The long white cloud

Sunday, January 29, 2006

An unfortunate series of events

Have developed a new game on the long drives, “Roadkill poker”.The rules have not yet been completely developed, and the gaffer is not fully on board with the game, but I still feel it has potential. Basically you have to hit existing roadkill with a satisfying thump. A single hit on a fresh roadkill (or a complete miss) is the lowest hand, hitting it with both front and back wheels is a “pair”. A stoat followed by a possum (or vica versus) is a “full-house”, and so on and so forth. Picking up detritus on the wheels, or playing a hand that has already been played umpteen times are both considered poor form. The dream hand , or “royal flush” as I have called it, is a mother possum with a pup in the pouch, which is alive and is crossing the road. It remains to be seen whether I am man enough to play that hand….

After the glaciers down to Wanaka, and the weather is just getting better. Blisteringly hot, and car travel would be most uncomfortable if it were not for our A/C. And although the A/C is heavy on fuel, it’s no more expensive on fuel than leaving your windows open (apparently the drag created by opening windows also affects fuel consumption, no really). Wanaka has become like a Chelsea by the lake since we were last here, houses exchange hands for ridiculous sums - the lake is excellent for families and boating enthusiasts alike, and in the winter some very good skiing is available (apparently). On our arrival I went for a dip in the lake and was staggered at how cold it was, not quite as cold as the unswimmable Tekapo, but still very cold. Our accommodation options were very limited here and we ended up in a v. nice but expensive motel. We spent one more day in Wanaka and went for a walk up Rocky Mountain , where spectacular views of the lake could be seen from the summit, and the gaffer took an unfortunate tumble on the mountain path (skinned knees and bruised pride were the only injuries)

From there down to Queenstown the “extreme activity” centre of NZ. We did plenty of that the last time we were here, and so decided not to stay too long. We stopped off at Kawara bridge for old times sake, this is where bungy jumping started and is still the most famous bungy site in NZ. People from all over the world come here to pay money for the privilege of throwing themselves from the 130 year old bridge. And although the site is much bigger and much more commercial than the last time we were here (business was brisk this day also), an excellent viewing platform gives a clear view of the only line in the world where no known queue-jumping has occurred.

We stopped off in Q’town to pick up lunch only, the town has become far too big and noisy for it’s own good, which is a shame because it is in a very beautiful location. From Queenstown, down to Lake Te Anau , a long drive (2 pairs and a full-house) and on our arrival we decided to go immediately to the beach for a cooling swim. Tragedy struck the gaffer again as she managed to scoop up a bee in her sandal, which responded by stinging her. I carefully removed the stinger from her foot, and she bravely hobbled back to the car, and we drove down to the beach.

You would have thought with the mountain tumble and the bee that my wife had been through enough, but there was still more to come. I decided to nip back to the campsite to make a flask of tea and left Lisa by the lake. When I came back , as I pulled the car up I couldn’t help but notice this old guy, who, well, it’s hard to describe really , but he was about 75 walked with a walking stick and wore nothing but a hat, some plimsolls and what can only be described as a pair of bikini bottoms that he must have stolen from a 10 year old. His old and wrinkled bottom spilled out of the back of his “swimwear”, and I thanked the lord I only caught a glimpse from the back. The gaffer was not so lucky. She looked a bit white and shaken when I arrived, apparently the old guy had come over for a chat, and his makeshift trunks apparantly covered even less at the front then they did at the back. We both assumed that this was just a lonely old man with no fashion sense, but did think it odd that he only had “chats” with single women on the beach.

The next day and a boat ride down Milford Sound, I took only a few photos, because they really do not do it justice. It’s actually a fjord, and not a sound as such (if you really care, look up the difference on google). It is a spectacular stretch of water leading down to the sea, and the steep sides reach up 1000’s of meters and reach just as steeply down to the ocean bottom. If you ever come to NZ, you must visit this place. We went for a swim later that day, and saw our friendly smiling flasher again (please God, make the bad man stop!). That night we went out for a meal and unbelievably Lisa bumped in to someone she knows ! A lovely woman called Marion who was a Samaritan in Surbiton with Lisa, and was on a 3 week holiday in NZ.

We are currently in Invercargill - arrived via the spectacular “Southern scenic highway”. Invercargill is a notoriously wet and blustery place, and if the weather had not been so good recently, we probably would not have bothered. Invercargill is a unique place, very Scottish in nature (has historical links with Scotland), and is the Southernmost city of NZ. It also has a few cultural oases, the Anderson gallery (see piccie) which was well worth a visit and the Southlands museum, both free and both very well presented.

