Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Arthur's Pass; east coast of South Island; back to home

After we had seen the glacier and done the 3 hikes combined into 1, it was time to move on.  All the other hikes involved uphill climbs and/or took 3 1/2 to 8 hours -- a little too physical for our leisurely tastes.  We backtracked down and around Mt. Hercules and headed north back towards Hokitaki.  Noticed a cow loose on the side of the road near Mt. Hercules and slowed down to almost a dead stop.  Sure enough, as soon as the cow noticed our car she ran directly in front of us.  Cows are not very intelligent in case you didn't know.  If they see a vehicle they usually run right in front of it. 

There were 3 local festivals taking place in Hokitaki that sounded fun.  But we decided on a quick lunch and to skip all the local festivities and get on across the island to the eastern side.  I took the opportunity to sample a whitebait sandwich for lunch in Hokitaki.  There were signs all up and down the highway touting whitebait and the guidebook recommended it.  So of course I had to try it.  Bill, being Bill, opted not to try a new culinary delight.  He said he wasn't eating anything with the word bait in its name.   I'm glad I tried it  but must say I truly do not see the appeal and don't understand why people think this is good.  It was just some tiny strips of white fish in a scrambled egg patty, served on plain white bread with no condiments.  The fish was so mild that all I tasted was scrambled egg.  Definitely not something I would recommend, regardless of what the guidebooks state.

There are 3 routes that traverse east to west across the island.  Our route of choice was the center one called Arthur's Pass.  This route is supposed to be the most scenic of the 3, and it certainly did not disappoint.  The views were spectacular.  The mountains on the western half of the island are very different than the mountains on the eastern half.  On the western half the mountains are more jagged, rough, steep and craggy.  Many were topped with snow.  Mt. Cook was the most spectacular of all and had the most snow still in place.  Remember it is the hottest month of the year right now, but there was still plenty of snow at the high altitudes.  There were several incredible gorges that made the road appear to be an engineering marvel.

Arthur's Pass is built loosely along the coach road route which was built by hand by some very tough men back in 1865.  The country needed a land route from the ports on the east coast  to the gold mines on the west  coast.   There are no ports on the western coast and there had to be a way to get the gold out.  I don't know how those men managed to build a coach road through that terrain.  It is so very steep and rough that it looks like an impossible task.  Many men died during this road construction but the road was completed.

Unbeknownst to us, Valentine's Day was also the Coast-to-Coast Race.  We had not heard about this and were surprised when we started encountering road signs warning us that bicyclers were on the road for the next 8 kilometers ahead of us.  We would drive that 8 kilometers and pass some bicyclers, then there would be another sign with the same warning.  This went on most of the way across the entire island.   Bicycle racing must be hugely popular in New Zealand because there were an awful lot of participants on this very difficult course.  Imagine bicycling over the Appalachian Mountains or the Rocky Mountains and you will get a good mental picture.  This is of absolutely no interest to either Bill or me, but we do have to admire their physical prowess to be able to cycle these steep mountains.
After we exited the mountainous area and reached flatter farmland we began noticing the vegetation fences marking property lines of the ranches and farms.  This looks ever so British.  Instead of a fence, people have planted trees or tall shrubs to mark their property lines.  The resulting walls of vegetation are usually clipped on sides and top to form a rectangular wall on the property line.  Must say it does make the hillsides more attractive than a normal barbed wire fence.

We arrived in Christchurch well before sunset.  Had a bit of difficulty finding a hotel room.  They were all booked because the Coast-to-Coast Race ended in Christchurch.   We finally found a room and decided there was no way we would attempt to go out to dinner on Valentine's Day in a city packed with visitors celebrating a race.  So we had a quiet night and stayed in.  I got online and booked the ferry from Picton to Wellington for the next evening at 6 p.m.

 In several places along the roadside of Arthur's Pass we noticed hand painted signs warning that "1080 kills everything."  We had never heard of 1080 so this peaked our interest.  I googled it and learned that 1080 is  sodium monofluoroacetate  and does in fact kill everything.  Apparently this poison is used in Australia and now in New Zealand and is becoming quite controversial.  Wonder now if we are also using this in the US.  Sort of reminds me of the DDT fiasco experienced during my childhood.

The drive up the eastern coast from Christchurch to Picton was completely different than our drive down on the western coast.   Most of the eastern coast reminded us of northern California except the beaches are totally black volcanic sand.  It was especially pretty around Kaikoura.  These were the blackest beaches we have seen anywhere.   And there were jagged rocks in the water dotting the coastline.   Near Kaikura there were roadside stands and small cafes selling crayfish or crawfish.   We wanted to stop but decided that as bland as all the food is in New Zealand that there was no way they would know how to cook crawfish properly spiced.  So we decided not to try it.  Found out later that what they were calling crawfish or crayfish was really lobster.  Now I wish we had stopped!  Been awhile since we have eaten lobster.

