good plan to add to the few ideas that we had ourselves. We informed Colleen that we would avail ourselves of the dinner option at their B&B that evening. Our agenda for the day was not as packed as the previous day, so we asked for a tour of the grounds. Colleen was more than happy to forestall her after breakfast clean-up duties for a chance to show-off her gardens and didn't even take the time to put on shoes. Since it could be seen from the breakfast table, the flower garden seemed like a good place to start. Exiting through the rear door at the base of the stairs, we paused for a few moments to greet Tom who had already been out for his morning prowl. Following our noses around the house, directly below our bedroom window, was their herb garden which was modeled after a pattern used in the 14th century. Colleen snapped-up a leaf or blossom from several plants and allowed us to smell and taste the herb or spice that was growing there. All of the seasonings used in their cooking comes from this garden, after all, as Colleen reminded us in a common sense tone, 'That is what it is for'. It was late in the fall season. The garden was a little overgrown, a condition that would have to wait for several months until Spring came in September or October.
Backtracking to the main yard directly behind the house, we saw the rows of shrubs and bushes that formed the borders of the flower beds. In the middle was a fish pond that had been built the year before to accent the gardens. No fish were in residence in the algae covered water. As we walked through a path to the rear of the gardens, we came to this year's project: a redwood gazebo. The base had already been installed, but without the structure being finished, it looked like a small dance floor. We used the raised platform as a perch to view the gardens and the house which now formed a picture postcard backdrop to the scene.
The house and gardens occupied about one acre of land out of the eight they owned. The rest was divided into three paddocks that held their sheep. We hopped a couple of fences to get into the same pen with about forty colored sheep. White sheep are raised for the wool industry so the wool can be dyed to any color. Colleen prefers the brown and gray sheep so she can use these natural colors in her weaving.
To our dismay, the sheep acted quite sheepishly. Despite a lure from a fresh willow tree branch, they would not come any closer to us. One of the sheep was tied-up near the house, so the still barefoot Colleen led the way between the droppings and headed toward him to get our first close encounter with the local sheep population.
Along the last side of the house, we found several citrus and apple trees that the Moore's had planted. This being the warm northern part of New Zealand, citrus did fairly well. Working our way through the orange, lemon, lime, and apple trees, we came to the spot where Marmaduke was waiting for us. He had developed a fungus infection and was being kept out of the sun which would only worsen his condition. Being hand raised from a lamb, he was quite friendly and didn't object to having his picture taken with Janet and Colleen.
Back at the house, we got our things together for the day, packed them in the car, and left the B&B for the Kauri Museum. But first, we headed in the opposite direction through Te Hana to Wellsford to purchase an eyebrow pencil sharpener, more postcards, and stamps. With these missions accomplished, we took a few minutes to visit the local automobile club, the AA. My membership in the Automobile Club of America entitled my to get all the maps anyone could ever need of the country. We even got a map which detailed the metal roads that lead to the beach and replaced the hand-drawn map Colleen had made.
Since we had already gone a few miles south, we continued in that direction to 'Sheep World'. Here, we were told, we could get a first-hand look at the fluffy critters and even see them being shorn. It didn't take us long to realize that place was very commercialized. We were glad to wait for our scheduled farm stay a few days hence to get a better demonstration of sheep ranching.
Backtracking north, we passed the B&B and drove to the road just past the lookout point tea room that we had visited the day before. Turning left, we followed the road signs through several quaint towns that were no more than a few houses, a small grocery store, and a gas station. Most towns appeared to in poor condition, and some even looked abandoned. A few miles through the rolling countryside brought us to the Otamatea Kauri and Pioneer Museum.
This museum was only slightly touristy as it was off the typical tour bus route. Inside we saw full-size, ten foot in diameter cross-sections of a 2000 year old tree with events such as the discovery of America by Columbus, the birth of Christ, etc. marked on the rings of the tree. Numerous examples of the fine Kauri wood were on display as well as the implements and machines that were used in logging the trees. A unique feature of Kauri wood is that if the tree happens to fall in a swamp, it is preserved and does not rot. We saw examples of swamp Kauri that were carbon dated to 100,000 years old.
Downstairs, were the displays of Kauri gum. Ranging up to the size of a basketball, this resin solidifies and drops to the ground near the large trees. The gum is used for making varnishes and was so highly valued that living Kauri trees were slashed to obtain the gum. This usually resulted in killing the tree.
As a result of the logging and gum slashing, few large Kauri trees remain alive today, and those are protected by the government. The smaller ones will eventually grow to the mammoth size, but it will take many hundreds of years.
In the museum lobby there were many objects made from Kauri wood for sale. These were made from the smaller Kauri trees, or those that had died naturally. I just had to have something made out of swamp Kauri and settled on a 34,500 year old salad bowl. Well at least the wood was that old. It had just recently been made into a salad bowl.
Janet took the wheel for the drive to the beach and got her first experience driving on the left hand side of the road. We found the turnoff from the main road just across from the B&B and began to follow Colleen's directions with aid from the AA map. The narrow paved roads turned into metal roads. It didn't take long for us to get into a very rural area of farms dotted with small lakes in every direction. Even here we found every road marked with a AA sign post. We stopped every once in a while to reconnoiter and admire the scenery. This area had several large dairies, and the cows were very close to the road. I tried to get up close to them, but they were as shy as the sheep we had tried to meet earlier that day. We found Tomarata Lake, and, with a little exploring, the beginning of the trail. At first, it was well marked, but then, as we entered the forest, the signs disappeared. There was basically only one way to go, and there were hoof prints from a pair of horses along the path, so we assumed we were on the right track. The path could not have been used too often since we found a spotted red mushroom right in the middle of the path. Janet examined the fungus carefully. We were able to follow our noses and everything was fine until we came to a tee in the path. Janet wanted to go left and I wanted to go right. We went to the left. In a few minutes we came to a fire road which afforded us a good view of the position of the sun which indicated that we should have gone the other way. We backtracked a few hundred yards back to the tee and proceeded on the right path. Along the way we spotted a number of wild rabbits. They would stand still until we got close, and then all we saw was a white cotton tail disappearing into the bushes.
Just as things appeared hopeless, we began to hear a faint whooshing in the distance. At first we thought it was the wind rustling the upper branches of the trees, but the rhythmic pattern told us it was the sound of the ocean in the distance.
I'd like to say that we quickened our pace, but the rolling hills and soft sand we had been hiking through had made us fairly tired. With every step we took it became more apparent that the ocean was getting closer. We rounded a bend in the path, exited the forest and entered a section of bushes and short scrubby trees. Beyond these to our left was ostensibly the ocean, but we had to hike parallel to the beach for a hundred yards or so before the path turned to the shoreline.
Our efforts were rewarded tenfold. The beach rolled out a white carpet of fine sand. Except for the sea gulls, the entire seven miles of beach was ours. The most avid collector would not have been disappointed as the beach was studded with numerous examples of large, uncracked shells. It didn't take us long to shed our shoes and socks as we headed to wade in the water. It was cool and refreshing on our tired feet. The shore sloped ever so gently to the east, and when we wandered out too far, the surf pushed us back towards shore like a sheep dog preventing a stray from getting too far from the flock.
We walked hand-in-hand along the edge of the sand, stopping every so often to inspect an interesting shell. We found a curious wedge shaped shell that would split horizontally into two pie shapes of the same size. The inside revealed a maze of channels and pits where the animal lived. Later, we found five of the wedges connected in their original circular form. Since neither of us could identify this curious shell, we carefully took one back with us to see if our hosts at the B&B could help us.
After walking a good distance along the shore our common sense won out over our desire to stay longer. As we returned to the path, we walked on the dry sand to absorb the water from our feet so that the remaining sand could be easily brushed from our feet and comfortably inserted into our waiting shoes, ready for the hike back.
It didn't seem to take us long to hike back because the path was more familiar. As we rounded the final turn, we were glad to see our red Fiat patiently waiting for us by the lake. It started up on the first turn of the key, as usual. This was the end our day's adventures. Before long we were driving quickly back to the B&B.
We passed a few cars heading in the opposite direction -- people heading back from work or shopping, we surmised. We only stopped once at a rise in the road to take a long distance shot of the B&B as it stood majestically on its own hill facing the golden setting sun.
Back at the B&B, Tony and Colleen were busy finishing the day's activities and getting dinner ready. We showed them a specimen of the curious wedge shaped shell that we had found on the beach. Tony disappeared for a moment and returned from the upstairs library with a marine biology book. He identified the shell as that of a type of sand dollar native to South Seas. We went upstairs to shower and get ready for dinner. The aroma of roast leg of lamb beckoned us downstairs, so we followed our noses to the kitchen. The table was now set with the good china and a clean lace tablecloth. Directly in the middle of the table was a silver condiment set which consists of a pepper shaker, mustard pot, and salt pot with a small spoon. We found out that in humid climates, salt cakes-up in a shaker and will not come out. With a spoon, you can avoid that problem. Our list of souvenirs to find had just become longer.
The menu consisted of roasted leg of lamb, roasted pared potatoes, local vegetables, mint sauce, bread and butter, tea and milk. Janet broke down and had her first taste of New Zealand lamb and enjoyed it immensely. I stopped asking for more after my third helping since it was getting embarrassing, even though I probably could have eaten the whole roast. For dessert we had homemade steamed pudding and ice cream with toffee chips. We retired to the living room. Tony restoked the fire until it began to roar. We discussed the day's events for a while and gave our dinner a chance to settle in. Tom, the cat, appeared from his well hidden resting spot and played with anyone who was willing to pick up a piece of yarn. There were many scraps of yarn to be found from previous play sessions and because this is the room where Colleen normally spun wool into yarn for her weaving.
Janet asked Colleen for a demonstration of how the spinning wheel works, but after a short explanation, instead found herself seated in front of it getting a first hand lesson in spinning. After an hour, she had accumulated two full bobbins which were then spun into a skein of finished yarn.
As the spinning wheel slowed to a stop, so too, our energy had faded from us for the day, so we said our good-nights and retired to our bedroom upstairs.
Chapter 4, April 14: The Drive to Rotorua
Nobody really likes to leave a comfortable setting. This was especially true since this was our first experience in New Zealand. Janet felt that these were the 'nicest people in the world'. For some reason, maybe to lessen the pain of departing, I bet Janet that she would like the people at the farm stay even more. Time would prove me to be right, but our next stop was Rotorua, about half way to the farm.
We started the chore of packing as we got ready for the day. Breakfast was a carbon copy of the two previous days, but you can never tire of good food. While we ate our breakfast, Colleen sat down, had a cup of tea, and steered the conversation. First, she told us that we had the distinction of being the first people to actually visit their beach. She explained that many people stay for one night and only get to hear about it. Next, she mentioned that she was tracing her genealogy and needed some help obtaining the address of some people in California with the same last name. We gladly agreed to help her when we got back to the States.
After breakfast, we finished packing and then met Colleen in her woven goods showroom. Both Janet and I had made previous excursions there to get a preview of the available items. Janet had her eye on a few items, and with Colleen's help in selecting from those displayed and those stored away, chose a number of items: dresser runners, placemats, blanket, and wall hanging. I paid for the B&B room charges, previous night's dinner, and all the woven goods with my Visa card. Some things that we wanted had to be made for us, so these items would be shipped to us later.
We said our good-byes and headed out their long driveway to the main road. Even Marmaduke, who was still tied-up in a shady spot, was out to say baa-ye baa-ye, and we waved at him, too.
Not many miles south from the B&B we found the New Zealand Earth Station. If Janet had been driving, I'm sure we would have flown past, but I couldn't resist making this the second stop on the 'techno-tour'.
The New Zealand Earth Station is the location of the antenna dishes that connect New Zealand telephones and television to an orbiting satellite. The small visitors center was not crowded, and we spent a few minutes reading a couple of the displays explaining their communications network, and then went outside to take a picture of the biggest antenna with a flock of sheep grazing in the background to show how two diverse centuries could coexist.
We didn't stop again until we were just north of the city of Auckland. There, from a ubiquitous road side picnic table, we viewed Red Beach, a popular day trip for Auckland residents, and prepared for another drive in the big city.
With the map in her left hand and the experience that we gained from our last visit, Janet was able to successfully direct us to the intersection of Queen and Customs streets, and, after a few trips around the block, into a parking structure. The elevator took us up into a shopping arcade where small produce stands were selling their goods next to bookstores and small specialty shops. Many people were busily making their day's purchases. The noise that was generated grated on our ears which had become accustomed to the peace and quiet of the previous days.
We looked through a few book stores to find a New Zealand cookbook, but failed to find one to our liking. We exited the building, and wandered around Queen Street stopping here and there to browse in the stores and purchase a souvenir or two. In a small shop just two doors from the wharf we purchased three carved kiwi birds -- probably the best bargain that we found on the trip. We then exchanged some traveler's checks, and made our way to the top of the Park Royal Hotel where I had a beer and Janet had an Amaretto. As we rested, we enjoyed the view of the city and tried to spot the Art Museum which was just out of view behind a tall building. Backtracking through the shopping arcade, we found our car and left Auckland as quickly as we had entered. The road south was a freeway for several miles, and then returned to the usual two lane paved road that we had become used to in our travels through the Northland.
On the way to Rotorua, we stopped at the city of Hamilton for a break in the drive. We found the local AA office and were again loaded up with all the local maps that we could ever want by yet another friendly agent. We knew that we were on the threshold of the wine country, so we found a liquor store and purchased two bottles of local wine for later consumption. The only two times the driver was forced to stop was when the gas gauge read empty; in this case we would stop for gas, a couple of Cadbury chocolate bars and sodas, or when Janet saw the word 'Crafts' or 'Antiques' on any type of building; in this case we would go in to look at what was for sale.
We could tell we were getting close to Rotorua when we began to see steam escaping from holes in the ground and to smell the sulfurous redolence that pervades the air. We didn't have directions to our motel, and couldn't find the street on the map. We stopped for directions at the library. They had no trouble directing us to the Fern Leaf Motel. It turned out that we were only a few blocks away, so we arrived right on schedule. The proprietors of the small motel, Stuart and Gwen Bloxham, had recently moved from England to run the sixteen units and had already made a few improvements. Gwen appeared from a sitting room and entered the adjoining front desk area to check us in. She gave us a local map showing the tourist traps of the thermal area, a place where we could go for a hike, the local restaurant district, the key to our room, and the map to the farm stay that had been sent to her by an efficient travel agent. A quick tour of the grounds showed us the mineral pool, swimming pool, and laundry facilities.
Our unit was right up front. It had a kitchenette, dining area, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. There were signs in the kitchen and bath warning you to watch out for the extremely hot water coming from the faucet. Morbid curiosity made me test the accuracy of the signs, so I turned on the faucet to see if they were really true. Even before the water had time to come up to temperature, I had to pull my finger quickly from the stream of water to avoid second degree burns. With all the natural thermal springs, hot water was easily had.
We simply tossed our opened suitcases on the spare bed, took Gwen's advice and walked two blocks to the business district where many restaurants are located. The restaurant that she had suggested did not look too good from the outside. We stopped at a bookstore and while Janet bought a couple of books on spinning wool, I got directions to the proprietor's favorite restaurant, The Gazebo.
This was our first BYOB restaurant. Even though we had two bottles of wine chilling in our refrigerator back at the motel, it was easier to walk across the street to a liquor store to buy a bottle of wine to go with dinner. We knew the other two would not go to waste. Dinner was excellent. I had lamb and Janet had venison medallions. We finished our wine at a relaxed pace. Because it was still early, the restaurant was quite empty. Only one other table was occupied now, but somehow we knew that it would be busy later in the evening. We were both quite full, so we skipped dessert, and slowly walked back to our motel only pausing to peer into a store window every once in a while.
A long soak in the mineral pool was beginning to sound good right about then, so we changed into our bathing suits and headed to the rear of the building. The long drive had taken its toll on our backs and necks. The therapeutic minerals in the hot water would be a welcomed relief. It took a few minutes to acclimate our noses to the strong sulfur smell emanating from the pool. As it was dipped into and quickly removed from the pool, my big toe told me that the water was very hot . I estimated that the water was in excess of 110 degrees. I inched my way into the Jacuzzi sized pool and managed to get all the way in after two false starts. Janet, being much more delicate, could not get more than her foot into the hot water. In less than five minutes, she gave up trying, and I got out looking red as a lobster. I used the fresh water shower as much to rinse off the sulfur smell as I did to cool off my skin and stop the burning sensation.
After taking a full fledged shower back in the room, we got dressed and walked around the corner to a small grocery store. Considering how much trouble we were having finding a good restaurant for breakfast, the kitchen would come in handy to make our own simple breakfast. We purchased pastry and cereal for breakfast, and ice cream, the kind with the toffee chips in it like we had at the Bed and Breakfast for general snacking. Now that we had a package with the name printed on it, we knew that the flavor was called 'Hokey Pokey'.
The kitchen could have sufficed for a much longer stay, but since we were only staying two nights, we simply put the ice cream in the freezer and left everything else on the countertop. While at the refrigerator, I grabbed a bottle of wine, and, after a quick search for an cork screw, opened it. Aided by the anesthetizing effect of the wine, we were able to browse through a few of the local tourist attraction magazines that were on the coffee table and planned further the next day's activities. We already knew we were going on an early morning hike through the forest, and, although we tried to avoid the obvious attractions of the tourist, it seemed likely that we would have to include some time for the geyser and mud pools in the main thermal area. It was likely that we would run into someone familiar with the area and we could not stand the embarrassment of them asking us, 'You mean you went to Rotorua and didn't see the geysers?' Besides, the little bit of tourist still remaining in us was curious. The bedroom had two beds each somewhat larger than a twin, but smaller than a full-sized bed. Neither of us wanted to move the luggage occupying one of the beds nor spend the night apart. So the best we could, we squeezed into one bed and cuddled the whole night through.
