Monday April 1st, 2002 – Went down to the front lobby to setup some excursion trips. We had been chatting with a woman at the pool bar and she was saying that Bruno at the activities desk would take care of us. Bruno turned out to be a big 6’5” jovial Polynesian, extremely friendly, just as all Polynesians seem to be and he arranged several trips for us. On some of the trips it said that snorkel gear was an extra $5 but when I asked him about it, he just smiled and winked at us and said, “It’ll be ok, I’ll get you some gear.”
That night we walked to a few restaurants but everything seemed to be closed, we didn’t know if Mondays were just the night for places to be closed or if it was because it was after Easter, but non the less, we just decided to go back to the room, play 500 cards and have a few dried figs for dinner.
Tuesday April 2nd, 2002 – We went on one of Bruno’s adventures.
Off to feed the sharks!
This was the shark and manta ray feeding trip. This sounded all very exciting till I heard someone in the boat say that we would be in the water when they were feeding the sharks. “Say that again?”, I said. “You’re in the water while they’re feeding the sharks?” The woman said, “Yes, but you can tell the sharks are well fed, kinda lazy and more like big pussy cats then sharks” Well… I’ve seen MY big lazy pussy cats, and when they’re hungry I usually don’t get in the way between them and their food bowl when I put it down. This did not give me the warm and fuzzy reassurance of security. We got to the “shark feeding” designated area and Bruno instructed us to dive overboard. Not trying to look coy, I slowly got my snorkel gear ready as I watched a few people get in the water first. Power in numbers, isn’t that what they say, or is that “safety” in numbers? They draped a line off the back of the boat and instructed us to hang onto one side of the line as Bruno baited the water. Soon lots of gorgeous tropical fish were swimming about as Bruno dropped big fish heads on the bottom of the sea. The water was incredibly crystal clear and the fish were amazing. I saw many frantic pointed fingers in the directions of the approaching sharks, there were only 4 of them, and 3 of them were only about 3 feet long, one was maybe a little over 4 feet. They looked positively harmless, it reminded me of being in a Disney land ride. But then, they started to circle, and closed in on the fish heads, and as they got closer, there was an incredible burst of energy and swiftness as they grabbed the fish and did the back – and – forth, rip / tear head motion while ripping off a piece of the head. Up to then it seemed all like an amusement ride, but then, when you saw the motion of a carnivorous animal eating, well… it kind of hit home. You’re in the water with something that might take a bite out of you. I’m sure it’s safe, they wouldn’t let us in the water if it wasn’t safe, would they?? Never the less, I occasionally would turn around to see what was approaching us from the rear. It was kind of a funny site, all these dumb tourist hanging onto a rope, all facing one way watching the shark feeding, all our legs pointing in the opposite direction, and a big shark could just sneak right up on us from the rear and bite off a few “human” nuggets.
We all piled in the boat and they drove a little bit more to another location where we got to feed manta rays. This was the most incredible thing I’ve ever done. We got in the water, which was like bath water, just the perfect temperature and only waist high when these beautiful magic carpets started swimming around us. The water was so clear and the sun felt so good on your shoulders, it was just magical. I watched the rays swim around us, sometimes up to 10 would be within 10 feet of you and then one swam right between my legs, both “wings” brushing the insides of my legs as it swam by. Another swam by and I reached out and stroked it, it felt like a huge wet portabella mushroom, but encompassing a living, swimming animal. You just couldn’t help but feel like a giddy kid, we all had stupid ear to ear grins on our faces and felt like kids on Christmas morning.
Bruno gave us pieces of raw fish and told us to dangle it in the water and then draw it up to your chest as the ray approached. He said they don’t have teeth and they can’t hurt you, but when something with a 5 foot span swims up to your face and starts giving your chest a hickey it’s just a little too bizarre at first.
After we got in the boat I heard another guy say that he was going to book another one of these manta ray feeding trips before he went home, I wish we did, this was THE highlight of the trip for me, big hickey sucking portabella mushrooms! WOW!
After the stingray adventure we headed for a beach for our BBQ lunch. Bruno gave a demonstration on how to husk and then crack open a coconut, of course making it look incredibly easy. He picked 3 guys from the group and they all struggled with it, only one succeeding in getting the coconut out of it’s husk. Bruno then said, “Here’s how you open the coconut, you hold it in your hand and then you keep repeating, ‘I love my mother in law, I love my mother in law’ as you crack it with this really heavy stick to split it in two.”
I love my mother in law, CRACK!
I love my mother in law, CRACK!
This brought a good guffaw from the crowd. We enjoyed a nice lunch of roasted chicken, salads and really cold beers and then had time to snorkel in the bay before we had to leave. The variety of fish was excellent and there was some coral there that was an outrageous color of purple. If you saw it in some aquarium you would say to yourself, ‘That looks so unnaturally vibrant, why would you put fluorescent purple coral in an aquarium?’, but it was obviously natural and just crazily fun as the colorful fish tried to compete with their vibrant colors.
After getting back to the dock we headed to the pool bar for a Mai Tai to wash the salt water out of our mouths. That night we walked down the road to the pizza place for dinner. The road is narrow and there’s no sidewalk and at night it’s VERY dark, we didn’t think to bring a flashlight on our trip and were stumbling along trying to feel our way down the road. Occasionally a car would come along and we’d try and work our way off the road, hoping the driver saw us. We got to the pizza place and it was a small place with only 3 tables and a husband a wife team making pizzas in a big earthen oven. I think they do a big delivery service. We asked if they took Visa or MasterCard as we still didn’t have a chance to get any money out of the ATM. They said they were sorry but they didn’t take credit cards and we said, “We’re sorry, we don’t have any cash, I guess we’ll have to come visit you tomorrow.” I was disappointed and I was thinking this was going to be another night of eating dried figs in our room, but the owner said, “Don’t worry, enjoy a pizza, you can pay us tomorrow!” Wow! That was nice of them and I sighed a huge sigh of relied that I’d have a proper dinner. We asked if they had beer or wine and all they had was a bottle of hard cider, which went excellent with their pizza.
Wednesday April 3rd, 2002 – Today we were to enjoy a Safari tour which was basically a tour around the island on an open air truck. We got in the truck with Joe and Agnes, who we had met the day before at the BBQ and shark and manta ray feeding tour. They were a young couple and very nice. The driver explained that he picked up another guest at a different hotel and because of that we would kind of do the tour in reverse order. This didn’t seem to make any difference to me until he explained that our first stop (which would usually be the last stop) would be at the liquor factory where we would be doing tasting of different liquors. It was only 8:30 am, but what the heck, we’re on vacation. We stopped at the factory and our driver started us off sampling a sweet aperitif liquor that was only 10% alcohol. The next one was slightly stronger, the next one was stronger yet, etc. until the last was a cognac that was 150 proof. We were all tasting the liquors but the driver was really flirting with the first guest he had picked up at the other hotel, she was a French woman and they were speaking rapid French to each other. The liquor gave us the boost to buy a few bottles of it and a few other little things to munch on. We continued on the tour around the island, stopping occasionally for the driver to point out mountains, bays, the high school, and other sites. We ended up at a waterfall which was a good 15 minute walk up a really slippery path, but it was worth the walk as the waterfall was quite pretty. We noted that the French girl stayed behind to talk with the driver. We got back to the truck and our driver had setup a small display of fruits for us to have a snack and asked us if we wanted to learn how to open a coconut.
Joe was one of the guys who was picked the previous day at the BBQ and was embarrassed that he couldn’t husk the coconut. The driver said he would teach him the secrets and Joe was thrilled that if he was ever in the situation where a coconut needed to be husked and cracked open, that he could now do it.
We dropped the French girl off first and there was much flirting and laughter between her and the driver. When he came back to the truck, we all jived him and asked, “Do you have a date for tonight?” He kind of just laughed and said, “Maybe!”
After returning to the hotel we walked across the street to a small café called the “Blue Pineapple” to have a cheeseburger. It started raining like crazy just as our safari trip was ending and we had our lunch as it rained buckets.
That night our hotel had a “Polynesian Tiki Dance show” in the open air lobby of the hotel. It was a performance by a local school to continue the traditions of the local Polynesians. I was impressed with the number of performers, there must have been 10 musicians, 8 male dancers and 25 female dancers. It was an excellent performance and one has to wonder what keeps those grass skirts from flying to bits as the women expertly twirl their hips in such erotic and vigorous rapid gyrations.
We again walked down the pitch black road for dinner. Nothing seemed to be open but we did find an outside diner that was open and that we had heard about around the pool that it was very good. Unfortunately the menu was in French and no one could speak English behind the counter. We ordered a fish dinner and it was excellent.
Thursday April 4th, 2002 – This morning we again had an early 8:15am excursion. We didn’t have time for breakfast so we had some of the “Tiare” tea we bought the day before at the liquor tasting and some coconut macaroons. Our adventure today was called a “dolphin watch”, I noted that it wasn’t a “dolphin SEE”, I guess they can’t guarantee that you will actually see any dolphins. Our guide was a French student who had just transferred to Moorea for a two year program working towards his PHD. He explained his professor usually gave the tour but that he had a computer crash and he lost a huge amount of a research paper that was due soon to continue their grant, so… the student was giving the tour. We cruised around and weren’t having much luck seeing any dolphins, so we headed to another area of the island. I was the first one to spot a family of dolphins and we motored over to where they were. These were “spinner” dolphins, so called because they like to propel themselves out of the water in a corkscrew pattern. They’re small, only 1 to 2 meters in length, but there were probably 25 of them.
We motored with them for over a ˝ hour as we all tried to snap a good picture. Our guide explained that these dolphins are very shy and if you try and get in the water with them they disappear. Afterwards they took us to an area to swim and have some fruit then returned us back to the hotel.
We lounged around the pool, I’m reading “The Holographic Universe” by Michael Talbot, a book that was recommended to Ron by a friend of ours who is a chiropractor and practitioner of holistic and spiritual healing and positive thinking. The book started off as pure hogwash to me but as I progressed it was obvious why our friend recommended it to us. The major thesis of the book is that our entire universe, everything around us, including ourselves is created by our thoughts. Now, I like to believe I’m an open minded person and I love to hear any ideas, IF they can be backed up by logical thought or hypothesis, I just thought the author made a terrible lame leap from conjecture to statement of fact, however, as the book progressed I saw why our friend recommended the book to us. A larger part of the book was actually about mind over matter (I guess you could say this ties into a holographic model of the universe) and how we can heal ourselves by our own beliefs, how we create our own lives by how we perceive ourselves and those around us and how we basically live our lives, for good or for bad, by how we decide for ourselves how to live our lives. THIS I truly believe, so the book wasn’t a total waste of time, but I certainly can’t recommend it.
