New Zealand Diaries #11 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 16, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 9: Ferry to South Island

6 Jan. We are up early at 07:00 for a 09:00 ferry. Eat fast and pack up quickly, head to check out. We take a somewhat circuitous route to the ferry along the quay. We’ve done interisland ferries before, but you never know what type it will be. The rental car return is not very clearly marked; it looks like they expect us to just park it in a sort of alley full of other rental cars. So we pull up tight at the back of the alley, and we’re parking in other cars two deep. Drop the keys off in a box in the terminal. There is a huge queue! And I’m glad I noticed online that larger backpacks may need to be checked. We wait in the queue and get to the desk, where we are told we need to check our bags. Bummer.

We travel with two mid-sized backpacks only. Carry-on, no wheels, easy to get through messy streets. We love the freedom that backpacks give. It is annoying to have to check them. But we grab the smaller rucksack that we had prepped, and hand over the bags. They are tagged just like with an airline flight, and tossed onto a conveyor belt. Then onto the gangway and up into the bowels of the ship. We enter the ferry on level 5 and the passenger decks are levels 7 and 8. It’s pretty crowded, no open tables.

We end up on level 8, sharing a table with another couple, Simon & Susan. They are on holiday celebrating their 40th anniversary. Recreating earlier vacations to South Island, and taking 3 weeks to do it! Both of them are cheerful and good companions for the three-hour cruise. (Not THAT kind of three-hour cruise!) It is beautiful and sunny again. Our weather luck really is holding. Windy, of course. The crossing is smooth, very little motion of the ship.

Kelly gets a lamb and kumara pie, following his “order something you don’t recognize” rule of thumb. Susan tells us that kumara is sweet potato. It’s good. The menu lists a GF mince pie, so I order one and it’s delicious! Minced beef, no onion, nice gravy. Simon offers us his “sweet” (dessert) which is ginger nuts. They are a very hard ginger biscuit (cookie). We buy vouchers for wifi on board but can’t get it to work on either iPad, so we get them refunded. We were glad to be on deck 8: deck 7 had the kids room and a kids show. Overall it was a great crossing.

On to South Island! We arrive in Picton, wait a while for our bags at the baggage claim, then wait a really long time for our rental car. Note to us: one waits for baggage while the other grabs the car! We stop at the iSite, walk through a little park to the public WC. They have an adorable train on a knee-high track. The conductor has his knees nearly touching his chin, but he’s grinning. At 20 cents a ride, it’s tempting. But we want to get to Christchurch today. Christchurch is shortened to CHCH by locals; makes sense.

We start our four hour drive going through arid hills. Tons of wineries: Marlborough district. Beige and tan rather than the greens I prefer. The brown hills continue as we move inland a bit, then things green up as we get back towards the coast. A few km outside Blenheim we picked up two young women hitchhiking and we gave them a lift the short distance into town. They told us that New World supermarket has good wifi. Strange, but OK! One was German, one was French-Canadian.

We stop at the grocery for snacks and internet. Kelly finds a hotel online and books us for two nights in CHCH. Then a long drive. Sunny all day, as usual. Kelly took over for 2 hours of driving, his first left-side driving since our wedding trip 20 years ago! We stopped at any interesting-looking lookouts or pullouts. Near Ohau, there was a great lookout that had lots of NZ fur seals! And they had pups! Adorable little things with little balance on land, making cute noises as they call for their parents.

We get into CHCH around 6:30, and we were both exhausted. It’s very tiring driving on the left, on narrow roads where you can’t stop paying attention for much time at all. The hotel is nice, great kitchen area. A fridge for our milk! No hot cocoa packets, though. The in-room guest book has menus for local eateries. A pizza place has GF crusts advertised! So we drive to Hell. No, really, we ate in Hell. I wanted Greed (ham, pineapple, extra cheese) and Kelly desired Lust (6 types of meat). We eat half and save the other half for breakfast. Yummy!

Drop off the extra pizza in our room, and then take a short walk up the street to the River Avon. It’s flanked by Oxford Terrace on one side and Cambridge Terrace on the other. Other street names: Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Coleridge. <3! There are some signs of the earthquake 3 years ago: houses boarded up, other houses freshly painted, empty lots and empty foundations.

We see a “Post Haste” delivery truck, and earlier today we passed a “Refridgerfreighters” lorry. (sp?) Tattoos are very common in NZ. One of our guides suggests that it’s a way for people to connect to their Maori heritage. Lots of tribal tattoos.

Back to the room to collapse. The walk felt good. This is the first hotel we’ve been at with body gel instead of a soap bar. No conditioner, just a dispenser for shampoo. I’ve been trying the local shampoos. The flax oil shampoo needed to be shaken up before I used it. Eeuw. Other flax oil products have been fine. I tried a lavender one that smelled just like spring.

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

NZ Travel Diary #4

NZ Travel Diary #5

NZ Travel Diary #6

NZ Travel Diary #7

NZ Travel Diary #8

NZ Travel Diary #9

NZ Travel diary #10

_______________________

I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #10 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 15, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 8: LOTR site tour

5 Jan. Get up at 08:20 for a 10:00 tour. Eggs and cheese for breakfast again. Walk to the iSite, drop off postcards, get free wifi for 30 minutes! Yay! The NZTelecom on our phones doesn’t let us access Facebook, so we have to wait for wifi to get to FB. Kelly can post on Twitter, though. Wait for the bus outside the building, in the windy rainy weather. This was one of the few bad weather days we had. Our  luck tends to run to the sunny side. And it held for this trip: only 3 days with any significant rain. At least today we’re not driving.

We are picked up in a small 11-passenger van. There are 8 total passengers: a cheery, chatty pair of women from LA, a couple from Sydney, a young German woman and a guy who claims both Germany and Holland as home. The cheerful guide is named Alice. She doesn’t like the rain, but keeps up a good patter for the 3 hour tour. We drive out of Welly to the Dry Creek Quarry’s entrance. It’s a working quarry, but they built first Helm’s Deep and then Minas Tirith here. After the HD filming, the crew cut down much of the set and on the bones of Helm’s Deep built Minas Tirith. After that filming, much of the polystyrene was recycled into under-floor insulation. The only remaining piece of set is a 112-step staircase cut into the rock and now buried and grown over. It took one stone cutter 3 weeks to cut the staircase, and it’s on film for about 4 seconds.

During travel times, there is a TV in the van that shows film clips, Hobbit video blogs, LOTR ads, and the Jack Black easter egg clip. It’s rainy and windy still. Kelly’s new windbreaker turns out to be water-resistant but not water-proof as advertised. He gets soggy, unfortunately. Our guide has a large portfolio (plastic, thank goodness) of film stills and photos of movie bits to show where we are.