We have gone as far south as we can now, (unless we want to go to Stewart Island ), from here on in we will be heading north……

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Bridges that go too far

After the Abel Tasman we drove up to Collingwood, where we thought we would see more of the same. Alas, no. We got caught in a horrendous rainstorm and spent the rest of the day in a motel. The rain was quite unbelievable. Picture one of those London summer storms where the rain comes after a really hot day and hammers the pavement like little nails, now picture that going on for 5 hours. Noticed that the drainage in Collingwood was v. beefed up, these people know rain.

We decided the next day to drive straight down to Nelson Lakes National park, and found that the guide-book does do it a huge disservice. In “Lonely Plant” the park is very quickly passed over in favour of other delights, but we found it an absolute gem. Lake Rotoiti, is a beautiful expanse of water, clean , clear and a great temperature (unlike many of the glacial lakes such as Tekapo, which are too cold to swim in). The weather had picked up from the previous day, and as it was pretty hot, a cool swim was just the thing. The next day we went up Mount Robert for a 5.5 hour hike (building up to that Milford Track walk !). It was absolutely exhausting, but the views were sumptuous, very Lord of The Rings, we half expected Legolas or Gimli to come bounding across the peaks.

I have to mention the NZ single lane road bridges at this point. They have some in the North Island , but they are becoming more frequent and more alarming the further down the South Island we travel. A quick explanation, one end has a give way sign so you know who has right of way (also if you are on the bridge , you have right of way), you have plenty of road signs and the road is fairly straight so you can see way ahead of you. Fairly reasonable, except that they are not always that straight forward, yesterday for instance I had rather a challenging one , a long bridge (400 meters ) with the road leading up to it on the far end invisible around a bend, and the road shared the bridge with a rail track, which ran straight down the middle.

Slowly moving down the west coast….

Good to see that the honorary blokes club transcends international borders and is alive and well in NZ. One of the great (few) things about being a bloke is that if you see another bloke doing something blokey, fixing his lawnmower for instance or mending his car , it is understood that you can walk up and start discussing the job in hand and then generally move on to talk about anything blokey. Yesterday I was cleaning the sand out of my reel after an afternoon of surfcasting on Hokitiki beach - A Shimano ‘BaitRunner’ since you ask, 6500B , a big improvement on the 5000…. – and about four guys struck up a conversation with me at separate times, all bloke club members. I met one old chap from Ohio who spent 5 months of the year in NZ. After a few minutes conversation I rapidly realized that he was going to be a difficult one to shake. He talked of his cars, his reels, his previous fishing trips, his dad’s brass reels, his previous jobs, his brother’s reels and so on and so forth, and as his eyes glazed over as he told me his well polished stories, I realized that - as is often the case - the pleasure was all in the telling.

Down in glacier country now, Franz Josef today and Fox tomorrow and the weather is absoloutely glorious. The last time we came here (Jan 2000) the weather was so bad that we drove all the way over to the other coast just to try and get dry.

We have just walked up to the face of the FJ glacier today, very impressive and tomorrow we plan to walk on the Fox glacier (an organized walk, not a random jaunt)

Interesting fact about glaciers, they always advance and never retreat, but sometimes the ice melts faster than the actual advancement and so the glacier appears to be moving back up the mountain (as usual my crackpot titbits of trivia are worth exactly what you paid me for them…)

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Politics,long hikes and nudity

A man walks into the doctor's regarding a spot on his forehead. "Incredible" says the doctor, "I read about this in medical school but this is the first one I have actually seen". "What is it?" says the man, alarmed. "In 2 weeks you will have a fully formed penis where that spot is" says the doctor. "Oh my God" says the patient "can you remove it?". "No, I am afraid not " says the doctor, "You see it is connected directly to your brain". A brief silence, followed by a cowed voice, "So what you are telling me doctor, is that in 2 weeks whenever I look in the mirror I will see a fully grown penis in the middle of my forehead ?". "Oh no..." , says the doctor, "You won't actually see it..", "oh " says the patient , with some audible relief "No.." continues the doctor "the balls will cover your eyes..."

Apologies to everyone for retelling that old gag. There is a point, honest. I heard that particular oldie but goodie, on a radio station in Wellington, told by a famous american jewish comedian (his name escapes me), the Kiwi audience lapped it up. And it did give legs to the rumour that NZ has a similar sense of humour to ours. Other similarities have been noted this week, but more of that later.