There are only a handful of hospitable bays on the eastern coast.  But the northern coast of the South Island is a completely different story.  It looks very much like British Columbia, with deep bays surrounded by steep densely-forested hills.  Looks like a wonderful place to gunkhole for weeks on end.  Once you drive out of Picton you are into wine country.  Many wineries to tour if that is one of your pastimes.

The trip took less time than we had anticipated and we arrived in Picton just as the 2:25 ferry was finishing loading.  Our tickets were for the 6:05 ferry but I figured it couldn't hurt to ask.  The ticket lady told me to hurry up and get loaded.  We were the last boat to get onto the ferry and were loaded onto the train deck.  This was a different ferry than the one we had ridden over from Wellington and it was not nearly as nice.  It was nice enough but not as new or luxurious as the previous one.  We walked up to a seating area where we found a television showing the final minutes of the Louis Vuitton Pacific Race. 

Imagine our shock a few minutes later when our friends Paul and Michele and their children walked down the stairs right in front of us.  We were not supposed to be on this ferry, and they were not supposed to be on this ferry.  What a coincidence for us to run into one another in a place where neither of us had planned to be.  Paul & Michele had been camping farther south than we had traveled on the island.  Unfortunately, Michele had injured her back and they were forced to call an early halt to their camping vacation.  She needed to get home to their boat to recuperate.  The 2 kids went to watch a movie and we 4 adults sat and visited for the entire 3 hour passage from Picton to Wellington.  It was great to catch up and hear the stories of the places they had visited.  They camped at DOCs, which are places operated by the Department of Conservation and are well off the beaten path that most tourists take.  Sounds like they had a great vacation.

When we arrived in Wellington the Grego family headed on northward and Bill and I drove downtown to the Cuba District.  We enjoyed the city so much last time that we decided to stay in the heart of young weird people and busy bars and restaurants  once again.   We walked the streets, watched the people, and had a barely so-so Mexican dinner cooked by 2 men who claimed they were really Mexicans.  The next morning we did a bit of shopping and then set out on Highway 1.  

Unfortunately, New Zealand does not mark their highways or roads with helpful signs like north or south or east or west.  Turned out we were on Highway 1 heading south and we needed to be on Highway 1 heading north.  We didn't discover our error until we reached the end of Highway 1 at the airport.  So we turned around and retraced our route.  Wasted almost 2 hours getting to the right road and heading in the right direction.  Good thing we didn't have a deadline for the day.  Our original plans were to take the eastern route back to Auckland.  This is called the wine route and we wanted to visit some of the wineries.  But the weather did not cooperate and touring wineries in the rain did not sound appealing, so we took Highway 1 back towards Auckland.

We stopped at Rotorua for the night.   Rotorua has a nice lake and is home to dozens and dozens of geysers.  BTW, the local Kiwis pronounce geysers just like we do in the USA.  Seems like only the UK folks call them geezers.  

The geysers around Rotorua do not follow any spouting schedule -- nothing like Old Faithful.  You never know when these geyser are going to spout.  They discovered a century or more ago that when soap is poured into a geyser that it will cause it to spout sometime within the next 24 hours.  So now to keep the tourists happy, one of the parks puts soap into their geysers daily so that the tourists will always see spouting during their park visit.  

Rotorua also has hot springs (most with accompanying sulphur smell), a sky tram (not for me!!), and a luge (again, not for me!!).

We stopped in Auckland and picked up our newly recovered Sport-a-Seats.  They are now green to match the new cockpit cushions and pillows.  Nice to have everything matching again.  We arrived back at the boat mid-afternoon.  Nice to be home again.

A few observations from the past couple of weeks:

1.)  We saw dozens of deer ranches.  That was surprising.  I am surprised that there is that large a market for venison.

2.) New Zealand supposedly produces 13 million lambs annually.  I think we saw 10 million of them during our road trip.  And at least 15 million cattle.  Saw only 4 head of those pretty Swiss cattle that are shiny black with a 2-ft white band around the stomach.  One ranch had 3 head and one ranch had only 1.  What is he going to do with only 1?  Would be a terrible shame to breed that special breed of cow with another type bull.

3.) Sheep come in surprising sizes, shapes and colors.  We have seen small dainty sheep, large clumsy sheep, beige sheep, pure white sheep, off-white sheep, white sheep with black faces, white sheep with back faces and black legs, totally black sheep, and one kind of sheep that looks like a huge shaggy sheepdog.   Wonder if they taste different?