Our stomachs were grumbling so we headed over to the pool bar for lunch. I saw that they had “Poisson Cru” for lunch and I asked Peggy, the woman behind the bar, what it was. Peggy said that it’s a salad made with raw tuna, salt, lime juice, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and fresh squeezed coconut juice. WOW! That sounded great! We ordered one “Poisson Cru” salad and 2 mai tais. Luckily she made the mai tais first and gave those to us so that we could watch her make the salad. She seasoned the fish with salt and squeezed some limes on it and tossed it, then added in the veggies and then put some grated coconut in a linen towel and squeezed it over the fish, then tossed the whole thing together and gave it to us with a baguette of French bread. It was just unbelievably good.
Joe and Agnes had recommended a restaurant called “Mahogany” to us, a lot of restaurants offered free pickup service which is great because taxis are incredibly expensive here. The restaurant was wonderful and it was a real pleasure not to have to stumble down a pitch black road in order to get there. We had a wonderful meal, wish we came here earlier in the week as I would have liked to return to try a few of their other dishes.
Friday April 5th, 2002 – Our last excursion was a Tahitian dinner show that was held in a “village” where the people spend 2 or 3 years living as their ancestors had, learning crafts and tattoo procedures. They started dinner by showing us the underground oven pits they used to roast the pork and vegetables, then went in for dinner. A couple sat with us and they turned out to be Argentine couple on their honeymoon. You can’t believe how comforting it was to hear Argentine Spanish again! I didn’t realize it but it made me homesick for Argentina! We tried our best Spanish on them and this lead to rapid Spanish from them, I didn’t catch it all but it was great to just listen to them.
The show followed and was pretty good with lots of dancing skirts and flaming batons.
Saturday April 6th, 2002 – Our day to check out approached in a blink of an eye. We went to have one last “Poisson Cru” salad and 2 mai tais for lunch before we grabbed the quick flight back to Papeete in the afternoon.
No door to get to the cockpit!
Sunday April 7th, 2002 – Laid on the beach all day reading and then headed to the bar for 5 pm happy hour. We drank mai tais and ate coconut and olives for an hour. A totally unproductive, but wonderful day.
Next stop New Zealand!!
This is a really cool website I found with information on New Zealand, http://destination-nz.com
Monday April 8th, 2002 – Woke up at 1am for our 3:50 am flight to New Zealand. Ugh, why oh why would ANYONE ever want to start a flight at 3:50 am? God only knows.
Tuesday April 9th, 2002 – Because we crossed the international date line, we lost a day, so it was now 8 am Tuesday instead of 8 am Monday morning.
Our flight was somehow an hour early, how can a flight be an hour early?? As we exited the customs area a person was there to direct us or help us with any questions, wow! That seemed especially thoughtful. We mentioned that we had rented a camper van and that a person was supposed to be there to meet us and take us to pick up the van, however, since we were an hour early we didn’t expect them to be there yet. She asked which company we rented the van from and when we told her “Otago” she just kind of looked puzzled and said, “I haven’t heard of them!” “Well” I said, “I think they’re a small company”. I really prefer to patronize small businesses, you usually get more personalized service for the same or better price.
Our friend Bruce met us, we saw him looking up at the monitors but since our flight came in over an hour before it was already off the screens as have been arrived. We had a coffee and caught up on things as we waited for Otago vans to show up. After awhile we decided to call them to see where they were and they said they were waiting for our call and they’d be right over. Ruth arrived 20 minutes later and said that we needed to go back to their place of business to sign some forms and go over the van. I was relieved to see that the van was quite small and compact. A few years ago Ron and I had rented a motor home to go visit my Dad in Florida and then go to Key West. Never having driven a motor home we rented a 28 foot one, I had no idea how big a 28 foot motor home was but it turned out to be HUGE. I asked for a smaller van but that was the only thing he had available at the time, we spent the rest of the trip driving this huge semi truck sized thing around Florida.
I relayed this story to Ruth on the way back to their place of business, she was real sweet and we talked about lots of different things. I was trying to watch the road signs and how people drove on the “opposite” side of the road then what I was used to. The conversation eventually led to Sept 11th and perceptions about Americans from a Kiwi perspective, I was curious if Kiwis perceived us as the “police” or the “bullies” of the world, as some Argentines have. I asked her if it had hurt their business and she actually thinks that things have picked up as tourists see NZ as being a safe place to vacation.
We signed the papers and went over the workings of the van and then drove to Bruce’s farm about 60 km out of Auckland. He has a beautiful 50 acre farm that he bought 10 years ago and has been planting trees on it ever since.
Bruce's Farm, he built this house.
Our camper van Ron keeping track of expenses on our laptop.
Bruce in the kitchen
Although I was trying to talk myself out of it, I was feeling very ill and I was hoping it was just some kind of jet lag so I took a nap while Ron helped Bruce plant some trees. Bruce spends 2 months a year in NZ tending to his farm and then the rest of the time he lives in Paris with his girlfriend Nana and their two children. Nana is a many generation Parisian and would never leave France, so they have this arrangement where he works his farm in NZ for 2 months a year, visiting his family and friends, then returns to Paris for the rest of the year. He was going to be returning to Paris in 2 days and there were still many last minute things he wanted to accomplish and planting a last few trees was one of them. He was only too happy to have Ron help him out.
I woke up a few hours later and felt a little better. Ron and Bruce showed up on his 4 wheel drive ATV. Ron got off the ATV and noticed that the bike had thrown cow manure up on his shoes and pants. Ah, the joys of living on a farm!
Bruce made a nice pork roast for dinner as we caught up on each other’s lives and drank some nice red wine. I was telling Bruce how I’ve always wanted to bungee jump and I figured the best place to do it would be when we got to Queenstown since that is the city that invented modern bungee jumping. We saw a bungee tower once in Mexico and I wanted to do it there but Ron said, “You are NOT bungee jumping in Mexico!” I said I can’t wait to jump here for the first time and Ron just groaned and rolled his eyes.
We started with salad and then Bruce asked if I wanted any more, I said, “No, I’ll wait and have some with my dinner”, Bruce replied, “Oh, good thing Nana isn’t here, she would groan at the thought of having salad WITH your dinner!”
I’ll never forget one time we visited Bruce and Nana in Paris, Ron went out one morning to get something for breakfast and came back with a small quiche. Nana’s friend Pascal came over to have coffee with us and Nana mentioned that Ron had bought a quiche for breakfast, Pascal gasped and with a look of utter disgust on his face, said, “Quiche?? For breakfast??” And Nana just slowly closed her eyes and nodded. The French! Such sticklers for culinary etiquette.
Wednesday, April 10th, 2002 – I was walking around the outside of the house. Bruce has wild chickens in the yard and there’s one in particular who keeps coming into the house looking for a handout, you can tell it’s the same one by some markings on it’s shoulders. Bruce kept saying she liked me and I might have to take her in the van with us when we leave, “I don’t think so” I said. He said he’s been trying to find out where they lay their eggs but he hasn’t discovered where they sleep at night. I walked into his barn and saw some beautiful clear leaded glass windows. I walked back into the house and asked Bruce about them. Part of the forest he’s growing on his property will be selectively harvested for timber to build a new house. Bruce is always on the lookout for old windows, doors, staircases, radiators, etc, that he can recycle into whatever he’s building, by using some nice old fixtures, this gives his new construction instant character. He said that he saw this old dilapidated church and went in to ask the owner if he would sell the windows to him, knowing that he wanted to use them in the construction of his new house. He said the guy appeared to be “a few bricks short of a full load” and when they walked into the church he saw a pile of naked possums 5 feet tall right near the alter, the guy was evidently catching and skinning the animals to sell the pelts, but it gave Bruce the creeps and high tailed it out of there as soon as he could. He found another such decaying church and was able to buy the windows that I saw in his barn for a very good price. I can’t wait to return some day and see them incorporated into his new house.
The church windows stacked in his barn, awaiting installation in his new home.
We asked Bruce if we could help with any last minute things he wanted to do before going back to Paris and he mentioned it would be a big help if we could install a door handle on one of the bedroom’s doors. Ron and I worked on the door handle but then found that we needed a few items we couldn’t find in Bruce’s barn. We wanted to go into town anyways and pick up a few things so we headed off. As soon as we entered the store, people were right there asking us if we needed any help, it was kind of like culture shock. Everyone was so friendly and nice, felt like you were in Disneyland or something. We found the parts we needed then went to another store to find some pajamas for Ron. I had brought some sweat pants and long sleeved Tshirts to sleep in, but with the chilly evening we had the night before Ron knew he needed to buy something warmer to sleep in. We went into another store and the same friendly, cheerful greetings were issued. Ron found some nice warm socks and a hat. The next store was just as helpful and I found a nice warm sweater jacket. We asked the man where we could get some beer and he mentioned that you go right down the street and the liquor store is right behind the church. I said, “That’s an interesting place for a liquor store,” and he said, “Well, the wife goes to church and the husband goes next door and gets some beer!” We walked down the street and sure enough the liquor store was behind the church just as he said. As we walked back with a case of D.B. Draught, the man at the store we were at saw us, and said, “I see you found the liquor store, need any help carrying that??”
Bruce doing some last minute fertilizing with his "Organic Blood & Bone" before returning to Paris.
We brought some lunch back to the farm with us and had a few D.B.’s. Bruce asked if we wanted to take a walk around the farm and of course we said, YES!
Bruce's farm, you can see the ocean in the distance.
We saw a farmer bringing in his cattle and Bruce explained that he lets the neighbor use his paddocks for a small fee, this keeps his grass from growing too long and gives him a few dollars to pay for things. Bruce introduced us to his neighbor as his 16 year old son was herding in the cows on an ATV. The kid stopped the ATV and the dog would jump on the back of the ATV and he’d take off after the cows, he’d stop and point at the cows and tell the dog to go “GetEm”. The dog would go barking down the steep hill, herding the cattle towards the gate. Then the kid would bring the bike around again and scare the cows back down into the ravine. The farmer was saying if he’d just get off the bike and walk up to the cows, they’d go right through the gate, but instead he goes barreling up on them with the ATV and they get scared and scatter. The farmer told us he’s told his son a million times not to do that, but that “you just can’t put an old head on a new body, now can you?”
Bruce said he needed to go staple a fence up and asked if we wanted to help, I could guess what stapling up a fence was, but I got a little worried when he filled a bucket up with a bazillion staples. Bruce took us out to the fence and showed us how to stagger the staples so the fence would be secure, I was really trying hard to do a good job because I knew one of his neighbors would look to see how good of a job I did later on.
Stapling a fence, now Ron is supervising!