Chapter 5, April 15: Rotorua
Most people dread April 15th because of the deadline for submitting their tax returns. We welcomed the day as it was planned to be filled with a hike in the Whakarewarewa State Forest Park, then a look at the geysers, and finish off the day with dinner at the Aorangi Peak Restaurant.
Since the breakfast cereal package didn't have any good reading material on it, I browsed through a few brochures and tourist magazines while I ate my breakfast cereal with the motel-provided bottle of cream. Janet munched on a roll and drank hot tea. We surmised that were ready to go before all of the other tourists even rolled out of bed.
We followed Gwen's directions along the main road, then down a few side roads to the forestry station. We parked our car not too far from the obvious beginning of the trail. As we entered the forest, the path was well manicured with wood rails at ground level. Around us were redwood trees, all about the same height, which blocked most of the sunshine that was trying to filter its way to the earth. A sign told us that each tree was planted to serve as a memorial to a fallen New Zealand soldier in World War I. After a few hundred yards, we exited the redwood section and came to a branch in the path. Going straight appeared to loop back to the entrance for an all too short walk for us, and the other direction, uphill to the right, seemed like it would produce better views and a reasonably long hike. As we pondered our decision, the only other person we would meet on the trail appeared coming down from the uphill path. The elderly man told us that he took the uphill path every day for exercise. This was enough to convince us to take the uphill path.
The trail went up fairly steeply. In some places rough steps were made out of planks of wood thrust into the earth and anchored at both ends with wooden stakes. We had to rest several times to catch our breath on fallen logs or large stones. This area had many small to medium trees and ferns growing so thickly that they were the only view possible. We were lucky enough to find a couple of silver ferns, the national fern of New Zealand. Upon closer examination, we found that the top is a normal looking glossy green, but the underside is a light silver color that looks like a reflection of the sunlight.
We continued uphill and came to a fire road, which appeared to have not been used in several months. The last signpost was well behind us, so we randomly picked a direction and followed it around a small hill until we came to a clearing in the trees. From here, we were rewarded with an excellent view of Rotorua. The thick billows of steam rising from the thermal activity gave us the impression that the city was on fire. I was determined to find the end of the trail which earlier signs had indicated was at a quarry and mountain peak, but as we had been hiking for an hour, Janet turned back and I followed her.
Walking downhill was much easier. Now, we only had to stop to make sure we were on the right path. We almost missed the turn from the fire road to the path in the forest since it was hidden in the underbrush, and neither of us had remembered to leave bread crumbs.
Upon reaching the level ground, where we had met the elderly gentleman earlier, we went to the right and followed the loop back to our car. When we got back to the motel, all we could think about was resting our tired feet. It didn't take long to realize that we were wasting the day away, so we picked ourselves up off of the couch and began to drive to the geysers. On the way, we stopped at a little village of craft shops called, The Little Village, where they demonstrated wood turning on a lathe, and other crafts. Janet wasted no time finding the spinning shop and spent some time discussing the merits of various models, as I looked around. Although it was fairly close, we drove to the rear entrance of the Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve. The map we received at the gate numbered the various points of interest. We followed the numbered map along the two hour path stopping every dozen yards or so to view the various fumaroles, boiling mud fields, and hissing steam holes. The Puarenga Stream ran through the reserve, and the boiling mineral rich water deposited crystallized silica on the terraces behind Ngamokaiakoko, the Frog Pool. It was so named because the bubbles of hot gas break the surface in such a way to give the appearance of a frog jumping across the pond. We stopped at the half-way point at the Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. Since it was a Saturday during the tourist season, it was fairly crowded by New Zealand standards. After spending a reasonable amount of time viewing the carved canoes, we tarried to watch a native Maori girl work with native plants to extract the fiber needed to weave a mat.
As we strolled back towards the rear entrance, almost on cue, the main attraction, the Pohutu Geyser, erupted. We hurried to get closer to it and sat on a bench to watch it. Our haste was not necessary as it was still going full blast for fifteen minutes. When we made our way to the exit, we had to walk under the mist which was condensing into rain. We didn't get too wet, and the water, which had time cool considerably as it fell to Earth, didn't burn us.
We drove back to the motel only to discover that we had worked up quite an appetite. We realized that between the hike and the geysers, we had walked for a total of four hours, and it was just lunch time. We went around the corner to the main street and got two orders of fish and chips at a take-away restaurant (what is call a take out restaurant in the States). We took the newspaper wrapped packages and ate at our kitchen table in the motel. The fish was good, but quite greasy. We stored some of the ample chips that we could not eat in the refrigerator.
Now that our hunger was appeased, we had to do something about our tired feet. We changed into our swimming suits and headed for the mineral pool. We hoped that the pool would be cool enough to enter this time, but since it was still early in the afternoon, the pool had not cooled as much since the morning refilling as it had the previous night, and neither of us could get into the water. Instead, we swam in the vacant, 100 degree swimming pool. The water was heated by a small water fall of boiling water trickling into the far corner, so, by moving closer to the hot water inlet, it was possible to find a spot which was not too hot or too cool.
We took turns showering back in our room and relaxed before dinner. Even after the large lunch it wasn't too long before we wanted to have dinner. With maps in our hands, we navigated a couple of back roads and started up to Aorangi Peak. It took only ten minutes to make the ascent to the top where the Aorangi Peak Restaurant was located. We arrived at 6:00 PM and made our way upstairs to the view bar for a before dinner cocktail. The large windows afforded us a view of the city of Rotorua, the thermal area, and most of Lake Rotorua. After one round, we headed downstairs to the restaurant. Even though we were the first customers of the day, we couldn't be seated at the windows since they were being held for people with reservations a full hour or more from then. We took our time enjoying meals of lamb and venison as the sun took its time to set. On the way back, we only stopped to pick up some cream for my breakfast cereal, and then went back to our motel for the night.
Chapter 6, April 16: Rotorua to Havelock North
Packing is never fun. This time the job seemed easier. We figured it was because the suitcases never really got emptied, but it was more probably because we were heading to the high point of the trip: the farm stay. Once packed and loaded in the car, we said farewell to Gwen in the office along with our compliments on a fine motel. We headed out of Rotorua past the geysers, past the fond memories of the forest we had hiked in, and towards the yet to be explored Lake Taupo to the south.
Even though we were outside of Rotorua, there were still many thermal vents. Steam could be seen escaping from the ground making it look as if gigantic wads of cotton had been strewn over the countryside.
Before too long, we came to the Wairakei generating plant. At this plant, the natural steam from the ground is converted directly into electricity in an attempt to minimize the use of expensive imported oil. This facility was closed to the public, but signs directed us down the road to the next stop on the techno-tour.
We parked at the visitor's center at the steam fields and spent a few minutes looking at the displays showing the conversion process from steam to electricity, then watched the video which explained the history of the plant and the complete process of generating electricity. We learned that New Zealand receives twelve percent of its electricity from this plant alone and that, unlike other geothermal plants around the world, the steam is unprocessed from the time it leaves the wells to when it is converted into electricity.
As part of the visit, you are allowed to drive through the steam fields to the top of a small peak to get a bird's eye view of the operation. This was a lot like driving through a steam room. Several times we were forced to stop because dense patches of steam had drifted across the road temporarily blocking our vision. At the top, the view was much like looking at the tops of clouds from an airplane window. We stayed just long enough to take a couple of pictures and then picked our way through the curtains of steam on our way down back to the main road.
Our next stop was a small crafts village. We didn't have enough time to go in and explore, and it looked too touristy for our tastes, so we settled on buying some stamps at the quaint post office and got back to our journey. Almost immediately, we saw the sign for Huka Falls. This was one of the points of interest on our pre-trip list. We had to park next to a large tour bus and several cars, so we expected a crowd of people. We followed the path to a bridge that spanned the Waikato river at a point where it had been squeezed into a forty foot wide sluice by ten feet tall rocks which formed the banks. Before we went to see the falls, we headed upstream to a lake of placid water waiting its turn to go over the falls. Then, we followed the path towards the falls along a stretch of a couple of hundred yards watching the water turn a lovely hue of turquoise. As it picks up speed, the water is churned over rocks and, finally, the rapids explode off the edge of the sluice to the river some thirty feet below in a magnificent display of thunder and mist. We waited our turn to get to a promontory rock which gave us the closest view of the falls. Without a spectacular vertical drop, the allure of this waterfall is in the volume of water which comes out over it. We were still aware that this was only a stop on our way to the farm stay, so after a few minutes, we left the 'bus people' and pointed our car towards Lake Taupo.
The city of Taupo is none too large. Before we knew it, the road we were on made a sharp left turn and we were going parallel to the shore of the lake. We stopped at a shore side picnic area. From atop an unoccupied picnic table, we could see the shore below as well as the residential areas along the coast. In both directions cliffs sprung up from the shore about a mile or so from where we were standing. The lake was so large that it extended to the horizon. The overcast sky gave it the appearance that a cold, gray monster would leap from the water any second. It would have been nice to see it on a clear and sunny day, but since we were not staying in the area, we accepted the view we had. Back on the road, we suddenly came to a sign that pointed to Weipunga Falls. Since our itinerary called for us to stop at anything that looked interesting, without hesitation, we drove into the parking area. There was only one other car there, so we figured it would not be worth the effort, but we got out of the car anyway. What we found was ten times better than Huka Falls, and ten times less crowded. For some reason the tour busses do not stop here, so we congratulated ourselves on choosing the self-guided tour rather than taking the bus.
At a distance of about one-quarter of a mile, across a canyon filled with rough vegetation, we could see the falls cascading down the sheer cliffs opposite to us forming broken veils of white that ended up in a river that was just out of sight. Janet noticed a small path which led down to the canyon. We made our way through the shrubs and low branches of this rarely used trail and after fifty yards or so, came to its end at a tree stump. We didn't find an Alice in Wonderland-like sign that said, 'climb me', but figured that this was the purpose of the trail. We climbed up the stump and got the best possible view of the falls and now could clearly see the river below. When our eyes were full, we scurried back up the trail to our car.
Janet took the helm and drove us to the port city of Napier, the sixth largest city on the North Island. Nature called. The only place that we could find was a public facility near a soccer field in an industrial section of the town.
We had a second to look at the map and chose to drive around Bluff Hill past the actual port and then down along the east coast to look for a restaurant for lunch. As we followed our plan, we noticed that the streets were named after famous artists and composers: Beethoven, Milton, Shakespeare, etc. We figured that it might have been an artist's colony or else the better part of town.
We found another Cobb & Co. restaurant. It was a Sunday so we figured that we would not find much else open. We parked our car along the street and went in. As we had plenty of time before we were expected at the ranch, we enjoyed the ambiance, and I had a couple of Lion Brown beers while Janet sipped an Amaretto aperitif.
By American standards, the menu was quite limited and the food was only so-so. Considering the other fine restaurants that we had found made us swear to avoid any more of this chain unless absolutely necessary. After we finished lunch, we followed our noses down the coast a short distance to the Napier Aquarium. This seemed to be the only way I was going to see the local fish up close since SCUBA diving was no longer on the agenda. The facility was medium sized and centered around a huge tank in the middle with many smaller viewing aquariums encircling it. The building consisted of three floors. We took our time to make three laps around the building and ascended the three levels. At the top was a solar observatory and observation deck. We could see for miles along the black sand beaches of Hawkes Bay and back to the docks. Directly ahead of us was South America, many thousands of miles away.
Lacking the patience to wait for the fish feeding demonstration, we headed for the ranch. Using both the Gwen-supplied and AA maps, we had no problem getting to the town of Havelock North. We entered the traffic circle in the middle of town, but could not find the sign pointing to Te Mata road leading out of town. Our gas tank was close to empty, so we took the opportunity to refuel and ask for directions.
My mind was on the directions, so the U-turn out of the station ended us up on the wrong side of the road. There was a median separating the two lanes, but without hesitation, I drove a short distance to the next opening and switched over. I remember hearing shouts coming from the gas station, but our thoughts were now on the traffic circle ahead of us. We finally found Te Mata road which was, in fact, well marked -- not with street signs on posts as we were used to, but the names of the streets were painted on the curbs!
As our map was now recalibrated, we had no trouble from then on. We knew we were getting off the beaten track when the road became one lane wide. We drove for several miles and squeezed past a few cars coming in the opposite direction. We found MacKenzie Road which led to our goal, the MacKenzie ranch. Here the road was metal. Driving carefully past a few cows and sheep, we came to a gate across the road with hundreds of sheep on the other side. As Janet hopped out of the car and opened the gate, the sheep shied away from her. After the car was through, she closed the gate and got back into the car. We drove slowly through the herd which parted like the Red Sea to let us through. A hundred yards from the first gate was another, so Janet repeated the ritual.
The first farm we came to was not the MacKenzie's, but as we reconnoitered, found the sign pointing out 'Gruniard'. This was the name on our map, so we followed a narrow road through an area that might have been an orchard, to a ranch style house that looked like it was plucked off a suburban street from the city we had just left. This was it, the destination that we had been anticipating ever since we made our first travel plan. We parked the car next to the house and were alone for a few moments as anxiety about meeting new people clashed with the excitement of the moment, wondering what to do next, when Gary MacKenzie popped out from around the back of the house and welcomed us in a very thick accent. From his balding head and graying hair, Gary must have been in his late forties. His ever smiling face and thinly built body subtracted some years from our estimate. His exuberant attitude made us feel right at home.
He showed us to our room which faced the spot where we parked the car. It was decorated with simple Early American (Early New Zealand?) furnishings, and we had our own bathroom in an area which doubled as a laundry room. We hardly had time to drop our suitcases on the floor when Gary led the way down the hall to the kitchen. Even though he was ahead of us, we could not have lost our way because we were already following a most wonderful aroma down the hall to the kitchen. There, we interrupted the dinner preparations to meet Wendy. In the five-foot-two-ballpark, she spun to greet us with a warm, welcoming smile and kind word. Two of their three sons, Michael, who was about ten years old, and Richard, about fifteen were playing computer games in a nearby bedroom to avoid having to help with dinner, but each came out for a minute to say hello.
We sat with Gary at the kitchen table with the informality of a friendship of many years. As our ears acclimated to his accent, we began to understand what he was saying and exchanged the usual small talk of origins and our recent matrimony. Wendy served some appetizers of crackers and smoked mussels. Janet loved these, but I just ate the crackers and some cheese. Gary opened a couple of half-liters of DB (Dominion Breweries) beer which helped wash away the many miles of the trip. Stopping only briefly to check the rugby scores on the television, Gary brought us up-to-date on the dire news in that part of the country as result of the recent drought.
Just before dinner was ready, Wendy took us for a twilight tour of the ranch. The older boy, Richard, and two of his friends had shot three wild turkeys in the hill behind and to the west of the ranch. Wendy explained to the neighbors to tell their mothers that it would be easier to remove the breast meat rather than clean the entire bird and roast it. The two boys loaded the birds on their motor bikes and took off for home while we headed for the open fields.
It was not easy to see everything because the sun was setting rapidly, but we got the general feel of the place and did get to meet Fergie the goat. Being hand raised, Fergie came right up to us and expected a treat of bread, but settled for a scratch behind the ears when he discovered that we were empty handed. While we were heading back for the house, Wendy pointed to the hill and we could just see the silhouettes of three turkeys as they roosted on a fence in the ruddy afterglow of the sun that had already set. As a result of the careful preparations, dinner was on the table in a flash. The meal was served in the formal, but homey, dining room across from the kitchen and consisted of broiled lamb rib chops, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. The entire meal was not only home cooked, but home grown at their ranch with the exception of the bottle of wine that Gary opened for the adults.
After eating most of the meat with a knife and fork, I wanted to pick up the convenient handle of the rib bone to clean off the rest so as to not waste a succulent morsel. When the boys led the way, Gary and I ignored what Miss Manners would say and joined in leaving no sign of meat. Dessert was ice cream with canned fruits, home canned, that is.
We continued the pre-dinner conversation throughout dinner and even the boys shyly joined in at times. While dinner settled in our stomachs, the youngest two dutifully cleared the table and washed the dishes. We retired to our room to unpack our clothes, and then read a bit more from 'A Maverick's Guide to New Zealand' before falling fast asleep.
Chapter 7, April 17: The First Day on the Ranch
We woke by the sounds of Gary and the boys getting ready for the day. We were in no particular hurry, so by the time we were ready for our first day on the ranch, only Wendy remained to say 'Good Morning' to us. We sat at the kitchen table and decided to have a lighter breakfast as the calories were beginning to catch up with us. The toast, grapefruit juice, cereal, and tea was just enough for breakfast. While we ate, Wendy engaged us in conversation and was busy preparing something for later.
The activity for the day was to gather the sheep from the various fields, bring them to the main corral, and sort the lambs from the herd for a special medical treatment.
First, Wendy exchanged her inside shoes for outside shoes in a small shed just outside the kitchen door, then we proceeded though a gate to the area where the sheep dogs were kept. Les and Jess were happy to be unleashed and immediately ran around at top speed darting around a small stand of trees, playfully chasing each other and some stray sheep. More serene was Tina, the house dog, who decided to come along not to work but for some exercise. Tina was mostly white with a few brown patches, but the sheep dogs were completely black except for a tan face and white around their eyes. This coloring magnified the apparent size of their eyes so the sheep could be controlled by the dogs 'staring them down'.
Starting in a field not too far from the house, a few sheep were effortlessly swept through the gate and into the next paddock. With the swelled numbers, the next paddock took a little more effort from the dogs and Wendy, who had to call out commands to get the dogs to do the job correctly. Wendy's plaintiff voice calling to the dogs, 'Get behind, Les' will be forever etched in our memories.