4.) We saw several alpaca farms, but none had very many alpaca.

5.) Three times we saw penned animals that we could not identify.  The strangest ones looked like pure-white sheep but with very long necks like alpacas.  Sheepacas?

6.) Kiwis don't believe in the USA rule of "no shoes, no shirt, no service."  We have been surprised at how many people run around barefoot -- in supermarkets, in malls, and even in restaurants.  Sorry; that is just gross.  It is a little repulsive to see people walking around barefoot inside stores at the shopping malls.  Wonder why the retailers allow it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Franz Joseph Glacier

Today it finally rained.  And it rained lightly for the entire day.  So our drive up to the hotel near the Franz Joseph Glacier was dreary and we could not see much of what is certainly gorgeous mountain scenery.   But we are not complaining because New Zealand desperately needs rain.   The country has been in near-drought conditions for about 3 years.   At least we have internet and Sky TV to keep us entertained until the weather improves tomorrow, and we will see the beautiful vistas on our drive out of here.    Getting bored this afternoon I plotted our GPS locations for this little road tour and added the stops to date to our map on this website.   That got me to thinking about just how far south we are. 

We now are at the highest latitude that we will ever be during our circumnavigation.   In fact, where S/V BeBe is berthed back at the marina just north of Auckland is also farther south than we will be when we round the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa.  The southernmost point of Africa is approximately 34.56.0390 South.   We are currently at 43.24.84 South here at the glacier.  After this glacier visit we will begin backtracking northward and head east over to Christchurch.   We came down on the western side of both the North Island and the South Island and will return to our marina via the eastern routes.

We are now in the Southern Alps.  Gorgeous and very cool.   The mountains in New Zealand result from the collision between the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, and their location follows the boundary of the two plates.  Thus a continuous chain of mountains forms the axial part of the South Island, extending over 500 miles from the Kaikoura Ranges, through the length of the Southern Alps, to the southernmost corner of Fjordland.   We are not going any farther south than the Franz Joseph Glacier because there are only a few roads that cut across the Alps to the eastern coast.  We plan to take the most northern road across the top end of the alps to Christchurch on the eastern coast.  I would love to see the Fjorland area because it is supposed to be breathtakingly beautiful; but it is also supposed to have very thick sandflies and I can’t handle those nasty bugs.  Another reason we are not going down there is that it would be a very long drive back and I am already itching to get back home to the boat.

Here is a good quote about the mountains of New Zealand:    "Pushed up in the collision of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, finely sculptured by westerly rains, and still showing the imprint of Pleistocene glaciations, New Zealand`s mountain landscapes are among the most dynamic and spectacular in the world.  Compared with the continental mountains of Europe and America the mountains are younger, much sharper textured, and are being shaped with a tempo that can be measured in decades rather than centuries or millenia" From I.E Whitehouse and A.J. Pearce: Shaping the Mountains of New Zealand.

The weather cleared during the late afternoon and we went into the small town of Franz Joseph.  Nothing much happening there except souvenir shops, bars and cafes, and at least a half-dozen helicopter tour shops.   I had thought we might do a helicopter ride over the Franz Joseph Glacier and the Fox Glacier.  Knew I would not get into a small plane for a sightseeing trip – did that in the Grand Canyon and was so sick I was ready happily to die – but thought I might be willing to try a helicopter ride through the mountainsides.    Bill suggested we watch a 20-minute movie of the glaciers which was filmed from a helicopter and then decide if I was still willing to fly in one.  Well, that was a good idea.  Saved him $360 because after watching that film there was no way I was getting into a helicopter.

Friday, February 13, 2009

This morning we drove as close as you can get to the glacier in a car.  Then we hiked to the glacier terminal face.   This was an easy hike because the uphill part was very limited.  You get to the terminal face by walking up the “riverbed” that extends from the bottom of the glacier.   The glacier is continually melting and releases this run-off at its base.   The trickles converge into several small streams; these streams eventually converge into a small river.

This process takes several miles before it becomes a rapidly flowing river that will definitely get your attention.    There were lots of waterfalls flowing down the mountainsides along the riverbed as we approached the glacier.    The overall effect made a very pretty scene with the glacier in the background.    Bill walked over to one of the waterfalls to test the water temperature and try a taste.  This water comes from the upper levels of the glacier and the snow on the mountaintops.   Bill said it was icy cold and that it tasted very good. 

