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Blog Entries posted by tbutler

  1. tbutler
    Leaving Melbourne we head southwest toward the coast and a road called the Great Ocean Road. It is a little more than a hundred kilometers to the coast. When we reach the Great Ocean Road we find a curving, hilly, narrow road. Reaching the ocean, we are rewarded with wonderful views of a spectacular coast. We spent three days on the Great Ocean Road. We found so many viewpoints that we were unable to stop at all of them. The coast in this area between Melbourne and Adelaide is rugged limestone which is being eroded away by strong waves. The nature of the limestone is to collapse once undercut by the waves. This produces cliffs all along the seaside. As the erosion proceeds, some areas are stronger than others and this leaves sea stacks, cliffs isolated from the shore. Some of these are small others quite dramatic, large and rugged.
    A region with many of these sea stacks has been named the Twelve Apostles. This area is quite popular with tour busses visiting along with hundreds of independent travelers. We joined the procession to view this concentration of sea stacks. There are multiple viewpoints as these cover a distance of over a kilometer. From one viewpoint only a few can be seen. Visiting multiple viewpoints allows one to see most if not all of them. We had wonderful weather, clear with a nice breeze. During our visit, helicopters flew a steady parade of sightseers by the cliffs. Their base of operation was right at the parking lot so people could simply walk from their car to the cliffs or to the helicopters.
    We walked to all the viewpoints and spent time enjoying the show. The waves formed powerful breakers against the rocks. The sound and the fury of the waves on the shore always amaze me and I lingered at each point to absorb all the action going on. By the time we finished this section of the drive, we had traveled only 100 kilometers and it was now time to find a campsite.
    Our second day we stopped for a rest stop in a small town along the route. Beside the public restrooms, there was a viewpoint of the wetlands and a small river. There were birds everywhere so we decided to take some time to identify a few new birds. But first we fixed a lunch and ate. Then it was off to walk the trail down to the river. A young lady next to us was arriving at the same time we started out and she noticed the bird book I was carrying. We struck up a conversation, she was from Quebec and was very interested in birds. We shared conversation at the viewpoint then she went on her way.
    A couple that was eating lunch on the deck at the viewpoint struck up a conversation and we spent another 15 minutes visiting with them. They were native Australians from near Adelaide. He was a mine safety advisor and we discussed our mining museum experience in Beaconsfield several days before. He remembered the details of the incident with the two trapped miners and we learned a great deal from him about mining in Australia. He has worked mines in many areas we will be visiting and his suggestions gave us ideas of where we could see more of the mines in Australia.
    Now we began our walk down to the river. By the time we had completed the walk we had identified five new birds and had a good look at our first Crimson Rosella, a spectacular red parrot. Half our day gone, we resumed our trip along the coast. This day there were arches and shipwreck sites and stories. At one point we walked down steps along the cliff to an inlet where we set our shoes aside and walked barefoot on the sand.
    Then it was off to another campground. Our campgrounds have been good places to stay but the internet access leaves much to be desired. At Apollo Bay, a change in the internet altered the password shortly after we checked in and we were not informed. With the office closed for the evening, there was no way to use the internet service. In Port Campbell the service worked occasionally and then would log of and we could not get back on until the next morning. Mount Gambier had a subscription internet service that cost $7 per hour or $20 for 24 hours. There were longer term options at better rates but I needed to know how widespread the service would be before committing to a long term contract. As a result, my postings have been delayed repeatedly and I remain posting our travel information with a time delay.
  2. tbutler
    Arriving at Britz at 7:45 a.m. we found the place locked up. It was not only locked up, the parking lot was gated and there was no place to leave the luggage when we got out of the cab. The driver suggested that we go to a shopping center a block north of the Britz office. We found a bench near the mall entrance and piled our luggage there. Here we were homeless, we just needed to find a shopping cart for our possessions! I waited while Louise went inside to find a cup of coffee. When she returned I set off for the Britz office.
    There were two agents working the desk and I was the third customer in the office. It took about ten minutes to get to the desk. After that, things went pretty smoothly. I selected a strong insurance policy as I had in New Zealand. The rental will last almost 80 days and involves traveling great distance on the left side of the road. Given these factors, I prefer to limit my liability rather than risk a large loss as a result of an accident. I discussed some of the problems we had with our campervan in New Zealand and they checked to make sure those things were addressed with this van. Then I got an orientation to the van. This one was similar but different in a number of ways. First, it was longer. There was a bench seat behind the driver’s seat and there were additional cabinets in the kitchen area as well as the rear. There is an air conditioner/heat pump unit in the roof, a higher ceiling and a TV! This caravan has dual tires and is geared much lower than the one we had in New Zealand.
    After the orientation I went to the shopping center to pick up Louise and our luggage. I parked the van at the outer part of the parking lot and retrieved the luggage one or two bags at a time. When I got to the last bag Louise came with me to see our new home. She looked it over and approved so I guess we’ll keep it. Now we are ready to stock this van with groceries and other supplies. There was a Coles Supermarket in the mall so we went in to get our groceries. I checked at the desk and picked up a prepaid phone for $19 Australian. Later I would activate it but not on the internet. The Telstra web site is for Australian residents, it doesn’t work for international travelers. Fifteen minutes on a pay phone (yes they still have pay phones here) and we have a working phone in Australia.
    Louise took her time and picked up the needed food items to get us started on our way. The cart was full to overflowing and the register tape could be used as a tail for a large kite! $220 Australian later we were ready to take on Australia in our caravan. We put an address in the GPS and we were on our way.
    Our first destination is the home of a couple that we met in New Zealand. Ian and Debbie shared many interests with us and they invited us to come visit them in Melbourne when we got to Australia. We kept in touch by e-mail and everything was set. We were about ten minutes from their house and drove there to meet Ian. We parked the caravan in their driveway and plugged in. Debbie was working and we wouldn’t see her until the evening. Ian fixed lunch for us and brought out his maps to talk about our coming travels.
    Debbie came home from work and we all settled around a table on the patio for more conversation. Debbie prepared a delicious dinner, a rack of lamb better than anything I’d ever had. After dinner we sat and talked for several hours before retiring for the night.
  3. tbutler
    Day six was a late start as we planned a late night activity. Mt. William National Park in the northeast is known for its abundant wildlife. Most marsupials are active at night and the information on this national park suggested spending time after sunset observing the wildlife. Many of these animals we had seen along the roadside, killed by automobiles. Now we wanted to see them live. We hiked to the top of Mt. William in the late afternoon and returned to the car as the sun was setting. Along the trail we had seen much evidence of wombats but never saw a single one on this beautiful hike through the forest. Wombats are burrowing animals, the largest burrowing animal, they are the size of a small pig.
    As we left the parking lot for a twilight/night drive I noticed a snake on the road. I stopped the car, grabbed the camera and went to get a photograph. As I approached the snake rose up and spread its head like a cobra. It wasn’t a cobra, I later learned it was a tiger snake. This is one of three snakes on Tasmania and all are poisonous. I was aware of this so didn’t approach any closer. Before I could get the camera focused in the dim light, the snake was off into the forest so I didn’t get a picture. We continued our drive and were not disappointed.
    We saw numerous forester kangaroos, found only in this part of Tasmania. These were the first kangaroos we had seen up to that time. We caught a wombat in the open and got a quick look before it hurried off into the dark. We saw wallabies, possums and a Tasmanian devil or two. A real surprise was a bandicoot, a small rat-like animal, stopped right in the middle of the road in front of us. We got a real good look at it before it fled into the dark.
    As we were leaving the park, a truck passed us and roared off into the night. Just a few kilometers down the road we came upon a possum standing over its dead mate. The truck had apparently struck one of the pair and the second was staying with its mate. We approached with the car and the live possum didn’t move. Finally as we started to maneuver around the pair the living one fled into the woods. It was a most distressing sight and it stayed with us during the ride back to the hotel. Faced with a 130 km drive home in the dark and not wanting to be responsible for killing another animal, I kept our speed around 60 km per hour (under 40 MPH). Despite this, only one car passed us until we were almost in Launceston. The area was so remote that there simply wasn’t much traffic out late at night.