The next few paddocks, each ten to twenty acres, became even more difficult. The increase in the number of sheep was exacerbated by the fact that some sheep were suffering from the staggers. Because it had not rained for several months, the once green pastures had stopped growing and turned brown. The sheep were still hungry, and when they nibbled down to the roots of the existing grass, also ate a fungus which grows there. This fungus affects their nervous system so the sheep have difficulty keeping their balance and cannot walk. This disease is not fatal unless the staggering sheep falls down in the path of the herd and gets trampled. We took careful precautions to make sure this did not happen.
The last two paddocks required Les to make several sweeps of the field, but he finally got all the sheep where they needed to be: the main corral. Custom built by Gary and their oldest son, Andrew, who was currently away at the University, the corrals were fashioned such that the sheep could be moved through a holding area, into a single file chute, to a gate which could be operated to allow the sheep to go into one of three corrals. Although the sheep were hesitant, Janet and I, with the help of Les and Jess, got hundreds sheep to each take their turn down the chute to the gate being operated by Wendy. The sheep were sorted into three categories: lambs, sheep who needed shearing, and all others. The lambs were almost fully grown and were hard to tell apart from the other sheep. Sometimes one would run towards the gate with a herdmate making the sorting job even more difficult. Some of the lambs got in the wrong corral. The truth was told by their ears being notched to indicate their age: one notch for lambs, two for all others. By grabbing the fleece on their back, I was able to hoist the few incorrectly sorted lambs over the fence and into the proper pen.
The process of rounding up the sheep and corralling them took most of the morning, and once the sheep were safely behind bars, we returned to the house for lunch. It now dawned on us what Wendy had been doing while we were eating our breakfast. The cooled homemade quiche was waiting for us in the kitchen. After we washed up, our work-amplified appetites got the better of us, and we finished most of it. Even though the advanced preparations got us through lunch quickly, we had to rest for a while at the kitchen table. Wendy, however, didn't stop for a minute. Amidst the cleaning up of lunch, she started a few chores for dinner. We both offered to help, but she would not hear of it.
After lunch, Wendy showed us why we had separated the lambs from the flock. They needed to receive a treatment for parasites through a process called 'drenching'. The medicine, stored in a collapsible plastic reservoir on Wendy's back, was fed through a tube to a pistol-like device which measures the proper dosage and deposits it into the lamb's mouth on demand. As you have probably already figured out, this is not a popular activity for the lambs. Since she had their mouths open, Wendy also showed us another way to judge a lambs age by the number of their teeth. The ones with two teeth on the bottom were simply 'two teeth' old.
We had brought a copy of the 'Beach Reporter' newspaper with us in the hopes of taking a picture holding it with the sheep in the background and having it published in their 'Around the World with the Beach Reporter' section. We tried several shots among the sheep, but they tended to shy away and be mostly out of the shot.
Two goats, Fergie and Amie, came to our rescue. Bribed with some bread that we brought with us, the two goats were happy to pose for the pictures. The best shot had Fergie behind the fence with his two front hoofs on the first rung looking over my shoulder in a pose that made him look like he was reading the paper along with us. Amie was on our side of the fence and had her 'wrong' end facing the camera.
After we finished taking pictures, we fed the balance of the bread to some of the other goats who were not as friendly as the hand raised Fergie and Amie, and then went back into the house. Janet asked and was allowed to practice spinning on Wendy's spinning wheel, and I, not wanting to waste a minute, opted to take a walk up the hill on the west side of the ranch to get a bird's eye view of the spread and to see if I could spot the wild turkeys that were there the previous night.
Tina was not nearly as tired as the sheep dogs, and just followed me for some additional exercise and attention. Through a couple of gates, I found my way along a disconnected electric fence going upwards. The hill was fairly steep in some places, and I stopped every once in awhile to take a picture and to rest. At the top, I got the best possible view of the ranch and the house we were staying in. Only far off in the distance could any other structures be seen. This, I later found out, was the ranch of Gary's brother that had been split from the MacKenzie ranch. Directly across from me, at the top of a ridge a mile away was the east boundary of the ranch. I could see the entire square mile of the ranch at one glance in front of me. Like a Monopoly board, I could pick out the various paddocks and structures along with the routes that we had used to go between them. I continued down the back of the hill towards the river. Even though the drought had lowered the water level, the Tuki Tuki river was still flowing between the sand bars and islands that had formed. Sweeping along the fence that marked the west boundary of the ranch, I visited with some of the neighbor's sheep and came to a watering hole. One sheep, who had probably had the staggers, had fallen in and drowned. It was a sad sight, but sheep ranching is a numbers game, so the loss of one sheep is not very disastrous.
While heading back towards the ranch, I spotted one black turkey poking its head through the underbrush looking for something to eat. I readied the camera and approached carefully. My stealth was rewarded when I came upon a flock of about twenty gobblers. My presence did not go unnoticed for long. The turkeys scurried up to the top of the ridge, spread their wings and glided down towards the river only to make a sweeping left hand turn and disappear from sight.
Now I had to pick my way carefully back to the house, and Tina was no help at all. In fact, she was always snooping around the area covering twice as much ground as I did. In a secluded ravine, she finally found what her nose had indicated was there. She started barking excitedly and digging frantically. In a few minutes, the prey realized that Tina was getting close and emerged from the rear exit of the burrow at the top speed that its jack rabbit feet would carry him. The rabbit sped off in the direction that we had just come and Tina gave up the chase after a few seconds as we both watched his cotton tail disappear into the bush. I called to Tina and by the time she had caught up to me I had the ranch house back in view. I returned to find Janet beside the hearth in the kitchen still busily spinning wool into yarn. I had some juice and relaxed for a minute before I was volunteered to help wind the yarn into a skein. In a few minutes, Gary and the boys returned from the day's activities, and we began the ritual of the before dinner snack of mussels, potato chips, and beer. We tactfully asked if he would demonstrate how sheep were sheared. Even after a hard day's work, Gary cheerfully agreed. The four adults went out to the shearing shed where Gary fleeced two sheep quicker than you can say 'Little Bo Peep'. After they are done, the sheep are slid down a ramp like a child going down a slide at the park. You can tell from the complaining bleats that the sheep do not enjoy it as much as children. The naked sheep are fenced in and stay under the shed until they are let back out into the fields. Wendy was kept busy sorting out the clean wool from the dirty with a broom-like device. The wool was just left in a small pile on the floor, but during the shearing season, it is packed into ninety kilogram bales before it is picked up by truck.
We had many questions that Gary answered, which in turn started that evening's conversation. Gary checked the rugby and soccer scores and told us of how he was quite an athlete himself. A few years earlier when Andrew was taking up running, he got on a training program and, at his peak, was able to run a marathon in just over two-and-one-half hours! We settled down for a chicken dinner feast with many of the same side dishes as the night before. For some reason, chicken is not as plentiful as it is in the United States, and is considered a treat whenever it is served. Before going to sleep we read for a while. I finally finished 'A Maverick's Guide to New Zealand'. It was not really ironic that it took me all that time to finish, since the last chapters were about the South Island. I was reading those for our next trip. By now we knew there had to be another trip to New Zealand.
Chapter 8, April 18: The Second Day at the Ranch
Our 'alarm clock', the family getting ready for the day, woke us. After we got ready, we had a light breakfast to compensate for the more than filling dinner of the night before. Wendy had a luncheon to attend in town, so we planned the day around this.
First, we drove our rental following Wendy, who was in the spare family car, out the access road to the paved road, and around several turns that were unfamiliar to us, to the spot where Gary was picking apples. Leaving the Fiat parked by the side of the road, we all packed into Wendy's car and drove to Puke Tuki (pronounced poo-ki too-ki) road. Wendy's sister, Penelope, is a supervisor at a kiwifruit packing house, and an extemporaneous tour was arranged for us.
The packers, who are farmers just earning some extra income during the kiwifruit harvest time, got a real kick out of us tourists taking pictures of them at work. Their kiwifruits are much larger -- about the size of a small orange. What we get in the United States are the size of their rejects.
On the way out, we stopped at a field of vines laden with kiwifruit. We went under the arched trellises to find the fruit hanging in large bunches of eight to ten. I could not stand up all the way under the arch, but was still able to snap a picture or two for posterity.
From here we headed to downtown Napier and parked on a street not too far from the aquarium that we had visited a few days earlier. Wendy sold a frozen hide from a lamb that they had recently slaughtered, to a local tannery. As Wendy completed the transaction, I watched the workers stir large vats of pungent bubbling fluids half expecting them to start chanting, 'toil, toil, boil and bubble' from Shakespeare. With the business completed, Wendy and I went across the street to the discount sheepskin store and caught up with Janet, who did not want to smell the awful chemicals at the tannery, but instead wanted to get a head start picking out a few items.
Wendy led us up some narrow stairs to the loft where they kept the hides that were not quite perfect. We selected a brown and gray hide that looked perfect to us and bought it at a large discount. As noon was fast approaching, we drove back to the apple orchard where Wendy dropped us off, gave us some directions to town, and sped off to her luncheon.
Not far from the road, we found Gary busily picking Granny Smith apples. He was on a foot controlled one-man lift which put him very near the branches where he had both hands free to pick the fruit. He showed us the special technique that he used to pick the apples with a bit of the stem still remaining with them. This made it more desirable to the buyers. We knew how much the family needed the money he was earning, so we didn't want to disturb him too much. As we walked back to the car, we purloined a couple of missed ripe apples from an already picked row of trees for our lunch.
We traversed the previously difficult traffic circle with all the ease of a city resident and followed directions to the south part of Hastings. We were looking for the 'kit-set' furniture shop to see if we could find a reasonably priced do-it-yourself spinning wheel kit. The shop was just a few blocks past where we asked for directions earlier. We found something close to what we were looking for, but decided to wait on this purchase. As we walked back towards the car we stopped for ice cream at a small shop, and then found a MacDonald's restaurant which provided facilities for us. I was looking for hamburgers made from ground lamb on the menu (McLamburgers???), but just found the normal bill of fare and one sandwich that we don't have in the States.
Heading back towards the ranch, we took a side trip up Te Mata peak. From there we could see over ten miles to the city of Napier and almost back to the ranch. We compared the coastline to our map and were able to pick out all the places we had just visited in the past few days.
Being in no hurry to return, we also stopped at a roadside wine sampling shop. The Lombardi Bros. Winery owned only five acres and specialized in selling bulk wine to those who brought their own flagon. After sampling a few of the vintages, we purchased a couple of bottles and continued on our way.
We came to the large white stucco house on a large vineyard which was our landmark, but rather than make the usual sharp right turn to the ranch, on a whim, I went straight ahead following a sign pointing to another winery. This one was closed for the season, but we wandered down several metal backroads and finally came to a spot next to a river which looked like an ideal spot to have a river bash. Except for a few beer cans probably from the last partiers, it was deserted on this a Tuesday, so we did a quick donut with the car and left without stopping. The roads were cut through thick woods and every once in a while we saw the large flapping wings of a hawk or a pheasant fly away from the road scared by our engine noise. Janet tried, but the birds were just too fast for the camera. Our only trophy was a picture of some tail feathers quickly disappearing into the bush.
Back at the ranch, Wendy had already returned, and dinner was almost complete. We reviewed our activities of the day and thanked her for showing us all the good places to shop. Her eyes lit up again as we asked her to suggest a good place to buy woolen goods. She was more than happy to inform us of Norsewood, a city we were going to pass through the next day, and got as much pleasure telling us about it as a child would have describing a candy shop.
Gary and the boys arrived home like clockwork and during our pre-dinner snacking and conversation ritual, Wendy brought out their guest registry. We entered our names and browsed through the list looking for interesting names and countries of origin. We happened across a Southern Californian family that had stayed there a few months previous. It turned out that Richard was interested in their daughter, so we took down the name and address and promised to call her on her birthday with wishes from New Zealand.
We settled down for dinner which was roast lamb and vegetables with a wonderful rolled pavlova for dessert. I made a comment about being unable to keep up with Wendy's driving as we followed her that morning. This went a long way in reducing the boys' shyness as they teased their mother about driving recklessly.
Since Gary and the boys would be gone before we were up the next morning, we said our good-byes to them after dinner and then returned to our room to do a little pre-packing in preparation of our departure.
Chapter 9, April 19: The Trip to Wellington
During breakfast, Wendy gave us directions on how to continue on our way without having to backtrack through Havelock North and Hastings. She again pointed out the route to Norsewood to make sure we didn't miss out on the woolen goods. We finished packing, said our final good-byes, and followed her directions.
The road started out paved, but then turned to metal for a few miles before it again returned to being paved. There were a few cows grazing about the road so we had to slow down a couple of times to avoid getting a new hood ornament.
Our next stop was, in fact, the Norsewool plant in Norsewood. The shop sold factory seconds at substantially reduced prices. We could not discern any defects with the merchandise, so we bought matching sweaters, scarves, mittens, and other woolen goods for ourselves and for relatives who live in cold climates. Later, we found out that these were seconds because the pattern or picture was not quite centered vertically, etc.
We asked for and received a tour of the factory which was attached to the shop. In a few minutes the factory supervisor came out and personally escorted us on the tour. We took our time to watch the machines knit both yardage and tubular stock for sweaters. Next, thick stacks of the material was cut with a razor sharp band saw according to sized patterns. The bulk of the thirty workers were sewing and knitting the pieces together to produce all of their company's goods except for gloves which were produced at their other plant. We particularly remember the quaint accent of our tour guide and how she politely answered 'ye-es' to some of our inquiries. After passing through the mountains that divide the island, our next stop was in Palmerstown North. Here we resumed our hunt for a spinning wheel. We entered from the north and parked prior to reaching the business district. We had to ask in several shops before someone knew the directions to the local 'kit-set' store. It was only three blocks away, through the center of town. This business district is built around a large park with businesses on all four sides. Because it was getting close to lunch time, there was a lot of foot traffic around and through the square. We mostly followed the crowd and arrived at the street which led west from the square.
We found the indicated shop, but they did not have what we wanted. The salesman directed us to another shop that specialized in knitting products. We went back through the square and took a street that led to the south. We found the shop without any difficulty, but they only carried finished spinning wheels, so yet again, we had to wait on the purchase.
It was now past noon. Our hunger directed us back to a pizza restaurant facing the square that we had passed earlier. We had to wait longer than usual for our pizza even though the eatery was not crowded. We couldn't quite figure out what was different, but we surmised that the New Zealanders did not quite have the knack for making pizza. This was the first time that we had missed home, and the aroma of a Lomeli's pizza, only a faint memory, was beginning to call us back to California. Janet took the helm and drove us out of town. Because of a broken sign, we took a slightly different route only a few miles longer. It was lucky that we went this way, because we found an antique shop that had the toast tray we had been looking for, and snatched it up.
We popped out on the west coast of New Zealand, and, after driving for an hour, stopped at a roadside viewpoint where we saw Kapiti Island in the Tasman Sea. Beyond that, a thousand miles away, was Australia. Not being ready for the stresses of city traffic, Janet returned the driving responsibilities to her husband, and carefully studied the map to figure out the best way to our hotel. We were approaching Wellington from the north and could tell we were getting closer when the two lane road, lane by lane, turned into a freeway. Janet's directions got us around Lambton Harbour to Oriental Bay were our hotel was waiting for us. We parked behind the building and checked in to our room on the eighth floor overlooking the bay. After unpacking, we got ready for dinner. As we did not want to go exploring for a restaurant in this new city, we opted for the restaurant in the hotel.
We had a quick before dinner drink in the attached bar, and then were seated in the restaurant. I had lamb, as usual, and Janet had a beef dish. We ordered a bottle of wine to begin the celebration of the final stage of our trip. The food was not bad, but also, not tremendous. We knew that there had to be better places in city this size, and hoped to find them. After dinner, we took a short walk along Oriental Bay past the Freyberg Swimming Pool, to the offshore fountain near Nicholson's Brasserie & Bar. The apparatus was a hundred yards from shore and sent a single stream of water one hundred feet into the air illuminated with brilliant spot lights. We looked at each other and then realized that somehow we had left the hotel without one of our two cameras.
From the menu outside its door, and the few peeks we took inside the front door, Nicholson's looked like a good place for dinner on the following night. We could then get our picture of the fountain.
Chapter 10, April 20: The First Day in Wellington.
This was our first full day in a big city of New Zealand. We still didn't have the local neighborhood figured out enough to find a breakfast restaurant, so we tried the breakfast buffet that was set up in the same restaurant as we had dinner the night before. Nothing was very spectacular, so I kept to the cereals with cream, while Janet was more daring and tried a heaping serving spoonful of a hot meat dish which looked like meatballs. After she returned to her place, the awful smell told us they must have been sheep kidneys. The serving was left untouched. We drove the car through the heavy morning traffic to a parking lot near the cable car entrance. This lone facility serves all of Wellington taking commuters as well as tourists five hundred feet up the side of Mount Victoria. After only one stop, we arrived at the top. From here you could get a panoramic view of the entire city and harbor area. Directly behind us, was the rear entrance to the Wellington Botanical Gardens. We ambled through several well maintained gardens each specializing in a specific type of plant. We proceeded downhill through the tree and shrub sections, making one stop at a playground filled with children, and then proceeded through the flower sections to come to the main gate. A small bandshell was located just inside the park for concerts or other meetings. Next, we passed through the herb garden and came to the roses.
By far the largest concentration of plants, the Rose Garden was laid out in concentric circles with radial paths intersecting. Many varieties were still in bloom and it was difficult to convince ourselves that we had found the prettiest blossom as the next one seemed lovelier than the last. Each of the pastel yellow, pink, white, dusty blue, and fiery red roses were all kept in a separate patch of land. We were drawn to each variety and just had to take a smell to remember them by. We visited several dozen varieties and colors stopping at each like a bee collecting pollen to admire them. The Rose Garden is the only part of the botanical gardens that the tourists get to see, since their busses have a regimented schedule to keep. We couldn't help feeling a little sorry for them as they missed the major part of the gardens.