We get to the park where Isengard’s gardens were filmed. The lane that Gandalf gallops up is short, so they filmed him riding one way then back the other to make it look longer. The stone lane was taken up and replaced with different grass, so you can still sort of see where it was by looking at the grass. The bridge/gate of Isengard was a miniature. Gandalf and Saruman walking in the gardens: we re-enact the scene with two staves that the guide pulls out from the shrubbery nearby. Park bench was digitally covered with a bush: look for it! A power pylon in the sky was covered up by Saruman’s tower.

It’s quite soggy out, and when we get to the banks of the Hutt river, it is flooded. There is no stony beach visible where Aragorn was washed up and Brego knelt down to help him up. Did I mention how cool this is? We are grinning like madmen at each stop. [Possible movie spoiler: if you watch the direction of the river as Aragorn is floating, the South Island river flows to the right, but the Hutt river where he is washed up flows to the left. Two different locations!]

On to Kaitoke Park, wherein lay Rivendell! The park sign at the entrance says “Rivendell”, which makes us squeak. We eat a Subway lunch in a pavilion, during which the rain stops and the sun appears. Alice says the elves are at work for us. We drive to the ending car park and follow the signs to Rivendell. A large sign shows where the set was created, pointing out the one tree that was left. Yup, one tree. The other plants? They took pictures, removed the plants to a greenhouse built nearby, and after filming returned them to their proper place. Yes, Peter Jackson is an awesome control freak. The Gate the Fellowship leaves by is under re-construction; we get a picture of the partially completed icon. Frodo’s bedroom was one of the few indoor places that was actually on site. Just a few steps from where we were standing!

The guide has a bag of…something. She asks if we recognize a tree behind her. Nope. It’s where the Legolas promo pic was taken: this one. Our sneaky guide asks if anyone wants to recreate the scene. One of the LA women jumps at the chance. Alice pulls out a bow and arrow, a wig, and a cloak. Oh, and elf ears! We have lots of laughs as most of the group gets a photo op wearing the elf rig. I didn’t do the Legolas thing: I was Tauriel. I pulled my hair out of its braid and took off my glasses, and poof! instant elf!

Then we had about half an hour of free wandering time. We crossed a swingbridge over a fierce flooded river, lots of wobbly motion. More pictures, a walk through the forest, then back to the van. The 45 minute drive back to Welly was entertaining because of the TV in the van. Overall the tour was well worth it, at $170 (NZ) for two people. We get dropped off at the iSite while the rest of the crew stays for the other two-hour portion of the tour to locations around Welly—we’ve mostly already visited them.

There are three outdoor gear outlet stores juxtaposed, so Kelly looks for a real raincoat, but no luck. Then we walk to Molly Malones’ pub, where Sean Bean hung out during filming. I have Monteith’s cider again, while Kelly finally gets to try a NZ whisky: Milford 10 year. It smells briny but tastes smooth.

Then it’s off to the Embassy Theatre where the world premier of the Fellowship took place. They are currently showing Hobbit 2, but we don’t partake. Instead we head a block up to Strawberry Fare where our guide had recommended we try the pavlova. It’s the national dessert of NZ. Now, I’m a sugar freak with a sweet tooth, but this thing was nearly too much for me! It is a meringue of egg whites, corn starch, and sugar, with a crunchy outside and a soft interior. Mine was topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit. It was also the size of a small cat. Kelly had a creme brulee that was just divine.

We needed to walk off the zillion calories we just ate, so we headed along the harbor for perhaps a mile. Lots of good walking space, past the Te Papa museum, past ships and interesting stuff in the water. A pedestrian bridge had padlocks of all shapes and sizes attached to its rails for no apparent reason. Down a few blocks we see something that looks like a crowd around a splash of water. Hmmm?

There are three people, very Maori looking, who are using a public jump platform to dive into the harbor water. Never mind that the platform is closed because of pollution in the water. They climb up the 20 or so feet to the top of the platform, wait for encouragement from the crowd, and then jump in. Sometimes they cannonball, sometimes it seems they intentionally bellyflop. Their goal is to get really big splashes that hit the crowd some ten feet above the water level. It’s almost unimaginable to us and our litigious US society: a public diving platform into a busy harbor.

Another little inlet of the harbor has paddleboats for rent, and you can add a water cannon to your rental! There is a memorial with the mast from a ferry that foundered in the harbor in 1968. It’s sunny and, you guessed it, windy. Apparently Welly is the windy capital!

A slow meander back to our hotel takes us to Chow, an Asian fusion restaurant with tapas-style dishes. Again, GF is labeled. That was a real pleasure in NZ: most places had GF labeled, or at least knew what was GF. I got into the habit of looking for a pub and checking the menu. Another English culture thing in NZ: most restaurants had their menu posted outside. It’s such a good idea! A disappointment was the kebab shops: the lamb was all gyros-style meat, which has gluten. There were a lot of kebab shops to drool at as we passed by.

Chow provided me with chicken satay and banana-leaf-wrapped tarahiki fish, both excellent. Kelly has lamb curry, also great. Such a treat to have Asian food! Then back to our room for packing up. Tomorrow we take the ferry to South Island.

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

NZ Travel Diary #4

NZ Travel Diary #5

NZ Travel Diary #6

NZ Travel Diary #7

NZ Travel Diary #8

NZ Travel Diary #9

_______________________

I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #9 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 15, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 7: WETA! Gardens!

4 Jan. Up early. I make scrambled eggs and lamb/mint/rosemary sausages for breakfast. Hot cocoa, tea, OJ. Use the tiny drawer dishwasher (oh, isn’t izzums cute?) and get ready to go. When we arrive at WETA this morning there is a crowd outside of the doors. What’s up? Oh dear, the electrical is out so the Cave isn’t open. Since we already have our physical tickets for the tour, we’re OK. About 09:50 the electrician gets things up and running (wish he’d waited another 15 minutes which would have made for a much smaller tour!). Around 20 people for the 10:00 tour. Our guide is an American named Bridget, though she uses Kiwi phrases.

Window into WETA is AMAZING! AWESOME! We shook Sauron’s rubbery hand and lifted the Witch-King’s mace. Lots of cool stuff from LOTR, Hobbit, Narnia, and District 9. Kelly put on Thorin Oakenshield’s  forearm prosthesis: how sweet is that? Picked up a gun from D9, very heavy plastic. The real film Sauron armor was rubber, though a steel suit was made for about 2 seconds of filming. That one lives with Peter Jackson. A huge robot was built for D9 but never used since it looked too human. They use ZBrush and Adobe for the computer end of things.

One relic from Indiana Jones 4–a piece of armor. The armory is a one-man department. He made a suit of armor for the workshop’s terrier, but the pup has never worn it. There is a working Warthog from HALO with a dead Sam Neill body cast at the wheel. The CNC room is also a one-man department. A huge robot called MAX was a car-building robot but has been repurposed. The castle from Prince Caspian is here, about 2 meters long by 1 meter wide.