We were stopped by a rope barricade about a quarter mile from the terminal face.   You are not allowed to go any closer without a guide and without the proper ice climbing gear.   We don’t have ice climbing gear because we don’t do that kind of thing.   Looking is more our purview.   There were signs pointing out that it is dangerous to go closer and that you must have a guide, but we watched more than a dozen people go beneath the rope barricade and walk all the way onto the glacier.  Yesterday in the town we read a newspaper article about a couple tourists who recently did that and ran into problems when the ice caved in on them.    They were rescued but the rescuers were angry that these “bloody stupid tourists” forced them to endanger their own lives to rescue 2 people who ignored the posted warnings about the danger.

The glacier does not look pure white; it has hues of blue and green that our camera could not capture.  I think these blues and greens are caused by light refraction and the greenish stones and rocks inside the glacier.  A glacier is not a static solid block of ice.  It is constantly melting and refreezing and creates tunnels and crevasses throughout the glacier.   The large rocks and boulders are ground and shifted around by the enormous pressures of the ice.   By the time the rocks reach the terminal face they are anywhere from the size of tiny pebbles to a few feet across.    I picked up one rock as a souvenir that contained the green and blue colors showing up in the glacier.

The Kiwis pronounce glacier strangely.   They pronounce it GLOSS-see-er.    People from the UK also pronounce geyser strangely.  They say geezer.    I explained to one UK girl that in the USA a geezer is an old man.   Can’t see how they get geezer out of geyser.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ferry across Cook's Strait; top of South Island

Where did the deer come from?  

When the first humans arrived at the islands of New Zealand they found no animals except one species of small bat.  There were birds, including 2 native flightless birds -- the large moa and the small kiwi -- but the only animal was a bat about the size of a human hand.  So all animals now found in New Zealand (except that bat) have been imported by mankind.  In fact, the moa and kiwi are believed to be flightless because there were no predators they needed to escape.   The Polynesians brought rats, pigs and dogs to their new home.  I think they also brought a special type chicken.  The rats and dogs were nothing like the vermin and fido that we all know.  Their rats and dogs were specially bred for use as food and did not resemble what we now know as rats and dogs.  Today you can find all kinds of animals both in captivity or domestication but also in the wild.  As we were driving down a highway on the southern section of the North Island we spotted a few dozen deer near a cow pasture.  These deer were the large variety.  So, who brought the deer and when did they arrive?

We arrived in Wellington early Monday afternoon so we drove to the ferry terminal and rescheduled our passage for early Tuesday morning.  Then we found a hotel in the hot and trendy Cuba Street district of downtown Wellington.  We walked the street and people-watched all afternoon.  Lots of young kids with tattoos and body piercings of all sorts.  Pink and green and orange hair and all the typical modern youth forms of rebellion.  We thoroughly enjoyed it all.  Had a good Thai dinner on Cuba Street and called it a night. 

The Interislander is a great ferry -- large, clean, and operated right on time.  We were the second car to drive into the loading bay.   This ferry has everything you might want to make the passengers comfortable for the 3-hour passage from Wellington on the southern tip of the North Island to Picton on the northern tip of the South Island.  The bow area contains a very large food service and dining area.  There is a separate area for commercial truck drivers; a large recliner room that can be booked by large groups; 2 movie theaters; a very large bar and lounge area with big screen sports; a gaming area where you can play all the one-arm bandits; and several deck observation areas.  They even have private sleeping cabins for an additional $40 NZD if you are tired.  We quickly scoped out everything and selected a seating area behind the bar where the walls were glass and provided the best view.  This was on the 8th deck level so we were fairly high up but the movement was negligable.   This passage was a very pleasant experience, made even better because I was able to book it online and get 2 substantial discounts.  Need to remember to book our return passage online for those special savings.

The drive from Picton to Nelson was a bit of a surprise.  Turns out that the entire area is wine country.  And their wine country is very organized.  Bill wants to buy a winery and stay here, but there is not a chance that is happening.   We stayed in Nelson Tuesday night.  Great little vibrant town, except it rolls up the sidewalks about 6 p.m.  We stayed in a downtown hotel thinking it would be in the heart of everything, but when we headed out for dinner we found that literally everything was closed and streets were empty.  But we found a McDonald`s that was open and called it an early night again.

Today we drove through the mountains from Nelson to Westport.  This was a very picturesque drive.   We were surprised by the huge amount of logging that is done here.  It appears to be only fir trees that are logged.  They clear an entire mountain face and then re-plant in neat and tidy lines.  The sheer number of these faces that have been replanted is unbelievable.  Makes for very beautiful scenery as you drive through the mountains.

A few of the things we have noted during our road trip so far:

On both the North and South Island the ranchers shrink-wrap the bales of hay.  That sure looks weird to see these shiny pale green plastic smaller-than-usual bales of hay placed around the pastures on the hillsides.

