New Zealand 2014

January 20, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand 2014—Index of Photos and Journals

Laura and I spent three weeks traveling in Hawaii and New Zealand over the holidays. Per our usual division of labor I took pictures and she wrote journals. I also made some voice notes.  We do this both to remember the place and to give me a good basis for using material from major travel in my books. I’ve already got some wonderful ideas for incorporating a lot of setting material into the Blade books. I will also at some point probably set a novel or novels here. In the interests of sharing the experience as much as we can I’ve posted my albums and Laura’s notes both. The albums are Facebook and viewable to all whether you have an FB account or not—might as well use someone else’s bandwidth for that and I’m over there, but the journals are here on kellymccullough.com. I’m still captioning and pictures and will probably add a few videos later but this is most of it.

Kelly’s Photo Albums:

Hawaiian Xmas

Auckland

Hobbiton #1

Hobbiton #2

Hobbiton #3

Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Mordor—Tongariro National Park

Mordor Part II—Hiking Down Mount Doom

Wellington Part I—WETA Cave and Other Wanderings

Wellington Part II—A LOTR Movies Sites Tour

O.o—Scenes From an Art Exhibit

Wellington—Picton Ferry

Christchurch

Akaroa

The Giant’s House (Akaroa)

Pancake Rock—Punakaiki

Glowworm Caves

Napier and the Hamilton Zoo

Roses!

Birds

Cute Seal Pics I and II—Ohau and Cape Foulwind

Seen From the Car I—Auckland to Christchurch

Seen From the Car II—Christchurch to Auckland

New Zealand Snaps I—Things What Took My Fancy

New Zealand Snaps II—More Things What Took My Fancy

Laura’s Travel Diaries:

NZ Travel Diary #1—Hawaii for Xmas 1

NZ Travel Diary #2—Hawaii for Xmas 2

NZ Travel Diary #3—Auckland Arrival and Sky Tower

NZ Travel Diary #4—Auckland Domain and A Haka

NZ Travel Diary #5—Hobbiton!

NZ Travel Diary #6—Volcanoes and Hot Springs

NZ Travel Diary #7—Walking Through Mordor

NZ Travel Diary #8—A Quiet Day

NZ Travel Diary #9—Window on WETA! Wellington Gardens!

NZ Travel diary #10—Lord of the Rings Sites tour

NZ Travel Diary #11—Ferry to South Island

NZ Travel Diary #12—Akaroa and the Christchurch Gardens

NZ Travel Diary #13—Crossing the Southern Alps

NZ Travel Diary #14—Glowworms! Caves! Victorian Hotel!

NZ Travel Diary #15—Return to North Island

NZ Travel Diary #16—Heading North

NZ Travel Diary #17—The Long Journey Home

New Zealand Diaries #17 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 20, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 15: The Long Journey Home

12 Jan. Today will last approximately 43 hours. We wake up around 08:00, and we check out by 09:45. Our flight to LAX doesn’t leave until evening, so we have some time to do a few more things. There is a zoo in Hamilton, as well as botanical gardens. Having seen several gardens, we choose the zoo. It’s cloudy today, light sprinkles, pleasantly cool.

The Hamilton zoo is really nice! Good landscaping and design on the paths around the enclosures. We see some black chimpanzees, simangs (a gibbon relative), tamarins, ring-tail lemurs and ruff-neck lemurs. Sumatra tiger, bobcat, a painted hunting dog with beautiful coloration. As we head toward the tiger exhibit, Kelly stops dead in the middle of the sidewalk. I look ahead to see what has caught his eye. The winding path has tall grasses and flowers along the sides, and the zoo has taken a life-sized photo cutout of a tiger and hidden it behind the grasses. It is quite startling!

We head to the plains/savannah exhibit. I look at the giraffes at the far side of the enclosure, and Kelly says “Hey, there’s an ostrich!” I start to look around and then jump as the ostrich approaches me, walking along the other side of the fence about ten feet away. How you can miss a bird like that, I do not know, but I had no clue it was nearby. It is a great mellow morning. The sun is coming out occasionally and the rain has ended. We sit for a few minutes at the cafe, watching the arrogant peacock looking for handouts.