Spent Sunday in windy Wellington, and took a fascinating tour around the parliament buildings. Our tour guide was both officious and enthusiastic (as they often are), and did an excellent job in introducing us to the cradle of NZ democracy. The legal and political systems are based very much on the British model, although they have now changed over to MMP mixed member-proportional representation, similar to the German system. We learned several other things. That Charles Statham, a giant in NZ politics, shared two things with my wife, a surname, and the fact that people manage to repeatedly mangle it's pronunciation (Lisa collared the tour guide at the end and set the record straight).

Another interesting fact that I discovered was that NZ ended up embroiled in the Vietnam war , I knew that the Aussies had been roped in to this, but was unaware that the Kiwis had also been involved.

Also learnt that NZ used to have a second chamber but abolished it because it's occupants were "elected" through a long abused system of appointments by nepotism and cronyism (sound familiar ?), and that also (again familiarly) that the politicians take an extended "recess" running into months, whilst us non-political folk can make do with 15 days statutory holidays a year.

Caught the ferry from the North to the South Island. A 3 hour trip in all, though as the crow flies it seems an insignificant distance, rumours about a tunnel or bridge are sketchy.

We are staying the night at "Mapua leisure park", which has the dubious honour of being "Nz's first clothes-optional leisure park" (they are planning more ?). Fortunately for us that does not start until February (their are stern warnings in the camp grounds). It's just as well really , because although my experience of this is scant - limited to accidentally stumbling onto nudist beaches in Scandinavia and the lowlands - it's never as exciting as you think it's going to be. Rather than being surrounded by nubile young body-beautifuls the reality of it is a lot different. It tends to be German pensioners either shocking you by jaunting around in the buff, or by their garish taste in knitwear, in either case from a distance all you can discern is that whatever they are wearing, it badly needs ironing.

Up in Abel Tasman National park now. Very beautiful. Just completed a 4 hour hike and both of us have pretty tired legs, I am sat here now typing up my blog and have perked up a little since necking a couple of cans of speights. The National park is very impressive, mile after mile of paradise like coves and beaches, inaccessible by road, but easily accessible to trampers and kayakers. There is a very impressive water taxi service that takes you up around the coast into the national park where you can spend the day on the beach (they will pick you up later), or you can kayak, or you can do what we chose to do which is to walk back to civilization. The whole walkable track is about 60 clicks, which you can do in 3 days, the DOC provide cabin facilities, but you have too book in advance (they get very booked up in the summer). We don't feel quite ready for a 3 day hike yet. But we are toying with the idea of maybe doing the Milford track, assuming their is cabin availability. I will keep you posted on that score.....

Friday, January 13, 2006

Heading South

Moving slowly down the North Island now. And slowly picking up the lingo, a few choice phrases thrown in when conversing with a kiwi always goes a long way. "Good on yer.." for instance, from what I can make out can be said in reply to virtually anything said by a new aquaintance. eg "Yep I just bought a new 20 foot fishing boat" could be answered with "Good on yer", but equally "where are you going today ?" followed with a response of "the bank, and then to the video store" could then legitametly also receive the reply "Yeah ? good on yer...".

Down to Tauranga and up Mount Maunganui. A very impressive view from the top, and a good work-out for my vertigo. Got quite sunburnt on the walk, despite being quite careful and not at all like my old cavalier self. I won't say "same sun as we get back home" in a Sid the sexist on holiday in "Mijorka" sort of way, cause actually NZ has quite unique weather. That is to say, when the sun comes out , it is hot, and you can pretty much feel yourself starting to burn. But, when the sun goes behind a cloud, it's not just that it gets cooler (obviously), but it actually gets quite chilly, which means you find yourself repeatedly taking layers off and then putting them back on again.

I wanted to start a "things NZ does well, and things they don't" thread, that I will chuck in every now and then. Just things that I have noticed which seem to be done better in Blighty than they are over here (Nb no criticism of my newly adopted country is intended, I mention them on the off-chance that they may be of interest).

1) Sausages - don't do well. Suprising really for a country that produces so much meat
2) Campsites - very good. The better ones probably as good as Scandinavia
3) Litter - not good. This also comes as a big surprise, for such a beautiful country they seem to have quite a cavalier attitude to litter. Bizarrely the towns are often clean, but the beauty spots often have litter.
4) Customer service - very good. A breath of fresh air compared to the UK. People seem genuinely friendly and grumpy dispositions and poor service are very much the exception.

Spent a day at Lake Taupo, NZ's largest lake (357m above sea level and 606 sq kilometers, since you ask). A blisteringly hot day, and went swimming to soothe my poor sunburnt back (see piccy). May try trout fishing on the lake on the journey back.