Also on both islands there are a huge number of catteries.  This is a term that we were not familiar with; but assume it means the same as a kennel, except strictly for cats.  We have seen at least 2 dozen cattery signs during our road trip so far.  Guess the New Zealanders either have more cats as pets than dogs, or they kennel their cats more than they kennel their dogs.  Haven`t seen half-dozen dog kennel establishments.

Bill wants to apply for a job that was advertised in a local newspaper near Nelson.  The position is Bird Scarer.  The ad requests that the bird scarer provide his own gun.  Bill feels that he is amply qualified for this position.  If he can`t buy the winery then he wants to be a bird scarer.  I think we need to get back to sailing soon.

Tomorrow we will arrive at the Franz Josef Glacier.   

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Aeotoroa Tour

Aeotoroa is the Maori name for New Zealand.   

The first Maori landed on the western side of the North Island.  The great navigator leading this expedition was called Kupe and there are many Maori legends about Kupe and his accomplishments.  They had gone past the island on the north side but then noticed a very long low-hanging cloud on their eastern side.  Kupe knew that clouds like that meant land.  So they turned their canoes back southeast and make landfall about half-way down the North Island on the western side.   There continues to be dispute as to where these Maori sailed from – some same Bora Bora or Raiatea or Marquesas of what is now called French Polynesia and some claim they sailed from Raratonga of the Southern Cook Islands.   Regardless of which island they sailed from, it is certain that they made several round-trips to settle the islands of New Zealand and it is believed that Kupe led these expeditions back and forth.  This Polynesian immigration to Aeotoroa occurred between 800 and 900 A.D.  Another favored legend is that Maui, a demi-god, used the South Island as his canoe.  The South Island is actually shaped somewhat like a canoe, with Stewart Island at the southern tip as the anchor for the canoe.  Maui caught a huge fish.  That fish became the North Island.  Before he could land the fish it was bitten by sharks in several places.   Three of those places are near Auckland, where now are the Hauraki Gulf and the Bay of Plenty on the eastern side and Manakua Harbour on the western side.

The first European to see New Zealand was a Dutchman named Abel Tasman.  He named the land Nieuw Zeeland after a Dutch province.   Tasman approached from the western side in 1642; hence the name of Tasman Sea.  He spotted the Southern Alps of the South Island and approached the coast.  Two canoe loads of Maori paddled out to greet him.  The Maori called out a greeting and played a note on a war trumpet.  Unfortunately, Tasman’s crew responded with a trumpet fanfare.  The Maori took this as a challenge of war.  The next day the Maori returned and attacked, killing 4 of Tasman’s crew.  Tasman left and never came back.   Capt. James Cook sailed into the area 127 years later, in 1769.  His experience with the Maori was friendlier, although he still had problems.  As I explained in one of our first postings from NZ, the British eventually signed the Treaty of Waitangi on February 6, 1840.  The Maori had no understanding of individual land ownership and this treaty still remains has not been ratified and the Maori still want their traditional lands returned to them.

And with that history tidbit we are finally off on a road tour of Aeotoroa. 

Auckland Sky Tower
The Sky Tower in downtown Auckland is similar to others we have visited elsewhere.  Don’t remember all the specs but I think the main observation deck is around 183 meters high and the Sky Deck is 232 meters high.  There is also the obligatory lounge and restaurant off the main observation deck.   But they have added a couple of twists to garner more tourist dollars.   You can do the Sky Walk or the Sky Jump.  For the Sky Walk you are dressed in an orange jumpsuit and tethered to a safety harness.  Then you walk around the circumference of the main observance deck on a totally exposed outer  circular walkway.  This walkway is about 2 feet wide and has no hand bars or anything.  You are just walking on a 2-ft wide platform 183 meters in the air.  Needless to say I was not the slightest bit interested in doing such a thing.  The Sky Jump is a controlled bungee jump.   You jump off the outer section of the Sky Deck and free fall down to approximately the main observation deck, where you bounce a few times on the bungee cord and then begin a rapid slide down to the ground while being guided by 2 guy-wires.   There is a target platform where you land about 12 feet above the sidewalk.  A guy jumped while we were on the main observation level and Bill was able to get a photo with his phone – we had forgotten to bring our camera, of course.   Then when we were leaving another jumper landed on the target platform so we got the up-close-and-personal view of both someone in the air and someone landing.  I cannot imagine what thrill people get from this stuff.  And that is not just an age thing.  I would have felt the same way when I was 18 year old.  Thrill seeking is not my thing.