We decide to take one last walk to the aviary, and start hearing strange hooting calls. Sounds ape-ish? Maybe the chimps are waking up and talking? So we walk all around the zoo again locating the sounds. We end up at the simangs. They have a huge inflatable throat sac, and when they inhale, the sac inflates and it makes a low bellowing noise. Then they hoot and call on the exhale. We stand there watching for a long time. Kids plug their ears as they approach, a baby freaked out and the parents had to leave. It was really loud and interesting.

Then it’s on to Auckland. Since we have time to spare, we head towards the coast at Bucklands Beach. There is a long windy road (last time I say that, promise!) barely two cars wide that heads somewhere. We follow to the end, and there is a car park saying “Musick Point” with a sign showing the way to stairs to the water. We pass a radio station (guessing this is where the name came from) that looks active, lots of cars parked around it. Then a short trail down to a series of very steep steps. The sort where you don’t like to take your hand off the handrail. Especially since the bottom of the steps where there used to be a wide rock platform is now barely a foot wide, with the rocks sitting in the water. We squirm around the handrail to a short rocky promontory and enjoy a few last views of NZ. The waves are splashing the rocks, the sun is out, we have a great view of the harbor.

Back up to the car, we find a pub called the Barrel Inn. They can do GF gravy on their roasts, so I get lamb roast with corn flour gravy, and Kelly tries a lamb kofta. We finally try the Speight’s Cider on tap: it is quite good! Then it’s out to the car, and head to the airport. We drop off the car, and get through security. We actually have a bag to check now. We have a habit of packing an empty large duffel bag on long trips, and then the dirty clothes go home in checked luggage and our souvenirs and expensive things stay with us in our backpacks.

Buy a few last trinkets to use up our NZ currency. (I twist Kelly’s arm really hard to make him buy another pair of sparkly earrings.) There is a set of massage chairs, and it’s two dollars for six minutes. Never tried one, but it sounds good right now. Oh, yes, it is good. I go for two rounds, the second right before we board. Kelly tries it too.

We are aisle/center again. Our seatmate is a smaller guy returning from his daughter’s wedding in Australia. It is a long, long flight to LAX. Scheduled for 12.25 hours, we have the winds so it’s “only” 11.5 hours. Kelly takes the center seat. I have the tough decision: get little sleep and walk a lot to spare my back? or sleep and wake with a back that will hate me for a week? I choose not to sleep. As we fly over the Pacific, I think about general NZ things.

The population is so small that unless you are in a city, there are few stop signs or stop lights. Most intersections are yields or roundabouts. Summertime brings a lot of signs along the road for plums, cherries, blueberries, and other fruits. Bumblebees are enormous! Land Rovers occasionally go by with a snorkel attachment above the hood for fording.

“Sweet as” is a Kiwi phrase roughly translated as a really strong “good on ya!” We did hear “good on ya” a few times. The country tends to be windy, and many places have wind-driven art. The mailboxes often have a “no junk mail” sticker or “no circulars” or something similar.

A t-shirt in Akaroa: I married Miss Right. I just didn’t know her first name was Always.

Kelly gets good sleep on the flight, thankfully. He will be driving home! Dinner and breakfast are tasty, with GF meals for me again. We get into LAX on time despite a late departure. An interminable line for immigration leads to a thankfully shorter line for customs. Good people herding by the employees. We need to find a bus to a different terminal for our next flight. It takes a while, but we eventually crowd onto a shuttle. A short wander around our section of the airport, and then head to the gate. Another late departure since the incoming plane is deboarding as we are supposed to be boarding. LAX has some nice gate seating, and good power outlets to charge your devices.

The flight from LAX to MSP is fine, the usual cramped quarters on Delta. Arrive on time, we remember to grab our checked bag, and then hail a taxi. A short ride to St. Paul to pick up our car and then the hour drive home. Our weather luck is holding: the polar vortex has left and it is a balmy 30 degrees, so the car starts just fine.

Home, kitties! It’s still 12 Jan, though it’s 30-some hours after we awoke. Fall asleep to four purring beasties, wake up to four purring beasties. This has been one of our best trips ever, but: East, west, home is best.