Bruce then said that the last thing he needed to do was to fertilize some trees, but that he could do that in the morning before his flight. It was still fairly early and Ron said, “Why don’t we just do it now, so you don’t have to worry about it in the morning?” Bruce said, “Are you sure?” and we told him we’d be happy to help out. Over the course of 10 years Bruce has planted over 5,000 trees on his farm and has turned one whole steep ravine area of his farm into a forest, it was just beautiful. He showed me which kind of trees to fertilize and he took one side of the ravine and I took the other, it was really special to trek through the hills, throwing nourishing fertilizer on the trees, thinking that I was doing some small part to help Bruce’s farm.
It took about an hour and ˝ before we ran out of fertilizer and we fertilized almost all of the trees that we were supposed to, I think I only missed about 10 before I ran out of fertilizer. Bruce said that we were fertilizing Monterey and Mexican Cypress trees (Cupressus Macrocarpa and Cupressus Lusitanica) and that he also had Pinus Radiata, Acacia Melonoxylon (Australian Blackwood) and Eucalyptus botryoides (Southern Mahogany) trees that he planted on the farm. The trees that Ron had helped him plant were Pohutukawa (Metrosideros Excelsa) and Tarata (Pittosporum Eugenoides). Bruce rattled off all these names like he had a PHD in forestry. He said that some trees he planted were fast growing trees that he wanted to use to build another house on his farm in a few years, other trees were planted to take 50 years to come to maturity so that his children would inherit the farm and could use selective harvesting to take out some trees and sell the wood to build their own homes.
On the way back we picked up Ron, we had left him behind since it was kind of strenuous to work your way up the hillsides to do the fertilizing. We stood for a moment and just stopped and listened to the forest and the birds, everything was so peaceful and tranquil. Bruce said we were now in an elite group of people that have helped him with his farm, he said that only 6 or 7 others have ever done so. I didn’t know whether to believe him or wonder if he was buttering us up to do another chore! Later Bruce told us that that few minutes that we stood together in silence, listening to the forest, was very special to him, he would recall that moment when he was back in the hustle and bustle of Paris and think about his farm.
We were pretty tired at the end of the day, but we drove into Auckland to see Ron’s other friend Barry (Baz) play at and Irish pub called O’Harrigan’s. Ron had met Bruce and Barry about 24 years ago but he hasn’t visited Barry in over 20. Barry was playing guitar in this Irish pub and it was great to meet him after hearing about him all these years. Barry played for about 2 hours but then needed to catch the last ferry over to an island he was living on.
We promised to meet at the airport the next morning to see Bruce off.
Thursday April 11th, 2002 – Bruce’s parents, Ari and Jean, met us at the farm. Bruce’s mom loves to cook and she brought us over some pancakes and muffins with cream cheese and jam baked into them.
Bruce was packing and Jean kept calling in, “Bruce, are you sure you have clean socks? Do you have a warm sweater? Here’s your handkerchief, I washed it and ironed it for you, you have to have a handkerchief when you go on a trip!” Bruce just smiled as she handed him the freshly ironed handkerchief. Bruce was giving his mom last minute instructions on things to follow up on, a few books to return to the public library, electric bills to be paid. I told him I asked my mom to do the same things for me when we left California. One just never seems to have all the time one would like to get everything done. Time waits for no person! Thank God for mothers!
Bruce wanted to take one last walk up to the top of the bluff of his property, just to smell the air and take one last look at his paddocks before returning to the hustle and bustle of Paris.
We drove Bruce to the airport as his parents waived to us from his driveway. He said this is probably the 10th time he’s done this, so it’s gotten easier on his mom and dad to say goodbye, because they know he’ll return next year for another 2 months. Barry met us at the airport and we had one last coffee together to see Bruce off.
After saying goodbye to Barry, we set off in our little camper van to start our site seeing.
After a few hours we stopped to get some gas. This was the first time I’d put gas in the van and I couldn’t open the locked gas lid, the girl attendant tried and said the lock seemed to be frozen and that maybe I could open up the boot and see if there was another key in there. I wasn’t sure what she said so I asked her again, she said, “Maybe you can open the boot and we can have a look in there!” I looked down but I was wearing tennis shoes, not boots. I asked her what a boot was and she indicated the rear door. Boy, you feel really stupid sometimes. She asked what I would call it and I said I’d call it a hatch or a hatchback.
The countryside was beautiful, very green, lush and filled with cows and sheep. Very picturesque, we drove through some small town and some guy waved to us from the road so I waved back, Ron asked, “Who are you waving to?”, and I said, “I don’t know, some guy just waved to me, so I waved back!”, people just seem so friendly here. I told Ron he was probably on the city tourist council so he waves to everyone to promote the town!
Drove to our first “Mobile camp” campsite in Paparoa. Went to find a place for dinner but we were out in the middle of nowhere and there weren’t a whole lot of choices. We drover near the “Kauri” museum where we wanted to go the following day and there was a place with an OPEN sign in the window. We stopped and walked in but it was obvious the woman wasn’t opened yet as she was setting up for dinner. She called to her 15 year old daughter to put up the CLOSED sign until they were ready for dinner. She said they’d be open in another 1.5 hours and then went on and on about her meals which sounded very nice. I wanted to go back but it was our first night in the camper van and I wanted to setup camp in the daylight to figure out little things like where to plug in the electric cord. We told the woman her menu sounded great but that we would have to try them another time.
Ron making dinner in our camper van I'm enjoying a glass of wine!
Friday April 12th, 2002 – We woke up fairly early and enjoyed coffee and cereal in the van, then headed off for the Kauri museum. Kauri is a type of huge tree that they harvested in the late part of the 19th century and at the turn of the century it was NZs largest export. Like many of Earth’s beautiful resources, 96% of the forests were destroyed before they stopped. The museum was out in the middle of nowhere and it was HUGE and an excellent museum. The latest addition to the museum was a full mock up of a saw mill with all working machinery, it was “guy stuff” heaven, lots of steam engines, turbines, belts, blades and saws. I was impressed by the scope of the museum and especially since it seemed to be no where near any civilization. The kauri tree exudes a “gum” that is similar to ember. Of course when it first comes out of the tree it’s soft but over the years it hardens into something that you can carve. This gum was used in the production of paint and linoleum amongst other things. In the bowels of the museum was a Kauri gum display. When were in there there were two sixteen year old kids in the room with us, one kept saying,”Whoaaa, here’s a lighthouse carved out of a Kauri gum, Whoaaa, here’s a Kauri gum bridge!” It was pretty funny.
We neared a town called Tatariki and I kept seeing road side signs for “Kumara”. I asked Ron if he knew what it was, I thought maybe it was some kind of animal meat, or maybe a vegetable? Ron had never heard of it and then finally we saw a big stand on the side of the road that advertised kumara, I asked Ron if we should pull over, and he hesitated until we were ˝ way past the driveway and he said, “Sure, let’s see what a kumara is!” He hesitates like this often, just when I need a quick decision. I slammed on the brakes and skidded sideways into the driveway, “Well… at least we know we can stop on a dime with this camper van!”, I told Ron. We got out of the van with the tires still smoking and approached the vegetable stand. A nice woman came out of the back room and gave us a typical NZ “Heeeello!!!!” and Ron asked, “We just had to stop to see what a kumara was!” She explained that a kumara was a kind of sweet potato and we both tried to suppress a look of disappointment, “Who the hell wants to buy sweet potatoes when they’re camping in a camper van?” I thought to myself. We bought a diet coke instead and headed off on our way.
I just had to find out what a Kumara was!
As we left the town we saw a sign that said, “Didga…?? getcha…?? kumara??” The artist looked like the same one that painted the barn next to the place we stopped, they sure are creative, I just can’t stop saying to myself, , “Didga…?? getcha…?? kumara??”
Saw a sign for a forest outlook and I asked Ron if we should stop, again, the hesitation till we were ˝ way past the driveway and then “Sure!” We drove the van up there not knowing how far it was going to be, the road was a dirt road with big chuck holes the whole way. We got to the top and there wasn’t much to see, just a forest lookout.
On the way out we saw a sign that said, “Not recommended for camper vans”. Note to self: Need to watch for those yellow warning signs in the future.
Stopped at the ancient Kauri forest to see some of the ancient Kauris that they estimate as being 2,000 years old. It reminded me of the beautiful ancient redwood park in northern California. Just something about being in the presence of such a huge and majestic living thing.
The plaque in front of the tree read: Tane Mahuta, God of the Forest, trunk height: 17.7 metres, total height 51.5 metres, trunk girth: 13.8 metres, volume: 244.5 metres cubed. Estimated to be over 2,000 years old.
It's always hard to capture the scale of something so large, but it was awesome!
Ron was having problems locating a motor camp to stop in and I spied one behind a hotel in Kaikohe. When we checked in I asked the guy at the front desk if he could recommend a good restaurant in town and said that this was the only one. We sat down for over 15 minutes before a young girl of about 16 came over and asked us if we wanted anything to drink before dinner. I saw the fully stocked bar behind her so I asked if she knew how to make a martini. She looked kind of panicked and said, “I’m new here, I’ll have to ask someone else if they know how to make one!” “OK” I thought. She came back another 10 minutes later and said they can’t make a martini, would we like anything else. Common sense should have told me to just order dinner, but I asked her instead, “Can you make a Manhattan?” She really started to panic now and darted off before we had the chance to say anything else. Ron went over to check on her progress at the bar and tried to help her out, after all it’s just a ˝ measure of sweet vermouth and 2 measures of bourbon, it’s really not that complicated. The girl came back after another 15 minutes, mind you there is NO one else there, we are the only ones in the dining room, we have no idea where she keeps disappearing to. She came over with the drinks and said, “If these aren’t any good, they’re on the house” and disappeared again before we could blink. We finally ordered dinner and some red one, of course she brought out a bottle of white wine but I didn’t have the nerve to say anything, the poor dear looked like she was about to have a heart attack every time she came over to our table. She brought us our dinner and I made the mistake of asking if they had any horseradish, I swear I thought she was going to faint. She came back and said, “I’m sorry, we don’t have horseradish, here’s some mustard instead!”
The meal was just edible and she never came back to see how we were doing. When she came to ask us about desert we declined and she gave an audible sigh.
Saturday April 13th, 2002 – We drove to a town called Russell in an area called the bay of islands. We booked a bay boat tour but had a few hours so we decided to have lunch. We sat in an outside café and started talking to the couple sitting next to us. They were from Auckland and were saying how Russell was a nice weekend get-away for them. We talked about NZ and Argentine politics and all of a sudden the woman said, “Well I think we’ve chewed the air long enough with these people, we should leave them to their vacation” and before I could finish chewing the bite in my mouth they disappeared.