Three types of chainmail, two steel and one plastic. There is a new silicon-based fake flesh to replace the older dragonskin. Very realistic looking, but it tears easily. Some of the Hobbit dwarves poked right through the ends of their arms. A woman is at work at a bench with lots of junk drawers around. Her name is Abby and she is creating a miniature for the Thunderbirds TV show. She uses a lot of random spare parts. The main tower is made from an old toner cartridge; the human figure is about a centimeter tall for scale (thumbnail size). There is a 3 or 4 meter tall figure of the Demon Queen, and another huge piece being prepared for an art installation.

The walls here are covered in weapons, sculptures, art. Not just the walls, but the ceilings, the rafter beams, every available space. But none of the weapons are sharp–it’s earthquake territory. Huge roller doors were installed in every area since occasionally a department got excited and built something huge that wouldn’t fit through the regular doors. Sculpting from Plastilene clay–our guide, Bridget, is big into sculpting.

Lots of art, sketches of King Kong’s faces with different expressions. Trains and maces and helmets and turrets and, and, and. So much awesome stuff! And most of it we could touch, some we held. This was such a cool tour! An hour of seeing into the behind-the-scenes work for some great movies.

When we finish, we go back to the hotel and walk to the nearest iSite to finalize booking our LOTR tour for tomorrow. Then we head to the Cable Car Station. There is a funicular cable car running up a big hill from the harbor to the gardens above. (Remember I said most places were hilly?) Welly is up and down and up and down. The queue for the cable car is long but moves fast. At $4 for a one-way fare, it’s cheap entertainment, and the walk down from the top is supposed to be beautiful.

The ride up is short and unfortunately too crowded for great views, but we do get a few good looks at the city. And it spits us out at the top of a hill with stunning, gorgeous views of the city and sea. We choose the longer walk down via the Botanical Gardens. A short gift shop stop for a wine bottle holder, and then we walk.

Holy crap. (Actual swearing redacted.) These are by far the best botanical gardens we’ve seen anywhere in the world—it’s not even close—and we tend to go to the garden in any city we visit that boasts a garden. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful. Stop dead in your tracks gorgeous. We probably took half again as long as the walk should take because we were in awe of the environment we were walking through. An exuberance of hydrangeas gives way to a carpet of a tall flower with purple blooms (native, all over the place). The trees! Oh, the trees, majestic and ancient and stately. The rose garden captured us for at least ten minutes.

We eventually wended our way through, past a cemetery (it only needed that to completely win our hearts) of settlers. A peace lantern gave me shivers: the flame came from the fires of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It is supposed to burn until there are no more nuclear weapons.

We make our stunned way out of the gardens and past the Parliament building. It’s a fanciful building called the Beehive. Our goal is St. Paul’s chapel, supposed to have great stained glass. It might, but we didn’t see it. There was a wedding taking place! We smile goofily at the wedding crowd. An elderly woman using a wheelchair is being escorted out to a car: her elderly male companion has a hand on her head to keep her hat from blowing away. It is sweet.

It is quite blustery. Cloudy, but no rain today. We walk past the Cathedral, which is quite impressive. We look up a bookstore and find Arty Bees books, a nice large store with SF advertised on the front window. Good selection of SFF, though no McCullough. Kelly drops off a business card with an employee.

Getting closer to our hotel, we stop in at The Library, a pub and lounge. Lots of books on the walls, as though they bought out a charity shop. There was one Elizabeth Moon hardcover! We get a cheese board with half GF bread, half regular bread. I get a local Riesling, quite dry. Kelly has Aberlour A’bunadh cask strength, which is among the strongest whisky he’s tried. The cheese board has 4 types of cheese: goat, blue, brie-type and cheddar-like. Also figs, apricots, walnuts, cranberries, and prunes. A small dish held caramelized onions (popular here) and another had a tasty tart marmalade. A great dinner! For dessert we go back to the organic food store and get GF carrot cake.

Back at the hotel, we let them know we booked online for one more night. The two clerks discuss upgrading us to stay in the same room. One isn’t willing to possibly piss off the manager, but the other says fine and grabs the keyboard. Into our lovely room, sort out receipts, do laundry. We’ve spent $1156 so far on stuff to bring home. Eeek!

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

NZ Travel Diary #4

NZ Travel Diary #5

NZ Travel Diary #6

NZ Travel Diary #7

NZ Travel Diary #8

_______________________

I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #8 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 15, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 6: a quiet day

3 Jan. Late and lazy morning. It is so nice to be settled in one room for a few days! Eat, do some laundry. Outside it is very windy, maybe 30-40 mph gusts. And then it starts raining. We enjoy a slow morning in our room. Today we want to find the WETA Cave. Rain, wind, rain, wind.

Our phones lead us easily and directly to WETA. There are 3 giant trolls in the yard, along with a lizard. All fake, of course. The WETA Cave is a smallish storefront with a room they call a mini-museum. The place is jampacked with people. Here is the expensive LOTR/Hobbit loot: the collectibles. We buy a guidebook to LOTR locations, and a gift for a friend. (No spoilers for the lucky friend!) There is a 25 minute video screening, but there are just too many people to make it worthwhile right now. The “Window into WETA” tours are all booked for today, so we book for 1000 tomorrow. Our tickets are free thanks to a certain fellow author making some introductions for us. Kelly leaves thank you books for the folks at Pukeko who arranged it.

On to find lunch; it’s about 14:00. We try Newtown, between WETA and downtown. It’s a bit dodgy, nothing is both open and able to feed me. So it’s back to the hotel. Someone is in our allotted parking space (our carpark–the gall!), so we have to steal someone else’s space and sort it our with the hotel staff. Walk around downtown looking for lunch. Our hotel is a block off the main drive (Courtenay) and there is a lot around. But many places close from 1500 to 1700 between lunch and dinner. Find an organic food store, see the outside of the Te Papa museum. We end up at Public for lunch–great food! Bramble’s blackcurrant cider is quite delicious. I have bean nachos and Kelly has soft tacos. Tasty.

We decide to spend a few hours at Te Papa museum. We could have spent several days there. Earthquake exhibit, volcanoes, Maori, flora, fauna. The Colossal Squid exhibit was pretty amazing; doesn’t look like any squid I’ve seen before. There was a hallway with a bizarre fashion exhibit and videos from the fashion show: WoW (not the ejaculation, but that was the name of the show). Really amazing stuff!

At 1800 we are very firmly herded out to the doors. Stop at the organic food store for dinner (GF carrot cake!) and back to the room. Our feet are hurting today from lots of walking. We sit in our lounge area and try the Lothlorien Feijoa wine. It is a white fruit wine with a strange but good taste. Hop online to try to book a Wellington-area LOTR tour for 5 Jan. Crash early.