    Day seven was our day to return to Mainland Australia. The ferry was scheduled to leave at 6:00 p.m. and boarding would start at 4:30. We started to the ferry about 10:00 a.m. and decided to stop in Beaconsfield at the mining museum. Beaconsfield has been a gold mining site for many years. As the mines developed, they went deeper and deeper underground. Periodically one mining company after another would fail only to be replaced by a company which thought they could do better. The old mine was finally closed in the early 1900’s. Eventually the shaft started to collapse and with it part of the equipment building also collapsed. The remaining building would become the museum and the collapsed ruins can now be toured as part of the museum.
    Inside the museum are many artifacts from the early days of mining. In the 1940’s a new shaft was opened into the mine and mining resumed. In 2008 the ceiling of one shaft collapsed on some workers. One was killed and two were trapped in a small work cage which was smashed when it was buried under many tons of rock. The two miners stayed alive for 14 days while rescuers did everything they could to get to them. They were rescued and the entire event is documented in an excellent and moving exhibit in the museum. That mine has now joined the fate of many others and is closed.
    We had lunch after visiting the museum and then drove north to the ferry stopping at one last national park, Narawntapu National Park. This was the first park to adopt a native name. We drove into the park, visited with the ranger on duty and then continued on our way. The one hike we had considered would take too long to complete. Time was now short enough that we headed for the Spirit of Tasmania Ferry. Our trip this time would be an overnight trip and we planned to start the night with a nice dinner in their premier restaurant before retiring for the night. On both our trips we reserved a room in part so we could leave luggage to roam the decks of the ferry and in part to provide sleeping quarters for this overnight voyage. We both got a good night of sleep before the ferry arrived in port at Melbourne in time for the 6:30 a.m. disembarking. We had a cab called and were on our way to Britz to pick up our campervan for most of our remaining stay in Australia.
  4. tbutler
    Our second day we drove south to Hobart and Tasman National Park. There we saw interesting natural features, tessellated pavement, sea arches and a blowhole formed when waves cut a tunnel through the cliff front so that water comes bursting through with each wave. At Eaglehawk neck we walked from one shore to the other in five minutes. A low sandy neck of land connects the area to the south to the north mainland. On the southern peninsula lies the town of Port Arthur which was a penal colony in the early days of British occupation. Eaglehawk neck housed a security patrol which was responsible for catching any escaped prisoners. There are many sites to visit on the Convict Trail which looks at the history as a prison colony. We visited just the single site at Eaglehawk neck before turning back toward home. We ended up arriving after dark. As dark set in, I chose to follow a large tractor trailer truck into the outskirts of Launceston. I figured we could let him take care of any animals, clearing the road for us. Anyway, we arrived home without incident.
    On our third day we decided to take life a little easier and stay local. We drove into Launceston to the Cataract Gorge on the Esk River. The Esk drains a large area of upland Tasmania bringing the water to the Tasman River through a deep narrow gorge. Past floods have been as catastrophic as recent floods in Colorado on the Big Thompson River. A dam for a power station was significantly damaged several years ago in one of these floods. We walked the area and enjoyed the natural beauty and learning about the history. We visited with several people along the trail and at one viewpoint spent time visiting with a couple from mainland Australia. The man was a descendent of one of the convicts imprisoned at Port Arthur. They were visiting Tasmania for the first time and he was quite excited about his ancestor and learning about his life. Once released from prison he had made a nice livelihood in the oyster business.
    Our fourth day we drove east to Freycinet National Park. This park is the site of a famous beach at Wineglass Bay. We planned to hike to the beach. The trail took us up and over a mountain pass then down to the beach. There was a nice overlook on the Bay from just above the pass and we paused there to enjoy the view before descending to the beach. The descent was steep with uneven steps made of blocks of granite which were placed at intervals on the steep trail. We are especially slow and deliberate as we descend such trails as a slip means falling forward down the hill. Once we reached the beach, we stowed our gear on a large rock and went for a walk along the beach. There were a dozen or so other people on the beach enjoying the view, the breeze and the waves. One hardy soul waded out into the surf briefly and then returned. The weather was cool, ideal for hiking but not for swimming.
    Returning from the beach we encountered a wallaby with a young joey in its pouch. Both were grazing on grass, the joey was eating the tops of the grass while the mother was pulling up the grass and eating the base of the blades of grass. The joey never came out of the pouch while we watched it but did retreat into the pouch with a nose or a foot poking out at various times. It was a vigorous hike and well worth the effort. We returned home about dark.
    As a respite from the previous day hiking, we spent our fifth day exploring the Tamar Islands Wetlands. We anticipated a short walk on a boardwalk. It turned out to be a series of boardwalks and trails taking us across four islands in the Tamar River. The area was rich in water birds and we spent several happy hours identifying birds we had never seen before. The star of this area is the black swan. We saw hundreds of them in the water and surrounding dry land. We arrived at low tide and before we left, areas which were vast expanses of mud became covered with water. Wading birds and ducks were abundant in the shallow water of low tide. As the tide came in the cast of characters changed to the birds that feed in deep water. The islands provided us looks at birds that are land dwellers so we saw a nice variety of birds.
  5. tbutler
    Our wake-up call on Monday, March 3 was set for 6:00 a.m. so we could get a cab to the Spirit of Tasmania terminal by 6:30 a.m. Boarding would start shortly thereafter. Everything went on schedule and we were the first to board. The ride to Tasmania is scheduled for 9 hours and we arrived at 5:00 p.m. Avis Rental Cars has a facility in the terminal in Tasmania and we were second in line to get our car. The process went much faster than at an airport in the US. We were on our way by 5:30 p.m.
    The car was a Mitsubishi and had wipers on the left side of the steering wheel and turn signals on the right. Louise began counting how many times I turned on the windshield wipers when I wanted to turn. She thought it was hilarious, I had a different opinion. Roads in Tasmania are similar to the roads in New Zealand. We had been advised not to travel at night in Tasmania because of the wildlife; wallabies, kangaroos, wombats, echidnas, bandicoots and of course the Tasmanian devil. On our drive to our hotel we saw the evidence lying dead along the roadside. This made us extra cautious as we drove on.
    We arrived at our hotel, the Tamar Valley Hotel near Grindelwald. We checked in and asked about the restaurant which was about to close as we arrived. They called over to the restaurant and directed us how to get to the restaurant. We had a good meal and went to our room. We had reserved a cottage which had a kitchenette. The room was quite nice, actually a suite with two rooms plus a bath. On the back side is a deck the full width of the cottage. It was an ideal place to call home for our stay in Tasmania.
    There was abundant wildlife on the grounds of the resort. The night we pulled up to our cottage there was a wallaby female and a juvenile grazing on the grass. We could see several rabbits and some spur winged plovers which we had seen on the Coromandel Peninsula of the North Island on New Zealand. A chicken-like bird that we later identified as a Tasman hen was pecking at the ground. The next morning I got out the Birds of Australia book to identify several ducks. There were both Pacific black ducks and Australian wood ducks constantly roaming the grounds of the resort. Also in the morning I saw a number of black rabbits.
    Grindelwald is located along an ocean inlet which brings tides up the Tamar River all the way to Launceston, the second largest city on Tasmania. We were about 20 km north of Launceston which was a gateway to the east and west as well as roads to the south. The resort has a golf course and our first day we decided to play a round of golf. The course was interesting and playing with rented clubs made it especially challenging. Also challenging was the presence of the above mentioned wildlife and their accompanying droppings. On the course we saw most of the above mentioned wildlife including the wallaby which was in the woods adjacent to one tee box.
  6. tbutler
    We spent three nights in a hotel in downtown Melbourne which gave us two full days to explore the downtown. We walked to the Carlton Gardens Park the first day, a good six blocks from our hotel. The grounds were lush and green with huge trees of all kinds growing along the walkways. The park is closed to bicycles so it is walkers only. They do allow families with young children to bring their bikes to the park. We saw groups of people playing various games, exercising, doing yoga, and just enjoying a walk in the park. The park grounds were the site of the 1886 World’s Fair and the Royal Exhibition Hall still remains. It is a massive stone structure which now is used for occasional activities. One of those is a backdrop for wedding photographs which we saw in abundance. Next to the exhibition building is the Victoria Museum of Science and Culture. Victoria is the state in which Melbourne is located. Victoria covers the southeastern edge of Australia. To its north is New South Wales and to its west is South Australia.