The Begonia Hot House was being expanded, but we still managed to get in to the existing structure to see their exotic blooms. The green house structure was lined with tiers of plants slightly crowded since space was at a premium during the construction. The humidity was kept high for the plants to thrive, but this made us to want to exit quickly through the connecting door to the tea house. We rested at a small table in the tea house while we enjoyed a spot of tea and a beer and readied ourselves for the trip uphill back to the cable car stop. Even though the room was enclosed by glass panels like a hot house, we were joined by a few small birds who managed to enter through the open doors and vents in the roof to snatch a leftover crumb from a vacated table.
The path back to the cable car station was shorter, but much steeper. In an attempt to take a rest from the climb, we stopped at what looked like a museum, but turned out to be a weather station and some administrative offices. It did, however, provide a chance to repay our oxygen debt. We finally came to the top of the hill where, as luck would have it, the cable car was waiting for us. The return trip to the city took just a few minutes.
Our next goal was to walk to the visitors center a few blocks away and then over to Cuba street to explore the many antique shops there. While I was keeping an eye out for good exchange rates at the various banks, Janet found Kircalde & Kircalde, a large department store like Broadway or May Company, but situated in two buildings across a small side street from each other.
We found a new sterling silver condiment set much like the one we had used at the B&B. We agreed that this would be a unique remembrance and used the price information to compare what was available at the antique shops. The visitors center was quite crowded, so rather that wasting time waiting for a clerk, we picked up a few brochures and continued on our way to Cuba Street.
Cuba Street was long since closed to cars, and was packed with people walking about. The open-air mall shopping area had many small restaurants, bakeries, meat markets, furniture shops, clothing shops, and, of course, antique shops. We browsed through several without finding what we were looking for until we came to the end of the mall. We found a 1935 silver condiment set, but liked the 'Kirk' one better. We had to walk back that way to the car anyway, so we set our minds on the new set. Directly behind the antique shop, we went in to a pet shop to see if we could find a souvenir for Copper, who, at this very moment was at the kitty hotel waiting for something to eat. (He is always waiting to eat.) We didn't find anything for him that he did not already have, but did buy a packet of Kauri Tree seeds.
On the way back, as planned, we stopped at 'Kirk' and bought the silver condiment set. Somehow we managed to talk them out of charging us the ten percent GST which amounted to a fair sum. We walked a few blocks past where we parked the car to the Government Houses building, the 'Beehive', and the Parliament building of New Zealand. We didn't get to take the tour inside the buildings to see them in action because they were in recess for lunch, but did sit in front of the buildings to rest our feet as the miles had already begun to pile up for this day.
We walked back to the car which took us back to the hotel where we cooled our heels for awhile and got ready for dinner. Just at dusk, we walked to Nicholson's and were seated at a table overlooking the fountain we saw the night before.
The food here was much better than the night before. Besides the bistro atmosphere, with the food being prepared on grills in the middle of the room, and attentive waiters, the cuisine was excellent using mostly the local New Zealand food in Spago-like dishes. After dinner, we went up to the observation deck on top of the restaurant and gave the fountain one last chance to turn on. Our patience dwindled, so we sauntered back to the hotel only stopping at a small grocery store to pick up some breakfast cereal and milk.
Chapter 11, April 21: The Second Day in Wellington
The previous day's breakfast and the general lack of restaurants open for breakfast had convinced us that it was best to eat breakfast in our room. Since we had been overeating since about a week before the wedding, it was high time that we ate light anyway. We made our breakfast from the cereal and milk we had bought the night before, tea, which was provided in the room, and the apples and kiwifruit that we had brought from Hawkes Bay. First on our agenda for the day was the Wellington Zoo. A short drive north of our hotel brought us directly to the entrance. Either we were getting better at navigating and driving, or the roads were getting shorter.
After paying the admission charge, we glanced at the map and planned our route. We had the entire place to ourselves until a few bus loads of children arrived. Carefully avoiding the somewhat noisy kids, we managed to see the many animals indigenous to New Zealand which included our first look at kiwi birds.
Since kiwis are nocturnal, a special house was built for them with the lights reversed day to night. In the dark, the kiwis wake up and, after your eyes adjust to the darkness, you can see the less-than-a-foot high needle nosed birds scurrying about looking for food. The zoo was well laid out, but not too large. In two hours, we had covered everything there was to see at least once, so we exited the zoo and drove back to our hotel.
The lunch alarm rang in our stomachs, and, in spite of Rotorua, we craved fish and chips again. At the front desk, we asked for and got directions to a nearby shop. We walked over and picked up our selection to be eaten in our hotel room. Janet, who likes catsup on her french fries, ordered some to go. It must have been an unusual request, since they only had very small containers of 'tomato sauce' for which they charged us fifty cents each. It didn't take us long to demolish the two newspaper wrapped lunches accompanied by cokes from the well stocked refrigerator in our room. We let our meals settle for a while before we got restless and decided to take a walk.
We took our camera with the hope of getting a picture of the Oriental Bay fountain in action. Again, it was turned off, so we continued walking past Nicholson's towards the point. We took our time. On several occasions we descended to the shoreline and even out into the bay a few feet as we jumped between islands made of large rocks just above the water line. About a mile from the hotel, we turned at the northern extent of Point Jerningham and realized that we had found a shortcut to the airport. We stopped to check on the status of a local fisherman, who had just started fishing and had not yet caught anything. We made a u-turn and began our walk back to the hotel.
We stopped at the Wellington Park Royal for a refreshment of our usual beer and Amaretto. The hotel was exquisite, and since it was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, we had the plush little pub to ourselves. We asked the bartender for the schedule of the fountain, and found out that on windy days, such as today was, it was not turned on because the salt spray would ruin the paint on the nearby houses. It was now obvious that we had missed our chance to capture it on film.
Our last stop on the return trip was the little grocery store to replace a few sodas that we borrowed from the hotel-stocked refrigerator and a few for immediate consumption. When we got back to our room, we kicked back for a couple of hours before beginning to get ready for dinner. At 5:00 PM, we were ready and began the short walk to Cuba Street. This was our last dinner in the country, so we picked the finest restaurant we could find. Orsini's had been recommended by several independent people, and, from the ad we saw in a tourist magazine, it sounded very good. This was the same street that we had visited the day before looking for antiques. Since the map had been consulted, we now knew that Cuba Street was closer to our hotel than where we had parked downtown, so we walked the few short blocks.
Our appetites, the fish and chips notwithstanding, were piqued and ready for an excellent dinner, but when we arrived at the restaurant, the front door was locked. Persistent knocking produced a young man who asked us to return in half an hour. It quickly became obvious that there was no way that we were going to be let in since the restaurant was not open for business yet.
To kill time, we walked up and down the street, stopping to window shop and browse through a few shops. Our shopping desires were slaked from the previous afternoon's foray, and since dinner was imminent, there was nothing that either of us wanted to buy. It was near the close of business for many shops. The outdoor mall was filled with people scurrying about either picking up food for their dinner, or just on their way home. We returned to the restaurant at the appointed time to the same locked door. Our knocking produced the same young man, but this time he was dressed for business in an elegant butler's suit. He turned out to be the Matre'd, bartender, waiter, bus boy, and very probably the chef. After he took our coats, he showed us to the upstairs bar where we had a before dinner drink. We took our time and chatted about the day's events in order to give him a chance to make the final preparations. As we finished our drinks, he graciously led us back downstairs to our readied table. It was now apparent that the entire restaurant was a reconditioned house with several dining areas in the various rooms. We were in the living room next to the fireplace. The small room had only four tables and was decorated with plush velvet curtains. The intimate surroundings and soft lighting made for a romantic setting. We took our time as we enjoyed the soup and salad courses with the fresh baked bread and country fresh butter. Janet had venison for her entree and I had lamb medallions. Both had an excellent sauce and, as is the vogue, were surrounded by decorative cooked vegetables. These were accompanied by a bottle of New Zealand wine.
As we savored our meal, a second couple arrived and were seated next to us. The waiter had no trouble keeping us both satisfied and could probably have handled many more people at once.
The dessert cart was too tempting to pass up, so we splurged on our last night. Each bite served to seal our destiny of ending up on a diet once we returned to the States, but it all seemed worth it in our final flash of glory.
Our appetites sated, we perambulated back down the now deserted Cuba Street and returned to our hotel. It was not too late, so I tried to finish off a bottle of wine, but it tasted like vinegar compared to the wine we had at the restaurant, so I unceremoniously dumped it down the drain.
Chapter 12, April 22: The Last Day
Between sleeping late and a few attempts at packing, we managed to use up most of the morning in our room. As lunch time was quickly approaching, our stomachs led us to an 'American' restaurant along Oriental Parade that we had seen on several of our trips along the bay.
A few items in the decor suggested an American diner, and we expected hamburgers and french fries, but couldn't recognize anything on the menu. We both selected an innocuous meal and left a little wiser. Back at the hotel, we finally got serious about packing and had everything ready to go four hours before our plane was to leave from Wellington to Auckland. Our anxiousness made it appeared to us that we had exhausted all possible activities, so we decided to leave the hotel and wait at the airport.
After checking out and resolving a small problem with the prepaid reservation, we used our newly found shortcut to drive to the airport. As per the instructions that we received from the rental agent almost two weeks earlier, we parked our trusty car in the lot and gave the keys and a quickly sketched map with directions to the car to the Air New Zealand ticket agent. Since there was no possible way that the two of us could carry all of our luggage which had swollen with souvenirs, we got a cart and overloaded it with all of our belongings. We had trouble keeping the suitcases from sliding off until we entered the terminal and checked in the four largest bags.
The agent switched us from our scheduled 8:30 PM flight to one that left at 6:35 PM, and we still had to wait over an hour for it. We were not allowed to go to the gate until our plane was announced but had to wait in a common area near the counters. I did my usual pacing and snooping around the various shops and arcades while Janet worked on her cross-stitch project. When our plane was finally called, we went to the gate only to find a small turboprop plane sitting on a dark deserted runway. The look of horror on Janet's face indicated that she was very nervous about this mode of transportation. The lack of other passengers made us finally realize that we were at the wrong gate. Janet let out a sigh of relief and relaxed once we came to our 737 jet at the correct gate.
The efficient crew had no trouble serving the entire plane a small dinner during the one hour flight to Auckland. We arrived on schedule and took our carry-on luggage to the airport bus which transferred us to the international terminal that we had arrived at eleven days earlier. Because we took an earlier flight, we now had a much longer wait for our midnight flight. We paid our departure tax, then counted the left over currency to try figure out how to spend it so we wouldn't have to exchange it back to United States dollars. It seemed that we had enough to buy two T-shirts, but once we picked out two that we liked, we were over our available cash, and ended up charging them.
Even though we had a bite to eat on the plane, sitting in a restaurant seemed like a good way to kill some time. First we explored upstairs at the buffet, but it was overcrowded by a plane load of delayed passengers. The cafeteria on the ground level didn't seem to have any appetizing food, so we settled for two sodas.
Janet set-up a base in the waiting lounge by arranging our carry-ons around two chairs such that no one would ask if the seat was taken while I was wandering about. I would alternatively read a chapter of the book 'Player Piano' and then work off my nervous energy by looking about the airport in an attempt to relieve the boredom. On one of these jaunts, I noticed that some duty free stores sold English liquor at very low prices. I had no trouble selling Janet on what seemed like a worthwhile use of some of our remaining money since we still had not yet filled our liquor allotment. After waiting what seemed like an eternity, at 11:00 PM our plane was called. It didn't take long to get our passports stamped and turn-in some completed immigration forms before we were allowed to enter the departure lounge. In the duty free liquor shop we bought a one-and-one-eighth liter bottle of Gilbey's Gin for $7.00 NZ (about $4.00 US) and sat down in two empty seats as close to the gate as were available.
Right on time, the flight was called. We were one of the first people on board right after the people who always get on airplanes first to block the aisles. While we had both enjoyed our stay in New Zealand, it was now time to begin the long trip back home.
Janet was bound and determined to finish her cross-stitch project and worked on it for the entire twelve hour flight. I busied myself by attracting the attention of a two year old girl in the seat in front of us, and, when she fell asleep, watched the movie, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?'. The plane arrived on time and we passed through customs with minimal effort. We took the Super Shuttle home and simply threw the suitcases down in the living room before getting into the truck and heading for a dearly missed treat. We had a large pizza with onions, olives, and mushrooms at our favorite pizza restaurant, Lomeli's in Hermosa Beach. Not one bite of the pizza remained on the serving dish when we finally sat back in our seats to regale in our accomplishment. It was then that we realized that we were back in the United States and started to miss our New Zealand.
No day now passes without each of us recalling at least one fond memory of our trip to New Zealand. I'm sure we drive our friends crazy as we are always bringing up the subject. We carefully edited all the pictures we took and mounted them in an album. More for our benefit than others, we like to show guests at our house the album and tell them about the trip in minute detail complete with the souvenirs we have in our living room: the Kauri letter holder, woven hall hanging, sheepskin rug, and 34,500 year old salad bowl.
The salad bowl was holding some antique kitchen implements until we realized that they were scratching the wood. Now we use it to hold unshelled nuts that we eat while watching TV. The sheepskin rug got mounted on a custom built frame of wood strips and now hangs from the wall not too far from the woven wall hanging made by Colleen Moore.
As we had promised Colleen, we researched the telephone books at the library and found the address of one of the people she needed for her family tree. Our picture from the MacKenzie ranch got published in the Beach Reporter and we sent a copy to our hosts with a Christmas letter. As we shop for groceries, we are now heightened to look for items that come from New Zealand. We purchase them both for the nostalgic thoughts and to help our friends in their depressed economy. Besides finding frozen lamb, kiwifruit, Granny Smith apples, and frozen green mussels, we have recently found feijoa fruits.
The Kauri seeds were planted according to the directions on the packet, but, to our dismay, none ever sprouted. I sent a letter to the manufacturer asking for replacement seeds, but it looks like we will have to wait for our next trip to New Zealand to purchase more and try again. We have yet to find a spinning wheel and wool for Janet. We are now on the mailing list, so we occasionally receive information from the local New Zealand Tourist Office. Recently, they had a slide presentation at the Torrance Marriott. After the presentation, Janet asked for and got a couple of stick pins with a kiwi bird on the end and found out about the restrictions on immigration.
Are we back in the United States? Only partially.
By the same author:
The second trip to New Zealand (1991)
Think back to when you were in grade school. Assuming you did not grow up in Australia or New Zealand, what was the area of the world you found most intriguing, the place you knew represented the truly different and special? If you don't remember, ask anybody under the age of 15, before hormones distort judgment for the next few decades. The answer will most likely be Australia, with New Zealand an add-on by those who had better teachers. In November, Nina (KE4PSV) and I made our first journey to VK and ZL, and this article will share some of the sights and experiences of that trip with you.
There are some preliminary factual matters I feel compelled to reveal before embarking on this adventure with you. The first is that this is not an inexpensive trip. As it happens, I had one free airline ticket thanks to dozens of years of paid-for holiday traveling. But the remaining costs are significant, though I believe it accurate to state that living expenses in VK and ZL are less for a North American than in Western Europe or the Caribbean. The airline tickets alone would be about $2500 per person -- half a fancy new radio or the money saved by delaying purchase of that new car by but one year! The second factor is that I have a job which allows me to take a month of annual vacation time without career consequences. The sacrifice of making a lower salary than in the private sector offers that advantage of flexibility. Third, I am not afraid of long flights! Nina's situation is similar, except she works for a quasi-public entity.
Radio conditions to VK and ZL over the months prior to our tentative decision to make the trip were not cooperative and so did not offer opportunities to strengthen ties with existing friends or make new ones. Personally meeting folks overseas who are friends by radio tends to fill otherwise quiet evenings and assures a profoundly more meaningful adventure. Fortunately, as FOC members we have a number of VK and ZL 'family' members, so lack of propagation is not a major problem. In fact, notes written to FOCers resulted in a number of enthusiastic invitations! I also intended to take 2 meter equipment with me, and I had already learned how to get the reciprocal permits in Cairns and Christchurch.
Ham radio even helped in planning our trip. Normally I don't deal with a travel agent, generally reasoning that I can organize my own flights and use guidebooks to locate suitable lodging. In this case, however, I turned to a supposed specialist in the Oceania region, relying on her to recommend reasonably priced beds and breakfasts (B&Bs) and hotels. I included the names of the lodgings she had suggested in notes to my FOC contacts. In one case, VK2BJ called me on the landline to urge me to change from what was plainly (to him) a poorly located hotel in favor of a similarly priced hotel within walking distance of all major sights! That alone saved a great deal of angst that might have affected our enjoyment of the five days we spent in Sydney, but more about all that later.
We decided that with a total available holiday period of three and a half weeks we would have to maximize diversity and limit cost. We therefore chose to divide our time into 11 days in Australia, limiting our visit there to three cities, and the remaining time in New Zealand. We would be on the run all the time, but we rationalized that we had the rest of the year to recover!
Our trip would begin with a Sunday midday departure from Washington, DC to glorious Newark, New Jersey and connection with our Continental cross-country flight to Los Angeles, where we would board our Qantas direct flight to Sydney. We would then connect with a flight up the east coast of Australia to Cairns (pronounced Cans) to see the Great Barrier Reef and meet our first kangaroos. We would then proceed to Darwin, along the northern coast of the continent to see the famous Kakadu Park and visit with VK8HA, Harry (and, perchance, operate some of the CQWW CW contest from his QTH, though I never mentioned that to Harry in our correspondence!!). Our final visit in Australia would be five days in Sydney, with its San Francisco-like beauty, Opera House and cultural centers.