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

NZ Travel Diary #4

NZ Travel Diary #5

NZ Travel Diary #6

NZ Travel Diary #7

_______________________

I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #7 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 15, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 5: Walking through Mordor

2 Jan. Wish we could spend more time in this cozy hotel room! It’s very comfortable. We decide to eat in the hotel, bacon and eggs. On the menu were two strange phrases: “long black” and “flat white”. We ask what they are: our hostess grins as she explains that it’s coffee!  Black or with milk. After we order, we notice a cute dog standing just at the door to the breakfast room. Obviously he knows he’s not allowed in, but he has two toys at his feet. We get up and go into the lounge to pet him. He’s adorable and very friendly. Our hostess explains that he wants to play. We toss a ball for him and he jumps to get it. Our hostess goes outside and flings the ball a few times. We play with the dog again after breakfast. Miss our kitties!

Hot cocoa in the room after breakfast: it’s meant to be made with milk and I used water, so to strengthen it we drop in a square of caramel chocolate. Pack up, chat with host about our plans. He recommends Hawke’s Bay for the wineries, just as our last host did. He also called the Park to see if the chairlifts were working–they just started up. He recommended taking the chairlift up to the top where there is a cafe. Drive back to Whakapapa, past hotels, to end of road. There is a store at the base of the lift where we pick up some amazing clearanced merino wool jackets from a company called Icebreaker. They serve us very well on the mountain. We buy lift tickets and the clerk recommends we go all the way to the top and walk down the Amphitheatre trail. Sounds interesting! 2 hours walk down the mountain. The clerk won’t sell a lift ticket to a kid in shirt and shorts–it’s too cold up there! There are jackets to borrow at the bottom but the shorts aren’t fixable. She also tells us there is a LOTR site just a short walk from this store. Yay! We walk out and see a rock wall. Gollum clambers down this wall in the night to sneak up on Frodo and Sam. It probably was also where F&S were climbing down and Frodo slips just above the bottom.

On to the chair lift! Kelly is nervous but willing. I don’t recall if I’ve been on an alpine lift or not–my only clear memories of a chairlift is our local ski slope. The lift operator tries to get the shorts-wearing guy in front of us to put on a winter coat, but the guy’s too macho (spelled S-T-U-P-I-D). As the operator helps us on, he mutters about idiots freezing to death. Then we are on and up! It’s a two-person chair and a long lift. Kelly does great. It is really cold. We have socks and shoes, lightweight pants, shirts, wool jackets, and windbreakers, and we are chilly. Gloves help a little. It’s sunny but very windy. Maybe a windchill in the 30s? The views from the chair are just stunning. It’s Mordor and Emyn Muil. We get off and straight on to the second lift–a 4-person chair this time. Kelly is comfortable enough to swing his legs a little. The posts have safety signs. “Get onto ridges when alarms sound.” “Follow the trails.” Our favorite: “Did you know? Volcanic mudflows follow valleys!” Then we’re at the top!

The cafe has magnificent views. We are above the lowest of the clouds. Sunny and cold. We order hot chocolate and sit in the sun. Inside. The hot cocoa comes with strangely flavored marshmallows. We are at 2020 meters, NZ’s highest cafe. The Amphitheatre trail is not marked, beyond one sign pointing to the right. We wander around a little looking for it, but no signposts or trailhead. We eventually give up and ask the lift operator, who is chatting with another employee. Great guy, who is heading out on the A. trail himself. He had a rucksack with a large drill and several 2″x2″ posts. He leads us maybe 1/2 a mile then tells us how to continue. There are 2″x2″ stakes that are our trail markers. They are maybe 20-75 meters apart. If we get to one and go about 20 m without seeing the next, back up and look around. Then we are off! It’s real ankle-breaker territory. There is a large patch of strangely squishy black rocky sand, big rocks, black beach sand. For the first 30 minutes or so the only life we see is a tuft of grass. Then more grasses, flowers, birds, flies. An amazing trail walk down the mountain. And it felt like Mordor. Barren, rocky, dark. The views are amazing, above the lowest of the clouds. It is very bright and sunny, making the sunglasses necessary. The winds are quite brisk when we are exposed, but the protected valleys are comfortable.

No real injuries on the descent, but we are both exhausted by the time we reach the bottom. So worth it! Get a drink at the cafe, then back to the store to the clerk. The employee up top told us we should let the clerk know how we liked the trail, so we told her it was great. Then a scary fun drive in the mountains. We stop in Raetihi for lunch, but it’s a dying town and most storefronts are closed. A grocery store is open, providing cheese and beef sticks and olives. A stop at the public toilets ends with me petting a very cute mini poodle who cuddles up to me while her owner chats with us.

The drive towards Wanganui is gorgeous, rocky, curvy, hilly. Views to evoke Scotland. Valleys and peaks, small plains in between. There are many rocky shoulders we curve around with fallen rocks filling the ditch. Once the rocks had fallen into the lane and hadn’t been removed yet. In many places the road had dusty circles where the rocks had hit and scattered dust. There are passing lanes every 10-20 km, in the flat parts. Windbreaks are tall trees grown into hedges and given a high & tight haircut by some strange machine. Kelly suggests it’s a very tall sheep whose sole job is trimming hedges to a neat perpendicular top. A sign advertises sumo suit and bouncy castle rentals. Now there’s a combination! Blueberries and…blueberry art?

A long fenceline is decorated with hundreds of pairs of old shoes. Maybe 50-100 m long. Strange! Kelly saw a smaller version later. We stop briefly in Wanganui for wifi, but the iSite is closed. Their wifi is still available! We book a hotel in Wellington. Walk to the Stellar pub for toilets and drinks. Kelly gets a Glasgow-based whisky. Back on the road again, and on to Wellington. The roads slowly get bigger as we get closer to the city. We follow a “free ambulance” vehicle for several tens of km. Sunset is around 2030 and is beautiful. Great views again. We find our hotel easily, car park right next to entrance.

We check in, and get a free room upgrade because so many of the housekeeping staff are on vacation our normal room isn’t clean. OK! The room is a small studio apartment! Separate rooms for bathroom and bedroom, huge main room with great kitchen—more usable floor space than our first apartment in St. Paul.  Best of all? A washer/dryer unit in the room! Hooray! Clean clothes! Also two doors onto a very long balcony with an uninteresting view. Unless you count the zebra-striped building across the alley interesting.

Head out for food and find the Steer & Beer. Their kitchen closes at 2200, and its 2145, but they’re willing to seat us as long as we agree to make up our mind quickly. We both get lamb burgers with beetroot: it’s a great combination. Then we stop at the corner store for breakfast food. We pay, head out, and the clerk stops us. Kelly’s muffin is past its sell-by date, so she runs to the display to get another for him. Collapse into bed; driving these roads is exhausting!