We took the boat out to what they call the “hole in the rock” which was a large arch out at the end of the string of islands. They later stopped at an idyllic spot where we climbed a hill to get a view of the surrounding area, WOW! What a view! We walked back down to the boat launch area and had a beer while we waited for the boat to pick us up.
Sunday April 14th, 2002 – Left early in the morning before making coffee or toast, I was dying so we stopped in a gas station for a much needed caffeine injection. Ron went in and came out proud that he got some kind of membership card for future discounts on coffees. This sounded all well and good till I saw that he only got me an espresso which under most circumstances would have been ideal, but under these circumstances it was about 3 espressos too little. Ron decided he wanted to go back in and get a muffin so I screamed out the window for him to get me another double espresso coffee.
Got into Auckland with some time to spare so we stopped in a supermarket to pick up some groceries, wine and other essentials.
We showed up to exchange our current van for a bigger van. The company we rented the camper van from actually had a larger van that they wanted driven back down to Christchurch. We had rented a small van and were planning on leaving it at Christchurch so they asked if we wanted to pick up the bigger van for the same price and drive it to Christchurch. We thought this sounded like a good deal and besides, the bigger van had a toilet in it and Ron liked this idea.
After picking up the bigger van we drove to Bruce’s brother, Roger and his wife Deborah’s. They invited us to stay the night so we agreed. We ordered some gourmet pizzas and had a wonderful night chatting. They also had a really cool cat and he was happy to sit on our laps while he scratched his chin and got in some “quality cat time”.
Deborah & Roger (top row), Ruby and Harry
A really nice kitchen!
Monday April 15th, 2002 – Woke up to the hustle and bustle of a working family with 2 kids getting ready for work and school. Deborah and Roger were getting the kids ready, stuffing breakfast in their faces, swigging coffee, combing hair, adjusting clothes, searching for misplaced school books and the usual commotion involved in a Monday morning family ritual. Ron and I sipped our coffee and enjoyed not having to do ANYTHING.
We visited the war memorial museum in downtown Auckland. It was a large museum with lots of cool stuff. There was also a very small holocaust memorial exhibit on the top floor that was extremely well done but extremely emotional and devastating.
A very scary dentist chair from the 20s including a foot pedal driven drill, YIKES!
Some handy pamphlets
A huge skylight over the foyer Names of NZ veterans lost in wars.
We had plans to meet Barry at the ferry building to take the ferry over to his house for dinner at 4 pm. Ron and I got there a little early and had a few beers outside while we watched the passing boats and waited for the ferry.
We departed to Waiheke which is an island just 30 minutes ride from Auckland. An idyllic ferry to an idyllic place.
The Auckland skyline
His wife and kids were waiting for us as we got off the ferry, the kids playing by the water, Megan talking with friends on the beach, it all looked so perfect. Introductions were made and we all piled into Barry’s car. Barry explained that Waiheke used to be a summer home island, but as the city has grown and expanded, more folks are moving there year round as a nice place to live, but still a close, non stressful commute from the city. Ron had bought the kids some small gifts and they had a ball opening them. Ron bought the older boy, Buster, some MatchBox cars which like any boy in the world, he loved! He started playing with them and he said, “Look the bonnet opens up!” I said, “The bonnet??” And Buster showed me, like any 2 year should know, that the bonnet is the hood of the car. So now I know that the bonnet is the hood and the boot is the trunk
Ron with Buster We got Lulu a watch
I tried to put the watch on Lulu's left arm, but she says, "No, that's the hand I use to draw!"
Barry and Megan making dinner
We had a wonderful dinner and took the 10:15 ferry back to Auckland. We drove to a motor camp and pulled in around midnight.
Tuesday April 16th, 2002 - The motor camp we were in had nice washing machines and I suggested to Ron that I really needed to wash a few clothes. Ron asked some guy which way the laundry was and he must have told his wife that Ron asked about where they were because she made a mad dash for the laundry room and filled up all the washing machines before Ron could get there. BASTARDO! We leisurely made breakfast and waited for the washing machines to free up. We realized we didn’t have any clothes soap and I told Ron, “I really need some clothes washed, just use the soap for the dishes.” We both had doubts about this one and I think we each pictured an “I Love Lucy” episode of mountains of suds coming out the top of the washing machine because we used dish detergent in a clothes washing machine. Since we got in late the night before, Ron went up to the front desk to pay for the previous evening and asked the woman if she had any clothes detergent. She said, “I sell laundry soap for 50 cents, but I already rang up the charge for the camper site and it’s really difficult to add the price of the soap onto the MasterCard credit card with the camper van charge, I’ll have to back everything out, and do it all again and that will throw our accounting all off and…, oh the heck with it, I’ll just GIVE you some soap.” Ron had to wait about 10 minutes of listening to this diatribe before she came to that conclusion. We got the washing done and headed off for Bruce’s parents, Ari and Jean.
We arrived and Jean suggested that we drive the motor home up their driveway, I was a little leery about this since it’s quite a bit larger then the other van we had and their driveway was really steep, I drove up as Ron watched that I didn’t clip any trees but I almost ended up taking the gutter off the top of their roof, this van is pretty tall.
We enjoyed sitting outside on their back deck and talking.
Jean mentioned that she had made a “Pavlova” for dinner. Ron has been talking about some Pavlova that Jean made for him for almost 20 years, we have tried it in a few restaurants but Ron would stoutly proclaim, “That IS NOT a Pavlova”. Jean was telling me that it’s basically beaten egg whites, with some added white wine vinegar, vanilla and then sugar. You then bake it in the oven and then top it with whip cream and some pureed fruit like kiwi or passion fruit. This sounded deceptively simple and I had my doubts about it. She showed it to me in her oven and mentioned that when she first got her new oven, that it was a convection oven that blows hot air around the food to cook it. She thought this might make for an interesting dessert but the first time she tried it the hot air had blown her Pavlova all about the inside of the oven.
We had a wonderful dinner followed by the famous Pavlova. It was wonderful! I asked Ron if it was as good as he remembered and he said, “Definitely!”
We drove over to Ari and Jean’s daughter, and Bruce’s sister, Judy, to baby sit their kids for them while they went on a dinner date. They had 4 kids from the ages of 2 to 9. Jean made us a cup of coffee and made some kids some “milo”. I asked what milo was and she said that it was like a hot chocolate, but different.
Wednesday April 17, 2002 – Woke up and jumped in the shower. Jean had coffee for us and as I sat down she said, “How do you take your wheat bix?” I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what wheat bix are!” I asked Ron how we eat our wheat bix and he said, “With a bit of milk” So that’s how we ate our wheat bix. We thanked Ari and Jean for their hospitality and left their house in Hamilton and headed off on our way.
At a campgrounds we were at previously Ron had asked the proprietors for some suggestions on sites to see. The woman had mentioned that the town of Katikati was known as the town of murals and was quite the site. We mentioned this to Ari and Jean that morning and they had never heard of it. When we arrived at Katikati we understood why Ari and Jean had never heard of it, it was just a quaint little town with a few murals painted on the public buildings, cute, but nothing spectacular. I guess the woman who recommended it grew up there or had relatives who lived there. It was a nice place to stop for lunch anyways.
Washing the windows, getting ready to be awed by the murals!
This was a cool one on the side of an auto repair shop.
Stopped in the town of Rotorua for the evening and checked in at the Thermal Holiday Park. They were listed in the camping guide as having mineral baths and we quickly changed into our suits and jumped into the natural mineral springs to relax after driving. It wasn’t as hot as I would have liked it, but it was still nice and a great way to relax.
Great campground with bungalows... .. and little cabins, you can tell it's fall.
Ahhhhhh, so relaxing!
We went back to the camper to have a glass of wine and listened to a new CD I bought of Maori songs. That evening I came down with my second bout of stomach flu. I’ve only been in NZ 8 days and I was now sick for the second time. You sure don’t realize how important your health is till you lose it.
Thursday April 18th, 2002 – We drove to the New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute that was right down the road from where we were staying. The institute is a place for Maori cultural demonstrations and of course a school for them to learn the crafts of their ancestors and continue their traditions. This is also adjacent to the Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve (I double checked the spelling of that name and it IS correct!) The thermal reserve has the biggest geyser in the area called Pohutu which erupts between 10-25 times everyday with eruption heights around 16-20 meters and some spurts reaching as high as 30 meters. We watched it for over 20 minutes and it was continually sending jets of water into the air the entire time, so I guess that was considered erupting, either that or when it does erupt it must be pretty spectacular as what we were seeing was pretty fantastic. The thermal reserve also had big pools of bubbling and gurgling mud, deep crevasses ejecting stinky sulfur breaths, areas where the bushes all seemed to be steaming, flat areas where the ground was covered in colorful crusty mineral deposits. It was very cool but taking pictures was difficult as mostly you’d just see plumes of steam, it’s hard to catch the essence and the stench of the place in a photo, but we tried! Can’t imagine that plants could even grow in such in environment. It felt really cool walking along, you’d see big plumes of steam coming out of everything, seemed very prehistoric.
After walking around the thermal reserve we returned to the cultural center where they were going to perform a Maori greeting of guests and a few demonstrations of musical dances. It was pretty interesting with the male warriors making the facial grimaces and sticking their tongues out to intimidate and terrorize their enemy. I know that if I saw 500 warriors coming at me looking like that, I’d think twice about taking them on. The women then did a few dances with poi balls and then they all did a dance with clacking sticks that they threw back and forth from one to another. Afterwards they said this dance was to teach dexterity and help them improve their hand and eye coordination.
We then drove for a few hours to Tauranga and found a campsite with an onsite restaurant, however, I was feeling really bad so I went to bed really early. I told Ron to go ahead and have dinner by himself in the restaurant, he said, “But what if I come back and it was the best meal of the trip, you’ll be mad you missed it?” I assured him that I was feeling so bad nothing would taste good to me right now and besides, we WERE in a campground, I highly doubted the restaurant would be anything more then just good regular home cooking and nothing worth getting out of bed sick for.
Friday April 19th, 2002 – As we were motoring along to our next destination, we pulled off the road when we saw a sign for the Huka waterfall. We had no idea what this was, but thought it was worth a stop. Turned out to be quite an impressive river that was constricted for a short period threw some very tough rock that hadn’t eroded like the rest of the river. This caused a venturi effect where the water became quite turbulent as it was squeezed through the passage and then dumped into the area after the rocks.
Neat and a nice stop to stretch and grab an ice cream!
We then proceeded to Palmerston North. Ron called some more friends he hadn’t seen in 20 years and left a message that we were in town and if they wanted to get together. I still wasn’t feeling too well so when we got to the campsite we asked the front desk if anyone delivered pizza or Chinese food and we got a pizza delivered to our camper. It was a really nice park with mature trees and even nicer that we didn’t have to go out to get dinner.