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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 #16 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 20, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 14: heading north

11 Jan. We have another lazy morning, much needed at the end of this trip! We check out and stop at a corner store for yogurt and such for breakfast. Then it’s a two hour drive to Napier on the east coast. At this point I barely notice the gorgeous scenery and the amazing vistas. Yes, you can overload on incredible views. When we get to Napier, we find a parking garage and put 3 dollars in the “pay and display” machine, only to discover it’s free on weekends. Oh well. Napier was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in the ’30s with amazing art deco architecture. The buildings are beautiful examples of art deco work. Even the street signs are in fancy font. It’s primarily a shopping town downtown, not our thing, but we walk around and enjoy the views. It’s on the beach, too, so we walk to the water. I play wave tag for a bit. The beach isn’t sand, but grey/black rock ranging from small pebbles to quarter sized rocks–not very comfortable barefoot, even for someone who loves going without shoes.

We walk around Napier, stop in a really cool armory store, can’t remember the name. There is a SCA-type group that meets up and supports or is supported by this store. Nice stuff in this place! They have lots of weapons, but the one piece that catches my eye is a mirrored wooden plaque with art deco figurines. Alas, too difficult to try to bring home.

We luncheon at a bakery. That’s how good they are at GF: I tried a bakery for lunch, and it worked! There was a tasty GF ham quiche for me, and Kelly had bacon & chicken pie. We shared a scrumptious orange cake for dessert. Then back into the car (of which I am thoroughly tired by this time) for the trip to Hamilton and our last hotel in NZ. We choose the Anglesea Motel, with advertised spa bath. Nice place! The clerk finds out it’s our last night in NZ and gives us two glasses of wine on the house. Along with milk, of course. It’s quite sweet. We do a load of laundry in preparation for a really long day tomorrow, have a nice dinner in our room: greek salad with added ham and cheese, the wine, some yogurt, and chocolate for dessert. A hot bath, and an early night.

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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 #15 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 20, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 13: Back to North Island

10 Jan. We wake up in our gorgeous suite, sun is out, birds are singing, little cherubs flitting about. Well, maybe not all of that. We have requested breakfast at 08:30, and we head down to the grand ballroom to see what we’ll get. There is a table set for 6, one couple is already eating at one end. They are Dutch, and quietly talk between themselves. The table is set with fine china, a cup of freshly-cut fruit is in a bowl on a china charger. Jenny brings Kelly black tea and myself some chamomile tea (I learned to request herbal pronounced with an h). She says she’ll get us some toast, and I mention I am gluten-intolerant. She just smiles and says she’ll bring me GF toast. Glee!

I eat tasty multigrain toast, one piece with the apricot jam, the other piece with blackcurrant?raspberry? jam. Yum yum yum. She then offers us herbed cheese scrambled eggs, and we can’t resist that! There is also a set of containers on the table with muesli and cereal. The eggs are great, and the setting can’t be beat. Morning sun coming into a grand ballroom with tall ceilings, beautiful woodwork, asian art, nice china, good food….Aaaah. We suggest Warwick House for anyone traveling near Nelson.

Another couple arrives as we are drinking our tea: from Missouri! Our host Nick also shows up in board shorts and a surf shirt, chatting away about Abel Tasman Park. We waddle back up to our room and pack up. We have a 14:00 ferry to catch, and at least two hours of driving. The drive from Nelson to Picton was pleasant, mostly lowlands. More wineries to drive past, the land growing more arid. We get to Picton around noon and turn in our rental car. The Hertz clerk is wonderful and notices that back in Welly we are scheduled to pick up the other car at the airport. He calls the Welly ferry terminal desk and gets our reservation changed to the ferry terminal, saving us at least an hour. Good customer service!

We check in, check our bags again (hmph). There is a gift shop in the waiting area, of course. We’ve seen a lot of gift shops but little has appealed to us as really saying “New Zealand”. It appears we needed to wait for this one! The Picton ferry terminal gift shop rocks! We bought about ten things here, gifts for others and a few things for ourselves. Including a pair of earrings for Kelly–he is extremely susceptible to sparkly earrings. Pack things up in our little carry-on bag, and then back on to the ferry!