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

NZ Travel Diary #4

NZ Travel Diary #5

NZ Travel Diary #6

_______________________

I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #6 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 15, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 4: Volcanoes and Hot Springs

1 Jan. Happy New Year! It’s 2014 here in the antipodes! A lazy breakfast of yogurts, coconut flavor and passionfruit flavor. Shower, pack up. Heading to see some LOTR sites today! On our way out of town we decide against the Te Puia geyser & Maori center. Another trip. Later we drive past a sign for Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Hmm, sounds interesting. We had no fixed agenda for this trip, so we enjoyed stopping at things that sounded neat. Our serendipitous stops turned out to be some of the best parts of the trip.

The park includes a 4 km walk, almost all downhill, and a bus to take you back up. 3 bus stops along the way for various energy levels. Start walking around 1045. Over 30 points of interest on the map! Too many cool things to describe them all. Frying Pan Lake with steam rising up off most of the lake, and burbling mud pots at the edges. Emerald Pool was very green when we were there–sometimes it is blue. Echo Crater is a sobering spot where the volcanic eruption took lives. The area claims to be the youngest geothermal area in the world. The most recent eruption was 1974. A very large eruption in the late 1800s killed a number of people. Inferno Crater Lake was a peaceful looking place with very hot water. The hot water stream is at 50 deg C. What a thought–a scalding stream! Bubbling pools and steam all over. Extensive water management ditches and culverts make more sense when you realize that it might be very hot water coming down the paths.

We walk all 4 km, taking tons of pictures, and reach the end around 1220. 2 coaches (buses) pick up people at the pier at the end of the trail. There are emergency assembly spots along the trail, in case the volcano decides to burp. The cool streams had frogs making great noises–we never spotted a frog though. This area is on a “continental divide”: where the India/Australia and Pacific plates meet. It’s the only volcanic area in the world whose activity origin can be pinned to an exact day: 10 June 1886. It was wonderful!

The cafe at the top had a GF sandwich pre-made! Kelly had a bacon and egg pie. That is something they do very well: pies. Not dessert pies, but savory pies. Bacon and egg, steak and ale, mince (beef), lamb and mint. All sorts of pies. I think we should bring pies into fashion in the US. We get Kelly a nice shirt out of sporty material, with the NZ All Blacks logo.

After this we continue on towards our goal of Tongariro National Park. We stop at a few gorgeous overlooks. Head through some towns. The main state highways aren’t interstates/freeways/tollways. They are more like our smaller state highways. Unless you’re in a big city, it is two-lane only and may or may not have a shoulder. It might not even have a white line on the outside of the lane. Speed limit is 100 kph (62 mph), and you are supposed to get over to allow someone behind you to pass. There are occasional pull-offs to do this, or you can wait for a nice open straightaway and turn your left signal on, slow down, and get to the outside edge of the lane. This can occasionally be scary for the driver accustomed to US roads. It is more often scary for the navigator in the left seat who sits frozen, shouting “too close! too close!” or “that’s the edge!” or once in a while “aaaaaaaaagh!”

We pass along Lake Taupo, a very large lake in the middle of the island and a prime holidaying spot. Then we take a 7-kilometer unpaved road back to a carpark for the Alpine crossing in Tongariro. This is where you embark on your crazy mountain crossing if you are so inclined and have the necessary gear. There are several large peaks, and one of them is unmistakably Mount Doom! Whoa! We make our way back out the scary unpaved road to the main highway. Then into Whakapapa. The letters “wh” together are pronounced “f” so it sounds like fa-ka-pa-pa. There is an amazing chateau with the most splendid backdrop: the Chateau Tongariro. Go look it up.

They are booked for the night (probably too expensive anyways). We go online and find Tussock Grove Boutique Hotel. I wish we could have stayed several days here! It was a bit hard to find, but was so worth it. On the way to the hotel we stop at Tawhei Falls but don’t find the place where Smeagol chases a fish downstream—as it turns out this is because it’s the falls where Smeagol eats a fish below the Window on the West. Get to the hotel around 1830 and the proprietor is cheery and welcomes us nicely. And of course gives us milk.

The room is amazing. It’s obviously a ski lodge, with ski holders along the halls, an outdoor hot tub, hot cocoa packets in the tea box (the first!). There are 8 suites, and ours is 2 levels with a seating area and bathroom on ground floor and large bedroom and couch/TV area on first floor. Windows everywhere. There is a weird bedspread with a flap to cover the pillows. That’s another non-UK thing: they use top sheets and blankets, not duvets. Our proprietor had recommended the Cypress Tree for dinner, so we head into town. We drive since the larger area of restaurants is not within walking distance. Good thing we drove–it started bucketing down rain during dinner. We ended up at the Cypress Tree. Again, lots of things labeled GF. I have a salmon risotto and Kelly has lamb rump with beetroot (beets). Great food.

The rain lightens up a little as we run to the car. Back to our wonderful room and enjoy an early night.

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

NZ Travel Diary #4

NZ Travel Diary #5

_______________________

I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #5 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 15, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 3: Hobbiton!

31 Dec. We will celebrate NYE in NZ! And do it a whole day ahead of our friends and neighbors. We leave our lovely hotel early around 0930 or 1000. We decide on the scenic path to Matamata and Hobbiton. It’s a long drive in a good car. The car is smart: rain-sensing windshield wipers, the proximity sensor/beeping, blind spot car detection with a LED on the side mirrors, and an over-the-line detector which caused the steering wheel to vibrate a little. Fancy! I am adjusting to left-side driving, and by the end of the day I am fairly comfortable with 100 kph on narrow windy roads with no shoulder. Kelly is navigating and is doing his usual swearing at the GPS.

The landscape is wondrous. Hills, lakes, plains, curvy roads, tree canopies, sheep, beef cattle. The bridges all have names, as do the culverts. Keeps the drive interesting. A store sign off the road advertises “hot pies and coconuts”–what better example of UK plus Hawaii? A sign next to the beach says that the limit is “50 cockles per person per day”. Cockles! Boarding kennel and cattery–a common sign.

We have lunch in Te Aroha–linguistically the same as aloha? We find the Ironique Cafe–recycled iron fittings all over. Several items labeled GF. The food was delicious. I had a parmesan/pear/walnut/bacon salad, and Kelly had a Mediterranean lamb salad. GF brownie for dessert, and Monteith’s bottled pear cider to drink–not as good as on tap, of course. Nice little town! Then we head to Matamata and through to Hobbiton! The Shire’s Rest is at the entry to the farm where Hobbiton lies. Big building with a cafe upstairs and a shop on the ground floor (not first floor–that’s another English-y thing). We spend a good deal of money, though the loot wasn’t as spectacular as we hoped. I get a beautiful cape of possum/merino wool. The possums are a nasty invasive species so they trap them and mix their hair with wool.