Saturday April 20th, 2002 – Ron talked with 3 kids from Wales who were traveling for 2 years, they said most of their friends who have tried this have run out of money after about a year and head home. Ron called his friends, Chris and Mary Anne, that he was trying to get in touch with the previous day and we stopped by to visit with them. Ron hadn’t seem them in over 20 years and we chatted with them in the lovely home they built overlooking a beautiful valley. Of course now they have 4 kids. It was funny, they pulled out an old photo album and there was Ron about 22 years ago, strange to think that your photo may be in somebody’s photo album ˝ way across the world for the last 22 years.
We drove to a nice camper park in the town of “Paekakariki” population 1,690 near the town of Wellington where we’re going to pick up the ferry. We stopped at the local supermarket because I thought it would be good to pick up some frozen dinners. The store was really well stocked for such a small store with lots of great choices. We looked in the frozen section and they had some lamb and rice dish and then another container with chicken curry and rice. We took these up to the register and the owner was an Indian man and he said that his wife made the chicken curry and it can be a little spicy, I told him, “Oh good, I like spicy curry dishes”.
We drove to the campground and it was right next to the ocean so after checking in we walked down to the beach to watch the sunset. Right away I turned around and saw Ron bending over and picking up shells, “Put down those damn shells” I kept yelling, “We aren’t taking any shells home with us”, but everyplace we go Ron has to pick up sea shells to take home. It’s just what he does.
We walked along the shore as the sun went down, hearing the waves, smelling the wonderful smells of the ocean, other people strolling along the beach with their kids and their dogs, just like every beach in the world. What can I say? You just never get tired of doing it.
As we walked back to the campsite I noticed that there were signs for Judder Bars in the road. Judder Bars?? After walking along we figured those had to be the speed bumps in the camper park.
We had the home made Indian frozen dinners that we bought at the local supermarket and they were excellent!
Sunday April 21st, 2002 – We woke up to a light rain on the roof of the camper, that’s always such a nice sound, especially when you’re warm and dry inside. Everyone has been saying how wonderful the weather has been these last 2 weeks and I wondered if it’s usually much more rainy this time of year. Guess we’re due for a little rain. When we visited Mary Anne and Chris the other day Mary Anne mentioned that the drinking water for her house was supplied by rainwater, just like at Bruce’s farm. I asked her if she knew why people didn’t have wells, the country is so lush and green I would think that the water table would be very high and you wouldn’t have to go very deep before hitting potable water. She thought that it might just be the cost of digging a well, it’s much easier to collect water off the roof and the rainfall is plentiful enough running out of water doesn’t happen often. I had previously wondered why many of the homes had metal roofs, until then the only metal roofs I’d ever seen were in snowy areas where you want the snow and ice to run off the roof so the weight of it doesn’t collapse the roof. Bruce explained that here metal roofs are inexpensive and they are also perfect for collecting the rainwater for drinking. Right now I’m writing this in the camper van having coffee while Ron makes cereal for breakfast, there is sunlight on our camper van but there are dark rain filled clouds on the peaks of the nearby hills.
Ron and I just had a ˝ hour discussion on how the international date line works. As I’m typing up this journal I was trying to figure out where a day went when we came from Tahiti to New Zealand and Ron was explaining how we “lost” a day when we crossed the dateline. I guess I just never thought about it before, I always knew that the date changed when you crossed the dateline, but it still seems pretty bizarre to think that 2 days are happening simultaneously but that the world is only divided into 24 defined time zones, not 48, so why do we lose a 24 hour day? Shouldn’t it just click over to the next day and not lose one? Hmmmmm, I think I need to have another D.B. beer, maybe then I’ll understand it.
We drove back into the little town and stopped at the same neighborhood restaurant to get something for dinner. The owner asked if we thought the chicken curry was too spicy and I said, “No, it was seasoned perfectly, but not too spicy”, he then said, “You look Indian, are you Indian?” I said, “No, but in California we have a huge Indian community and we love basmati rice and tandori and curry dishes.” First time anyone has ever thought I was Indian!
As we walked along the little down town area we saw a travel agent with a running video tape showing people bungee jumping, I got all excited as we watched the people falling off bridges. Ron said, “I just don’t think I can do that, you’re just going to have to do it alone”, I looked at him and said, “I never thought in a million years that you’d do it with me, I always assumed I was going to do it along.” I have parachute jumped several times and it took quite a bit of convincing to get Ron to jump with me, he had flown in P-3 Naval aircraft for over 27 years but he never had to parachute jump out of one, he would always say, “Why would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” Of course, after he jumped with me, he really enjoyed it, but I didn’t think he wanted to bungee jump so I never brought it up to him.
Monday April 22nd, 2002 – Had a fast breakfast of coffee and toast and headed off for Wellington for our crossing across Cook’s Strait to the South Island. Ron has been telling me about crossing Cook’s Strait for 20 years and he said that it can be a hell raising, death defying experience as the strait is a natural venturi as the ocean and winds funnel through the two islands and can cause mountainous waves. We got into Wellington a few hours ahead of schedule so we drove around the pier area to look for a place to park and maybe walk around or do some window shopping. We lucked out and without knowing it we parked very near the city’s museum. We entered and discovered that it had free admission and the building itself was an incredible piece of architecture, a piece of art in it’s own right with huge sweeping areas, intimate spaces, modern balconies overlooking other exhibits, fantastic beams, huge glass expanses to see the harbor, every public space was different, but the architect(s) had a common feel running through it all that combined it into one harmonious building. Just a spectacular work of architecture, which made the art presented within it’s walls even more interesting and beautiful!
The French sure have made some UGLY stuff! This was hilarious, in the "hands on section",
This is the treaty the British signed with the Maori ending their conflict
kids use a barcode reader to shear the sheep
and race against the clock to see who's fastest
Unfortunately we only had an hour and a half before we had to return to the van and onto the boat for the crossing. Ron had been talking with the kids from Wales a few days ago and they said that this ferry was cheaper then some of the other boats so Ron called ahead and reserved a spot. The other, more popular ferries had tons of restrictions on cancellations, or changes in reservations or picking up tickets. This ferry service had a jovial guy on the phone who said, “What’s your name? Weaver? Ok Mr. Weaver, see you tomorrow!” We drove into the pier area and followed the signs to the Glasgow pier. It appeared to be a smaller part of the pier area, but the price was right and the owners seemed friendly. We spotted the kids from Wales who had told us about the ferry also waiting to get on the boat and waved to them. It started raining as we waited to board, and enjoyed a nice tart apple as we watched the ship getting ready. Ron spied a Snickers bar that he bought earlier and said, “You know, Snickers bars go really good with nice tart apples!” and I said, “You think Snickers bars go good with anything!” So there we sat, munching on a ˝ of Snickers bar each, a nice tart apple in the other hand, rain falling on the window, giving the view before us a kind of melted “Salvador Dali”esque quality, the radio playing some crazy NewZealander woman’s country music, and you just can’t help think, “Wow, this is cool!”
We drove onto the ship and it was pretty stinky and smelly in the hold, so we moved up to the lounge area, which was also pretty stinky and the upholstery had seen better days. No matter, we grabbed a seat and pulled out our books to read. The boat started making HUGE clunks, groans, clatters and clanks and the lights kept flickering and dimming. The front end of the ship had been raised for us to drive into the boat, and with each loud noise I thought, “Surely that must be the nose dropping into place”, but every time I looked, it wasn’t going down. Don’t know what was making all the racket, but maybe I didn’t really want to know. The nose finally did come down in one of those huge CLUNKS and we set off on our crossing. The boat seemed to be going incredibly slow, seemed like I could swim there faster, although it was very scenic it was still overcast and was not a good photo opportunity.
This is the faster, more expensive ferry, it only takes
2.5 hours to cross the strait, our ferry took 5!
After sailing for a few hours they announced that dinner was ready. Dinner? I didn’t know we’d have dinner. I thought maybe they meant the snack bar was open but it turned out they provided a nice dinner of chicken, vegetables and corn and it was included in the trip fare. What a nice unexpected treat. As we went through the line the cook said, “When you’re done with your dinner, please go back into the kitchen and wash off your plates and put them in the racks for me to run them through the dishwasher.” I said, “Of course, thanks very much!” We saw that they also had fresh pavlova for dessert. This was a real unexpected treat. The dinner was quite nice and Ron came back with a huge bowl of pavlova and vanilla ice cream. I had to try a little of the pavlova, just to compare it to Jean’s of course, and I have to say although it was very good, Jean’s was still better.
The crossing was incredibly flat, you could barely tell the boat was moving. Guess we lucked out on this crossing.
We got across the strait and into Picton after dark and headed into a local motor camp for the night.
Tuesday, April 23rd, 2002 – Ron got me up at the ungodly hour of 7 am, I thought I was supposed to be on vacation? He was whistling, chirping and bounding about the motor cab, I really need to be around night people, not morning people. We had breakfast and then headed off towards Nelson. Ron decided to take a “shortcut” to Nelson but I wanted to stop at a gas station to ask and make sure the “shortcut” wasn’t a narrow, one lane dirt road with pot holes. The teenager in the gas station told Ron that the road was very scenic, a little narrow in parts, but paved all the way and he saw campers on it all the time, so we decided to try it. The road was step and a little narrow but very little traffic so the driving was very pleasant, you could go as slow as you want without 10 cars piling up behind you, and it was very beautiful.
Just leaving the town of Picton
My dad was a land surveyor and he would always
get excited by land surveyor's marks
We got into Nelson around 2 pm and thought it would be a good place to stock up on some groceries and have lunch. The town was a good sized and the downtown area was nice.
We found a nice sized supermarket and shopped for a few things, the supermarket had these big animatronic displays for kids and they were quite well done. I approached one isle and I saw a big button that said, “Push for the Moo”. I thought that maybe when you pushed the button you’d hear the special of the day, or some discount on something. Instead this huge cow head over me started “MOOOOOOOing” and rolling its eyes, it was pretty funny.
It was funny as we went down the isles looking for things, some of the signs that listed what was in the isle said, “Nappies” and “Fizzy drinks”, using local colloquialisms for different products.
At the checkout Ron discovered we didn’t have enough money so he apologized and ran out to the van for more cash while I waited at the register with the groceries, the woman behind us nodded towards me and said to the cash register lady, “Don’t worry, if he makes a dart for the door with the groceries, I’ll put my foot out and trip him up!” as she gave me a big wink.