We know to go to level eight, and it’s less crowded this time. We get a nice seat next to the window where we shouldn’t have the sun shining on us. Another smooth crossing, with just a little more motion this time. We cross the “rip” where two currents meet and it’s a smallish area full of whitecaps and lots of water motion. There is a school group nearby us; the two chaperones tell the students to drop their bags and wander around. The kids sunscreen up and head to the sun deck. By the end of the three-hour trip many were asleep at the tables. We chat with the chaperones: a professor and associate provost from Pacific Lutheran University in Washington State. Children’s lit and education literacy course.

Once we dock at Wellington, we get a car, only 5 people in line this time! Kelly goes for the baggage while I get the car; we can learn. The woman behind me is American and an SFF reader. She’s on our flight home, but in the sleeper seats up front. Lucky!

Into the car, we decide that Palmerston North looks like a good stopping point. Kelly books a hotel online and we drive a reasonably short hour or so. Our rest for the night is at the Coachman, a hotel with some character. We eat dinner at the associated restaurant, sitting on the patio. We get scallops as an appetizer: good, but they include the really fishy pink part. Then Kelly tries the “crispy duck” entree and I have a butternut “pumpkin” risotto. Great food. Collapse in our room for a long night’s rest.

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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 #14 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 17, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 12: Glowworms! Cave! Amazing room!

9 Jan. What a day! Up early, eat in our room, check out around 07:45. It’s only 25 minutes to Charleston, even with missing one of the turns. We arrive just as the cafe opens. I get a hot cocoa, we fill out paperwork, and watch others arrive. There are only 4 of us on the “scenic tour”, while there are a dozen or so people doing the underground rafting. They all have to be kitted out with full 5 mm wetsuits: overalls, jacket, socks, booties, helmet. We are given helmets with LED lights on the front. A guide takes us on a short ride in the “dry bus” since we aren’t getting wet. Ten or so minutes into a national park. We stop at the car park at the end and get onto a small train platform out in the midst of a glade.

There is a narrow train track running into the forest, and we follow it back into a…shipping container? Yes! They use a shipping container as secure storage for the train. Right at the platform is a secondary line where an extra train car rests. Our guide unlocks the container, starts up the wee train engine, and pulls the train and a few cars out of the container towards the platform. The larger van of rafters shows up, we all pile into the train cars, and we putt-putt along the tracks into a rainforest. It’s beautiful, green, humid, with leaves right up to the sides of the cars. There is a stream wandering back and forth and a walking trail (they call hiking trails “tramping trails”) which crosses the train tracks several times. We eventually reach a second platform.

Our guide leads us through more woods for about 10-15 minutes walking through the trees. Along the way to the cave entrance we climb 130 steps. These aren’t neat stairs, but boards attached vertically to the ground to make risers, with no treads but the dirt. It requires some physical fitness! Then we reach the cave entrance. There is a pair of professional videographers tagging along for some reason; they stopped partway through the caves.

The cave entrance has a gate since the cave is restricted to Department of Conservation folks, cave society members, and tour groups. Our guide (forgot her name!) is a pleasant Kiwi. The two other tourists are a young Austrian couple. The gate is unlocked, and locked behind us again. We turn on our helmet lights, and off we go into the cave!

I’ve not done any real spelunking or cave exploring, and this was not a touristy cave with a boardwalk and handrails. There were ropes along the ground to show the path, and that was it. The only lights were on our heads. It was so cool! The stalactites and stalagmites were incredible. There was a formation they called “cave coral”. Some places looked like brick walls with white growths on reddish-brown rock. One room was the “giraffe room” for its patterning. There are few intersections, not easy to lose your way. A gentleman owned the property the cave was on, and found the larger back entrance. His dog went in, and he followed the dog with a candle and a box of matches! Scary thought in a cave with active water flowing into it. It does occasionally flood up to the ceiling in places.

We go through gorgeous galleries and caverns, keeping to the path, occasionally having to climb up or down rocks. Wet places are very slippery. One area is the “Hall of Refugees” with a line of short stalagmites maybe a foot or so tall leading up to a tall formation that sort of resembles a king or queen. It is a comfortable temperature: we take our jackets off to avoid sweating in the very humid air. Mostly the cave is natural, but in some places the Boy Scouts carved paths in the ’60s. In a freshwater pond we saw an eel! Maybe 15-16″ long. Also a fish, don’t know what type.