We finally get two bottles of L&P soda to try, since we like the L&P chocolate bar. It’s lemony (the L part) and has mineral water from the town of Paeroa (the P part). It is tasty. At 14:45 we line up for the 15:00 tour. The line-up hut has four queues with chalkboards denoting which tour time for which line. A tour guide, Christy, takes our tickets. He is a great guide. A large older bus rolls up and we all pile in. A 10 minute drive takes us the gates of Middle Earth. The bus driver delivers trivia–most of it we know from watching the extras on the DVDs. It is beautiful and sunny and mid-70s. At the entrance gate there is a shack with perhaps 100 umbrellas. About 5 of the 40 of us grab them for sun protection. Ground rules for Hobbiton: don’t cross the ropes. Don’t touch anything behind a rope. Stay in sight of your group. The guide asks where folks are from (all over the world) and who has seen the movies (most). And then we cross into Middle Earth.

This would have made our whole trip by itself. We were walking through Hobbiton! We saw Bag End and had a pint in the Green Dragon! The first steps are through the curvy cut where Bilbo runs, contract in hand, shouting that he is off on an adventure. Hobbit holes all over, a small pond, a bigger lake, live gardens, clothes on the line, miniature wood piles. The tree over Bag End is entirely fake: 10,000 leaves from Thailand (or was it Taiwan? Sorry!) shipped to NZ and attached by hand. Other trees are real. They planted apple and pear trees to be the right shape and size, but in the books they are plum. So just pre-filming all the fruit and leaves were removed and fake plum leaves attached. The trees survived and are fruiting. The native trees were covered with beech sheathing to look more English.

The party tree is real and ENORMOUS. The original LOTR set was temporary, the Hobbit set was made to be permanent. The Green Dragon was specifically made flammable the first time for the Scouring of the Shire scene. One hobbit hole is thatched, but no one knew how to thatch a home, so a thatcher from England was flown down. Only two holes have any real depth behind the door. One is where the Black Rider asks “Baggins” and the hobbit and barking dog flee inside their house. They imported British sheep since the Kiwi ones didn’t look right. The only modern building in sight was a hay barn which was painted to look like a tree. They imported an eagle to make sure that the numerous rats and mice they had on set didn’t get free and get into the neighboring Kiwi reserve.

Sam and Rosie’s home! With flowers all over! The road into Hobbiton had to be built strong to withstand 150 large trucks a day. The beer for Bilbo’s party was specially made 1% alcoholic beer. The food tent served up 2-course breakfast, 3-course lunch, and 3-course dinner for actors and crew. There are different sized holes for different actors. A whole set of hobbit holes over a ridge was made as backup and never used in the films. We’ve seen hobbit holes that aren’t in the movie!

The laundry on the line was taken in each evening and put up by crew each morning for months before filming so that the footpaths looked natural. The wooden fences were repeatedly covered in a mix of yogurt and stain to age it–the yogurt encourages stuff to grow on the wood. The scene where Bilbo and Gandalf smoke in front of Bag End at sunset was perfect except that it faced east. So it was filmed at sunrise.

Eventually we get to the Green Dragon Inn. The first pint of beer or cider or pop is free with your ticket, but you can purchase food and further drink. Ceramic mugs, round windows, a roaring fire (at 75 degrees!), gorgeous artistry. This wasn’t in the movie, this interior was built later for the tourists. There are a few costume bits but nothing that excited us enough to try on. We spend about 20 minutes here before heading out. Overall it was an hour tour that was very much worth the time and money! We chat with our guide and note that we’ve now had a pint at the Bird & Baby where Tolkien’s writers group met, and a pint at the Green Dragon. Christy asks the usual questions and it turns out he’s an SFF reader. Kelly hands him a business card. When we get back to the Shire’s Rest, we run to the car and grab a Blade book to give to him. Kelly signs it and Christy is just floored. He had been showing off the card to another guide. Feels good!

After Hobbiton we ended up at Rotorua for the evening. A city of hot springs, it smells rather sulfury. Not really bad, just a little eggy. Room is OK but there is a spa tub in the bathroom! We walk downtown for dinner and end up on Eat Streat, a pedestrian mall with tons of restaurants. Our choice for dinner was Solace Cafe, eating outside on the sidewalk. It’s really crowded with the NYE party in the park a block away. Lots of folks dressed up. Great people watching. Maori wardens walking around–we know that’s what they were because their bright safety vests said so. Dinner was the fish special–local fish called hapuku? Delicious! With 3 fried shrimp (prawns) on salad. The poor waiters are slammed with all the people eating out.

Walking along Lake Rotorua, we see black swans, gulls, pigeons. People already claiming benches for fireworks at 2100. Music on a stage, carnival rides. Stop at a grocery store for dessert. I get gouda cheese with plum jam, Kelly has Tim Tams. He looooves the orange flavor ones. Fill hot tub and soak. We hear the 2100 fireworks in the distance, but are sound asleep for the midnight ones.

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

NZ Travel Diary #4

_______________________

I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #4 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 14, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel Notes

New Zealand* part 1**

30 Dec. I wake up slowly and groggy from the muscle relaxant I took for my back. A lazy morning in the hotel room. There is a lot of the UK in NZ. All outlets have switches next to them; they drive on the left; the language is closer to British English than American English, roundabouts on the roads, a tea-drinking culture, pubs rather than bars, no screens on the windows, metric system rather than our messy system. But it’s different too: they say “kgs” not “kilos”, they have special words that we didn’t see in the UK, the Maori influence is very obvious, it’s freaking TROPICAL!, bare feet are acceptable most places. It feels like Scotland and Hawaii smashed together. The landscape is hilly and sheepy, but with palm trees in the warmer areas. Mountains rise up in the background of most any view landward, but they are smaller than what we consider mountains. There are active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes.

Around 0900 or 1000 we get up and wander around looking for an open breakfast place. We find a sports bar serving food with windows open wide to the sidewalk, and football (by which I mean soccer) on the telly. They have eggs and streaky bacon on toast, which sounds lovely. I get mine sans toast. Free tea with meals on Mondays, so we have tea too. Lots of patrons watching the game. There are a lot of TVs showing football, rugby, and cricket in the various pubs we patronized. There is a small gambling corner in the back of the pub.

We head up to Auckland “Domain” which seems to be a word for large park. There is a museum at the top of the hills. The walk is beautiful and green, and the trees! The trees! We never got over our wonder at the amazing huge trees that cover NZ. It’s very hilly (that could be repeated for most every place we were). Rain then sun then rain. We walked through a small park (Albert’s Park) with great trees and a big fountain. Past the University of Auckland–I would have stopped in if it wasn’t holiday week. A sign on the science building says “Maths and Nzima”. What the heck is that? Then into the Domain itself. Hills, paths, trees, greens, art. On to the Museum. There is a large courtyard with a memorial and the courtyard is designated “consecrated ground”. The memorial is dedicated “to our glorious dead”. Creepy and neat. The museum was the typical awesome museum–more than you’d ever be able to absorb in one visit. We got tickets to a Maori performance which was great. There are three meanings to kia ora: hello, thank you, and good/nice. It’s generally pronounced “key-OAR-ah” very quickly. The performance included poi dancing (small poofy balls on short strings attached to sticks) and small sticks used both for percussion and stick throwing skill games. Larger sticks are used for strength and dexterity development. As an oral society, they did a lot of chanting. When the guitar was introduced in the 19th c. the chanting developed harmonies.