    We walked all around the museum before we found the entry doors. From the entry we could see large dinosaur skeletons and we had seen an indoor forest exhibit in our walk-about. The admission was $10 per person but as seniors, we got in free! We spent most of the day the exploring the museum. There were many interesting sections of the museum but one of the most interesting was the hall which dealt with the native Australians. Their culture was explained and the interaction with the Europeans described the impact on native people. The exhibit was well designed and was hosted by a virtual Aborigine. At each section he introduced the section and explained it significance to native people. The exhibit was excellent and explained in native terms the nature of the clash between cultures. It also highlighted the many injustices imposed on the Aborigines.
    On our way back to the hotel, we walked a different route. All around us were construction cranes, evidence of a growing city. We happened by the public library which is located near the campus of the Technical and Arts University. The lawn was filled with groups of people. This was a gathering area for people of all ages. Clearly this was the place to be at 5:00 in the afternoon in Melbourne. We stopped at a nearby bar and had a nice dinner. Then it was back to the hotel for the evening.
    We spent the morning of the second day at the Queen Victoria Market. This is a two city block market with everything from fish and vegetables to clothes and souvenirs. We browsed, talked to some merchants, enjoyed watching the crowd and bought a few souvenirs. We got several slices of pizza from one of the vendors and had lunch outdoors at a table on the sidewalk. In the afternoon we hopped on a streetcar that circles the city. It is free and you can hop on and off anywhere along the route.
    Louise had picked out the Fitzroy Garden Park that she wanted to visit so we got off there and spent an hour or so walking among the giant trees. Each one was more splendid than the last. These were truly beautiful and amazing trees. One of the buildings in the park was Cooks Cottage, a part time residence of Captain Cook. Once back on the streetcar we rode past the Victoria Government and Treasury buildings, the waterfront and stadium before getting off to walk back to the hotel. We found a different bar and got dinner that night.
    Dining in Melbourne has been a challenging experience. There are many merchants selling food but there are no restaurants like we are used to in the US. The bars come closest and so we dine there. In all these places you place your order at the counter and then it is handed over to you or delivered to your table. That is where the service ends. If you want something else, another beer for instance, you go to the bar and get it. The guide book says there is no tipping in Australia and I can see why, there is no service in Australia. It seems to be a self-service culture.
    The hotel has internet, free in the lobby and you get 30 minutes every 24 hours! If you want wi-fi internet in your room, it is available for $24 per day! Keeping up with things may be more of a challenge in Australia than in New Zealand which is exactly the opposite of what I was anticipating.
  7. tbutler
    Leaving Fairley on Monday morning we drove through farmlands with the first real crops we had seen in New Zealand. We had seen many hay fields but these were wheat and corn fields, cultivated crops. We stopped to enjoy the view from a high vantage point overlooking this agricultural land. Traveling along, we had a running debate on where to go next.
    The first 40 kilometers would get us back to the main roads and from there we had choices. We could take NZ 1 directly to Christchurch or we could travel an inland road, less traveled, more scenic and still go to Christchurch or we could take a detour into the mountains t Arthur’s Pass. The latter would involve putting off our trip to Christchurch for one more day. We rather quickly decided the trip into the mountains would cut us short for our stay in Christchurch. We were going to be there for four nights and if we took one away, that would leave us just three days in Christchurch. One of those days would be largely dedicated to packing up our luggage and turning in the campervan.
    The winner was NZ 1, we bit the bullet and joined the traffic on its way into Christchurch. The TOP 10 Holiday Park was located on the west side of town near the airport so we had a bit of city traffic before we got to the park. As we traveled along, we ran into several sections of road that were narrowed to a single lane by road work. We were to see later that this is a very common sight in Christchurch.
    Once we got our campsite assigned, we got a settled and went to bed early. The next morning we slept in, making up for our late night of astronomy. The bus stop was just a block from the park and we took the bus right from our park to the International Antarctic Centre (IAC). Christchurch is the staging area for scientific teams from many countries on their way to Antarctica. The IAC is a public facility dedicated to the memory of those who explored the South Pole and the continuing study of the continent of Antarctica. In fact, from the entrance to the IAC you can see a large hangar on the Christchurch Airport which has the logo of the United States Antarctic Program which is operated by the National Science Foundation.
    We had a fun and informative afternoon at the IAC. There is a 4D movie (3D with moving seats and other special effects to increase the reality) of a trip to Antarctica. We rode in a Haaglund, the tracked vehicle which is used for transport over the snow and ice. The driver took us up over steep hills and down into a pool of water where we floated to the other side driven by the spinning tank tracks. There were ducks swimming outside our window! We put on parkas and experienced a winter storm on Antarctica in a refrigerated room with winds up to 35 miles per hour. I was glad I didn't wear shorts that day! We watched the staff feed the blue penguins, not native to Antarctica but native in the Christchurch area. These were rescue penguins, injured or otherwise unable to fend for themselves in the wild. From the ads for the IAC, I wasn't sure it was anything more than an entertainment place for kids but it was so much more. I would highly recommend this place if you get to Christchurch. It's almost like going to Antarctica and a whole lot cheaper!
    On our way home we stopped at the Northland Shopping Center to see what was there. We arrived just as they were closing up shop. So we walked the six blocks back to the holiday park and called it a night.
  8. tbutler
    Our second day of touring Chirstchurch we chose to take a tour sponsored by the Canterbury Museum. Titled the Rebuild Tour, this bus trip through downtown Christchurch showed us much of the destruction of two earthquakes, September 4, 2010 Magnitude 7.1 and six months later on February 22, 2011 at Magnitude 6.3, which literally wrecked the city of Christchurch. The theme of the trip was the effort to rebuild the city with building codes that would help the city withstand further earthquakes. Even as we waited for bus at the bus stop near our holiday park, many miles from downtown Christchurch, we could look across the street at a stone and brick church which had obvious damage, missing ornamental stones and a pair of large metal braces holding up the front wall of the church.
    For a little background, New Zealand is a divided country. It isn’t divided politically, it is divided geologically. The North Island is part of the Australian Plate, a continental mass of rock which is overriding the Pacific Plate and this produces volcanoes and hot springs which are typical of the North Island. The South Island lies on the Pacific Plate which is sliding past the Australian Plate in a way that crumples up mountains. The South Island has a series of mountain ranges running the length of the island on the western side of the island. This crumpling produces not only growing mountains but also earthquakes as the stresses lifting the mountains are occasionally relieved.
    Christchurch is no stranger to earthquakes but these two very strong earthquakes coming in quick succession dealt a terrible blow to the city. Dozens of buildings collapsed partially or completely. One recently built building pancaked killing over 100 people. Investigators are still probing the cause of this catastrophic failure of a modern building. Older stone and brick buildings fared little better. Many commercial, municipal buildings, stadiums, museums, churches and cathedrals were damaged beyond repair. Most of these buildings have already been razed while other are still the subject of debates as to whether to try to restore them or to simply tear them down. You can identify the buildings which are in this state by the reinforcing braces holding up walls and fences blocking access to the buildings.
    Whole sections of the city near the Avon River were damaged when the water soaked soil became liquefied by the shaking action of the earthquakes. When this happens, buildings which have a foundation on the soil suddenly begin to sink into the ground. This usually doesn’t happen smoothly. Some parts of a building may sink faster than others. This will tilt the building or may cause part to collapse while another part remains standing. A large residential area will be destroyed because of this phenomenon. Some of the homes are relatively undamaged but the dangerous soil conditions in the area require closing the whole area to existing and future buildings.
    We were taking the tour on February 26, just four days after the anniversary of the 2011 earthquake. Our guide described the feelings of Christchurch residents about the earthquakes and the lingering fear they experience, a genuine post-traumatic stress syndrome. Ties to beautiful and familiar buildings are hard to break and reaching decisions on what to do about damaged buildings and how to rebuild new buildings are all mixed up in their emotional state. With destruction and construction everywhere, streets are closed or partially blocked by orange cones so the reminder is there in every daily activity. Three years after the last earthquake, many residents of Christchurch are still waiting for the insurance companies to settle their claims.