Waitomo Glow Worm Caves
Waitomo means “water entering a hold in the ground” in the Maori language.  The village of Waitomo is located on the western side on the North Island in the lower central area.  It is some distance from the coast and is very pastoral land.  The views are lovely.  There are more than 300 caves identified in the Waitomo area, but only a handful are open to the public.   All these caves are formed by limestone which was once the ocean seabed.  Enormous pressures were applied to the limestone as it was forced upward.  Inside the caves are found marine fossils.  Kind of cool to be high in the mountains and walk through caves and see fossil evidence of marine creatures.  There are several adventure tours that are extremely popular.  Some involve abseiling; some involve rock climbing or interior cave climbing; some involve something called black water rafting; some involve bungee jumping; and some involve simply walking through caves and one tour even floats you in a calm boat through a cave for a short distance.   You can guess which tours we opted to do.
Black water rafting is nothing like whitewater rafting.   Black water rafting is done with a flotation device (usually an old tire inner tube) on and in rivers that flow through caves.  Those caves are constant 60F degrees and that water is cold!!!  Can’t see us willingly getting wet in 60F air temps.   Sometimes the rafters go over small rapids and get scraped and cut on the rocks.  The term black water rafting comes from the fact that most of this rafting is done in complete darkness since the rivers go beneath and through the unlit caves and through rock “tubes.”   Sounds nuts to us – get into cold water and get scraped and cut while being pushed through total blackness.  What fun.

First we toured the Ruakuri Cave.  This is a very large cave that offers anything one might want to find in a cave.  The limestone stalactites, stalagmites, curtains, pillars and other formations are impressive.  It has interior waterfalls and underground rivers flowing through it.  I was very impressed by the engineering feats inside Ruakuri Cave.  They have constructed suspended metal walkways with handrails throughout the entire cave.   And this cave is huge.   

It is not the largest cave found in the area – that one is more than 1000 feet high inside the cave and more than 30 kilometers long but is not open to the public – but Ruakuri is largest cave open for public tours.  Because of the underground rivers this cave even has glow worms, so it really does have everything.  At one place inside the cave there is a “NO TRESPASSING” sign.  It was placed there in 1988 by Mr. Holden, the rancher who owned the land at ground level.  He placed the sign beneath the ground at the limit of his property at ground level.  This forced the tours to cease at the point of this sign.  It also forced a court case.  New Zealand law is based on English law which is based on Old Roman Law.  Seems like the old Romans determined that property ownership means that the property is owned to the center of the earth.  So the tour companies began paying annual lease payments to Mr. Holden.  And that was the last year that Mr. Holden worked his ranch.  Today the annual lease payments continue to be paid to the Holden heirs.

Second we toured Aranui Cave, which is supposedly considered the most beautiful cave in the Waitomo area.  It was nice but after first seeing Ruakuri our expectations were too high, so we were not overly impressed with Aranui.

Lastly we visited Waitomo Glow Worm Cave.  This cave is the most well-known and most visited.  The tour even includes a short boat ride through the total darkness where you see the glow worms covering the cave ceiling and sides.  There were thousands of glow worms covering the ceiling.  They looked like stars on a moonless night at sea.  I can only imagine what the first Maori to see these glow worms must have thought.  He would have had no idea that these tiny lights were caused by worms.  No wonder the Maori believed caves were the entrance to the spirit world.

Glow worms are found in caves in New Zealand and in Australia and also in caves in the Appalachian Mountains in the USA.  They are also found through Alabama and Georgia.  The worms in the USA caves are twice as bright as the worms in NZ or Australia.  The life cycle of a glow worm has 4 stages:

1.       The female fly lays around 120 small eggs.  After around 20 days the young larvae hatch.

2.       After hatching, the young larvae build a nest and put down lines sort of like a straight spider web.  These lines are made from mucous and trap insects, which are then drawn up to the worm’s mouth and devoured.  At this stage the glow worm is less than 3mm long and they emit a very visible light from their tail tip section.  They slowly grow over 9 months to the shape and size of a matchstick.

3.       The pupa stage is the same as the cocoon stage in the butterfly life cycle.  The pupa or cocoon stage lasts about 13 days, during which time the pupa is suspended by a thread.

4.       When the glow worm fly emerges from the pupa cocoon, it is an adult.  It looks like a large mosquito.  Except that it has no mouth.   Their only function is to reproduce.  Usually a male is waiting for the female when she emerges from the pupa.  Mating immediately takes place and the female soon lays her 120 eggs so the cycle can start all over again.  Since the adults have no mouth, they starve to death.   An adult lives no longer than a few days.  The proper name for these glow worms is arachinocampa luminosa and supposedly is unique to New Zealand.