Lake Taupo allegedly holds 5 million fish (I think this must be an estimate, surely counting them all would be impractical). Although they are not native to the lake, they have all come from a single batch of Russian eggs some time in the 1870's.
This is a rare example of an introduced species that has been a success story. During our very enjoyable - albeit expensive - trip to the "Kiwi experience" at Rotorua we discovered that the Kiwi bird would be pretty much extinct if left to it's own devices, and all because of other, less savoury, non-indiginous critters.
Firstly the bird itself, quite remarkable nay freakish, it is very much like a mammal and among the stranger things about it is that it lays an egg about a 3rd of it's body weight (see pic). This oddity of nature has suffered at the hands
of possums, ferrets, rats and stoats (all introduced), and only human intervention has prevented it's almost certain extinction on mainland NZ.

So as the DOC (department of conversation) would say, if you see a possum in the road and a car has winged it, don't drive around it, do the patriotic thing - speed up and finish the sucker off....

"Good on yer..."

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Got a new motor ?

We have spent the last few days looking to buy a new car. We had originally planned to hire a campervan for the next 7 weeks to pootle around the rest of the North Island and the South Island, but we have changed our minds. We have decided to buy a new car (which we need anyway), and instead use that to carry on with our travels and stay in cabins at various campsites.

I must say the second hand car dealers are much more pleasant than their UK counterparts. No sheepskin coat, no sucking of air through teeth when you suggest a price, and best of all they are not nearly as pushy as they are in the UK. They allow you to wander through the lot to browse at your own pace, and many do not approach you unless you make the first move. Quite refreshing. Not to say that they are pushovers, far from it, we have just had 2 days of wrangling (at one point I called the whole deal off in a stunnning fit of Betty Davis type pique ) and we have finally managed to secure the car we wanted. Not that you are interested, but it is a Hyundai Getz, a reliable little run around for Lisa for work (I am assured that we will be buying my souped up monster pick up truck at some point in the future).

Interesting thing about car insurance in NZ, it's not compulsory. Which at first seems crazy , but the more i think about it, the more i think that there is a bizarre kind of logic and natural justice to it. If you are involved in an accident and you are insured , the insurance company pays for it (regardless of fault). If you are not insured , you have to try and establish who is at fault (get witnesses etc) and try to sue the other person for the money. A better system ? Still thinking about that one.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Bay of Islands

A place everyone should visit before they are pushing up the daisies, the bay of islands is the jewel in the crown of the North Island. We have just spent a few wonderful days in Russell (actually the original capital of New Zealand) , idling our time swimming , walking and fishing and had a wonderful day out on the tall ship the R Tucker Thompson.

We are still adjusting to the slower pace of life in NZ, and the BOI is probably slow even by NZ standards ( and part of it's charm). Bought some decent fishing equipment (for a change !) in Paihia, also well worth a visit, not so much for the town itself but for a visit to the Waitangi treaty grounds, which explains how the country came to be formed in 1840 in the signing of a treaty between the Maori and the British. Drove further up the BOI to Kerikeri and stayed in the luxurious B and B Kingfisher retreat, run by a British couple in a wonderful house that they built themselves. Kerikeri did little to allay our fears that NZ is at the top end of a property boom, typical properties that we remembered as been very reasonable 6 years ago are now demanding astronomical prices. Seems very similar to the property boom that we saw in the UK in the 90's, it may be some time before we buy, although there are plenty of naysayers declaring that the property boom and the state of the artificially strong kiwi dollar cannot continue. We'll see.

We have traveled further up the coast now to the beautiful 90 mile beach , we had pre-booked to stay in a caravan in a campsite, we knew that it may not be up to much as it was a busy time of year. And it wasn't, a mildewy , damp and smelly caravan that belonged in a dump rather than a campsite. Lisa tried to pretend it wasn't that bad (she booked it). In fact it was so bad, I asked them to give us something else, which they did, a much nicer and newer cabin (as my friend Shirley always says "the squeakiest wheel will always get the oil").

January 3rd, on the way in to town from the main "highway" (picture a 2 lane motorway) I was going too fast , and the cops pulled me over. No really. A polite, yet officous looking policewoman gave me an 80 dollar ticket, and to add insult to injury a 55 dollar extra fine for not having my driving license in the car. I could tell from the steely look in her eye, that just like the UK this kind of job seems to attract the sort of people who enjoy doing it. No quarter was asked and none was given. But you know, it's really not the 135 dollars (53 pounds) that galls me , or the lack of compassion or the fact that I was only 13 km's over the speed limit. It was more that I have never had any form of traffic violation ever in the UK, and in less than 10 days in NZ I have had my first speeding penalty. Is this the start of my descent into crime in my newly adopted home ?