  9. tbutler
    Thursday, February 27 would be our last full day in New Zealand. On the top of our list was turning in the campervan. We packed up all our belongings in our suitcases and I dropped Louise at the Sudima Hotel which is right at the Christchurch airport. The Britz office was just around the corner, walking distance from the hotel. The process of turning in the campervan was much easier than I had anticipated. Being there early helped. The agent dig through several dozen contract packages before pulling ours from the stack. One customer ahead of me had just finished his paperwork. I waited about three minutes for my turn to begin the process. While waiting, I placed a number of food and cleaning items on a shelf that Britz has for people to leave any leftovers. As I pulled items from the bag Louise had put them in, several were picked up by people browsing the shelves of items left by others. One lady had a nice stake of items set aside and eagerly took the bag I used to bring in our goods. It is a nice way to share left-over goods with others who are going to be stocking their campervan.
    Once the agent was free, I turned in my keys and my original contract. He looked up the Britz paperwork and set about noting the date, time, mileage, etc. Then he went out to the campervan and I expected a return with a list of things that needed to be remedied. Upon his return he said the campervan looked good and our deposit would be returned. This was a pleasant surprise. In all, I probably spent 15 minutes getting paperwork taken care of and then was out the door on the way back to the hotel. Our bags were stored and we settled into a couch in the TV lounge to wait for check-in time to arrive.
    We have been a month without TV and the TV was on CNN News. The volume was muted so we could only read the trailer to see what was in the news. Louise asked a hotel employee if the volume could be turned up and after three people tried we got sound. We learned of the issues with Russia and Ukraine as the issues were reaching a crisis level. We also caught up on much other news from a US source. Louise had packed a lunch with some of our last supplies from the campervan and we consumed that while using the hotel wi-fi to catch up with e-mail and other internet business.
    When the 2:00 p.m. check-in time arrived we were allowed to go to our room. We spent much of the afternoon working our luggage into air travel condition. Checked baggage weight limits and restrictions on what could be in our carry-on baggage dominated our efforts to get everything packed properly. With no scale to weigh luggage, we simply had to work from feel. Once that was done we had a relaxing dinner in the restaurant and then turned in for the night. Our flight was scheduled for 6:00 a.m. the next morning so we set the wake-up call for 4:00 a.m.
    The wake-up came plenty early. We dressed, gathered the bags and headed for the lobby. As promised the shuttle driver was waiting for us and we were off to the terminal. I had missed the weight on the checked bags by 2 kilograms. I pulled several heavy objects from one bag and put them in the other and we were good to go. Our flight took about 4 hours and we were in Melbourne at 8:00 a.m., two time zones west accounts for the difference in time. Processing through customs and collecting our baggage took about an hour and then we contacted the shuttle which had been arranged by our tour service. We waited about 40 minutes for the shuttle to show up. The ride to our hotel, The Ibis Hotel in downtown, took about 30 minutes. We were there before noon and check-in time was 2:00 p.m. so we put the bags in storage and went to find lunch.
  10. tbutler
    Fairley is a small town which was the subject of an earlier post on the people and culture of New Zealand. We booked a tour of the Mt. John Observatory when we arrived at the TOP 10 Holiday Park on Sunday, February 23. The weather was mostly cloudy and it was sprinkling rain but I figured we needed to take the chance if we were going to have a chance to visit the observatory. They do day tours but I was most interested in the night tours. Two night tours were offered, one starting at 8:30 about the time of sunset and the second started at 11:30 and ended at 1:30 a.m. I chose the second tour because I wanted the skies to be as dark as possible.
    As the afternoon wore on, the showers stopped and the sky started to clear. By 9:45 as we were getting ready to make the one hour drive to Lake Tekapo where the tour company headquarters is located. We drove into town and found the tour company easily, it was the only thing open at 10:30. On the way in, we saw a sign indicating that the area is an International Dark Sky Reserve. The area is sparsely populated and there are lighting restrictions that limit the types of light fixtures which can be used for outdoor lighting. This makes for really dark skies. The Mount John Observatory is located further south than any other research observatory.
    We were taken to the observatory by van and then treated to really dark skies. A few of the southern constellations were pointed out to us. Most of the southern constellations are made of rather dim stars which makes them difficult to outline even in dark skies. There was a person on staff who was an expert in astrophotography. He took cameras from everyone who wanted and then did long term photos with a specially designed mount which would hold six or eight cameras. I surrendered my camera to him. When I got the camera back, I had several very nice photos of the southern Milky Way, the Large Magellanic Cloud and some scenery shots. These were all made with my camera and lens. Meanwhile we got to enjoy looking through some nice telescopes including a 16” telescope inside a small dome.
    The night was cold which enhanced the dark skies. Just as our observing session was ending at 1:30 a.m. the moon was rising over the hills to the east. It was perfect timing. We had the whole two hour session in the best possible dark skies. Louise who doesn’t like cold was excited about the night and enjoyed the astronomy. We arrived back at the holiday park just before 3:00 a.m. We were very grateful that the owner had granted us a late departure the next morning. Our stay in Fairley had rewarded us with a wonderful evening of astronomy.
  11. tbutler
    By now we have learned that penguins are best seen very early in the morning as they are going from their nests to the sea or at sunset when they are returning. Leaving Dunedin we decide to give penguins another try. This time we plan to start early enough to get a good chance to see penguins on our way out of Dunedin. The Otega Peninsula extends from Dunedin to the northeast. At the far end of the peninsula is Taiaroa Head Reserve, prime territory for seeing wildlife. There are two routes to the far end of the peninsula. The high route goes more directly and the low route which follows the coastline. Our bus driver friend had suggested the same route out to the point that our guide book suggested. We would take the high route to the point and then return on the coastal route. We left the park at 5:30 a.m. which was a really good time to get through the traffic in Dunedin.
    The high route was not easy, about 20 km before we reached the point, the road narrowed to a single lane and was one curve after another. Fortunately, there was no traffic this early in the morning and we made our way to the Taiaroa Head without any problem. There are two private wildlife parks on Taiaroa Head. One is the Royal Albatross Centre and the other is Natures Wonders. The Royal Albatross Centre controls the grounds where these magnificent birds roost on the Taiaroa Head. They protect their nesting area and also control who and when visitors are allowed. So they are doing good work protecting wildlife but they also have hours of operation and collect fees from visitors. The second is a private entity, Natures Wonders, which owns the penguin colony area and also charges for visitors. As a result there is no free public access to these areas. There was a public trail with viewing platforms but these were not overlooking either of the prime wildlife areas. Neither of these areas was open when we arrived.
    I walked down to the first platform which overlooked a nice area of rocks and sea cliff off to the north of the platform. After setting up the tripod and spotting scope I started scanning for any signs of wildlife. One of the first things I saw was a bush on the cliff which had about 20 little shags, the New Zealand term for cormorants. The little shag has white on its head, neck and chest in its mature plumage. This was a colony of about 12 adults and the remainder were chicks. There may have been more chicks as they didn’t show up until they lifted their heads to feed from their parents catch. The adult bird would land and then would cough up their catch to feed the young. Just like robin chicks seeking a worm from their parent, these young shags were stretching their necks to get some of the fish from their parents.
    Next I spotted some seals on the rocks below. I scanned and noticed several different groups. One group was way out at the point probably a quarter mile away. There was a tidal pool and young seal pups were playing in the tidal pool as if were their private swimming pool. There were at times close to twenty pups in the pool and it was literally churning with the pups splashing, diving and jumping in the water. A couple joined me on the platform. I shared the view through the spotting scope with them. We talked and I showed them other seals and the shags. The man spoke English, his wife did not. He said his name was Jerry. He and his wife were from Peking, China. We had a wonderful conversation, he showed me pictures he had taken of penguins at a location further north. Later in the morning he returned to tell me where there was a good location to see the royal albatross flying overhead.
    We drove on to Natures Wonders to see what that area would yield but it was to no avail. There were three tour buses there and their schedule was full. We would not see penguins here. The return trip along the shore was quite scenic. Reaching the mainland we turned north toward Christchurch. We stopped at a cheese factory and tasted some good cheeses. A nice conversation with Les, the cheesemaker. He told us of an area rich with wildlife, Shag Point just a few kilometers to the north. We stopped there for lunch and saw huge numbers of seals lounging on the rocks. It had been a good day for wildlife. By this time, Christchurch was out of reach for the remaining days travel. The route divided, Highway 1 to Christchurch was busy with traffic and the other route was inland so we turned inland toward the small town of Fairley.