Sunday, February 8, we drove through a mountainous national park as we made our way south.  The scenery was beautiful.   We enjoyed the day driving except for about 50 kilometers where the roads were very narrow and there were many washouts.    I could have done without that part.  We stopped in the town of Wangamui .    A large river empties into the Tasman Sea at Wangamui.  This is a larger town – a nice surprise after seeing various versions of Mayberry all day.   There are a gadjillion restaurants from which to choose.  I want veggies so tonight calls for Chinese food and TV.   

Tomorrow we should reach Wellington.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Musings and new cockpit cushions

January 26, 2009, Monday.

As the old saying goes, seems we are often a day late or a dime short.  Shortly after noon today we learned that it is New Zealand’s 169th Anniversary Day.  We assume that is something like July 4th back home.  Anyway, there was a regatta with tall ships, classic yachts and racing tug boats and other marine spectacles on harbor in Auckland at 9 a.m. today.  Darn!  We missed it.  The racing tug boats would have been fun to watch.

This strikes us funny.   I have mentioned previously that one drives on the left side of the road here in New Zealand.  Well, I guess because people are so accustomed to being on the left they have developed a habit of also walking to the left.  If someone is approaching you on a sidewalk or narrow walkway they will automatically move to their left.  This is opposite of what we do in the USA.   Notice the next time you are in this situation at home; probably 90% of the time you and the other approaching person will automatically move to your right and pass on your left side.   Here in New Zealand people move to their left and you pass on your right side.   It is funny to watch the “sidewalk dance” as all we visiting Americans meet oncoming New Zealanders on the walkways and in the malls.  We start to move to our right as they move to their left and we are still face-to-face and moving back and forth until one finally stops and lets the other pass on whichever side they chose.  You would think this would be a simple thing to remember but old habits die hard.  I find myself still automatically moving to the right but am still trying to remember to hang left. 

And the polite road signs also give us a chuckle.   When we drove up to Whangerei recently there was a lot of highway construction and resurfacing work, so there were lots of temporary road signs in place.  These signs are so very polite.  Such as when approaching resurfacing work the sign would read:  “Please shift to right lane for work ahead”  or “Signal persons working; Please be watchful.”    And at the end of this resurfacing work the last sign would read:  “Thank you for using care while we work; we hope you have not been inconvenienced.”    In the USA the signs would read something like:  “Construction ahead.  $500 fine for failure to obey signs or flagmen.”

Stop signs are very rare here.  Instead they use rotaries, what we would call a traffic circle.   The cars in the circle always have right-of-way.   It is surprising how well the rotaries speed up traffic.   Haven’t seen any accidents involving rotaries.   And you don’t have to worry about getting a ticket for failure to fully stop like we do at home with our regular stop signs.

Another local thing we have noticed is the proliferation of Roast Meal small restaurants.  These are literally everywhere.  We haven’t patronized one yet but they smell delicious.  Many of these establishments appear to be for take-away only and would be considered fast-food without drive-thrus.  The signs read something like:  “Roast Meals.  Beef, chicken, pork or lamb.  Vegetables and roast root vegetables.  Green Salads.”   Doesn’t that sound much healthier than all the fries and hamburgers and fried chicken sold in the fast-food places in the USA?  Also sounds tastier too.  There also are fast-food places here in New Zealand – like Wendy’s, McDonald’s  and Burger King – but there are far more of the Roast Meal places than fast-food/junk-food type establishments. 

Even though English is the primary language here in New Zealand, we still have difficulty understanding everything that is supposedly English.  They use different terminology for many things in Kiwi-ese.   For example, everyone is familiar with an auto body shop --  where you have dents removed, repaint  and repair wrecked cars.   Here a shop like that is called a “Panelbeaters.”  Thanks to Bill for figuring out what those signs mean.   Maori is the secondary language in New Zealand and literally everyone here is familiar with basic Maori language.  We are totally lost when Maori gets intertwined with Kiwi English.   Remember that every vowel is pronounced in every word in all the Polynesian languages.   This is an example of local language in a news article about a teenage boy named Jordan who was killed in an Auckland suburb:

“Pem Bird, principal of Te Kura Kaupapa Motuhake O Tawhiuau, said Jordan was proud of his Maori heritage and was a member of the school's kapa haka group last year.  He had also recently completed a course on Mokoia Island, at Lake Rotorua, in the Maori martial art Mau Rakau. He was awarded the title Tamatoa which means "young expert".   Jordan left the school last year to attend Rangitahi College but had told Mr Bird he wanted to return this year after recently discovering his whakapapa (genealogy) in the area.   He knew his family came from the Te Whanau-a-Apanui iwi in Te Kaha but didn't know his ancestors also descended from the local Ngati Manawa iwi.   Jordan had also talked about farming next year after finding out the iwi owns land in the area.