Then we head into a smaller gallery, and our guide asks us to turn off our headlamps. Oh my. Suddenly we were looking up at a galaxy of stars, just a few feet above our heads. No light but the small greenish bioluminescent back-ends of the worms. They drop sticky strands for a few inches, and their bums glow to attract food, mostly flies and such. One worm had fallen and we were able to locate it with our lights on: it was no longer than a fingernail! We also saw a real weta, a cave weta, maybe as long as a finger joint. Cool!

As we were walking towards the end of the cave system, we see light, then more light. Come around a corner to see one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. We were at the back where the other cave entrance comes in, and were looking at a 30 foot circular opening with amazingly lush green foliage all over, and a natural waterfall sprinkling down from a hole in the ceiling. After the dark and muted cave the richness of the greens was exhilarating. It took my breath away when we first saw it.

We walked up a small ramp to another gallery where we saw more glowworms. It’s indescribably cool. We reversed our trip through the cave, with Kelly navigating as the guide pretends that she isn’t good at finding her way around. We get to our original entrance, the guide unlocks and relocks the door, and we head down, down, down the 130 steps. Stop on the large swingbridge to watch for the rafters coming down the river. We are well ahead of them, so we enjoy the sun on the bridge. Then more folks show up, and I start getting nervous. The bridge says there is a load limit of 10 people, so when number 11 comes along, I get off. The rafters (well, tubers really, but that sounds like they were potatoes) in their tubes come along down and we all head back to the train platform.

The folks in their soggy wet suits join us in the train cars and a guide passes out a bin of juice boxes. Most everyone grabs one: either blackcurrant or orange/mango. Tastes good! Then the train ride back, the bus ride back (we appreciate the dry van now!), and then into our car. Kelly purchased a bright red golf shirt from them–one of our mementos! It was a splendid time!

We drive back towards Charleston, but detour at a sign suggesting that it is only 16 km to “Cape Foulwind and Seal Colony”. That just sounds too good to resist. There is a seal colony, with parents and pups coming in from the water. The pups are adorable again, we stay quite a while. It is rather aromatic, though I don’t know if the name is from the fierceness of the wind or the seal smell.

Kelly takes over driving for a while. We stop for a breather and a pint of Monteith’s somewhere–I really have no idea where. Then into Nelson. I take over for the city driving–it’s ironic since Kelly always does city driving when we’re at home. We are staying at Warwick House which is stunningly beautiful. Built in the 1850s, there are only four or five suites. We have the Tower Suite with a separate “gin and tonic” room, a two-story-high octagonal tower. There is a Peacock Suite, a Bayview Room, and at least one more on the lower level. The ambiance is peaceful and just plain civilized! A tub so long Kelly can’t brace his feet to sit up in it; lavender soap and shampoo, comfy chairs with sheepskins in the tower, a gorgeous bed. There are more doors in this suite than our first apartment! (Well, there weren’t any actual doors in our first apartment, so that’s not saying much.) Magazines in the room have articles on Warwick House and the proprietors, Jenny & Nick Ferrier. Jenny greeted us, and we met Nick in the morning.

We walk out for dinner and end up at a pub where there is Musical Bingo going on. They play songs on the TV/stereo and you check off when your song titles play. Silly trivia, the servers are all wearing red cowboy hats, fun atmosphere but loud. Walk back to the room in sprinkling rain. Then it turns to real rain, and as we reach the corner store looking for wine it becomes a downpour. And the store was closed. Kelly is still in his not-really-waterproof coat. He behaves like a soggy cat: cranky and growly and just pathetic. We have cider in the room in our tower suite. Enjoy a good bath, sit up and read and enjoy the peace of the place. Very restful!

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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 #13 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

January 17, 2014 in About Kelly, Laura McCullough, Travel, Travel Notes

New Zealand part 11: Crossing the Southern Alps

8 Jan. Up early at 07:00. We’re hoping to get back onto an earlier schedule. Today we are heading from east coast to west coast, over the mountains in the middle. There are only three passes, we are taking the middle one, called Arthur’s Pass. It’s great weather again! The drive is the usual stunning views of plains, mountains, hills, water, sheep, cattle. I am starting to see how the locals get blase about the scenery.