  12. tbutler
    As we drive on to the east, we are getting further south as we go. We are near the southernmost point of the South Island of New Zealand. The southernmost point is on private land and we missed the sign for that so we came close but didn’t get to that spot. One of my goals is to see penguins and we had already seen a pair at Curio Bay the day before. I woke Louise early this morning so we could get to Kaka Point in time to see the penguins leave their nests in the morning on their way to the sea to feed. We arrived just after 7:00 a.m. and met someone coming from the hide (a blind for spotting wildlife). They had seen several. We walked down to the overlook on the beach. From the hide I spotted several seals resting on the beach. There was little activity and the hide was quite cool early in the morning. Louise decided to return to the campervan.
    Now I was on a mission, I had to see at least one penguin or this early morning trip would have been completely wasted. I prepared the camera for taking pictures, I needed evidence to support any report I gave Louise about seeing a penguin. Another couple came into the hide and we talked briefly when all of a sudden, there was a penguin standing on the beach. It paused, moved closer to the surf. Soon it was hopping from rock to rock. Then it walked out onto the wet sand and into the surf. As it moved into deeper water it finally dove into the water and was gone. I had my pictures and now had seen a penguin in a completely natural setting. It was a yellow eyed penguin, the same we had seen the day before.
    From here the scenic route moves inland. We were now on our way to Dunedin, the second largest city on the South Island. We were now on a mission for Louise. Dunedin is the home to the Cadbury Chocolate Company. They have factory tours and she wanted to take the tour. We arrived at noon and were quickly signed up for the 1:15 p.m. tour. Our guide called us shortly before that time and formed up our group. We were escorted into the factory after being suitably outfitted with hair nets and other protective clothing. The tour took us through the factory. Some equipment was operating, other was idle. We were given the history of the Cadbury Chocolate Company and information about chocolate refining and the basics of chocolate manufacture. If we answered questions correctly we got a candy bar! We also got samples of candy, some to be consumed on the spot and others for our pleasure later.
    At the end we were ushered into a large vertical tank that was at one time used for storing chocolate crumb. The tank is now empty except for some equipment. It was moved from its former location when the plant expanded. Even though they had no use for it now, it was a landmark with the Cadbury name across the top of the tank. A very expensive, very large sign. After our guide arranged everyone we were treated to a liquid chocolate waterfall as one metric ton of liquid chocolate poured from above into a large funnel. As this pour started they took a photo of the group. That is Louise in the blue shirt. She obviously enjoyed the sight of so much chocolate pouring down in front of us. It lasted about 20 seconds before it slowed to a dribble. Our guide explained that they do this “because they can.” That liquid chocolate will never be used for any product, it is used for demonstration only and what a demonstration it was!
    Leaving Cadbury we returned to the campervan which was parked in a street parking spot. We had better than an hour on our parking pass so we decided to take a look at the train station which was only a block away. We found a train tour that looked interesting and booked that for the next afternoon. That done, we headed for the TOP 10 Holiday Park in Dunedin.
  13. tbutler
    This day is February 21, 2014. We are now in our final week in New Zealand. Our objective today is a train tour into the Taieri Gorge. The tour starts at 2:00 in the afternoon so we had a leisurely morning before catching the bus just a block from our holiday park. The bus driver was quite friendly. We paid our fare, $5.50 NZ for the two of us one way to downtown. The driver took cash and made change. The bus drivers in Dunedin carry large amounts of cash which they use to make change for all the riders as needed. They have a pass system for frequent riders. They just put their pass on top of a magnetic reader and tell the driver where they are getting off. If the pass needs additional money deposited, they can give the driver cash and it will be put onto their pass. There are many passengers on and off the bus during this trip. The bus is obviously an important transportation aid in Dunedin and one that we would highly recommend.
    There was one passenger in the front seat of the bus when we boarded. That person got off at the next stop and the driver insisted that we move to the front seats. Then he began a running commentary on the city of Dunedin. Interestingly, Dunedin is ancient Gaelic for Edinburgh, the namesake of the town where we live in south Texas. Yes, the Texans who named our town left off the “h” at the end. Maybe they wanted to avoid confusion. Anyway, the driver quizzed us about our plans and made several suggestions for further activities in the area, things to see and do. It turns out that he is a bus driver for tour busses in his off duty days and he is going to the same destination we have planned for tomorrow. He gives us some route and driving tips which we will use to our advantage.
    Not knowing how the busses ran, we left early and packed a lunch. The trip downtown didn’t take long so we had some time to visit shops and stores in the downtown area. There is an octagon, not a town square in Dunedin. In the center of the octagon is a park. Lining the outside of the road making the octagon are shops and restaurants. The restaurants are all set up for outdoor dining and they are having a good day with many people enjoying the pleasant weather. By the time we walk four blocks to the train station the wind has picked up and there is a chill in the air. Our plans to picnic on the lawn at the train station are gone. We go inside and find numerous people sitting on the benches eating their lunch. We join them, breaking out our sandwiches and snacks.
    As we finished our lunch, Louise decided to investigate the café just off the lobby of the train station. She wanted to get a cup of coffee. When she returned she said I should join her in the café. There were plush couches and chairs so we moved in. Other than coffee and tea the café sold a few snack items, some bottled drinks, soda and juices and they had an ice cream machine. Put a scoop or two of ice cream into the top of a funnel on the device. Add some fruit and you get fruit ice cream in a cone. The device had a large screw-like device which mixed the ice cream and fruit and then extruded it into the cone held underneath the funnel.
    The time for our train trip is approaching and the train isn’t in the station yet so Louise checks with the office. The morning tour was a cruise ship group and they arrived late so the train is behind schedule. Our 2:00 trip is expected to be a 3:00 trip now. We gladly settle back into our plush seats to wait. There is light business in the café and there are always seats available so we relax and wait. About 3:15 the train pulls into the station, passengers disembark and the crew goes to work changing out the trash and bringing on board food for the next trip. By 3:30 we are under way.
    The train goes west from Dunedin into the interior. We pass the industrial areas along the tracks in the city. Soon, the hard side of the city gives way to houses. Then we are into a long tunnel. When we emerge we are among scattered groups of homes amid pastures with sheep and horses. We pass a horse track with a small grandstand and then many pastures with purebred horses. Then we go through another tunnel, shorter and curving. The engine is now laboring and we notice that we are slowing. This is a modern diesel train engine, an Asian manufactured body with a John Deer Diesel engine! We can understand bits and pieces of the narration over the clickity-clack of the railroad track.
    We are in the rear car so I decide to go out to the platform to take pictures. I’m the first person to do so and take up a prime position at the rear of the platform. As more people come out, I am limited to a smaller and smaller place to photograph from but always able to get on the rail somewhere. We are now into the gorge, passing through tunnels of varying length and over trestles crossing small side streams. I’m getting good pictures of the scenery, the mountains, the river below, and the tracks, small stations and the occasional house. Then we cross a long trestle and are on the opposite side of the gorge. Now I’m on the wrong side of the platform and it is crowded with people so I have to shoot pictures over around and between people as best I can. Those who have cameras with a view screen on the back hold them at arms-length in front of them which makes it almost impossible to find a way around their extended arms and camera.
    Coming out of the gorge we are again in pasture land. Sheep and cattle once more and some nice homes. We pull into the station at Pukerangi. At this point the engine changes ends of the train, our car will now be the first car behind the engine. Everyone is given some time to get off the train and walk around. There are stands set up for local people to sell items but none are attended now. Being behind schedule they have closed up for the day and gone home. We take pictures and enjoy stretching.
    Back on the train for the return trip, I now return to the platform and continue taking pictures. It is noisy, and when they blow the horn I have to hold my ears. Fortunately, there are few road crossings so that doesn’t happen too often. I get some pictures of the train engineer and fireman and am able to get pictures from the side of the gorge that I couldn’t see and photograph well before. On the return trip I have only a few companions. Leaving the gorge I return inside to join Louise. We arrive back and catch a bus back to the park arriving before dark. It was a great tour.
  14. tbutler
    We called our support number for our campervan to get some repair work done. We had two cabinets which had latches that seized. One was under the sink and the built-in garbage pail was there, partially full of garbage. Sooner or later we were going to have to open that door. So they scheduled us for a stop at an auto salvage company first thing in the morning.