The haka dance is a pre-war battle dance to gather strength and intimidate your enemies. It is definitely intimidating! Lots of foot stamping and chest slapping and shouting and chanting. The main narrator of the performance had a beautiful fluid delivery when speaking Maori and then a more clipped English style. Interesting to hear the switch. The clothing was great to see. Overall it was a wonderful introduction to Maori culture!

The museum had a very nice armory including a Colt revolving rifle and an actual nodachi sword. Beautiful wooden furniture from the settlers. A large Maori hall of memory where you took your shoes off before entering the low door to show respect. Learning staffs denoting higher education including occult education. A 100-person war canoe made from one log! Basalt chimes with a hammer to strike them. A moa skeleton–maybe 3 meters tall? That would have been one scary bird to encounter! Beautiful stained glass in the war memorial upstairs.

We walk back towards home, stopping at a cafe for juice, since I’m dehydrated. We take Lovers Lane back through the Domain. It follows a small creek and is secluded and forested. Soothing and rejuvenating. The weather continues to shift every 20-30 minutes between rain and sun. There is a glass house with a “winter garden”. A young couple is snogging on the banks of the stream. A photographer is taking wedding photos in the garden. One large tree branch had a crutch–a post in the sidewalk supporting the massive horizontal branch.

There is a bookstore with tiny aisles and too many people. Decent SFF selection though none of Kelly’s books. We had burritos again for lunch, since there are still so few places open. Several sidewalk pavers outside the grocery store had the silverleaf logo that is a NZ icon. Back to Shakespeare’s pub for 2 more pints of delicious cider. (Hey, most places were closed!) This time we drink on the upstairs patio since it is currently sunny out. A middle-aged Asian woman walking by below has bright red dyed hair with bangs and pigtails; somehow it looks remarkably well on her. Back to the room to pack up. We get tickets to Hobbiton for tomorrow–holy crap we are going to Hobbiton!

There are a lot of obvious tourists from many places. We heard many German/Austrian accents in our two weeks, probably the most common after various types of English speakers. Lots of Kiwis on holiday now so lots of that accent floating about.

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

NZ Travel Diary #4

*I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

**Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #3 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 14, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel Notes

New Zealand* part 1**

27 Dec. We are in the penultimate row for our flight from Honolulu to Auckland: 39 of 40. Our seat mate notices that the last row is empty, and moves back. A flight attendant moves him forward again since that last row is reserved for flight attendants in case of depressurization. He is a cheerful Kiwi man and is a pleasant seatmate. He has a dark rum & apple juice with dinner. The Air New Zealand flight crew has beautiful colorful uniforms. Great accents, and a very diverse looking crew. The in-flight safety video was LOTR themed! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBlRbrB_Gnc The flight attendants are friendly and mostly mellow but firm; your armrest needs to be down, your windowshade up, and don’t try to sneak off to pee before the seat belt sign is turned off! The plane had nice leg room and the seats reclined a long way, which is nice except when trying to eat from your tray. And I got two gluten-free meals! They mixed up my dinner and breakfast, but it was tasty. Dinner was scrambled eggs and ham and potato wedges while brekkie was fish, potato wedges, and veg mix. (The Kiwis write it vege.) Kelly had hot meals too. Lots of in-flight entertainment on the in-seat screen, including Hobbit part one. Kelly watched The Wolverine. He often uses airplane trips to see movies that he knows I don’t want to watch. Slept a few hours on the 8.75 hour flight. Our inflatable neck pillows both developed leaks. Oh well.

29 Dec. We arrive in Auckland around 7 am, noon at home (no daylight savings time here). Get through immigration just fine. Customs and agriculture flag my shoes and we get sent to another checkpoint. My shoes are dipped in a (presumed) bleach mix, and our bags are x-rayed again. Out we go into the airport proper. Our first view is of a 25′ tall dwarf statue in the lobby. Oh, yes, we are in NZ! Our car won’t be ready till 1030 so we wait around. Buy a map, some banana-flavoured milk, a car charger for the iPads. We try to buy some Cadbury’s chocolate, but the clerk convinces us to try Whittaker’s. That’s the local chocolate. We’re here to experience NZ, so what the heck! We buy a block of caramel (gooey center), rum & raisin (tasty!), and the mysterious L&P flavor with popping candy inside. Walk around airport, check on buying a local SIM card for the phone, say to ourselves “we’re in NZ!”. Enjoy being outside in shirt sleeves.

Around 1015 we get our car (NOT a manual transmission) and head out. Driving on the left here, like the UK. As our Jamaican shuttle driver said: “The left side is the right side, and the right side is suicide.” Only here there is barely enough traffic to be concerned if you were on the right! As I put the car in reverse it makes a weird beeping noise. In park it shuts off. Try again: beep! Hmm. No clue. I back out and we head off to downtown Auckland. They don’t say downtown, they use CBD. Not that I know what it means. The trip to downtown is simple, gives me a chance to learn the car and the roads. We find our hotel via smartphone GPS, and pull in. The valet tells us how to get to the self-park garage. Around the block we go and then into the car park. This was probably the scariest part of the first week of driving. The ramps up to the next level were extremely narrow–I had to back up and try again three times with Kelly guiding me from outside to get up the ramp. Then we discovered what the beeping was: a proximity alert for aid in parking! It beeps in the location of the car where an object is closest. This was extremely handy many times.

We ask if our room is ready even though it is only 1100. Politeness often helps when doing this. There is a room ready, on the top floor! It’s a corner room with a fantastic view of the city and of the SkyTower a block away. Jackpot! We finally shower, for which our fellow pedestrians will thank us. It’s been a long day. And the particularly observant will note that our flight left on 27 Dec and arrived on 29 Dec. That’s right, we missed 28 Dec entirely due to crossing the date line overnight on the plane. The hotel is doing its part for the environment; there is not just a “no towel service, leave on rack” sign, but a sign for “no service needed”. Our kind of place! They recycle old linens to a charity shop, and do other things to reduce their waste and footprint. It was a Rydges hotel, and it was lovely. There was swing music playing from the TV as we got in, and chocolates on the bed. The room service menu included a picnic lunch order form, and you can request GF bread! Wow! We get dressed and head out.