Whanau at Rangitahi Marae were yesterday preparing a feast before the body was returned after an autopsy in Auckland. They were to stay with him overnight before he was taken to a marae in Te Kaha for the tangi.”

Try to get your tongue around all of that.  Quite a mouthful, huh?  See why we don’t always understand what we hear or read in New Zealand.  However, I do love listening to people talk in Maori.  It sounds almost musical.

A dinghy repair shop picked up our dinghy earlier this week.  The straps that hold the seat in place broke months ago.  (It broke on Bill, thank goodness, so I was saved the embarrassment of falling on the floor of the dinghy.)   This dinghy has seen better days and looks pretty “tired” and is a bit larger than we really need; but we hope to get a few more years out of it.  We have an 11 ½ foot AB inflatable  Hypalon  dinghy with a double-hulled aluminum bottom and we really like it.   Don’t know if they even still make dinghies like this.  It already has a few patches on the pontoons but does not leak.  The aluminum bottom is lighter weight than a fiberglass bottom and won’t crack like fiberglass if (when) we hit rocks or coral.   I know we would never be happy with an inflatable bottom dinghy or one of those removable floor models.   So best to repair and keep what we like.   The repair is complete and looks great.  Check another project off the list.

January 28, 2009, Thursday

Yesterday we rented  a machine to clean the upholstery and carpets.   This is the first place we have been where these machines can be rented and for months I have very much looked forward to thoroughly cleaning the beige ultrasuede upholstery.   BeBe is 6 years old this month and no matter how well you do housekeeping  it was past time for the upholstery to be steam cleaned.   I would have been happy to pay a professional to clean the upholstery and carpets but we are docked too far from where they could park their truck, so we rented  a steam-cleaning machine and did it ourselves.  Bill stayed in the cockpit with the machine and I handed up every piece of upholstery and he cleaned it.  Then I would take each piece back down and go over it with our new wet/dry shop vac to remove as much moisture as possible.    The carpets are velcroed down and were easy to remove for cleaning, except for the carpet in our aft cabin.  That one wraps up beneath the vanity and is glued to the walls and cannot be removed.  Luckily the long hose reached just perfectly through a cockpit side port to the aft cabin.   It is so nice to have everything clean and fresh again.   Every boat interior needs to be completely taken apart and cleaned every so often.

February 1, 2009, Sunday

Friday we drove into Auckland to pick up our newly recovered cockpit cushions.  We like the colors in the new fabric but we definitely made the wrong choice in buying a striped pattern.  The old fabric was also striped but those were very wide stripes.  The new fabric has multiple stripes of various widths.  Stripes do not work well because of the curvature of the hull and cockpit.  Our cockpit looks rectangular but the rear of the cockpit is ever-so-slightly narrower  than the forward area of the cockpit.  This is due to the boat getting narrower toward the stern and the widest part of the boat is just forward of the cockpit.    This curvature causes the fabric striped pattern on the short end of the “L” shaped rear corner cushions to be slightly diagonal.  The stripes are correctly aligned on the rest of the cushions, but those 2 short sections on the rear corners have improperly placed stripes.  Nothing can be done about this.  If the shop had made the stripes align correctly on those 2 short sections then the majority of the stripes on the rest of the cushions all would have been diagonal instead of straight.  The shop did an excellent job – we just chose the wrong pattern for cockpit cushions.  But the new colors look great.

While we were downtown we took the opportunity to visit the Maritime Museum.  A very elderly gentleman was our tour guide and he tended to be a bit verbose about things that to us were not particularly interesting; but he was a nice guy and we enjoyed the museum.

I have finally used up almost all the thyroid pills that I bought back in Venezuela at such a bargain price.   Until a couple of years ago one was able to purchase simple medications like this without a prescription, but New Zealand changed their laws and now one must have a doctor write a script.  Our international health cards indicate that both Bill and I are overdue for boosters for Typhum Vi, and Bill needs the second and final immunization for Hepatitis A and the fourth and final immunization for Hepatitis B.   The doctor’s office ordered these vaccines and we have appointments for Wednesday morning to take care of everything.   The receptionist said the office visit will be expensive since we are not covered by the health care system in New Zealand.  “Expensive” to her is dirt cheap to me.  A standard doctor office visit will cost me $35 USD and if the doctor insists on lab blood test it will cost me $30 USD.   That is dirt cheap compared to USA prices for same health care without insurance.

As soon as that is finished we are finally ready to leave and begin our road trip to the South Island.  I want to see a glacier.