    When we arrived we were quite surprised to find a nicely appointed office. The owner of the company made us welcome, offered us coffee from his fine coffee machine and a biscuit (cookie). He took a look at the problem and worked with the latch for a while until it began to work again. We had a second latch which had also become difficult to release so he did the same with that. Then he tackled a cabinet door which had lost a hinge and when I started to disconnect on end of the gas piston that helped support the door, both ends of the piston came loose, screws everywhere. We recovered all the screws and he put it all back together for us. That done, we were on our way again, leaving Invercargo about 11:00 a.m.
    About an hour east of Invercargo the scenic route divides. The inland route continues on while a seaside route takes us further south into an area known as The Catlins. Named for ship captain, Edward Cattlin who plied the seas carrying cargo to and from New Zealand and Australia, the Catlins today are home to fishing, farming and eco-tourism.
    The road forks at Fortrose. As we turned off there was a nice parking area and it was about lunch time so we pulled in and parked. I began looking at the many sea birds in the low tide mud flats. Some really large white birds attracted my attention first. In binoculars I could see that they had long bills which isn’t that unusual for birds making a living probing in the mud flats. I set up my tripod and spotting scope and was surprised to see a prominent spoonbill. These were Royal Spoonbills and quite a treat to see. There were dozens of them vigorously feasting upon whatever was in the mud. Occasionally the wind would catch some of the feathers near the crest of the head lifting them into the air. This was quite an impressive bird. Another interesting find was the white faced heron. We have spoonbills in the US but they are pink, the Roseate Spoonbill. We also have a number of herons but none have a white face.
    On down the road we stop at the Waipapa Point Lighthouse. The shore there is known for sea lions and we were rewarded with some close views of a small group of sea lions basking in the afternoon sun. Trying to keep cool by digging sand and throwing it over their backs, one finally began a slow crawl to the sea. Stopping for breaks and resting, he slowly worked his way to the surf. He lingered for a while as the surf pushed up the beach to wash his face. Tossing wet sand onto his back must have helped cool him but not enough to satisfy. He finally lifted himself and moved into the surf and then was gone. Sometimes you just need to go for a swim!
    Later we stopped at Curio Bay which is known as a fossil forest. The fossils were not spectacular but if you looked carefully there were stumps everywhere and many logs that could be seen. The fossils were on the beach and the fossil forest is being washed away by waves from the sea. While there we noticed that people were drawn to an area near the top of the beach. Two yellow-eyed penguins were lounging there. One was now standing and stretching. We watched them for a while. The beach was posted for unlimited access until 4:00 p.m. After that time, the adult penguins would be returning from the sea to feed their young chicks. The two penguins we saw were immature penguins. Yellow-eyed penguins are quite shy and won’t come onto the beach if there are crowds of people around. Thus after 4:00 p.m. people were restricted to a small area near where the stairs led down to the beach.
    We drove on almost to dusk, stopping to visit several other sites. We finally pulled up in Owaka for the night. There was no TOP 10 Holiday Park that we favored so we stopped at a Youth Hostels Association (YHA) facility. These are common here, places for the backpackers and bicyclists to stay if they aren’t camping. This one had sites for campervans so we decided to stay there. The owner took us through the building showing us the facilities, kitchen, shower, etc. In discussing the facilities we learned this building used to be a hospital. It was now a hostel and campground. There was a note in the restroom area that the boiler was wood fired and they had a fire at 6:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. and at other times the water would only be lukewarm. Clearly this was a little below the standard for the other parks we had stayed at. It was I’m sure a great spot for those who are backpacking or bicycling, being a very economical place to stay.
  15. tbutler
    There are two ways to get from Te Anau to Invercargo. The fast route is inland and shorter but the scenic route is recommended by the guide books and it is designated as a scenic route by New Zealand so we’re taking the scenic route. The route stays close to but not in Fiordland National Park, running along the eastern side of the mountain range. Still, the glacial evidence abounds on this side of the mountains. The valley is broad and flat and the road is good for a scenic road. Being glacial in nature, the soil is loaded with rocks of varying sizes and isn’t suitable for tillage.
    We see many pastures with sheep and cattle but we also see numerous pastures with deer and elk. Deer and elk are raised as alternative domestic animals. Herd sizes of 100 to 200 are not uncommon. Louise did some research to find out the economic value of deer and elk. The obvious answer would be meat but it turns out that isn’t the primary use for these animals. When their antlers first grow each season they are covered in a fleshy covering called velvet. The velvet contains a growth hormone which is valuable for helping to heal wounds. It is used Asia and to an increasing extent in the US. The growth hormone helps heal joints and tendons.
    At one stop I notice a very strange landform, a large hill at the base of the mountain range which has a nearly horizontal top, similar to a butte or plateau. This is a large flat topped plateau coming off the side of the mountain range. After several more of these it became obvious that what I was looking at were deposits that accumulated in a glacial lake. The lake has since drained but the old coastline and coastal deposits were obvious along both sides of the valley. Glacial lakes will fill with sediment eventually filling in completely. In this case, the dam that held back the waters of the lake either melted or was washed away, much like the movie, Ice Age the Meltdown.
    As lunchtime approached we saw a marker indicating a roadside park so we pulled off. The roadside park was also the site of The Clifden Suspension bridge which was completed in 1899. At the time it was the longest suspension bridge in New Zealand. It is no longer open to traffic but is used as a walking bridge. The bridge deck had recently been resurfaced with new boards. The 115 year old cables showed their age but the bridge was still sound. We walked across as did many other travelers in the time we were there for lunch.
    On the tall piers supporting the cables were several plaques. One caught my attention. It commemorated those killed in the field during World War I. The plaque also listed two who died while in service, one in a hospital and another in an accident near the front. It didn’t stop there it listed all those from the Clifden area who had served during WW I. On our walk across the bridge we encountered a couple from Great Britain and in our discussion, the lady mentioned the above fact. We agreed that it was a nice tribute to their veterans. After all, everyone who served had put their life on the line serving in the war. This is true of any war, our veterans are people who have stepped forward and in essence said they would give their life for their country. Even if they weren’t killed, simply signing up and serving honorably during a time of war is an act of great bravery and is absolutely necessary to maintaining our freedom.
    We pulled into Invercargo late in the afternoon. This was the largest city we’d seen since we left the ferry and headed down the western side of the South Island. Most of the towns along this route reminded me of the tourist towns along the Alaska Highway. Small towns with, a few souvenir shops, a museum, a grocery store of some kind, a gas station, an RV park and maybe a restaurant or bar.
  16. tbutler
    Our second tour was a bus and boat trip to visit Doubtful Fiord and a power plant. Both Louise and I will never pass up a chance to tour a power plant. Combine that with the fiord tour and we were all in. So much so that I packed all my optic equipment for photography and bird watching and then walked out of the campervan without my camera! We were on our way on the tour bus before I realized I didn’t have the camera so there was nothing to be done. I have not a single picture from the trip. I was bummed but determined to make the best of the trip. We did buy the DVD the tour company offered so I’ll have some video memories.
    The bus took us about 20 minutes south to Manapouri where we board a boat to take us across Lake Manapouri. Reaching the western shore of the lake we board another bus which took us over the mountains and then down to the shore of Doubtful Fiord. The fiord was named by Lieutenant Cook, the explorer. Later he would be Captain Cook but on this voyage he was a lieutenant. He didn’t think he could safely enter the fiord with his ship and noted on his map that this was a doubtful harbor. The name stuck and it is now known as Doubtful Fiord.
    A fiord is a glacial feature. Glaciers scoop out deep steep sided valleys. The ice doesn’t bend easily so the valleys tend to be very straight with only slight curves, not at all like stream valleys. Those who have visited Glacier National Park in the US know what a glacial valley looks like. Going to the Sun Road takes you up into the mountains in one glacial valley, over the pass and then down the other side in another glacial valley. There are numerous small side valleys known as hanging valleys because they come to an abrupt end at a cliff, usually with a waterfall, where they meet the main valley. Now imagine Glacier National Park flooded so the main valley is almost full of water. That is a fiord. They are deep and steep sided. In this case, there were large glaciers that combined to make the main glacier and there are several arms that come off the fiord. It is rugged and quite beautiful.