We would then embark on phase two of the trip, flying to Christchurch, New Zealand and a visit with ZL3GQ, from whose QTH we would take a rental car for a week to see the sights of the South Island, including Fox Glacier, Dunedin and the unfolding array of natural beauty for which New Zealand is so well known. Our holiday would end with a three day visit to Auckland, including a short stop at ZL1MH's QTH and a visit to the kauri forest some hours north of the city. Finally, we would fly home on December 14 via Los Angeles and, again, Newark.
Our plan omitted a number of places where we have friends as well as spots that others had urged us to include, such as Ayer's Rock near Alice Springs and Perth. But we just couldn't do it all, not on this first trip.
On the morning of departure, Nina discovered a flat tire on her car. We actually found a service station open that Sunday morning, but the tire could not be repaired. We had to put the 'donut' spare on pending our return. This quasi-emergency created a stressful atmosphere just prior to departure, but Nina managed to complete her packing and we got to the airport on an even keel! So, on November 20 Nina and I left for National Airport to begin our trip 'down under.' Arrival. One tends to learn unexpected lessons in travel. For my part, I will forever inquire about the seating aboard any DC- 10 aircraft my flight uses, at least on Continental. The space between the reclined seat in front of me and my nose was not enough for me to see my own knees unless I too reclined. Pity the poor traveler behind me who had the seat just in front of the emergency row -- he could not recline, or enjoy watching his own knees. But Continental was on time and we made our connection to Qantas' direct flight to Sydney. For the next fourteen and a half hours we were fed, shown movies, fed, shown more movies and fed again. By the end of it I was surprised we could get through the aircraft door. But there we were, in Sydney airport! We had even passed the international date line. It was now Tuesday, November 22. Time sure flies when you eat and watch movies in an airplane!
Our arrival in Sydney was quite exciting, at least for a few minutes until we had to find our way to the gate for our Cairns flight. While waiting for boarding, I noticed that one of the duty-free shops was hosting a promotion for some kind of chocolate liquor, with rather scantily clad young blondes offering tiny samples for passersby. I am pleased to report that the effects of some 24 continuous hours aboard airplanes does not dull one's need for chocolate liquor samples.
Cairns. The flight to Cairns was about two and a half hours long, with another meal provided! We landed at midday, and took a shuttle bus that stowed our luggage in a flimsy looking towed carriage to The Motel Cairns. The city was quite warm, probably about 30 degrees Centigrade, but we had prepared for that with shorts, hats and light shirts. The hotel was basic, as were most of the budget lodgings we had selected, but the office staff were delightful and inordinately helpful. Somehow the reservation I had made did not appear on their list, but there were rooms aplenty so we had no problem.
Our first stop was the Spectrum Management Office, about four blocks away. I had faxed them some weeks before asking them about licensing. We chatted for about half an hour, at the end of which I was assigned the callsign VK4DJT, a surprise given I had expected only a permit to use VK/N3JT. I nevertheless tended to use the latter, especially on 2 meters, to be sure nobody was misled about my status as a tourist. I did meet several VKCairns operators by radio, but our busy schedule did not permit any eyeball contacts. The remainder of the first day was devoted to getting our sea legs, organizing tours for the next two days and visiting the Cairns Museum which offered history of the area and insight into aboriginal culture.
That night we enjoyed our first meal in Australia, a buffet at the Beach Hut, a restaurant in a large, modern shopping mall overlooking the Cairns port, about fifteen minutes by foot from our hotel. I must admit that my first formal dinner dish was kangaroo stew. I loved it. We also ate 'bugs,' which are like shrimp with heads still attached (which the customer removes before eating), and an assortment of local fish and vegetable dishes. It was a superb meal.
Our first full day in Australia was our outing to the Great Barrier Reef. It is possible to organize an almost infinite array of visits to coral reefs with or without hotels out of any number of ports along the coast. Our intention was more modest; we just wanted to visit the reef and one day would be quite adequate. We boarded our tour bus early in the morning and were taken north about 45 minutes to Port Douglas, a somewhat upscale town clearly catering to the tourist and boating trade. There, we boarded the Quicksilver, a large silver colored catamaran, with about 200 of our newest friends from Japan and more southerly parts of Australia.
It took us about 90 minutes to reach the barge-like floating station that featured a variety of reef-oriented attractions, including scuba diving and snorkeling tours, and underwater through-the-glass viewing. The scuba diving was optional, meaning another $100 per person, so I opted for the snorkeling tour. We were guided to one corner of the station where I donned a wetsuit and joined six others in a small motorboat that took us half a mile away to tour a particularly interesting portion of the reef. The water was no more than twenty or thirty feet deep. We were buoyant with the wetsuits, and the snorkels were easy to use. In fact, they even had masks with optical correction so those of us otherwise helpless without glasses were not handicapped.
While the Great Barrier Reef is by far the longest such phenomenon in the world (2000 km) it is not alone in offering fantastic views of undersea life. Indeed, our visit coincided with a high tide which we were told tended to reduce the variety of fish we might see. I had seen more varieties of fish at Cancun, Mexico. But it was great fun and instructive having a guide to point out assorted coral species and varieties of fish. Meanwhile, Nina, who had never ventured into water over her head before, had managed to attract the sympathy of the Quicksilver's engineer and was guided hand-in-hand in an enclosed area adjacent to the barge.
Lunch was served buffet style, with cleanup coinciding with all sorts of signals and warnings for departure. We were told that nobody yet had spent the night aboard the barge, and we could tell why. The ride back was really beautiful, with the sun setting over the land offering an impressive display of colors and shadows. For me, that part of the day was as memorable as the reef itself. We arrived at our hotel in the early evening, with enough time to try a restaurant we picked purely at random near our hotel, called the Red Ochre Grill. They served a mixed platter of kangaroo, wallaby and emu. We liked the wallaby the best.
The next morning we embarked by bus on our tour to Kuranda, on the Atherton Tableland some 40 km northwest of Cairns. Kuranda is known as the 'Village of Rain Forest.' It is really an Australian-style adult theme park featuring outdoor markets, restaurants, Butterfly Sanctuary, Noctarium and an assortment of specialty shops. The butterfly 'aviary' was one of those terrific surprises one experiences so rarely in travel. Imagine a large caged environment in which dozens of species of butterflies, of all colors and sizes, fly about your head, land on you, and seemingly smile at you! My favorite was the Ulysses species, strikingly bright blue and simply magnificent.
In the darkened Noctarium we saw (or met?) a dozen varieties of nocturnal animals native to Australia, including various marsupials, the dominant kind of mammal inhabiting Australia, and fruitbats (which clung to the side of the caged area to have visitors rub their noses). There were echidnas, wallabies, and an assortment of other species I have already forgotten. All were interesting variations on the marsupial theme.
The day spent at Kuranda was very special in part because of the memorable ride back to Cairns on the old railroad, constructed at the turn of the century in connection with gold mining in the mountains. It took us through a multitude of tunnels, over old iron trestle bridges, by Barron Gorge adjacent to an immense and magnificent waterfall, along steams and through valleys as we travelled down from the rim of the Great Plateau back to within four blocks of our hotel. It was nice!
That evening we were introduced to a custom which caused us some surprise, if not annoyance. In restaurants almost everywhere I have been in the world, bread is served free of charge with the meal. In some more expensive restaurants in Italy I remember being charged for those breadsticks that are already on the table when you are seated -- as well as, if I recall correctly, use of the silverware. But this was not Italy and I did not expect to see this practice in Australia. In the Italian restaurant we dined at in Cairns we were charged $3.00 per for the little rolls served with our meal. It was not mentioned anywhere on the menu. The owner made it abundantly clear that this was his 'normal practice.' More surprisingly, it was also the standard practice in many other restaurants as we continued our journey. For the first few days we asked in advance if there was a charge for bread. When the answer was 'no,' we were invariably given a quizzical look, so after a while we just gave up bread entirely and avoided the issue.
We also learned that tipping is simply not practiced, because service providers are paid real salaries and tips are meant to express appreciation for truly outstanding service. This is quite different from home where tipping is effectively a ticket to safe exit from a restaurant. Overall, we found restaurant service satisfactory throughout our travels in VK and ZL, but not as enthusiastic as we have seen in places where the financial incentive is more directly associated with quality of service. Enough said on that point. As a further note, though, I should warn that in VK and ZL the entree as I have known it is called the main course, and what they call the entree is what I have always known as the appetizer. The logic, of course, is unassailable, and I guess, after all, we should view 'entree' as signalling the course just prior to dessert!
Our final half day in Cairns was perhaps one of the most exciting parts of our trip -- our visit to Wildworld, an unusual and exceptionally well done animal park about 45 minutes by public bus north of the city. It was here that we saw the koala bears (up close!), fed kangaroos of several species, saw a crocodile 'show,' snakes of varying levels of toxicity, invading toads, emu and cassowary, and a long list of birds and other animals that you'll have to go to Wildworld and see yourself! One small kangaroo or wallaby seemed less interested than others in being fed. I offered it a handful of Wildworld cereal but it just batted my hand away from its face! Just to make sure I was getting right message, I again offered it food, but the kangaroo stood its ground and batted at me again. For some odd reason Nina thought that was quite amusing. For my part, it was the closest I wanted to come to sparring with a kangaroo. On reflection, maybe it just wanted a cheeseburger. I'll never know.
Darwin. The next afternoon we winged our way to the second stop on our journey down under, to Darwin. It was the first time I have changed my watch by a half hour to match local time, something I believe is done in Indonesia. If nothing else, it took about that much time to organize my digital watch, what with adjusting date (which I had forgotten to do in Cairns), daynight cycle, hour and minute readouts. We checked in at the Air Raid Motel, recommended as a 'best buy' by Frommer's Budget Travel Guide for Australia. Because Nina and I agreed at the outset that our lodging must at a minimum have air conditioning and private bath, the Air Raid was deemed acceptable. Indeed, our room had five beds and, we learned later, was used by visiting aboriginal representatives and their families when visiting Darwin on official business.
Darwin is a port on the Timor Sea and is part of the Northern Territory, which is not yet a state of Australia. The Japanese bombed Darwin during WW2. In 1974 it was again flattened by Cyclone (Hurricane) Tracy. It has the Diamond Beach Casino, which is the Northern Territory's answer to Atlantic City, and is adjacent to Kakadu National Park, one of the wonders of Australia and the reason for including Darwin on our itinerary. Darwin is also tropical, which means hot and humid, much like Washington, DC in August!
We had scheduled two and a half days in Darwin, enough time to visit Kakadu for two days if we wished, with enough time to see the war museum. On consultation with VK8HA and a travel agent near the hotel, we decided to forgo the possibility of seeing animals at dawn or dusk and spend merely one day at Kakadu. That approach proved correct for us. We later talked with folks who had spent one or more nights in Kakadu. Some had seen a few more animals in the wild, but not enough more to have warranted the additional time in the bush. Interestingly, the younger tourists felt that even three nights in the park was inadequate, so age might be relevant on this issue. In any event, we signed up for the 12 hour tour through Kakadu for the next day. Then we walked about two miles to the pier overlooking the port and had our first taste of barramundi, the Australian fish that is so well regarded -- and deservedly so. Because it was quite warm, the restaurant was open to the outside and the sea breeze gave us a feeling of being aboard ship, though the napkins and menus blew across the floor and not off the deck! There were no taxis to be found, so we hoofed our way up hill in the heat back to our hotel and readied for the next day's tour. The air conditioning was working, after a fashion!
On a map, Kakadu looks like it is next door to the hotel, but in fact it takes several hours to get there. We saw one wild kangaroo and enormous numbers of raucous birds whose species names went in one ear (of mine) and out the other. We experienced the 'outback' as a tropical area with enormous varieties of vegetation. We noted in particular the dominance of eucalyptus and malaluca trees. As in any tropical area, there is a dry season and a wet season. We were there during the end of the dry season, which meant dust and flies galore. It is interesting that the flies were annoying but did not bite. The insect sprays we used seemed to have no effect at all.
Part of the day tour took us to Yellow Waters, a river along which we saw dozens of large flocks of birds, fish, and fruitbats disturbed by our presence. An enormous crocodile, named Pluto by the tourguides, before our very eyes devoured a large goose it had caught in the brushes near where we had just boarded our small boat. The saltwater crocodiles are man-eating and warrant care when walking near any water. After that visit I even exercised caution when getting into the hotel shower. Sometime before our visit to Yellow Waters a policeman's dog briefly went 'knee deep' into water along one of the tributaries and was summarily swallowed by a large crocodile, just out of reach of the policeman. (I believe that croc is now one of the residents at Wildworld. The lesson, I suppose, is not to get caught eating a policeman's dog!)
Freshwater crocodiles do not grow as large as the saltwater variety and are not dangerous if you are larger than a small bird. I took this on faith because the next day we swam in waters reportedly inhabited by fresh water crocodiles. I tasted the water when I got in to be sure it was not salty, and encouraged Nina to go in first. You can never be too careful.
In Kakadu, we saw magnificent aboriginal petroglyphs, reminiscent of those we have seen in Alaska and in the U.S. southwest. It is amazing to think that people migrated to Australia, probably from Java during the last ice age, adapted to such harsh living conditions and still live, though with some difficulty in the face of a more dominant European culture. The aboriginal culture is replete with mythology, stories of interactions among god-like entities that give anthropomorphic embodiment to their environment. I suspect that were we alone in the Australian wilderness those mythologies would serve us well, indeed!
That evening we ate at the Capri, an Italian restaurant near our hotel that made the best focaccia we have ever eaten. By dinner's end we were barely able to walk the half block to our hotel. So much for the relaxation of holidays. Our day trip to Lichfield Park started with concern. The four wheel vehicle that arrived at the crack of dawn was driven by a very young woman. As we picked up the other eight passengers I became aware that we were the oldest by at least two decades. What were we in for, after all? What had VK8HA done to us? Fortunately, our concerns proved to be without merit.
Lichfield is a relatively new park which features fantastic waterfalls, rain forests and outback. We swam in some of the most beautiful pools I have ever seen. I even swam across one and floated under a 100 meter waterfall! Along the walks to these waterfalls were cycads, short palm-like trees that are throwbacks to the Jurassic period. We saw small lizards -- one called a frilled lizard that is about the size of a small cat and which our guide caught and held for us to see for a few minutes - and, again, myriad birds. We stopped at four waterfalls, but the last was the most glorious because it consisted of a series of cascaded pools. Everyone could pick his or her own small pool and repose for a half hour in the natural beauty and coolness of the Australian afternoon. It was a terrific day and VK8HA was quite right in suggesting we spend the day at Lichfield rather than a second day at Kakadu!
That evening we ate at a unique restaurant called the Genghis Khan, where for a price fixe one could select from among a number of meats, sauces and vegetables and have them grilled. This is where we tried crocodile, deer, buffalo, camel and (again) kangaroo. During the day we had eaten sandwiches picnic style. While visiting the rain forest I sampled -- under the instruction of our tourguide -- green ants, which had a very agreeable lemony taste. I would not order crocodile again but I would readily try more of those green ants!
When we returned to our room that afternoon we learned that the airline refuellers were staging a one day strike the next day. We called Qantas and managed to get seats on a flight to Sydney the next morning; our afternoon flight had been cancelled. This meant that our planned morning with Harry, VK8HA, had to be scrapped. Harry's car had problems which prevented him from driving at night. Fortunately, however, we had made arrangements with VK8TA, who we had met earlier on two meters, to join us over drinks at the Casino that evening. On relating the scheduling problem, Terry immediately volunteered to take us to Harry's QTH.
Enroute to Harry's place we stopped at a gasoline station and while there were approached by an aboriginal family that needed a hot shot, i.e., a battery assist, for their car, which was a few meters away and plainly immovable. VK8TA cheerfully assisted, after which one of the adult male members of the family came over to our car, stretched out his hand to me and thanked me profusely, blessing me with good 'dream sleep.' I was quite impressed.
Our short visit with Harry was exceptionally pleasant. While Nina chatted with Harry, I nonchalantly meandered over to the shack and managed to work EI3J in the CQWW CW contest, which was that weekend. (I subsequently submitted my log for zone 29 and expect to win VK8 hands down!) In a desolate and dark area along the highway back to Darwin I asked Terry to stop the car and turn the lights out. After a few moments, our eyes adjusted to the darkness. We gazed at a sky that I had only seen once before and which Nina had never seen. It was magnificent. For those who have never seen the southern hemisphere sky, there is a great surprise in store. It contains most of the stars visible from earth! The Milky Way extends mostly below the ecliptic, and the southern cross is plainly visible. We made another Milky Way stop later in the trip, but more about that later. It was by now quite late and we had to be packed and outside for the airport van at 5:30 a.m.. It had been another full and exciting day.
Sydney. The early morning flight to Sydney stopped at Alice Springs. As we descended, I scanned the surrounding landscape in an effort to spot Ayer's Rock, surely large enough to be seen if I was looking in the right direction. I didn't see anything so I assumed I was on the wrong side of the aircraft. The plane was just about to touch down when it abruptly ascended and circled for another landing attempt. This gave me an opportunity to look in every direction for Ayer's Rock. But I saw nothing. Glancing down at the tourbook in my hands I noticed that Ayer's Rock is 280 km from Alice Springs, a fact that I hadn't taken note of earlier because we had decided not to visit Alice Springs early on. As it happens, a two day stay at Alice Springs is required to visit Ayer's Rock. At least we saw the Alice Springs airport and witnessed the dry heat of this part of the outback. The terrain was plainly more desolate than we had seen so far in our journey. We were pleased to be in the air conditioned airport facility.