We stop at a few overlooks to enjoy the views, and then it is into the mountains. They are big! Not Rockies big, but much more than oversized hills. We’re either going up or down, left or right, or some combination. Flat and straight is not happening. It’s slow going but fun driving. We both love mountains a lot, so it’s a joyous trip.

At the top of the pass is Arthur’s Pass Village. We enjoy a late breakfast at a cafe. They have a GF egg frittata thing for me, Kelly has–you guessed it–a pie. Steak and cheese this time. In the parking lot we saw what looked like a parrot, but that seemed unlikely. It actually was. The kea is the only alpine parrot, according to a sign there. It’s dark green, smart, big, and they like to steal food. The cafe had signs posted: “do not feed keas” and “no refunds on food stolen by keas”. We ate outside and had to shoo them away. The table next to ours had been given a water squirt bottle; the keas knew what that was for. The woman just had to point it at the bird and the kea would move along.

Driving is slow and interesting. Curves, hills, views. Not a lot of traffic, thankfully. The whole country has a population of only 4 million, so once you’re out of the big cities there is not much going on. We need to stop to let others pass several times: we’re tourists enjoying a leisurely drive. A road repair vehicle goes by at high speed; happy to have that one in front of us! There are penguin crossing signs, but we see no penguins. Wrong season, perhaps.

We take a short stop at the Castle Rock formation. It’s really neat; looks like a ruin of something human-built, but it is entirely natural. The Maori used it for shelter. It reminds us of where the Fellowship hid from the crebain from dunland in FOTR. There is a stop for “Cave Stream” and a gentleman is stripping down to his skivvies in the car park. His patient companion has her arms full of diving gear. No thank you! It’s not that cold, but not that warm either.

The scariest part of the drive was getting down the west side of the mountains. A sign announces “Viaduct lookout and Death’s Corner”. So we stop at the overlook to see what we’re getting into. An enormously long bridge crossing a valley ends with both a steeper bit and a sharp curve. And the bridge itself is at a 16.5% grade. Holy %$!*! In the US, we mark things like 6 or 7% as steep. This bugger is STEEP. From the overlook we watch a petroleum truck go down in very low gear, maybe 15 mph, brakes on the whole way. It’s quite intimidating. A sign warns that all vehicles should use low gear. Having seen both the bridge and the end of it, I follow the recommendation. The car is an automated manual, so I can put it into second gear and not have to ride the brakes the whole way down. Here’s a picture.

We survive both the bridge and Death’s Corner, and breathe more easily as we pass into calmer driving territory. Along the west coast, we take a break at Punakaiki where there are some fun “pancake rocks”. They look like a tall stack of pancakes, dark grey rocks being less yummy though. There is a surge basin where the waves come in and crash against the far wall. We walk a natural rock bridge over the entrance to the surge basin. The paths to the ocean are hemmed in by lots of plants, mostly so tall you feel like you are in a hallway. It’s a nice design, curving paths and natural layouts.
We drive past a place called “Underworld Adventures”. Hmmm, we ate at Hell and somewhere we crossed the Styx river. Are we traveling farther than we thought? Oh, it’s a cave tour! And they have GLOWWORMS! We book for early tomorrow morning, and head just half an hour farther on to Westport for our night’s rest. We walk to the grocery store for brekkie supplies, put them away in the fridge (along with the ubiquitous milk). Then out to find dinner. Not too many places open, we end up at an Indian restaurant. It’s our first Indian of the trip! They have a “silver beet” pakora, and I ask if it’s really beet (which they call beetroot). The server smiles and explains it is a green leafy thing. OK, we try it. Very tasty! And papadums, and a sweet mild lamb korma for me. Kelly has very hot fish masala. His whole head is sweating by the time he’s done.

There must not be pedestrian laws here because cars wouldn’t stop as we tried to cross the road. 50 kph (30 mph) speed limit, and it is the state highway, but it’s going through a small downtown! We have to scurry across in the little gaps between cars. We try to get to sleep early because we are so excited about our glowworm cave tour tomorrow!