    It rained lightly during our tour and there was a brisk cool north wind which only added to the atmosphere. We still were able to see the mountain tops and the scenery but it kept us indoors more than we usually would be. We enjoyed the views of the mountains, islands in the fiord and the view up into the side fiords. As we approached the mouth of the fiord the calm waters became more active. We entered the Tasman Sea just briefly as the waves began to toss the ship around. Retreating back into the fiord we toured several of the arms.
    At one point all engines on the boat were shut down including the generator. For about five minutes we were completely silent. People were asked not to take pictures if their camera made noise and also asked not to walk around the ship. Complete silence was observed and it was wonderful. We could hear the birds, waves on the shore and wind in the trees. This land is truly remote and wild. Much of it is dedicated to bringing back some of the almost extinct native birds in New Zealand. Islands provide controlled areas where predators can be eliminated and birds can reproduce naturally without the introduced competition and predation that has almost eliminated them.
    Returning to the land between the fiord and Lake Manapouri we took the bus back to the lake. Before reaching the lake we stopped at the Manapouri Hydroelectric Power Plant. This engineering feat was built in 1972. More than 6 miles of tunnels were dug to connect Lake Manapouri with Doubtful Fiord. The resulting 600 foot drop provides plenty of energy to turn turbines to generate electrical power. The power plant is at the base of this 600 feet, deep in the rocks below Lake Manapouri. Eighty five percent of the power generated is used by an aluminum smelter on the southern shore of the South Island. Aluminum smelting is a very high energy process and wherever it is done, a great source of energy is needed. This is one of my motivations for being a real diligent aluminum recycler. Recycling aluminum requires only one tenth of the power that it takes to turn bauxite into aluminum. Other metals also recycle with less energy than the original purification but aluminum by far produces the greatest energy savings.
    The bus driver took us down a mile and half tunnel to the power plant, turned the bus around and brought us back out. This in itself was quite a feat, something that driving a motor home really gives one an appreciation that others might not have. Despite this, she received a nice round of applause after completing the turn-around using a very tiny alcove in the tunnel.
    Returning to Te Anau, Louise and I needed to pick up a few groceries and a few other supplies. We walked from the park into town, a matter of three or four blocks. There is an Italian Pizza Ristorante in Te Anau so we stopped for a pizza cooked in a wood fired oven. We’ve been eating most meals in the campervan and this was a well-deserved break for Louise. We had a great pizza with a glass of New Zealand beer.
  17. tbutler
    Glowworms are found throughout New Zealand. There are numerous glowworm caves. We chose this one partly because of the sightseeing and partly out of curiosity. I didn’t know what to expect. I think the mystery is part of the sales pitch. So if you don’t like people spoiling your suspense and surprise, turn off the sound right now. We were in Te Anau at the TOP 10 Holiday Park and made reservations as we checked in at the desk. The tour left from the Real Journeys tour office in Te Anau, just a few blocks from the holiday park. Departure was at a very civilized 9:00 a.m. which Louise appreciates. We arrived, presented our receipt and were issued boarding passes. Our boat was a very nice catamaran which whisked us across Lake Te Anau at a brisk 25 knots. There was a display on the TV screens showing the route, our speed, direction of travel and location.
    They took the scenic route on the way out, between several islands and around the lake shore. The weather was perfect, warm clothes for a cave tour fit perfectly with the breezy cool on the deck as I took pictures of the passing scenery. There was a running narrative as we traveled, significant points were described and information about the lake was presented. Lake Te Anau is a huge glacial lake. It stretches from Te Anau to just west of Queenstown. It is 45 kilometers in length and has numerous arms that stretch back into eastern side of the mountains of Fiordland National Park.
    Arriving at the cave location, we disembarked and were divided into three groups of approximately equal size, about a dozen people in each group. Our group was the second to enter the cave. The entry was low so we had to stoop down to get through the first 20 yards. A small river flows through the cave though it didn’t look that small when viewed underground. There was a very nice waterfall of about 20 feet and above that a small lake which had been formed by damming the river. We were loaded into boats that hold a dozen people and then the guide took across this small lake. All lights were turned out and the guide moved the boat by pulling on a chain anchored in the ceiling. This chain then guided the boat on its journey to avoid getting stuck against a rock or against a wall. When we started I could see a glow in the distance that I assumed was light coming from another part of the cave. It wasn’t, the glow was from the glow worms. Their light in the darkness was noticeable at quite a distance. That was the indirect light, it wasn’t until we reached that section that we could actually see the spot of light from the worms themselves. Obviously, their collective light was enough to attract insects toward their location.
    The cave was relatively small but it is loaded with glowworms. These worms inhabit the cave roof and have a luminescent spot like lightening bugs but theirs is bright blue and is a single steady tiny light. They use the light to attract insects to them and then they eat the insects. As they get hungrier their light glows more brightly. Each worm has a number of strands that are sticky and contain a paralyzing chemical. So when bugs fly close to the light they run into these strands and are caught just like in a spider web.
    In the darkness of the cave, all you can see is the tiny blue lights. Looking at a cave roof loaded with these glowworms is like looking at the night sky. It reminded me of the interior of the alien spacecraft in the movie, Independence Day.
    After the cave experience we got some additional information on the glowworms and then returned to Te Anau on the boat. The return route was direct, taking about half the time it took to get to the cave. We returned to the campervan and shed our warm clothes. Now all we needed were shorts and T-shirts. A quick lunch and we were off to do some shopping. The holiday park is about three blocks from the downtown shopping district. We hadn’t done any serious shopping since arriving, not souvenir and browsing, just the essentials, groceries, miscellaneous items we needed. We were out to enjoy the local shops and stores. We returned with several sacks. It looks like we may have to pay for an additional piece of baggage or ship some goods via UPS on the return trip!
  18. tbutler
    Leaving Haast, we immediately stopped to pick up a couple of hitchhikers. This isn’t something you’d do in the US but here in New Zealand there are lots of young people who are out and exploring. There were two young men along the road just as we were picking up speed so we stopped and took them down the road to their next destination. They were college students from Holland. Both were civil engineering majors. They have finished their third year and are taking a 5 month break before finishing their degrees. We had a nice conversation with them and learned something about their experiences and their life.
    After we dropped them off we continued on south to Queenstown. As we approached Queenstown from the north the scenery was spectacular. There is a deep gorge along the road and numerous stops for scenic overlooks. Toward the end of the gorge is the city of Queenstown. Viewed from high above, the valley is quite beautiful. The drive down to the plain has plenty of curves but eventually the road straightens out. Queenstown is a tourist favorite but we didn’t have time to stop here, our interests lay elsewhere.
    We drove for an hour along a lake shore and then turned off toward Fiordland National Park. Another hour on good roads took us to Te Anau. This is a beautiful town on the eastern edge of Fiordland National Park. From there roads run north and south to access areas where there are tours. We stopped in Te Anau at the TOP 10 Holiday Park and got a nice spot for two nights. At the office we purchased tickets for two tours. The Fiordland National Park consists of a series of fiords which make the southwestern coastline of the South Island. This area is almost totally inaccessible by road so if we wanted to see the area we needed a boat, thus the tours.
  19. tbutler
    I shall attempt to share some personal impressions of the culture and people of New Zealand. New Zealand has a number of things that remind me of the US in the 1950’s. Traveling through the small towns and rural areas is a distinctively different experience than traveling in the larger cities. The larger cities have motorways which are similar to our limited access highways with high speed exits and entries onto the highway much like ours. There are even some access ramps in Auckland which have metered entry onto the motorway, stop lights which permit one car to go through every 10 or 15 seconds to keep from having a strong flood of cars all trying to merge into traffic at the same time. In the rest of New Zealand roads through towns are very much 1950’s US in that they go right through the center of town with all the local traffic, businesses and foot traffic. Unlike the US today, downtown businesses are thriving here. We drove through a medium size town on NZ 1, the highway that is the backbone of New Zealand. It was Saturday and people were everywhere doing their shopping downtown. Once out of town traffic dropped off and became much more scattered than in town.
    We brought a small radio with us for keeping up with the goings-on around town. We don’t have TV so this is our entertainment source, listening to music on the radio and a little news and lots of commercials. The commercials are funny, all the small town ads you remember from years ago and can still find in some rural areas of the US. The announcers vary from really casual to polished professionals. One station which has lots of 60’s and 70’s US tunes has an evening announcer who thinks out loud as he is giving weather or news information. It gets to be comical when he begins to critique the weather report! That station is syndicated and has been on the air in a number of South Island towns. In other areas we are lucky to get any station at all. Much of the music here is from the US and as Louise pointed out today in the grocery, the entertainment magazines all have US movie stars on their covers.