At the outset, I can do no less than suggest that Sydney is the most appealing city I have ever been to. It is the San Francisco of the Southern Hemisphere, but it displays more natural beauty and seems to have a more congenial collective attitude. We had no difficulty filling our five days in Sydney, without even leaving its perimeter! It all started with arrival at our hotel, the Cambridge, on Riley Street. After staying for a week in motels that one could accurately assert were less than five star lodgings, our twelfth floor balconied room in the Darlinghurst section of Sydney seemed no less than luxurious. Actually, by any standard it would be quite nice! And, as noted earlier, we have VK2BJ to thank for the correction from our original plan of a hotel somewhere out of the downtown area.
Our day had started early, but we were anxious to see the sights so we did what we always do when we arrive in a new city: we walked. The general direction we headed was toward the harbor, about 2 miles away. Our first stop was the Hyde Park Barracks, which was built as a dormitory for male convicts, later used to house the New South Wales Regiment. It now is a museum with rooms devoted to different aspects of life from the colonial period to modern times, including a room on women and how they made their way to Australia in the last century. By now we were losing steam, so we walked through lovely Hyde Park with its lovely trees, and prepared for our evening -- by taking a nap!
Our hotel was situated in the funky part of town, along Oxford Street and its many ethnic restaurants, and shops. We consulted the tourbook and chose a Balkan restaurant for dinner, which seemed just a bit less appealing than its description. The food wasn't bad, though not quite up to the green ants and kangaroo of the previous days. After dinner, we strolled for awhile along Oxford Street and enjoyed the displays of London-like shops, restaurants and 'interesting' people. We had started the day all too early and it was time to prepare for our first full day in Sydney. It was terrific being within walking distance of our hotel!
We started our first full day by heading toward the bay. We visited the Parliament Building and the State Library of New South Wales. The Library is a wonderful building with peripheral museum display wings. The special exhibit was paintings, mostly watercolors, by Conrad Martins, an artist who accompanied Charles Darwin on one of the voyages of the Beagle. They were excellent! (If you happen to have a Martins painting in the garage, be assured that it is worthless. In the interest of fellowship, however, I would offer one of my antique homebrew keyers in trade for it. No questions asked.) The Parliament Building has historic art displays as well and itself is a building well worth visiting. We then walked through a corner of the Botanical Garden, with its blooming roses, tropical plants and array of growth seemingly familiar but clearly unique to Australia. Next, we stopped at the Queen Victoria Building, which for decades housed the Municipal Library but is now a magnificent shopping complex, reminiscent of Washington's Georgetown Park but larger and more Victorian! It features cathedral ceilings, grand staircases, wrought iron balustrades and a one-ton clock that shows scenes from British history. With about 200 (expensive) shops it is not for the budget-conscious, but it is wonderful to visit, especially before Christmas when there are decorations and even an adorned pine tree on the main floor. Interestingly, the commercialism of the holiday season is not as loud or vexatious ('in your face') as we tend to see in shopping centers in the States. The media too are much more subdued about it all. The overall approach we found in Australia (and in New Zealand, later) was, in a word, civilized.
We found a pub across from Hyde Park, downstairs under a shopping arcade, that featured a 'special' meal for only five dollars. After paying entrance fees for most everywhere we were visiting, a bargain was welcome! There was a choice of weinerschnitzel, fish, meat and other main courses, plus vegetables and a beverage -- all for five dollars. It was generous in quantity and taste. At one point I went to the barman and asked for a glass of water. He responded with, 'mishgble er skfizatwsh?' I had no idea what he had said. Finally, after several efforts at it I understood. It was, 'middy or schooner?' I vaguely recollected reading something about these words and figured that a schooner was bigger than a middy, so I knowingly declared the schooner and promptly got a large glass of water. (Not bad for a Yank at his first visit to an Aussie bar, aye mate?)
After lunch we visited the Sydney Opera House, probably the best known attraction of Sydney. It was designed in 1957 by Danish architect Joern Utzon but not completed until 1973 due to a series of labor, construction and political problems. It was much more costly than anticipated, but was financed by a national lottery! The Opera House looks like an array of sails, fitting for a harbor setting. Utzon never returned to Australia to see the completion of the Opera House because of changes by subsequent architects, though his daughter reportedly lives in Sydney. The tour of the Opera House really is one of the 'musts' of a visit to Sydney. It has four performance halls, and remarkable workmanship inside and out. The next day was Nina's birthday, so I bought two tickets to see Hotspur, an Englishstyle situation comedy that apparently follows a sitcom that is quite popular in Australia. More about that later. In the afternoon, we shopped. Nina had promised some friends who had been to Australia that she would bring them pavlova (a pastry mix) and a particular designer towel set. I have no further comment on this shopping trip other than to report that I remained relatively civil. Finally, it was time to prepare for dinner, and what a special dinner it was!
We were picked up at our hotel by Barry, VK2BJ, and headed to his house north of Sydney, going through a tunnel (or was it over a bridge - I can't remember now) and visiting the sights near his QTH. The inlets that give Sydney its San Francisco-like appearance and which make it so beautiful extend beyond the city limits, so there are small yacht clubs, coves and parks that give the coastal suburbs not far from Barry's place exceptional appeal. We enjoyed a lovely meal with Barry and Margaret and family. Barry was judicious in choosing his QTH. His antennas are on a rocky knoll that slopes down in most directions, assuring low angle takeoff on all bands! It is now understandable why Barry has one of the better signals from VK! Later, we were joined for dessert by VK2AZU, Chris, who was great company and drove us all the way back to our hotel late that night. Once again we had completed an 18 hour day, and tomorrow would present a whole set of new sights and experiences.
The next day, Nina's birthday, we walked in a different direction than on earlier outings, into Darlinghurst, a trendy area in a state of gentrification. Our first stop was Sydney's Holocaust Museum, which contained a series of displays on the history of Jewish life in the city and settlement of Australia generally, as well as a multi-level remembrance of the Holocaust, exceptionally well done and effective. The docents were, in some cases, survivors of the death camps and offered young people first-hand reports of history.
Our next objective was just across the street: a bus stop. We learned that the bus travelled along routes into areas of the city we otherwise might not get to see. It was the least expensive tour of the trip! We wandered for 45 minutes through Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo, each neighborhood very different from the other. Were there more time it would have been interesting to get off the bus and meander the streets of some of these neighborhoods, some with concentrations of antique shops, cafes or restaurants, others with beautiful homes and lovely small gardens. The bus brought us close to Circular Quay, where Captain Arthur Phillip landed in 1788 with 1500 people (including 700 convicts) to settle the colony, which he named for Viscount Sydney. This was also where we would catch the ferry to Manly Beach. While we waited, there were all sorts of activities going on, including one man selling enormously detailed (and presumably expensive) model ships and others hawking their crafts.
The ride to Manly Beach was gorgeous -- a 35 minute display of the Opera House, Harbour Bridge, city landscapes, and Fort Denison (today a maritime tide observation station in the middle of Sydney Harbour, but formerly used as a punishment post and as a for to protect against possible Russian invasion). Manly is a beach area that feature an Oceanarium, the Manly Waterworks, a Fun Pier and, more important for us, a lovely esplanade with intriguing restaurants overlooking the beach, and souvenir shops. After an excellent lunch at the Rimini Fish Cafe, we walked along the beach. I spotted a public telephone and it occurred to me that this would be a good time to call Nina's mother in Florida so she could wish Nina a happy birthday. It was all so easy to do, thanks to plastic, and the connection was via undersea cable and digital, so it was like a local call! The 3 minutes turned out to cost about $9, a bit more than it would have in the reverse direction, but well worth it!
By the time we got back to our hotel from Manly Beach, it was time to go to the special restaurant I had selected for Nina's birthday, based in part on advertisements and recommendations of folks we had talked with. It was at the end of the pier at the Rocks, the Old Sydney area, looked directly out on the beautifully illuminated Opera House, and was reputed to be the best seafood restaurant in Sydney. Despite reservations we were seated in an uncomfortable corner less than 4 cm. from a very noisy table of 4 women who were dining on drinks. When we changed tables we were placed just outside the windbreak area and had to huddle in our jackets to remain comfortable. We hoped for great cuisine but what came was something far short of an epicurean delight! In any event, I was not pleased to pay premium prices at Doyles. It could have been worse, I told myself.
From there we walked to the Opera House to see Hotspur, the play I mentioned earlier. It was a great hit judging by the packed house, but I guess our senses of humor just didn't match the subject matter. I suspect the theme of the play required familiarity with the television series that everyone in Sydney knew so well. In any event, the theater itself was comfortable, and it was fun to be among theatergoers in Australia. By now we had the bus system down pretty well and grabbed the right one back to our hotel.
Our next day was filled with short visits to a variety of places noted in our tourguides. We wandered through lovely Darling Harbour, which covers the western dockside region bordering Chinatown. It used to be a seedy area but is now an enormous entertainment and cultural complex which is traversed by a monorail system that connects to the city center. We would return here later to meet VK2BPN for a drink. From Darling Harbour we walked through the town center, following the monorail route and visiting the abundant stores and taking in the sights. Nina, who is originally from Brooklyn, took delight at standing before the Brooklyn Hotel in downtown Sydney! We bought some gifts at David Jones, a quality department store, took a tour of the Great Synagogue, which is Orthodox and was constructed in the 1880's, and ate once again at that special $5 restaurant-cum-pub around the corner. The remainder of the afternoon was consumed by a walking tour through the area called the Rocks, which as noted before is the oldest part of the city. Now, it is totally redeveloped, no longer the rough, tough area of 'notorious taverns, prostitutes and nightly knifeplay where the infamous 'Sydney Ducks' reigned supreme and the garrison soldiers collected a few lifeless bodies every morning.' (Frommers) It is now the premier walking tour area, with small museums, shops, old streets, and fun sights. It also has plenty of hills, so we really stretched our walking muscles that afternoon. We must really have overdone it, because neither of us can remember what we did for dinner that night.
Our last day in Sydney was a busy one. We had yet to see the Australia Museum and the Art Museum. We saw both, and they were terrific. The tourguide at the Australia Museum took us through every section quickly, so we would know what parts to see more leisurely afterwards. I was especially interested in some of the gold exhibits, given Australia had witnessed a number of major gold rushes in the last 150 years. There was a fantastic nature exhibit, with an insect room showing families and species, and the same with birds. The Art Museum contained many Australian and English artworks but also Aboriginal pieces that offered some insight into the cultural differences. Given that the Aborigines had occupied Australia for the last 30,000 years, it is not surprising they developed a unique array of art forms, some now mixed with more modern modes that produce intriguing impressions.
We had made arrangements with VK2BPN to meet at a hotel lobby in Darling Harbour late that afternoon. The lobby was a large area with considerable movement of people, but we spotted each other without difficulty. We then walked together for a while as we chatted, trying to find a pub that was not crowded early Friday evening. I ordered the beers, brands I cannot now remember but which were excellent and we chatted with Peter about life and radio. We had a really lovely time together, but it was soon time to part. Peter dropped us off at a restaurant called Pancakes on the Rocks, which featured chocolate pancakes, among other niceties.
The next morning we had to awaken very early to catch our flight to Christchurch, and the hotel room looked like a cyclone just passed through. We were quite proud that we succeeded in packing our clothing and new acquisitions into our already suitcases! Our visit to Sydney had been terrific and we regret not spending more time there to see the Blue Mountains, wander the neighborhoods and take advantage of the many activities that make it such a vibrant town.
Christchurch. For those who travel, you know what a comforting feeling it is to have friends meet you when you arrive at an airport in a country you have never been to before. Our friends in New Zealand are ZL3GQ, Peter, and Maire! They were there to greet us with smiles and warmth that never faded during our stay with them, which came in two doses -- at the beginning of the visit and a week later. With Maire's guidance we planned a trip of 6 days that would take us south through along the east coast of the South Island through Timaru to Dunedin, west to Queenstown, across the Haast Pass and Lake Wanaka, north to Hokitika and then east through Arthur's Pass back to Christchurch and ZL3GQ again. In between there were many sights to see. We barely had enough time to see the major attractions.
Directly from meeting us at the airport, Peter and Maire took us to the new Antarctica Museum, less than 1 km from the airport. It has some excellent exhibits, including environment oriented analyses of human activities in the Antarctica, abundant photographs of wildlife, and an assortment of scientific exhibits, all well worthwhile. Christchurch is the stopping off place for a number of Antarctic expeditions, including recent ham dxpeditions, such as St. Peters Rock. We then went up Summit Road and to the hilltop on the cable car for a spectacular view of the surrounding area, including Lyttelton Harbour and Akaroa to the east, formed long ago by two adjacent volcanoes. There is a French settlement there and until early in this century it had retained its separate cultural identity. We could also see the Southern Alps to the southwest.
By then it was time to settle in at ZL3GQ's QTH. The house is on several acres but the antenna structures are quite visible some distance off, which probably did more for me than for Nina. However, I sat up front with Peter and talked about macho issues like propagation and antenna limitations while Nina and Maire chatted about social and cultural matters. Actually, it was the latter that we had come to learn about, but it's not easy to disabuse one's self of an opportunity to play with an excellent station like ZL3GQ after a week of near deprivation from headphones. In any event, we had a fantastic dinner of roast lamb; and I soon found myself sitting at Peter's shack. I must digress from radio issues to relate a curious phenomenon that actually began with this meal and ended later in Auckland.
During our stay on the South Island of New Zealand, we found it exceptionally difficult to find lamb in any restaurants. When we did find it, we were served assorted stews or cuts that just weren't what I happen to like, viz., roast leg of lamb. Maire hinted at the outset that this may occur, but with 60 million sheep in New Zealand the notion of having problems finding lamb did not seem likely. The lamb that we ate at ZL3GQ's place was terrific, and it had come from a sheep that had been raised on their property and later butchered locally. (No bambi problem here; the several sheep are not pets!) Later in the trip, when we reached the North Island, lamb appeared in most restaurants, but the best by far was at a restaurant I will mention later. My interest in lamb, incidentally, is not really profound given I do not as a rule eat red meat at home, as a personal dietary preference. We also learned that the tastiest lamb is called hoggett, which is a one year old lamb, but we never found any on a menu.
That evening, I stayed up for several hours and worked a number of JA and W stations, as well as Europeans, on 40 m cw, but conditions really were not terribly good. Peter then suggested I just wait another hour, until 12:30 p.m. local time and the bands would open again and peak. They did. I worked several hundred stations, including a number of FOC members and other friends from North America and Europe. It was like old times at HK0! I finally gave up around 2:30 a.m., which was about 8:30 a.m. East Coast time -- when the band usually dies to ZL. The several VS6, 9V1, HL, BV and BY stations that called were surprises but of course were just local skip from ZL3. The strongest W stations were those you would expect, the guys with big beams in the stratosphere. But even in the big pileups, it was weaker stations that often could be picked out first because they were calling off frequency, just away from the narrow concentration of big gun callers. The big guns, in other words, often called on the same frequency and would cancel themselves out, leaving the weaker signals to be picked up first. No doubt some of the big guns were checking SWR readings when they heard me work a number of plainly small-fry stations first! To be sure, having a beam with height on 40 meters is vastly superior to the typical wire antenna, but sometimes skill can compensate. Skill and the big station are unbeatable!
The next morning, we had our schedule well-planned, but at least we started at a less compulsive hour for the first time on our holiday, like around 9 a.m.! Peter and Maire took us on a tour of the city, largely a meandering about the downtown area with its lovely streets, quiet atmosphere, cleanliness and interesting sights. We spent several hours at the old University of Christchurch, now the Arts Center, which includes a lively Arts and Crafts Market (open weekends). It was really fun. I bought a die (singular of dice) made of rimu (like a white pine) about 8 cm on a side that had different stock transaction decisions on it, and several other hand made items. It was the first time I remember eating Czech fast food, one of the many choices among the vendors in the open area eatery. In the open courtyard, there was music, classical and pleasant rock, under blue skies and perfect temperatures. We also toured the laboratory of Rutherford, who did early atomic chemistry research in Christchurch; several art galleries; outdoor markets; walking tour of the downtown area; the McDougall Art Gallery, which contained a large number of impressive paintings by New Zealand and English artists dating back to the early settlement period of the country.
We also made arrangements to rent a car for a week, which led me to discover that my gold VISA card does not cover waiver of the collision insurance coverage in New Zealand, meaning we had to pay an additional fee of some $8 per day (mandatory) in addition to the rental. One must always be prepared for the anomalies of travel and not be too upset by them. They invariably occur. By this time, were ready for drinks and dinner, so we walked to a hotel in town and treated our wonderful hosts to a memorable meal -- including my urging of a pudding dessert of great caloric content on Peter, who abashedly consumed it with great reverence! By then we were all nearly delirious from the long day and overeating, and headed back to prepare for our departure south the next morning. Maire helped us map out daily activities for the week ahead of us, loaned us maps and offered specific suggestions on sights to see along the way. I had planned on operating again on 40 cw, but midway into my second log page suddenly noticed that the room had gone dark and I was listing to the left on the chair. My eyes had closed, a strong suggestion that it was time to abdicate and hit the sack!
Timaru. Early the next morning, we picked up the rental car and headed south along the east coast of the South Island. As we approached the coast some kilometers out of Christchurch, we began to get lovely views of mountains to the west and sea to the east, with beautiful hilly terrain on both sides. Soon we arrived in Timaru, where we would stop to find ZL4FC, Ray, with whom I had made contact on 40 cw from home and again from ZL3GQ's house. Peter had been raised in Timaru and suggested that Ray was located along the main road, but we stopped in a service station for directions anyway. While Nina inquired inside, a fellow who had been staring at a map adjacent to the station came over to me to ask directions. Right! He was American journalist and immediately offered me sage advice about being particularly careful driving on the left side of the road. Two days before he had been driving along some small rural road not far from Timaru when he made a right turn but forgot to look left and smashed into another car. He was prepared for the worst, but the people whose car he damaged were more concerned about his upset than for their car and invited him to their house for a soothing drink! The police, he was sure, would issue him a violation. Instead, they were courteous and sympathetic and wished him luck. He was so taken with this 'gentility' that he said he would write an article for publication in his San Francisco newspaper. So far I haven't seen a copy of the article he promised to send, but that is not as significant as the story itself.