Downstairs we ask the clerk if the next two days are booked since this looks like a cool place for New Years Eve. He suggests trying online–not too many rooms left. It is Sunday 29 December in downtown–not a lot of places open. The whole country take off the two weeks for Xmas and NYE as a summer holiday. Wander around downtown, find our way to a Mexican place that is both open and has GF options. Mad Mex; they had a naked burrito with no wrap. Excellent and cheap. Food is expensive here, both in the grocery store and the restaurants. But there is no tipping, so that lowers the cost compared to home, as does the exchange rate. Walk to the quay, where there is a beautiful old building and huge ferries and boats and art and cool stuff. Lots of shopping, like most downtowns. Not our thing, especially at the beginning of a two-week trip where we know we’ll have to carry anything we buy.

We head back to our hotel and stop at a grocery store for dinner fixings. Then we walk past Shakespeare’s Pub and are tempted by a pint. We try the Monteith’s cider on draught and it is amazing. Clear, crisp, really refreshing. NZD17 for two pints. The pub tables have a clever shelf under the table surface for bags and such. When we get to our hotel the clerk catches us and asks if we have managed to get a reservation, since there are few rooms left. Nice service!

We rest in the room, healing up from the flight. Kelly has a tetchy knee, and my back is not doing well after that long flight. Around 1600 we head to the SkyTower since it’s only a block away. Very well worth it! There is a long elevator flight up to the 51st floor (glass panel in the floor of the elevator). The observation deck there has glass panels all around the outside edge. It is fun to watch who is afraid to step on them and who is not. Kelly has to work up his courage to do it, while it doesn’t bother me at all. Finally–a place where I am more adventurous than Kelly! There is a second elevator to go up to level 60 or so and another observation deck. Great views of the city. It’s cloudy and in the upper 60s or lower 70s. There is a line jump point above level 60 where you can get kitted up and attached to two long wires to the ground, then you jump and slide down them. Fun to watch, but neither of us has any inclination to try it. On the first observation deck is a sign: “Next jumper in 4 minutes”. You can also get dressed in a suit and skywalk around the outside edge of the tower with safety lines attached. That looks more interesting, but Kelly isn’t having any. It’s very cool up there. We see our hotel and our corner room–easy to identify this time! We stop on level 50 for the coffee lounge and get a cider for me (Mac’s Isaac’s Cider–meh) and Jameson for the brave soul who is conquering his fear of heights. How he climbed mountains is beyond me.

Then a quiet night in the hotel room listening to swing music and drinking merlot. The hotel rooms all have electric kettles and good tea boxes with coffee and tea. Some have cocoa too, some have herbal tea. Most of our rooms also had fridges and wine glasses as well. We went with mid-to-high level rooms, probably averaging $100-$120 a night. The fridges were nice since we often eat at least one meal a day in our room. And everywhere we went, there was milk for your tea. A few places had little creamer cups in the fridge, but more often we got milk when we checked in. It was an assumption that you wanted milk. Sometimes the question was “would you like milk?” but more often it was “regular or trim milk?”. Ah, the joys of the tea-drinking culture.

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

*I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

**Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.

New Zealand Diaries #2 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 14, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel

Pre-New Zealand* (Hawaii for Christmas!) part 2**

26 Dec. Wake around 8:00, pretty exhausted still. A slow breakfast on the lanai: pineapple, banana, yogurt, POG juice, cheese, and boiled eggs. Wander out to the beach again. There is a beach warning up: Jellyfish. Signs all over the place. Stay out of water! Despite the warning, many are in the water. And many get out of the water to go to the lifeguard station for jellyfish sting treatment. Lots of folks with bags of ice held to various body parts. Quite unimpressed with the parents of the 2yo whom they were treating for a sting. Read the signs, people! There is a huge military ship far off in the water. Several para-sailors out a ways. One adventurous group of tourists was in a large catamaran, paddling away. There are a lot of homeless people here, sleeping in the beach huts. The surf instructors seem to be a tight community. One sits down on the bench next to us with his breakfast. A barefoot little girl approaches him cautiously, no parents in sight. He offers her a bite. Obviously he knows her but she isn’t his. Police officer walking the beach said good morning to two likely-homeless older people on the bench near us. He went out surfing later, she was applying makeup. Surfers are in good shape–you have to be. One surf instructor is typical polynesian body type with wide shoulders and broad chest. Gorgeous long black hair. He carries a surfboard back to the hut one handed, board straight up. Then he tosses it in the air and catches it to put it away. I admit to admiring that one a bit!

We walked to the same fish tacos place for lunch. They were that good. Walked back to hotel via the canal. Fish fish fish! There is a tiny 3-story building visible from our room in the midst of skyscrapers, so we find it to identify it. Cooper Apartments. How old must this building be? Several of the hotels have pools with koi, and we see the biggest koi we’ve ever seen. It must have been well over a foot long and very thick. Definitely seeing the carp side of the family there. Back to the hotel for a poolside mai tai, taking advantage of the free wifi there. It’s hot and humid and sunny, so we perforce are staying in the shade in a little pavilion poolside. Another dinner on the lanai of banana, pineapple, ham, cheese. I finish off the bottle of barely adequate wine, while Kelly tries a pineapple rum drink from a can. His drink is quite good! More lounging about–the Honolulu interlude is all about resting up for the real trip.

27 Dec. Today we leave Hawaii for New Zealand! Uber excited! Up around 7:30 for a five-fruit breakfast: pineapple yogurt, passion-orange-guava juice, and fresh papaya halves with lemon. I guess that is six fruits! We check out at noon, but our airport shuttle picks us up at 7:30 pm. Mostly a day of rest. Walking around, looking at people, looking at the beach. Tacos for lunch, and then tacos for dinner too. Yes, they really were fantastic. And we were in the land of chain restaurants, so this at least was local food. Several hours spent poolside with mai tais. Great service from the poolside bar. We picked up our luggage at 7:00 pm and went to wait for our 7:30 shuttle. The 7:00 shuttle showed up around 7:15 so we grabbed that one. Turns out President Obama was in town and there were lots of traffic jams all over. We had an exciting loooooong trip to the airport with secret service agents and local police officers re-directing traffic. Our flight check-in period ended at 2030 and we arrived at 2020. Cutting it close! No problem at check-in despite the 7 kg carry-on limit and our bags are 9 and 10 kg. Great service from Air New Zealand at check-in. Usual annoying wait outside the waiting room (most Hawaii flights do this). And the usual crabby people heading home from Hawaii. We’ve had flight attendants tell us they love the flights TO Hawaii, with excited people starting vacation. They don’t love the return flight with sunburned crabby exhausted people. Another wait in the waiting room, and then we board our flight to New Zealand!

NZ Travel Diary #1

NZ Travel Diary #2

NZ Travel Diary #3

*I’ve been traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand and will be posting links to the pictures soon.

**Whenever we travel my wife does a travel diary while I take most of the pictures. I use her notes as my references for later use for books and other things. She has been gracious enough to allow me to share them here on my site for those who are interested.