We found a nice café and I had green lipped muscles, locally raised, and Ron had risotto with red lentils and spinach. Since we’ve been staying at campgrounds we haven’t been to many restaurants and this was a real nice treat. The muscles were probably the best I’d ever tasted, perfectly fresh and HUGE. We asked for a nice recommendation on a Chardonnay wine and then sat outside to have our lunch. A light rain was falling and it was great to have our lunch listening to the rain. There was also a garden supply store adjacent to the café courtyard so the area was filled with plants, pots, and cool pottery to put in your garden, it was a great setting. We were sitting there and blue haired ladies would be walking about the garden center, going, “Oh Marge, look at that rhododendron, it’s magnificent, wouldn’t that look just perfect next to my primrose tree?”
We had another 2 hour drive to Murchinson which was our next motor camp stop.
A park we stopped at alongside the road, boy was it windy!
This amazing spot of white light appeared through the clouds It lit up this circle on the water, just fantastic!
Ron found this map that had official “kiwi” parks listed on it. This is the 3rd “kiwi” park that we’ve stayed at and they’ve been very good with great facilities. This campground was very nice but they charged 50 cents for the showers, the first camp ground that we’d been to that charged for their showers. I hate those things, you always think you’ll be lathered from head to toe and then the damn thing will run out.
Wednesday April 24th, 2002 – We woke up and discovered the propane gas tank in the van had run dry. The fridge wasn’t working because it runs off the propane and our hot water also wasn’t working. To top it off it was lightly raining. Ron thought this would be a good day to eat breakfast in a restaurant, couldn’t agree more! We headed into town and filled up the van and the propane tank then headed over to a restaurant. We both ordered something called “The Works” which included eggs, meat, toast, coffee and potatoes. We should have known that this would be a huge plate of food and there were two sausages on each plate that were also humongous. The sausages tasted like lamb and they weren’t fatty or greasy, but just way too much food. Ron ran out to the camper to get some Tupperware so we could take ˝ of it home with us for breakfast the following morning.
The skies were still raining and it was pretty overcast, didn’t look like we were going to get any sunshine today as we headed towards Westport. As we drove along the main road there were many one lane bridges where you would stop and give the right of way to whoever got there first. Luckily there isn’t much traffic on these roads, even though it’s the “main” road (the ONLY road) so usually you’d just slow down to make sure no one was coming and then go through. It was amazing how narrow some of these bridges were.
Not only was this a one lane bridge we had to share with both directions of traffic, but we also had to share it with a train!
One area we came to said “one lane” but there was no way to see if anyone was coming because it was a blind curve, so we just proceeded slowly ahead. The cliff face had been dug out to accommodate the road and there were actual bolts drilled in to hold the rock from falling. Not very comforting, I find it hard to believe that the bolts would hold anything if the rock decided to give way. The one lane area was quite long and I wondered how many times people have had to back out because someone was coming from the other way. And this is on the “main” road. Ron had to jump out and take some pictures.
See how the cliff face is chiseled away I don't see how these bolts could help hold anything up.
for the road? It then drops off
steeply on the other side.
As we continued along our drive it’s just amazing how GREEN this place is, EVERYTHING is green, including moss growing on the fences. Alongside the road the foliage is so dense, it doesn’t look like you could walk through it, it’s beautiful but also so thick and lush with lots of bushes, I guess that’s why they call it “the bush”.
We stopped at an area called Pancake Rocks and the BlowHole. We checked the information center and it seemed the best time to see the blowhole was at high tides, as luck would have it we were exactly between the high tides of 8 am and 8 pm so we didn’t expect to see any BlowHole activity. We took the pathway along to see the Pancake rocks. The rocks were formed by sediment millions of years ago and were very beautiful, there was one huge arch that was amazing as water flowed under it and people walked above it, this was a little creepy as I had read about a platform collapse in 1995 in this area that claimed almost 30 young lives. We walked around and enjoyed the vistas and it was well worth the stop.
We stopped early for the evening in a town called Greymouth. It was still raining and it appeared much later in the day then it really was because of the dark skies. We decided it would be more pleasant to read and play cards in the motor home then drive in the rain.
Thursday April 25th, 2002 – We again woke up to rainy weather, we took a nice warm shower, had breakfast, then headed off for Arthur’s Pass.
Ron ran in to get some pops
This ad cracked me up, it was everywhere
Arthur’s Pass is where Ron first met Bruce and Barry about 24 years ago. As we pulled off the main road for the highway to Arthur’s Pass we saw a sign that said something about “No caravans” as we drove by. “What did that say?”, I asked Ron, “I wasn’t able to read the whole thing, but it said something about ‘no trailers’” We both thought it prudent to turn around and reread the sign. The sign said that Arthur’s Pass was “open” but “No caravans or trailers”. We weren’t sure what a caravan was, we’ve seen the term “motor home” used, but we weren’t sure if a caravan was a semi-trailer truck or what we were driving. Hmmmmm, we’ll it was only 80 kilometers to Arthur’s Pass, how much trouble could we get in in only 80 kilometers? (Insert ominous music here). We drove along and it was very pretty along the Otira Gorge as the water rushed by, at some points the gorge was over a kilometer across, not all of it river, but areas of flat river stone where you know at some points in the year it floods. There were many, many small waterfall rivers pouring off the steep mountains to our right, with the gorge on our left. We stopped at one point and Ron got out to take some pictures, it was still raining and I didn’t want to get wet so I just watched him through the blurred windscreen.
As we got closer to Arthur’s Pass the gorge was becoming narrower and the river coming off the mountains was becoming more constricted and more spectacular. Finally there was an incredible cantilevered area of the road with rock shields and a huge runoff spigot, the road grade got up to 16% and the van was creeping along and the engine was screaming in 2nd gear, I was getting a little nervous that the van would stall out and Ron called out over the screaming revving engine, “Isn’t this great?!?”, “NO”, I said, “It’s NOT great!” There was a scenic lookout point and I pulled over to give the engine and my nerves a rest. It was quite a spectacular vista but it was still raining and low clouds were flying between our feet so it was hard to make anything out.
The spillway allowed water to run out of the mountain over the highway.
I looked to where the road was going and it looked even steeper then what we had previously been on. I asked Ron, “Should we continue?” and Ron said, “Of course, the van is doing fine!” Luckily the steep part of the road was actually only a very short distance and we were over the pass before we knew it. Right at the very summit there was a turnoff for “Death Corner” and Ron asked if I wanted to turn off to see it. “Death Corner?? You want me to turn off this already impossibly steep road to something called ‘Death Corner’? I don’t think so.”
We got into Arthur’s Pass and stopped at the information center, they had a great museum display there talking about the history of Arthur’s Pass. In the 1800s the only way to cross through the pass was via a 14 person carriage pulled by 5 horses that took 13 hours. There were written accords from passengers on how terrifying the trip was, over very narrow trails with drop offs into apparent nothingness.
They wanted to build a train tunnel to make the trip easier and a gold rush in the later part of the 1800s helped encourage this idea. They started an 8.5 kilometer tunnel in 1908 and it took 15 years before it was operational. At best they were able to go through 4 meters of rock a day, at worst only 15 centimeters. They had one of the original 14 person carriages on display and it was really well preserved, however, I would not want to go through a treacherous mountain pass on it.
It was still raining so we didn’t want to do any hiking, just wasn’t the day for such things, so instead we found a nice warm restaurant and had lunch and a few beers.
We drove out back the way we had come, through the gorge. When you know how long or treacherous something is and what to expect, it’s never as bad when you don’t know what to expect.
We got into the town of “Franz Josef” just as night was setting, after driving all day and having a few little hair raising moments over Arthur’s Pass I needed a drink. We asked at the local supermarket where we bought some frozen chicken Cordon Bleu (ah, the joys of camping) where we could find some bourbon. She told us to make a left at the next street and it’s right at the “T”. We did this and there was only a tavern at the “T”, so I told Ron, “I guess you go in and just ask the bartender for a bottle.” This he did, and it worked! Off to the campground for a happy hour of bourbon and diet cokes and then our gourmet meal of frozen chicken Cordon Bleu!
We got to the campground and we soon discovered we let a million sand fleas into the van. Not just sand fleas, but BITING sand fleas and boy did they itch. We spent the next few hours killing the flying gnats that were in the camper so we could get a good nights rest.
Friday April 26th, 2002 – We did the regular morning routine of coffee, juice and toast. As I washed the van windows, filled the van up with water and unplugged the electric cord I was fighting off the damn sand fleas. We’ll never come back to this sand flea infested hell hole again! We then headed off for the “Franz Josef” glacier. A park sign at the entrance to the trail said that there was a 1:40 minute hike to the base of the glacier so we decided to do that. The walk was along the glacial run off river, looking like grey milk with big chunks of ice floating by in the water. The hike to the glacier was spectacular, I just didn’t realize that glaciers can start so high above in the mountains and then end where the weather is very temperate. It was quite a site.
We drove another 21 kilometers to another glacier called “Fox Glacier” and along the way stopped for a sandwich. We ate in a little café with outdoor eating and the weather and scenery was perfect. We were enjoying our lunch when an Indian couple sat next to us with their two unruly children. I think there are just people in the world who are “kid” people and there are people in the world who just don’t like kids. I’m with W.C. Fields in the latter group, “I like children; battered and fried.” The parents sat idly by acting totally oblivious as their hellions made it unbearable for everyone within 20 meters of them. Thoughts of throwing them under passing semi truck wheels came into my mind. When we were raised the motto was “Children should be seen and not heard”, I guess this is what everyone says, “In MY day, we had RESPECT for our parents!” My parents probably said the same thing about us when we were that age.
Not a minute too soon (I was timing the passing trucks and watching their wheels) we headed off for Fox Glacier. There was an hour walk for this glacier and we took that also. The walk was not as interesting as the previous glacier but we were able to get closer to the base of the glacier and could see a huge ice cave formed where the runoff comes from under the glacier. It was worth the hike to see both glaciers as both was interesting in different ways.
We drove to our next campsite and when we stopped it was right next to the ocean. When we checked in Ron asked the owner if they had sand fleas in the park, and the woman nodded, “Oh yes, but if it’s any conciliation I was in the garden all day today and got eaten alive.” Ron asked, “Is there anything you can put on the bites to stop them from itching?” and the woman replied, “No, you just have to put the bug repellant on so you don’t get bit in the first place.” Ron asked, “How many days does the itching last?” and the woman just smiled, nodded in a sympathetic gesture, and said, “Yes!” We setup camp with opening the door as little as possible and tried to kill the gnats that made it inside the camper van. As picturesque as this place is, I could not live in such a place. These damn bug bites just itch like crazy.
Saturday April 27th, 2002 – We woke up and it was a drizzly day again. We had some breakfast then headed towards Queenstown, home of the bungee jumping towers, my stomach started getting butterflies as I imagined jumping off of a bridge. We had 265 kilometers before Queenstown so we made a few stops along the way to see waterfalls by the side of the highway.