Anyway, Nina returned with specific directions and we continued through Timaru, a town of I suppose about 35,000 people, and found our way to Ray's QTH. He was out just then, since we were a bit early, but we met his mother in law who showed us to their lovely garden, with roses blooming and various other flowers I had never. Soon Ray arrived, and we had the usual chat among hams. His wife came shortly after that and we had a delightful lunch together. He uses dipoles strung up behind the house at relatively modest heights, but he can be heard on 40 cw! If we were to reach Dunedin during daylight we would have to get moving, so we bid our goodbyes to Ray and family and headed south.
Oamaru. South of Timaru we saw some exceptionally beautiful places. Fancy brought me visions of a beam atop one of the lovely hills just to the right and above us, overlooking the sea to the left of us. A few unexpected turns in the road released me of these thoughts at about the same time Nina made some less than complimentary remarks about the edge of the road and my driving. But we soon reached Oamaru, a small town that has a section which looks much like it did in the 1870's. It is called the White Stone City because it has many buildings made of white limestone quarried nearby. There was also a Museum and Art Gallery featuring local artists displaying North Otago scenery and a newly constructed crafts complex.
It was just outside Oamaru that I saw the first 'speed camera' warning sign. Having no inkling of what a speed camera was, I watched my speed and kept vigil on the power poles and street standards for the next several miles, but I never saw anything that looked like a camera. Later, I learned that these are cameras mounted next to radar guns in police cruisers or unmarked cars. When the radar detects a speeder, the operator, who need not be a police officer, snaps a photograph of the oncoming vehicle. The clarity is sufficient to identify both the license tag and the driver's face! In one case we heard about, the driver contested the accuracy of the photographic representation, but in court was further nabbed with a ticket for failing to wear his seatbelt! So far, I have not received any unwelcome mail for my driving despite my inclination to press the legal velocity envelope! (This may be endemic among FOC-tourists with law training; ask G4BUE about speeding in the United States!)
Moeraki. About 80 km north of Dunedin, we stopped to the see the famous Moeraki boulders. They are round boulders about a meter in diameter that accreted over millions of years from minerals in the sandy soil below the sea. Today, they are revealed by sea erosion and are really quite odd. It's hard to imagine them forming naturally. They do make great stages for tourist photographs, though!
Dunedin. The road to Dunedin is just magnificent in late November, with all sorts of flowers in bloom. Among the most common is broom, which was introduced a century ago by Scottish farmers as a hedge for sectioning farmland. Unfortunately, broom has spread everywhere, its seed pods capable of years of dormancy and immune to most attempts at eradication. Today, its yelloworange flowers dominate the landscape, with a similar plant called gorse causing the same problem.
We arrived at the visitor center in Dunedin at just a minute after 6:00 p.m., as the office was closing! However, I offered my call on a 2 meter repeater and immediately was answered by ZL4MB, Stan. He assisted us with directions toward 'hotel row.' We found a quaint B&B built in 1863 called the Sahara Guest House and stayed there the night. The young owner could not have been more accommodating and we were close to the visitor center and other sights in town. We ate at one of the more elegant restaurants of the trip called Cargill's. It was one of the few occasions we found lamb on the menu on the South Island. (We stopped at two other restaurants in Dunedin; one actually 'called around' to find us lamb!). After dinner we had tea with ZL4MB and his lovely wife Sadie. They offered us history of the Dunedin area as well as terrific dessert! We knew from our guidebooks that there was enough in Dunedin and the surrounding area to spend some days. But we only had one day, so we planned what we would see starting early the next morning and got an early start (again!).
Dunedin is large enough to require a car to reach important sights. We started with the famous Flemish Renaissance-style railway station, which features Oamaru limestone facing, a large square clock tower, red Marseilles roof tiles, colorful mosaic floor and wondrous train-theme stained glass windows. We then spent two hours at the interesting Otago Early Settlers Museum which featured a room filled with a variety of styles of early furniture and adorned to the ceiling on every wall with sepia photos of early settlers. It also has several period rooms that really make the visitor think for a second about what century it is. There was a room filled with musical instruments, and in an adjacent alcove there was a faithfully restored train steam engine called Josephine. On the more cerebral side, there was an informative exhibit of early Maori-European history.
Next, we went on a tour of Olveston, a stately, 35 room Jacobean home faced with Oamaru stone and Moeraki gravel [remember the Moeraki boulders?] built by the Theomins at the turn of the century as a 25th anniversary gift to each other. Theomin was a successful importer who installed all the modern conveniences of the time. He tastefully included now-priceless paintings and adorned the walls with artworks from the world over. There is Roman period bronze statue in the entrance foyer with a removable fig-leaf, something you must ask the tourguide about if you dare! Without revealing more, I would suggest that Olveston alone makes Dunedin worthy of a visit.
From Olveston, we had to walk up the steepest street in the world (steeper than San Francisco's Lombard Street), Baldwin Street. To be more accurate, I climbed to the top while Nina 'rested' about two thirds [she says 7/8ths] of the way up the 270 steps. It is curious that people live on this street -- when they drive they have to make the turn into their abutting driveways with sufficient speed to avoid the possibility of rolling over! Fortunately, there is no snow in Dunedin!
Finally, on the outskirts of Dunedin is Signal Hill (also known as Centennial Lookout) which overlooks the city and harbor area, quite an impressive view. I was especially pleased that the tourbus we encountered in the parking lot at the top started down before us rather than confronting us head-on along the steep, narrow and blind-curved access road. Perhaps of significance are some of the sights we did not see in the Dunedin area, including the Wilsons Distillery Whiskey Tours and tour of Speights Brewery; and the Otago Peninsula where one can see albatrosses, penguins, a Maori church, Larnach Castle (a Neo-Gothic, ScottishVictorian mansion) and Glenfalloch Gardens. Next time. We ate a very late lunch at Neffe's, which has some 500 whiskey jugs and Jim Beam Bourbon bottles on display along the walls and ceiling but perhaps would not make it into the Michelin Restaurant Guide! We left Dunedin in the late afternoon and headed to our next stop, Queenstown.
Queenstown. We tried to arrive at our destinations before dark, but our drive west through Roxburgh, Alexandra and Cromwell to Queenstown took a bit longer than we had planned. There was such beautiful terrain along the way that we felt compelled to stop to absorb the beauty, and occasionally take photos.
Queenstown is known as the jewel of the South Island, and was named by gold prospectors who declared it 'fit for any queen.' The city is situated near the Remarkables, mountains along the northeastern shore of Lake Wakatipu (53-miles long and 1280 feet deep). Sheepherders were first to settle the area but gold prospectors overwhelmed them. Today, Queenstown is a resort and the area is a vast high-country sheep region. We found a suitable motel, the Melbourne Motor Lodge, and headed the several blocks into 'town' to window shop and stretch our legs. The stores were still open as were the restaurants, so our day was once again extended later than we had planned. We also stopped at a tourist agency to book our activities for the next two days.
There are many activities offered in Queenstown, among them a lake cruise, hydrofoil ride, jet-boat trips, bungy jumping [which I prefer to leave to our esteemed editor!], fishing, walks, tours and visits to nearby towns. With limited time and (in my case) motion sensitivity, we decided to take the TSS Earnslaw, a 1912 coal-fired steamship launched within about a month of the Titanic's launching. The Earnslaw takes tourists across the lake for a visit to an operating sheep station. The ride is breathtaking, and the sheep station visit is really both enlightening and entertaining. One learns the use of different breeds of dogs, some of the habits of sheep, and even an opportunity to be surrounded by and feed both sheep and goats. Of greatest interest was the amusingly presented process of shearing sheep, with commentary offered by Conrad, who apparently is the son of the owner of the station. Tea was served on the veranda of the large house at the station, a very tidy arrangement and really lovely. We had our exciting moment when just before the Earnslaw was to leave Nina realized she left a bag in the house and she dashed up the hill to retrieve it. (Actually, I only saw her run that fast once before, and that was in Athens when we chased a taxi to get a ride to the embarkation point of our ship!) There was a tourist shop at the station which we discovered later offered wool items at relatively attractive prices. The sheep station consumed half the day, so we spent the remainder of the afternoon touring the city. In the early evening, following our first nap of the trip, we took the cable car up to the top of Skyline Point, overlooking the city from the Remarkables, and had dinner at the Skyline Chalet. It was a fantastic experience, though I remember the inadequacy of the lamb more clearly than the rest of the meal! I took a number of time exposure photographs of the city at night from the railing of the Chalet but never got them back from the developer. The only possibility I can imagine is that they were so fantastic that they were purloined [!].
Milford Sound. The next day was our tour of Milford Sound. The Sound is 14 nautical miles long, from the Tasman Sea to its inland terminus, lined with mountain peaks as high as 2200 meters and magnificent waterfalls. Captain Cook sailed by without realizing there was a sound here because from the sea it is so concealed.
Getting there was half the fun, with several stops enroute: at a beech tree forest, pampas-like open plain area, Te Annau (a tourist center) and along a mountain stream called Monkey Creek, to sip clear, cold glacial water. Our four hour ride took us through a long, unlit tunnel just wide enough for the bus to creep by oncoming traffic with less than a cm. on either side, as well as through magical gorges and by breathtaking waterfalls.
Once at the terminus of Milford Sound, we boarded our ship and headed toward the Tasman Sea, just as many fishing vessels and other tour ships do every day. It was plain from the first instant that we were in for a special treat. Before us loomed towering mountain peaks, and beside us were walls so steep we could not even see the tops. Along the way, there were glaciers visible deep within inlets, myriad birds, magnificent natural formations of rock caused by glacial action over the eons, and even sea lions basking (as best they can in overcast weather) on rocks nearly within arm's reach. It rains in Milford Sound about 750 cm. a year so it is rare that one visits on a sunny day, but it really doesn't matter much because the scenery is just beautiful. (One of my less favorite memories of Milford Sound, however, is of the leather skinned tourist in the back of the boat who chain smoked cigarettes, annoying everyone else as the air currents drew the smoke forward. He was the butt [pun intended] of a number of nasty comments, many by me.)
Our return ticket to Queenstown was to be by small plane. Unfortunately, the weather was too windy for the airplane so we had to take the bus again. This was really not so bad because it was getting late in the day and the illumination of the verdant scenery served to mesmerize all of us. It was like seeing new sights. We also dozed some of the way!
Once in Queenstown, we were ready for what we had missed for quite some time during our trip: a good pizza! Our tourbook suggested the Cow Pizza and Spaghetti House. While waiting for a table, we met a couple who turned out to be from less than 10 km from where we live, so we joined them for pizza and (their) bottle of New Zealand wine! It was a lovely evening and a fitting end to a remarkable day. But before we returned to our motel Nina I drove to the highest spot the local roads would take us, on a hill above the town but out of view of city and road nights. We then turned off the car lights to get accustomed to the darkness. We gazed upon that sky we had first seen outside Darwin, the Milky Way in its supreme glory. I remember every occasion in my life when I have looked skyward in the southern hemisphere night to see that sky. I look forward to occasions in the future when I can do it again, maybe one day with a telescope and more leisure time to contemplate it all.
On the road. We were on schedule when we left Queenstown the next morning for the glacier region along the west coast of the South Island. We headed first east to Cromwell again and then north toward Lake Wanaka, near Haast Pass. Near Cromwell, we stopped at a roadside fruitstand to buy some cherries, but found pickled walnuts as well, something we had never heard of. The woman working at the cash register also showed us the vile of gold flakes and small nuggets she had found in nearby creeks and streams, which were of course for sale. It was then that I got it into my mind to do some gold panning, but more about that later.
A bit later, when again at a high flat area and within range of the Queenstown 2 meter repeater some 40 km away, we met ZL4AB, Harry, at Lake Wanaka. He noted that we were headed right by his house and invited us for tea, which we readily accepted. One could not live in a more scenic area, and his hospitality was memorable. We chatted for about an hour and parted as though we had known each other forever. It was really a terrific experience. It is what we all do when we make contacts by radio, but encountering somebody like Harry along the way was special. With all that good feeling, we drove down the highway for about five minutes when I remembered that I had forgotten my jacket at Harry's place. He had been calling me on 2 meters but I had neglected to turn on my rig! Our second visit together was a bit sooner than we might have expected! Parting once again, we headed toward the Haast Pass, over Southern Alps and Mount Aspiring National park, to Haast, along the western coast of New Zealand. We were now on our last two days of South Island travel and headed toward the Westland National Park.
The Haast Pass gets an enormous amount of rain. Combined with the steep slopes and precariously carved roads, this offers near assurance of delays enroute. Harry had warned us about this, but we were well up into the mountain passes and figured we had been lucky this day. Just then, around a sharp curve, we were stopped by work crews for about an hour as heavy earth moving equipment cleared fallen rubble. When allowed to continue, we proceeded along a very rough road newly cleared of rubble from an earlier slide. In other places the road had just been repaired where it had caved in. Unfortunately, we saw less of the mountains around us than we would have were it sunny, but we were happy enough to be on relatively level ground once again and on the way to Haast, a small town along the western coast. We stopped at the Westland Visitors Center at Haast, which offered a slightly worn but impressive short movie of the highlights of that area. It also offered us a chance to relax after the difficult drive through the Haast Pass. We took a handout that described a series of walking tours along our route north. Before we continued on, we had a late lunch at the motel next door.
We stopped along the coastal road north at two walking tour spots noted in the handout. These were places along the beach where there were dunes and just astounding, wonderful contrasts of grasses and plants unique to the shore, white sand, large pools with different plant and birds. Wetlands just a few meters behind all that provided an impressive backdrop. The park service had constructed paths and walkways so one did not wander endlessly through these areas. Each featured unique views and contained plaques identifying many of the plants within view. Some of our most magnificent photographs were taken along these walk areas.
Fox. Our objective for that evening was Fox, where we hoped to see a glacier in Westland National Park. We had seen glaciers in Alaska, surrounded by scrub and majestic in size and ruggedness. We reached Fox late in the afternoon, found our way to the Visitors' Center and got some names of motels. I was quite interested in the least expensive lodging available. Nina was quite sleepy from the long day so I made a quick selection, with less consultation than usual! We were directed to a small motel about half a mile from the Visitors' Center, where a middle-aged, bearded fellow directed us to 'the brown unit over there' by pointing vaguely to the some dingy looking twin-cabins in the lot across the street. We drove across the lot just as he flew by us on a motorized tricycle, opened the door and showed us Halsey's Hotel. It had a private bath, Nina's first criterion, and two bedrooms. We took it for the bargain price of $33. Then we headed into downtown Fox for dinner, sharing a table with a couple we had met an hour earlier. We had seen them walking just as it began to rain and offered them a lift to the hotel adjacent to the restaurant. They were from Detroit and were riding bicycles around New Zealand, something I cannot even imagine doing!
After dinner, in the darkness and dreary rain, we walked across the road from the restaurant to a house with an outdoor botanical garden that supposedly featured glow worms. The four of us passed through a gate with a sign soliciting voluntary payment of $1 per person, and wandered about for a short time in the darkness. Sure enough, we found the glow worms, a rather startling sight if you've never seen glow worms before. They are very eerie, offering no heat or noise, just little gobs of muted light in the nearly pitch black night! There was also a cage nearby, seemingly empty, which I leaned against while waiting for the others to tire of the glow worms. I discovered my error about the cage when my fingers were unexpectedly licked by what turned out to be a friendly possum (identified by consensus), one of two in the cage. We all enjoyed that, but it began to rain again so we headed back to the motel, parted and headed 'home.' The cabin turned out to be quite satisfactory, once we managed to activate the electric heating system. We looked forward to the next day and our visit to Fox Glacier, and hopefully nicer weather.
The morning was overcast and a bit raw, not uncommon for this part of the country during late spring. The road to Fox Glacier was narrow and twisting, and was about 3 miles long. There were small signs posted along the way displaying numbers such as, '1675, 1750, 1825, 1932.' Those represented the location of the terminus of the glacier in those years. It has been retreating for a number of centuries. The parking lot was about a mile from the face of the glacier, but the path between the two was formidable! It consisted of a narrow walkway over massive quantities of morrain, the rubble of rock that the glacier had strewn in its wake, pieces of the mountains it had carved enroute. There were several streams of melting glacial water over which a narrow path had been deposited to serve as the walkway. The trek was made arduous by the steep inclines over the morrain. I climbed a hill adjacent to the glacier to take some pictures, standing on a bald rock outcropping overlooking the scene before and below me. It was an awesome experience that Nina shared a few meters behind me! We then walked back down to ground level and traversed the rock covered ground to the face of the glacier. A bright yellow plastic tape was stretched across the area in front of us warning adventurous spirits of the danger of falling ice beyond. We had seen members of a tour group actually climb onto the face of the glacier, on the other side of that tape, so we did the same. We could hear the faint cracking of ice behind the massive wall of ice before us. Nina and I took photos of each other and retreated to less slippery ground, marvelled at the sight, and headed back to our car. It seemed farther going back. We also noticed then that there had been a paved parking area nearer to the glacier that apparently had been undermined by glacial runoff. The newer parking lot was not paved and stood about 300 meters away, on firm ground.
We had been to Columbia Glacier in Alaska as well, but this was different. In Alaska the trees nearby, if any, are evergreen. In New Zealand they are deciduous. Indeed, these glaciers are at 45 degrees south latitude, which makes them the closest glaciers to the equator on the earth.