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NZ Travel Diary #12

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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 #12 (Courtesy Laura McCullough)

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

New Zealand part 10: Akaroa and more gardens

7 Jan. Another lazy morning since we don’t have to pack up and check out. It’s hard to do a different hotel each night. Hope Kelly doesn’t ever do that sort of book tour! Around 11:00 we get on the road to Akaroa. It’s a two-hour drive. The first hour is gentle hills and plains, 100 kph. The second hour we probably averaged around 50 kph (30 mph). Mountainy hills, curvy, windy, gorgeous. Like Scotland only supersized. Sheep and cattle on steep hillsides. Sheep ruts in the hills. Crazy driveways dropping off the narrow road at insanely steep angles. We stop for a breather at the Hilltop Bar parking lot, where there is a stunning view of the valley below, with hills, lake, and Akaroa. As soon as we get to town we park and walk around. No penguin tours available today, so we take a walk along the beach. I splish around a little; can’t resist water!

There are lots of walking trails available, but we don’t know what we want to do. I see on the local map that there is something called The Giant’s House. Oh my. Oh wow. This is one of those places that you don’t really believe exists until you experience it. It’s a tribute to the wonder of human imagination. And to human weirdness.

Imagine a large city yard, like a double lot. There is a gorgeous large house with a fanciful paint job. And the rest of the space is a garden where plants and mosaic sculptures breed. A mosaic column has china teacups climbing along it like a miniature spiral staircase. A mosaic piano plays swinging music in front of 10-foot tall mosaic instruments. Sit on a mosaic bench between two figures, one with a dog head and one with a cat head. They are taller than you are. It was so wonderful and strange! Bizarre and beautiful together. I can’t recommend this place enough. It was so cool!

They had a cafe with the most reasonably priced food we’ve seen, but we aren’t very hungry. Kelly is deep into book brain. He gets a sort of glazed look and barely talks at all. The Giant’s House is the sort of place to fill your brain to the brim; we walked away in a peaceful daze. It’s mixed sun and clouds today, windy as expected. High up in the mountainy hills it was 16 deg C, down at the beach it is 23 or 24. Back at the car we munch on raisins, fresh fruit, and granola bars. Then we start the drive back.

The drive back is faster, knowing what to expect. We stop at the Hilltop Bar again, this time for lunch. We eat near the window, with the spectacular view as before. The sun decides to stay for a while, and you don’t need three layers to be outside. The food here is delicious. Kelly tries Zeffer cider on draught (very dry) and I try Weka pear cider in a bottle (very mild). Kelly has fish-n-chips. I have a beetroot and feta salad with a mild wasabi aioli on top. Good food and drink with a splendid view.

The drive home is uneventful. This car is smaller and less fancy, but it has one special feature that our first car did not have. The turn signal is on the right side of the steering wheel. No problem, right? Of course not! You like seeing the windshield wipers turn on, right? We saw a lot of those windshield wipers in four days. At least Kelly and I both did it, so the teasing went both ways.

Once back in CHCH, we decide to take a walk since we didn’t in Akaroa. The botanical garden is open till 9, and doesn’t look too far away. We walk through downtown areas that were hit hard. It’s sad, and scary, and hopeful too. They are rebuilding. It’s empty, though. There are tram tracks leading into closed off blocks, but the trams are running in other streets. No homeless that we could see; not a good place for them.

The botanical garden entrance is near a creek running the opposite way of the Avon–must be another bit of water. We cross into the park and are in shock yet again at the trees here. Such trees, so huge and spreading and beautiful. There is an ancient eucalyptus that has twisted around and around as it has grown and is strong and upright and enormous. It smells lovely. Ducklings follow mama into the grass near a pond. It’s warm, sunny, and bright, though the sun is low in the sky. It is very refreshing to be in shade with ponds and water around. There is a rock garden, a water garden, a rose garden. Our brains fill up again with the wonder of the place.

We head home, footsore. Check online maps for grocery stores. There are several listed on the road home. Yet we arrive to find rubble. It’s disconcerting. And we can’t take our road all the way to the hotel since it’s blocked off for construction work. End up at our hotel, the Subway next door has drinks, so we buy two bottles and eat cold pizza and cheese and raisins for dinner. Then to bed!

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NZ Travel diary #10

NZ Travel Diary #11

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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 #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.

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NZ Travel diary #10

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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.

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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!

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_______________________

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.