We drove through a gorge surrounded by mountains on both sides, it was just beautiful as the morning warmed up, the mountains seemed to have pockets of fog laid along the various ridges. I’ve just never seen countryside like this, you would be in a level meadow and right in front of you would be a 2,000 meter mountain apparently going straight up and carpeted with forest and ferns where you couldn’t see the mountain, just foliage.
These crazy one lane bridges are everywhere!
It still amazed me how few cars were on the road. I know this isn’t peak season but sometimes you’d drive for ˝ hour without seeing another car. With the beautiful forested scenery, it made you feel like the only people in NZ.
We stopped and had a nice lunch overlooking the huge Lake Hawea, it was a great view.
There are 2 lakes next to each other, both over 60 kilometers long and they were just spectacular, and not a single boat on either one. I wanted to find a ski boat and go water skiing, the water was so flat and perfect.
We got into Queenstown around 2pm and checked into the motor camp. The park was right in the town so we could walk to the downtown area and restaurants. We walked along the business district and came upon a tourist information center and Ron said, “Let’s stop in to get info on bungee jumping!” We approached the counter and a girl asked what we’d like information on, Ron asked, “Do you have any information on bungee jumping?” and I said, “I’m sure she has a few ideas!” She showed us a few brochures as the butterflies danced in my stomach. I couldn’t make up my mind right away so we took the brochures and headed to a pub for a beer and some courage. We sat reading the brochures, lots of words like “FUN”, “RUSH” “ADRENALINE” and “ULTIMATE EXPERIENCE” plastered amongst pictures of people hanging by their feet.
I was reading the brochures and Ron said, “Which one are we going to do?” “WE?? You’re really going to do this with me?” I asked incredulously. “Yea, I’m no party pooper!” Ron said. I never imagined that Ron would do this with me. It took me days to talk him into parachute jumping with me a few years ago.
I asked, “Which one do you want to do?” and Ron goes, “No fair, which one do YOU want to do?” I kept rereading the brochures, the first place modern bungee jumping supposedly originated is off the Kawarau bridge, which is 43 meters, but there’s another one that is 102 meters and the “Highwire” over the Nevis River is a whopping 134 meters or 447 feet. I thought to myself, “Maybe I should do the small one, just to get used to it” but then I reasoned, “Maybe I should do the longest one, since I may never do this again!” Ron and I watched a rugby game on the TV as we contemplated our choices. Finally, after 2 beers, Ron announced, “Let’s do the biggest one, we’ll get the longest free fall!” We finished our beers and walked down the street to schedule it, unfortunately, the only time they had available was the first jump of the day at 8am. Another early morning wakeup call. As we were walking back to the camper van I felt much relieved that we’d made a decision, now I only have to worry about jumping!
We walked into town that night for dinner and found a nice Thai restaurant. After dinner we saw a store that sold lambskin stuff and we stopped in and bought some nice wooly lambskin booties. We got back to the van and tried on our nice warm booties, yummmmmmmmmmmy! Good buy! You really appreciate something like nice warm booties when you’re in a cold van.
Sunday April 28, 2002 – I slept a little lightly that night, probably because of the up and coming bungee adventure, I awoke and the rain was still falling on the van, I thought as I drifted back off to sleep, “Ugh, maybe they’ll cancel on us and we won’t have to bungee jump in the rain!” I awoke a little while later and it was a still dark but the rain had stopped, “Oh, good, we won’t have to jump in the rain!” I thought as I drifted off again. The next time I awoke it was just slightly light outside and the rain had started once again. Oh well, that’s how these things go, isn’t it? Ron got up at 6:30 am and headed to the showers, I got up at 7 am. We headed off to the bungee center with our cups of coffee in hand, it was only a 10 minute walk. We got to the center and weighed in, they gave us cards to fill out with our name, country and age on them, I noticed at the top of the card it said “Toe Tag.” At least these kiwis have a sense of humor. We weighed in and the girl looked at Ron’s “Toe Tag” and said, do you know about our “over 60” package? We both thought, “Oh no, they won’t let him jump because he’s over some age limit!” She went on to explain that when you’re over 60, you get your jump for free, you just have to buy the video, T-Shirt and 3 photo series, a savings of about 30% on the jump, but you get all the extras, not bad. We asked if there was an age limit and she said, “If you wanna jump, you must be young at heart!” Their oldest jumper has been 87, WOW! We boarded the bus to take us out to the Nevis River. They’ve suspended a bungee diving platform hanging from 380 meter long cables which span the river and valley. We motored up the road for 45 minutes to our jump location, occasionally I’d start thinking about what I was about to do and butterflies would come into my stomach. I’d then start using some meditation techniques to slow my breathing and concentrate. Every once in awhile you’d meet eyes with someone else on the bus, there were about 20 of us, and you’d just smile and grin, we all looked like we were about to die and we were all trying to put on reassuring faces to everyone else. We pulled off the road and the driver said we’d have to change into a 4-wheel drive vehicle for the last scary part up to the platform. The road was very narrow and since it had been raining all night, it looked slippery as hell, I’m glad I wasn’t driving. We started roaring up the road, the engine revving like crazy, creeping very close to the edge, thinking that we could all plummet to our deaths at any moment; I thought it best to start up a conversation with the person next to me to take my mind off the road conditions. It seemed that most of us had never bungeed before and we all decided that we might as well do the highest one they had, who knows if we’ll ever do another one. We got up to the base camp area where we were shown the toilets (no toilets on the platform we were told) and instructed to put on our harnesses.
Do we look crazy or what?
The guides helping us were great at joking with us and keeping the mood light and fun, instead of terrified like we all were. They weighed us for the second time and wrote our weights on our hands, then they started by calling out, “Ron?? Where’s Ron Weaver?” Ron’s standing there, pointing at his own chest, and meekly said, “Me??” Tim pointed at him and said, “You get to jump first!” Lucky Ron, you should have seen his face. Priceless!
Several years ago, the first time I parachute jumped out of an airplane with Ron we were with my sister Phyllis. Ron and Phyl were both nervous for their first jump and since I had done it before, I agreed to jump first. The airplane pilot came up and asked how much everyone weighed, he then pointed to Ron and said, “All right then, you’re jumping first!” So just like the parachute jumping, Ron wanted to go last and was told to go first. Hah!
The jump platform suspended over the Nevis river.
We took a small open-air cable car out to the diving platform, this was pretty scary as the car could only hold about 6 people and the surrounding barrier was barely waist high. We used safety lines for everything, every step of the way you could see where safety was definitely first on their list. We got out to the platform and Tim said, “Ok Ron, let’s get cuffed!” They had Ron jump-up on a ledge bench that was made of clear safety glass, which was pretty scary in its own as it looked like you’d fall right through. They used a lot of clear safety glass in the floor so you could watch the jumpers, but it also gave you a weird sense of vertigo and you kept thinking you were going to drop right through the floor. They put the “cuffs” around Ron’s ankles and then sat him down in a seat to attach the bungee cord to the ankle cuffs, they then tell you some more information on the jump and how to pull a release cord to right yourself after the fall for when they pull you back up onto the platform. Before I knew it they had Ron goose stepping towards a 1 foot by 1 foot protrusion that stuck out from the platform, “gangplank” style from the platform and appeared to drop off into infinity.
I think I was more nervous then he was, I was shaking like crazy and I don’t think it was from the cold.
He told Ron to look up and wave for the camera, then started counting, when he said, “GO!” Ron did a perfect dive off the platform. We all watched as he dropped down, down, down, I thought maybe something was going wrong as he didn’t seem to be stopping, he seemed to be falling forever and it looked like he was about to crash into the river, it was so far down you actually could no longer see him. Then the bungee cord went taught, slowed down and he came back into view as he started bouncing back up. You could see him doing a big thumbs up as he sprang almost ˝ way back up to the platform, then down again. He pulled the release cord to right himself into a sitting position and enjoyed the ride back up. I heard our guide Tim say to someone, “He did a really great dive for an old guy, huh?”, in a respectful way, not in a chiding way.
You just can’t imagine the grin on someone’s face when they come back onto the platform. Everyone was saying, “Great dive! Way to go! WOW!” Then the next victim was up. I was still so excited, it’s hard to describe the feeling. Luckily they kept doing everyone by weight and I was the 2nd from the last in line so it gave me time to watch other people jump and calm down a bit.
One by one Tim would call out, “Let’s see who’s next to be cuffed!” as he checked his list and then would call out, “Christian, Christian where are you bud?” After a proper cuffing you’d be ushered over to “the chair”. This was a black comfortable looking thing, harmless enough in it’s own, but when you sat down, another guide, Chris, would start buckling things to you, telling you things you hoped you’d remember later.
Next it was Emma’s turn, we had talked previously and she said that this was her first jump also. When it came time for her to leave the chair, you could see the hesitation in her face. She started shuffling over to the platform. A friend of mine who did this before said not to look down, just look at the horizon, then just jump. If you think about it, you’ll freeze up. I had told Emma this before as something to take her mind off of the jump. You could see one of our guides slowly talking to Emma, trying to help comfort her. One of us said something encouraging, but I didn’t want to put her on the spot by trying to make her do something she didn’t want to do. Chris got her to edge out once more, but she stopped and said she couldn’t do it. We all felt bad that she didn’t make the jump, but of course no one wanted her to do something she wasn’t ready for. I guess there’s no way to “be” ready for something like this when your brain is obviously telling you, “STOP, GO BACK, ARE YOU NUTS??”
One by one Tim called out our names, it was almost worse being at the end than at the beginning. I was feeling pretty relaxed about it, seeing all the huge grins and laughter that came from the returning victims, knowing it was safe, I just had to get out there and not freeze up. Then Tim called my name, I jumped up on the clear window seat and was “cuffed”. Next Chris called out my name and I assumed the position in “the chair” as he attached the bungee to my ankles and told me about the release cord, so that my legs would fall down after the jump so I was seated as they hoisted me back to the platform.
What are you doing with that big rubber band?
Next I was told to get out on the platform. I tried to focus on a tree on the distant mountains but you had to look down to position yourself, toes off the platform, just like you were on a diving board. Looking down was the problem as your eyes saw what was below you, or worse, what was NOT below you. All you saw was open air and the river ravine approximately 200 meters below. Chris said something about waving for the camera and then started counting down “5-4-3-2-1-JUMP!” You know how in movies or in stories that they say that time just freezes sometimes? It’s not a writer’s embellishment; it really happens, I knew, in that split instant, if I didn’t jump, I’d never jump, so I dove.