On the road again. We were already behind schedule, so we drove north to Franz Joseph Glacier, took photographs of it, and proceeded toward Christchurch. We had a long way to go, over Arthurs Pass and across the width of the country. We gave two young women from California a lift from the Franz Joseph area to where the coastal road, route 6, intersects route 73. They were headed further north and we were going east. During those several hours, though, we stopped with them at the Bushman's Center, an amusing and interesting private museum featuring a massive sow that promptly rolls over and falls asleep when her belly is rubbed. I braved the danger before us and rubbed her belly. She fell asleep almost instantly. There also was a series of displays of wildlife and plants, outdoorsmen sorts of exhibits and abundant crafts for sale. Just as we were leaving a tour bus arrived, filling the little museum. We had timed that one just right!
Some miles north, we encountered a most unusual bridge over a wide, shallow stream. These streams are common throughout New Zealand, largely as nature's drainage system for melting snows in the mountains. The major highways of New Zealand are two lanes and the bridges over these steams are almost always one lane, with one side instructed to yield to traffic from the other side. This bridge, however, in addition to serving both directions of auto traffic, was the railroad bridge. On first crossing it we all thought I had made a driving error and had somehow missed the road and embarked on crossing a railroad bridge! Fortunately, no trains were coming. The apparent intent was to provide the most efficient stream crossing for both trains and autos in this relatively sparsely travelled area.
We soon reached Hokitika, a small resort town that had once been the 'Goldfields Capital' where some 35,000 miners lived and where there were 102 hotels. When the gold ran out, it became a farming, forestry and tourist area along the west coast. The West Coast Historical Museum (free on that Saturday!) was fascinating, with a short film on the area's goldfield history, a scale model of a mammoth gold dredge once used nearby, early Maori artifacts and an original hotel bar. This is where I finally came to grips with my gold fever and bought a plastic gold pan, for use sometime in the future.
From Hokitika we proceeded north and dropped our hitchhikers at the road intersection where we headed east, back to Christchurch via Arthur's Pass. I must say that Arthur's Pass is decidedly an experience to be taken with care when driving! High in the mountains and driving sometimes at no more than 10 km/h to negotiate hairpin turns was common. The snow capped mountains loomed over us as dinner time approached. We knew we had reached the 'other side' when we made it to the Chalet Restaurant, where we ate dinner (despite a sociopathic waiter!).
(Just before we arrived at the restaurant we rounded a curve where a stream of mountain water ran adjacent to the road, and where there was a place we could park the car without creating a danger to others. We stopped long enough for me to unpack the plastic pan I had bought at Hokitika to search for gold. I climbed a few meters down to the stream's edge, remember what I had learned in Alaska about how gold tends to collect on one side of a stream and how to use the pan. I gave up after ten minutes, my hands nearly frozen and Nina beginning to offer threatening glances. I would very much have liked to end this paragraph with the announcement of a major gold find, but the truth is that I found nothing. I still have the pan and some day will return to try a better place.
The drive from there to Christchurch began with magnificent scenery at every turn, though for about half an hour we were slowed by dense fog as we gradually descended toward the eastern side of the country. The views were constantly breathtaking until the land flattened. We were soon on the outskirts of the city.
Christchurch, again. I had agreed with Peter to activate on a particular local 2 meter repeater when I got within distance. We succeeded in this about 40 km out. We actually managed to find our way to his house and called him again on the repeater output frequency just as we drove up his driveway. I announced that we would be there in about ten seconds! We arrived around ten at night, quite pleased to be 'home' with Peter and Maire, but still excited over all we had done both that day and through the preceding week. That evening I made a few contacts on 40 meters, but the band was not as good as it had been a week earlier, so we turned in early, probably around midnight!
The next day we had a flight to Auckland late in the afternoon, which gave us time to see Canterbury Museum and Botanic Gardens. We were indeed fortunate to have our own, private docent, an older woman who was exceptionally knowledgeable on every exhibit in the ample museum, from the Antarctic adventurers' personal lives to the archaeological history of the region. The museum itself is marvelous and displays some of the best exhibits we saw during our trip. The surrounding botanical gardens are also impressive, partly because many of the plants and trees are not seen outside New Zealand, such as the monkey puzzle tree which looks like a cross between a large palm tree and Medusa's head! The early afternoon was devoted to searching for assorted souvenirs and a sheepskin winter coat for me, which we finally managed to find in the color and style I wanted and a price I thought I could afford. We completed our shopping spree, returned to Peter's place to organize our luggage and were soon on our way to the airport for our flight to Auckland. It was tough saying goodbye to our adoptive family. We were 'on the road again.'
Auckland. We arrived in Auckland at about 7:30 in the evening, hoping to meet ZL1AXM, Ken, at the airport. As we walked from the airplane into the waiting area enroute to retrieve our luggage, I noted a fellow waiting who I thought might be Ken. He and those with him seemed to be looking beyond us, presumably for relatives on that flight, so we proceeded to the baggage claim area. While waiting, I turned around to see the same people, including the suspected-Ken, standing a few meters behind us again. Remembering he had told me he would likely be there with his son, I approached him with 2 meter HT in hand (to serve as a visual ham identifier and to fend off aggressive sheep, if necessary). Indeed, it was Ken with his wife Sheila and their son. It was a special pleasure to meet Ken after so many years. They took us on an evening tour of Auckland, along the coastal roads, into the lovely residential sections, through the downtown area, and finally to Parnell Village, where our B&B was located. We parted Ken and family and wandered the main street of Parnell Village, selecting a small shop to have our first pizza on the North Island! We had great fun!
The Ascot Parnell is an exceptionally nice B&B, well located in Parnell Village, a quaint Victorian neighborhood of Auckland. Built in 1910, the B&B is now owned by a young Belgian couple who really work hard to make visitors feel welcome. Early the next morning, we called the car rental company that ZL1TRE, Mark, had organized for us via Internet. He and I had been exchanging messages by Internet thanks to WD3Q, Eric, a local friend who introduced us. The rental car company dispatched a car to bring us to their office, several miles away near the harbor. The price of the car for one day was as much as cars typically cost in Florida for four days, but there was little we could do. Grasping for some way of ameliorating the cost, I asked if there was possibly an older vehicle available. The question was worth asking. We got a two year old car for about 20% off the earlier stated price and we could bring it back by noon the next day instead of 9 a.m., a one day total rental. So, off we went north to visit ZL1MH near Kaikohe.
Kaikohe. The sights on the trip north from Auckland were decidedly more commercial and reminiscent of the typical big city environment than we had seen in a while. Eventually, the traffic lessened and the scenery became more like what we had seen for the last week. It took us three and a half hours to reach Kaikohe, essentially non-stop. We had been told by Mike to find Barbara, his wife, in the hardware store. As we looked around we saw no store that even looked like a hardware store. Our concern grew as we asked several people if there was a hardware store in town. Finally, the proprietor of a small shop said that the nearest thing to a hardware store was only a few doors down from where we were, so we headed there with the hope of finding somebody named Barbara! The saleswoman at the register called out the name Barbara, and there she appeared from a small side office! But, it seems, Mike had expected us the next day! So much for unexpected guests. No problem, though. She called Mike by telephone. We were lucky he happened to be indoors just then and would head into town from his farm, about 25 km away, in half an hour. That gave us time to have a quick lunch at the recommended sandwich shop in the back of the furniture store across the street. We had sandwiches, dessert and drinks for a total of about $4 as I recall -- one of the bargains of the trip! Mike's arrival in town in the old truck coincided with our return to the 'hardware store,' and we met ZL1MH! We wanted to visit the Bay of Islands area, not far away, so we got back into our rental car, which had more space, and headed east with Mike.
Bay of Islands. We spent much of our time at the Bay of Islands in a queue for a ferry to take us to Russell, which has historical significance as well as being an exceptionally pretty town. We visited the Russell Museum, with its audiovisual The Land Is Enduring, and displays of Maori and European history. From the strategic hills along the way we saw some of the most strikingly magnificent scenery of the trip, aided perhaps by the low elevation of the sun and the resulting shadow effects. Fortunately, there was no queue for the return trip on the ferry and we headed back to Kaikohe to retrieve Mike's truck and then head to his QTH. Nina rode with Mike while I trailed behind.
Suburban Kaikohe. We soon veered off the paved road and travelled several miles on dusty farm paths until we came upon a lovely house sitting in a level area and surrounded by stands of trees. It was really quite a nice setting. Before it got dark, Mike and Barbara gave us the grand tour of the estate, which consists of 4,000 trees that Mike and Barbara planted, including stands to protect against wind, and a variety of fruit and nut bearing trees, most numerous among the latter being macadamia. There were assorted cows, chickens, ducks and other animals, making it truly rural to all our senses!
Mike uses an antenna that seems to be rhomboid in shape, and works! I spent only a few minutes that evening on the radio in part because the band really was quite bad. We had a terrific evening with Barbara and Mike, discussing all manner of issues with great interest. Dinner, which Nina helped prepare (and which I have a photo to prove!), was a stack of exceptional weinerschnitzels with a variety of veggies, all home grown or prepared. Just lovely! (And Mike's four mastiffs remained comfortably out of reach the whole time!) By 11 p.m we were very tired, probably from all the driving during the day. Moreover, we had to get up early to return the rental car before noon!
Early the following morning we regretfully parted from Mike and Barbara, wishing we had planned our trip to give us a day or two more to spend with them. The people and setting were what we travel for, but we just couldn't do everything on this trip -- already three and a half weeks in length! Rather than heading back to Auckland the way we had come, we headed west from Mike's area (some 25 km north of Kaikohe) toward the Kauri Forest.
Kauri Forest. Two hundred years ago the kauri tree was common in lush, forested areas of the country. But early settlers sheared the landscape of the kauri, which grows for 1200 or more years and stands at least 50 meters tall. They had no interest in environmental preservation. Today, the kauri is an endangered species and exists in only small sections of forest. One of these was along our alternate route back to Auckland. Though we could not take the time to visit all the marked viewing spots along the way, we did stop several times to take photographs and to simply stand in awe at the works that nature had produced. It was then that I decided I had to go home with a kauri tree, but more about that later.
The Kauri Forest road is not an easy drive. Route 12 is largely unpaved, with sharp turns that must be taken very slowly. Eventually, we reached the better section of highway and made tracks south toward Auckland. We were running very low on fuel at this point. For the first time on the trip I was gravely concerned about being stranded in the middle of nowhere waiting for assistance! There were just no service stations anywhere. We had begun the day with a third of a tank of fuel and I figured that would get us to the next filling station. After some long minutes of that special kind of silence that pervades a car when its passengers are waiting for the sputtering sounds to commence, we came over the crest of a hill and saw before us a gasoline station. For once I did not mind paying the premium price at the pump!
Auckland again. We arrived at the car rental agency in Auckland just before noon, and were charged for the one day! I am still waiting for notice of a speed camera violation, but I guess if it's not in the next VISA bill I am safe! While we waited for the attendant to take us back to the B&B we had stayed in earlier, we walked along the harborside area and found a great restaurant called the Loaded Hog that featured reasonably priced seafood salads, did a little window shopping, then returned to catch our lift back to the B&B.
From our B&B we walked to the fantastic Auckland War Memorial Museum. This museum is incredible. In the Maori Court, it features a 26 meter long Maori war canoe chiseled from one totara trunk and adorned with intricate wood carvings. There is also a huge Maori meetinghouse, painted red, black and white with tribal carvings amid traditional woven flax patterns. The Maori displays are really fascinating, and include a greenstone 'mere' (war club) and utensils for eating human flesh. More interesting, actually, were the large numbers of artifacts in settings that explain clearly how the items were used by the Maori in daily life. This museum really offered the best anthropological examination of the Maori culture. It gave us perspective for at least superficially appreciating today's social issues between the Maori and European cultures. I should note that the Maori, who came to New Zealand only a thousand years ago from Polynesia, were a fierce group of people. They ate Captain Cook (yes, cooked Cook!), and summarily slaughtered the peaceful Polynesians then living on the Chatham Islands. Today, there are virtually no pure Maoris remaining, but there is a certain sympathy for the Maori and their displacement over the centuries. Anyway, the museum also had an excellent Hall of Asian Art, a fascinating Centennial Street (reconstructed Auckland street of 1866), a series of detailed displays of Australian war experience in Europe and elsewhere, and an usually diverse and intriguing shop.
That evening we had plans to meet with Mark, ZL1TRE, his wife Suzanne, and another, non-ham couple, Ken and Margaret. Mark and Ken are both New Zealand Air pilots and Suzanne is in the travel business, so between us we had a great deal of interesting chatter during our dinner in a super Italian restaurant in Parnell. They were all terrific company. Mark is active on amateur satellites and remains in contact between air flights with me by Internet.
We had one more day of our trip left and we had four objectives: Meet ZL1BVB, do some last souvenir shopping, eat at the restaurant Suzanne had recommended for lamb, and make it to the airport on time for our flight to Los Angeles and home! I also had an intention to go home with my very own kauri tree!
Mike, ZL1BVB, and I had made a number of cw QSOs on 40 meters, most recently from ZL3GQ's QTH. He arrived with Katherine, his wife, to our B&B early to 'show us some of Auckland.' He chauffeured us to all the great views, including Mount Eden, which is an extinct volcano that overlooks both Auckland harbors, the city and Hauraki Gulf. The Maori once fortified this high spot as a fort, as they did a distant hilltop called One Tree Hill. I wouldn't mind having a station atop this hill, but I am about 100 years too late. We then went to the Winter Garden, adjacent to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, to see a creative and complete exhibit of tropical and subtropical plants, including a large display of ferns.
Over the years I have tended to shy away from Chinese restaurants, in part because of the monosodium glutamate they often use and because in recent times Vietnamese cuisine has caught my fancy, in part because it contains less oil. Mike took us for lunch to the Sun-Sun Restaurant, on the second floor of a nondescript building across from the train station in downtown Auckland. They served by far the tastiest (and not at all oily) dim sum that I have ever eaten. We also had paluka, a local fish, in a tasty medley of vegetables and a light garlic sauce. It was one of those places in which only Chinese is spoken and only Chinese generally frequent.
We then headed to Mike's house for a short visit, followed by a tour through several gift shops for last minute acquisitions, including a replica of that Maori canoe we had seen at the museum the day before. (Sure enough, I saw the same object later that day for a lower price, but that's how it goes!) At that point it was time for me to float my idea of taking a kauri tree home with me. It didn't float. It was the consensus, however, that we should at least visit a local nursery to see what was available. All (except me) were positive there would be no such seedlings or small plants, or even seeds, available. Well, they had 1 meter high potted kauri trees, and they also sold seeds. On more serious reflection, I realized that Customs at home would be less than thrilled with me bringing a potted plant through, even if I could manage to carry it. So I opted for the seeds, which are now reposing in plant soil and will sprout any minute into formidable hardwood trees like I saw in the Kauri Forest. My friends remain sceptical, but remember who was right on the issue of availability of kauri seeds in the first place!
It was time for Mike and Kathleen to return us to our B&B, for us to pack and prepare for our return Stateside. We still had plans for a meal at Suzanne's recommended restaurant, though it was getting a bit close on time. We nevertheless walked, in a drizzling rain, to The Old Brick, a restaurant down the long hill from our B&B. It took a bit longer to get there than we had planned, and we were the first diners for the evening. But we ordered the lamb filets anyhow, and they were spectacular, appearing in the form of a twisted bread loaf on a bed of beets with a homemade fan-like structure of fried potatoes. Time was getting really close now, because we had already called for the airport van to pick us up, in about 20 minutes! Our taxi was already two minutes late arriving at the restaurant and it was getting decidedly tense. We went outside and began to look for another taxi, but none was to be found. Just then the one we had called arrived and got us to our B&B just in time for us to organize our bill, chat a few minutes with our hosts and appear relaxed when the van arrived for us! In reality, we were quite early for our flight, but we have gotten into the habit of being early for international flights. Anything else seems to make us nervous!
Home again. The prologue to this trip occurred in Los Angeles. Our 11 hour flight from Auckland to Los Angeles arrived in the early afternoon, but our connecting flight to Newark and then Washington, DC would not leave until 10:30 p.m. We quickly consulted the tourist desk, where Nina noted the proximity of the J. Paul Getty Museum, in Malibu, about half an hour north of the airport. We called to be sure there was parking and availability, which there were in the afternoon. We immediately rented a car, a purple, brand new Pontiac, and headed to the museum (noting the odd sensation of driving on the right side again!). There is absolutely nothing like visiting a reconstructed Roman villa overlooking the Pacific Ocean, with its lovely gardens and priceless ancient Greek and Roman artifacts, and its Renaissance art collection. From there we stopped at the Promenade at Santa Monica, called Nina's family in Florida to announce our arrival 'home,' and found a fine Italian restaurant at which we enjoyed our last 'holiday meal.' We returned to the airport in comfortable time for our red-eye flight to Newark, and arrived in Washington about 8:30 the next morning.
Final thoughts. Now, as I prepare these notes on our trip to VK/ZL, it seems more fantasy and less memory that I contemplate. Did we really take this trip and accomplish all that sightseeing in Australia and New Zealand? I have since returned to my office, which feels more like I never left than it did before I departed, and I have answered or at least opened the accumulation of mail at both office and home, paper and electronic.
Australia and New Zealand are very special places, remote enough even in today's jet age to seem exotic, yet in reality both intriguing and comfortable. The language and customs are just different enough to be novel and pleasant, the people exceptionally cordial and the sights spectacular. Nature is the key, and my concern is that the peoples of both countries retain their resolve to preserve the jewels they have.
I'm not sure now, on reflection, what I expected from my childhood imaginings or my adulthood expectations. What reside now in my mind's eye are fond memories and experiences. As a psychiatrist ham friend of mine once said to me, 'Life is a series of relationships and experiences.' I agree. Australia and New Zealand are now part of my life's memories and experiences, and so are part of me.