What can I say, you just can’t explain it, I was accelerating at 50 meters per second, screaming the whole way. To me, screaming is the best part of these things, a time for you to let it all out, and boy, did I let it out. According to the brochure, the free fall is supposed to last 8 seconds. Right now, just stop for a moment, take a deep breath and then count to yourself “one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand…”, up to 8. The free fall is actually quite a long time, all the time adrenaline is shooting out your ears like two fire hoses. It was kind of weird that when you do reach terminal velocity and your body stops accelerating, it becomes quiet and there’s not a sensation of falling, except for the fact that you see the river rushing towards you. I finally slowed down as the bungee stretched out and then spring up again, almost ˝ up to the platform I’d estimate. Then you’re in another free fall, another great opportunity to scream your head off. After a few more bounces I tried to pull the little cord to release my legs so I’d be vertical but the damn thing wouldn’t release, I pulled every which way, then just resolved myself to the fact that I was going to be pulled back onto the platform upside down, feeling like a caught fish. I got back onto the platform and your mind is just freaking out, I don’t know if it’s because of what you’ve just done or if it’s because you’re back on the safety of the platform. What an incredible experience! They said that since we were all suited up, that we could jump again for ˝ price. Do it again, right then??? I couldn’t do it! I will definitely bungee jump again, but not right then, I needed time for my body to lose some adrenaline and feel normal again as the rush was still there after the jump.
We took the little cable car back to the home camp base and watched the video of Ron’s and my jump, of course we bought it along with T-Shirts. After a bit we headed back down the steep road back to the bus, everyone telling their story of their jump. One guy even lost a boot somehow! Don’t know how you could lose a boot, but he did.
As we drove back into town Ron and I sat next to the driver and was chatting with him. He asked us what we were doing next and I said, “Heading to the pub for a drink!”
We returned to Queenstown and went to have lunch in an Irish pub. We had a few Guinness and Ron had Irish stew and I had some salmon paté and crackers. I was still amazed that Ron wanted to jump with me, I really didn’t expect that at all, he LOVED it!
We were only going to spend one more evening in Queenstown so we wanted to go up a ski chair lift to an observation point above the city to see the view. Of course they have a restaurant but we were more interested in the bar! They also had something really funny, a concrete luge run where kids and adults could ride little sleds down the luge around the observation deck area.
Riding up a cable car to the top of the mountain
A 'ski' life for the luge carts Running the luge
Ron and I had a much deserved Manhattan to cheers to our grand bungee jumping achievement.
On the way home from the observation deck Ron wanted to go pickup the pictures of us bungee jumping. It was cold and drizzly so I told Ron I’d go back to the camper van and make us a pot of hot tea to warm us up. He came back just as the tea was ready and he had our pictures and he also bought a “bit a bungee”, a 10 inch piece of used bungee cord.
That night we walked into town for dinner, it’s really nice to be close enough to restaurants to be able to walk instead of driving the motor home. It was pretty damn chilly and still drizzling so we grabbed our umbrellas and layered on sweaters and jackets for the short walk into town.
Monday April 29th, 2002 – We woke up the next morning and it was so cold you could see your breath in the cabin. I jumped out to head for the showers and could see snow on the mountain tops around us, yikes! No wonder it was so cold last night. After my hot shower, I wiped the condensation off the windows as Ron made coffee and toast. We had a long drive to Milford Sound so Ron wanted to leave early. We drove out of town around 9:30 am so the light was still low in the morning sky making the surrounding hills and trees look picture postcard perfect, it was just beautiful. As we left Queenstown there was a beautiful rainbow over the lake and we stopped to snap a few pics.
The drive to Milford Sound was very scenic, this country is just one HUGE picture postcard, it is so beautiful. The roads were pretty empty so we could cruise along at a comfortable 85 km per hour without cars stacking up behind us.
We started heading into the Fiord Land area of NZ and the mountains started becoming even more spectacular, and also more snow capped. We headed through a tunnel and as we entered I read something on a sign about 2 truck passing bay areas along the way, “Hmmmm, I wonder what that means?” This was a very strange tunnel, it went from extremely bright afternoon light, to a pitch black tunnel with no overhead lights and only side reflectors along the edges. I turned on the headlights, then the high beams but it took several seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, Ron was saying, “Are the headlights on? I can’t see a thing.” Finally I could almost make out the tunnel and it seemed to be directly carved from the rock with no “supporting” concrete or any kind of tile to make it appear smooth. It was very disconcerting and not very wide. This is a two lane tunnel, I thought? It didn’t appear to be 2 lanes wide and just before entering the tunnel we had seen many huge buses coming towards us from the direction of Milford Sound. I hoped we wouldn’t encounter one of those buses now. To top if all off the road was a steep grade downwards and I had to put the van into low gear to stop the van from barreling forward. The tunnel appeared to be less then 2 kilometers long and luckily we didn’t have to pass any trucks along the way, I was greatly relieved to get the hell out of that tunnel. Then when we exited the tunnel we were again blinded by the strong sunlight and it appeared that the road was going to drop off over a cliff. That was the weirdest damn tunnel I’ve ever driven through.
"Are the lights on?"
We got into Milford Sound and it turned out there is nothing there, just fantastic scenery, an information booth and a dock. I said to Ron, “Where’s the town?” and he said, “There is no town”, and I said, “But we just drove 120 kilometers and didn’t pass a single building, what is in Milford Sound?” and Ron said, “Just a dock to the fiords!”
We stopped in the information center and asked about tours on the bay for the next day. We signed up for a tour for the next morning and then wondered where we were going to stay for the night. The teenager at the information counter said a lot of people just camp in the parking lot overnight but I’d rather have access to some hot showers so we drove back towards a campground I spied about a mile away. We drove back to the sign that said “Budget lodge and campgrounds” and it turned out to be quite nice. Not only was it nice, but they also served dinner from 6 to 7:30 pm so we didn’t have to eat “Cup of Noodles” for dinner. The girl at the reception desk said that they had public access kitchens if we wanted to make our own food and I said, “That doesn’t sound like too much fun, I’d much rather have someone else make my dinner!” and she just grinned and said, “I don’t blame you!”
We parked the van and broke out the bourbon and cokes so I could type up the diary and Ron could work on writing some postcards. The area for camper vans and electric hookups was pretty small and it was entertaining to watch vans pull in and jockey for position. Some of the vans were loaded with young kids who seemed to be the first time they were driving a small camper van. One of the kids got out and gave lots of wild hand signals trying to help his friend maneuver and park and the driver stuck his head out the window and said, “What the hell does that mean??” to some signal the guy was trying to make. Ron commented, “This is better then a ‘Laurel and Hardy’ show’!”
We went to have dinner in the “budget accommodations” and it turned out to be spectacular. Can’t judge a book by its cover. Ron went over to deposit our plates for cleanup and gave the crusty old cook a thumbs up on the dinner. The chef barely grunted Ron’s acknowledgement. Guess he does it for the personal satisfaction and not the praise of others.
Tuesday April 30th, 2002 – Ron set the alarm AGAIN, geesh! You wouldn’t think we were on vacation with all these early wake up calls we’ve been having. We had a quick breakfast and headed over to the pier for our fiord cruise. The water was very still and it was wonderful being the first boat tour on the water.
The captain said that “sounds” are formed by water action and “fiords” are formed by glaciers. Milford Sound was improperly named as it was formed by the previous 4 ice ages. One of the peaks we motored by was over a mile high, raising out of the water almost vertically, when you see things that close up, dimensions take on a whole other aspect, it just defies a perspective that you’re used to observing. The captain drove the boat out to the open ocean and then started heading back. He stopped in a cove so that we could observe the fish through some “windows” in the bottom of the boat. Ron asked the captain if there were any “Bell” birds around and the captain said, “They’re everywhere!” Ron was telling me about these Bell Birds, so named because they sound like a bell when they call each other. The captain came out and did some excellent bird calls and sure enough several birds responded to his call. He said, “There’s a bell bird”, and although I heard several birds reply to his call, I really didn’t hear anything “bell” distinctive in the call. Something to look forward to I guess, to hear a distinctive bell bird call.
We arrived at an underwater observation station and departed the ship. The station is a floating scientific observation station that has a viewing cylinder that goes down 9 meters under the surface of the water. A guide gave us a talk about how in Milford Sound the surface of the water is covered by a layer of fresh water running off the mountain peaks, but there is salt water underneath. We walked the spiral staircase to go down 9 meters. It was fantastic! Much more then I imagined it would be. Right outside the windows of the observation area, they had “gardens” of coral, clams, mussels and other marine life. The “gardens” were on platforms that they could lower deeper into the water when the fresh water layer was thicker on top, since the marine life can’t survive in fresh water. It was really cool.
We got back to the dock and had a quick lunch in the van, then headed for the town of “Te Anau” about 120 kilometers south. Once we got there we checked out the “Glow worm Cave” excursion. This is another thing Ron has been telling me about for 20 years. The worms live on the ceilings of caves and extend a string of sticky slime that they then light up with their biochemical luminescence to attract and catch insects that they then eat. We took a 40 minute boat ride across the lake to where the cave was and then proceeded into the mountain to see them. I have never been in a large cave cavern before and wasn’t really prepared for it. I’m not claustrophobic but when you first entered you had to crouch below a ceiling that was maybe 4 feet high and 30 feet deep into the cavern. Once inside you could stand up, but there were huge formations of carved limestone and rushing water all around you. It was really something, but it also gave me the creeps. All that stone all around you, I had the weird sensation that it might all collapse around us. The water was rushing violently around us as we walked over metal catwalks and had condensation drops rain down on us from above. We got into a small aluminum boat and our guide was explaining about the way the caves were formed and how they were discovered. We exited the boats and then walked deeper into the caves. The force and power of the water was amazing and I was still cautiously eyeing the catwalks to see how secure they were, I never thought I was claustrophobic but I was surprised the feeling I had, it was really eerie. We boarded another boat and the guides instructed us not to talk as sounds affect the worms. The guide pulled the boat along the water as we were in total darkness, the worms glowing above us like a million stars above us on a perfectly clear night. You couldn’t see the actual worms, only the green pricks of light, but what was weird was that because the worms extend this line of sticky substance that was dangling from the ceiling, all the points of light moved back and forth in unison from the breezes made by the rushing water, it looked like a living mass of stars.
We motored back into town and then had dinner at a restaurants called Keplers, it was kind of a small place and we were hoping for something good. They had venison steaks on the menu and we both wanted to try it. We had heard that venison is a huge business here, they sell tons of it to the Europeans and the Asians think that the felt off the antlers is an aphrodisiac. I asked how it’s normally prepared because I like my beef very rare, but wasn’t sure with venison. The waitress said that it’s usually served medium and I said that would be fine. It arrived and was pretty tasty but I think it would have been much better rare. We motored off down the road and found a motor camp for the night.