    The radio has helped us learn New Zealand speak. They use many of the same words that we do but have a peculiar way of pronouncing them so it sometimes takes a few seconds to figure out what you just heard. The classic is aluminum which is pronounced as the British do, al-you-MINNY-um. In addition, they have a number of terms which are purely local. Carts in the grocery store are called trundlers or trollies. These can cause you to make some assumptions about what was said or to call a time out for an explanation. We met a nice fellow at our first stop. He said he had a business and described it but I didn’t understand what it was. Later his wife was talking to us and mentioned that her husband was a metal beater! She said that she didn’t know what our term for it would be and I guessed auto body and was correct. They call them fender beaters or metal beaters! I wonder what they do with all the fiberglass in autos.
    The people are delightfully fastidious. The facilities where we have stayed are always quite clean. The restrooms are universally tiled with ceramic tile and scrubbed clean. Many places provide cloths to wipe down counter tops after you finish shaving, brushing teeth or just washing. A few even provide paper towels in the restroom at a separate sink in the toilet area. I’ve never found a restroom that didn’t have soap in the soap dispenser. The above is true for the restrooms that I’ve used in commercial establishments as well.
    New Zealand presents a real opportunity for dentists, we have met any number of natives who are missing a considerable number of teeth. I don’t know if it is the rugby, their diet or simply a lack of good dental hygiene but teeth don’t seem to last into the sixties and seventies. It doesn’t seem to be a part of the culture to have implants, partial plates or false teeth to replace the missing chompers.
    Today I picked up a community paper. We are staying in a small town, Fairlie, located on the Canterbury plain inland and southwest from Christchurch. We are about a 2 hour drive from Christchurch. The Paper is published under the banner, The Fairlie Accessible. It is published twice each month and I have the January 29 issue. Printed on standard size copy paper and stapled twice on the long edge, it looks like a school newspaper might. It has black and white photos throughout with the exception of the cover which is green paper so the photos are black and green! I could write a whole blog entry on any one of these articles. I have had an afternoon of humor just reading through this paper.
    One of the cover stories, “Fairlie men in Firefighter Sky Tower Stair Challenge tells about two local firefighters training for the race up 51 flights of stairs, 1103 steps to the top of the Sky Tower in Auckland in full firefighting kit. It is a charity event to raise money for Leukemia and Blood Cancer New Zealand. A local fundraiser is announced for February 16, now just a week past. The closing paragraph reads: “Please come and support this event organized by Mayor Claire Barlow and Heartlands Fairlie. Bring along some money to donate – some coins for the kids to give to teach them how it’s done – and bring your tea! Let’s help get them up the stairs!”
    There is a quarter page real estate ad in the paper that advertises three homes in the community, one at $179,000 NZ has a heat pump and reconditioned coal range! Another is listed as quirky and is yours for just $215,000 NZ. The third is a “warm and spacious low maintenance home” and lists at $289,000 NZ.
    There was a small ad space on the inside of the last page that didn’t sell. That space is filled with a poem that starts off, “The computer swallowed grandma.” Use the link above and you can read the whole poem. Like I said, I could write a whole blog entry on any one of these articles.
  20. tbutler
    Franz Josef Glacier is the name of a town and the name of the glacier itself that lies just a few kilometers from the town. We stayed at the TOP 10 Holiday Park in Franz Josef Glacier, the town. It was a pleasant enough park, clean facilities. When we got ready to go in the morning, the campervan would not start. The battery had been drawn down by the headlights so we had to call for a jump. We called the 800 number the rental company had given us. After some discussion it was determined that we were covered for the service call so it would not cost us anything. Someone would be out to help us within an hour. Louise left to do laundry while we waited. The service man arrived in about 50 minutes and we were ready to go before the laundry was done. That was fine, we had instructions to run the engine for about 30 minutes before shutting it off. Our first destination of the day was just a few minutes away so we might as well wait for the laundry.
    The Franz Josef Glacier is approximately 12 kilometers long and is melting away fast. The viewpoint today is where the terminus of the glacier stood in 2008, just six years ago. Now from that viewpoint you can’t see the terminus, it lies at the end of a tongue descending from an ice fall several thousand feet above the viewing point. The whole terminal end of the glacier is so fragile that tourists are kept off the glacier except for the very upper reaches which can be visited by helicopter. Still, it is worth going to see as it obviously isn’t going to be more easily accessible for the foreseeable future. Glaciers are the ice cube in the cold drink which is our Earth. When they are gone what will keep the drink cold? To me it is frightening to see ice disappear at this rate. This is of course true all over the Earth, in Alaska, in Greenland, in the Arctic Ocean and in Antarctica.
    Our walk from the parking lot to the viewpoint took about 40 minutes. There were several beautiful waterfalls along the way. Walking up the river flowing from the melting glacier we can see some of the rocks which melted out of the glacier in the past as it retreated its way back up the valley. Some of these boulders are the size of houses. As the mountainside is cut away, rocks fall onto the glacier and are carried along like riding on a conveyer belt. When they reach the terminus the ice melts from under them and they come to rest at that point. If the glacier begins to advance it will push the boulder ahead of it, otherwise the rock sits where it melted from the glacier. Rocks of this type are common in the upper Midwest of the US in the region once covered by the ice sheets of the ice age. They are called erratics. They are almost always a different kind of stone than the bedrock in the area, having been transported from some distance away. You will see them out in the middle of fields or in front yards of homes. Wherever you find them, they are evidence that ice once existed here.
    Leaving the glacier we drive a short distance to Fox Glacier. It is now raining again and we are not going to hike to the glacier in the rain. We did make a short stop to investigate several shops looking for a hat for Louise. We found one in the second shop we visited.
    We continued on to a small village of Haast. Not much to see here but a good overnight stop. The folks at the TOP 10 Holiday Park were friendly, efficient and put us into a powered site. The restrooms and kitchen were in a large Quonset hut. It was modern construction and was absolutely beautiful inside. The restrooms were some of the nicest and cleanest we have seen. They were even heated which was nice now that we are getting further south and in the mountains along the west coast. Temperatures are in the 70’s during the day but drop into the 50’s at night. The weather remains dry, we’ve only had two days with enough rain to stop our activities so far.
  21. tbutler
    It is now Tuesday, February 12 in this series that started on January 29 with our departure from the US. The actual date of this posting is later because it has taken me quite a bit of time to catch up with recording and posting these entries. The first few days kept my mind fully occupied with all the new things to absorb about this vacation. Then there were the internet challenges. We subscribed to an internet server that is common throughout New Zealand at the TOP 10 parks where we stay most often. We have encountered a few parks that don’t have internet or don’t have very good internet service. So I post these messages when I can.
    We are leaving Westport this morning, driving south along the west coast of the South Island. Our first stop is just a kilometer from our camp. The Westport Lighthouse sits high on a hill overlooking the Tasman Sea. A trail from there leads to a seal colony. The trail is up and down hills as we tread along the sea cliff overlooking the beaches. Some storm clouds are bringing occasional showers and the wind is whipping up a fine surf. I could stand for hours and watch waves wash up on shore or break on rocks. The sea is a fascinating play of energy and motion. This turns into a pretty good walk (or tramp as they call it locally). We cross three styles as we move from one plot of land to the next. It took a little over an hour to reach the seal colony. There is a large platform well above the colony which allows us to look over without disturbing the seals. Louise walks out on the platform and says, “Oh, no! There are no seals.”
    After a few moments, she notices movement on the rocks below and then we begin to see seals. There are not huge numbers, just a scattering of several dozen adults. But the real treat is the baby seals. There are young seals playing all over the rocks. We enjoy watching them climbing over the rocks. Some are testing their skills walking along the length of a large horizontal log. Others are nursing or sleeping. The adults are doing their best to ignore the young ones and get some sleep. Occasionally one of the adults will wade into the surf to find food or cool off. We enjoy watching the seals and the surf. Finally as another line of dark clouds approaches we decide to return to the lighthouse and our campervan. We pick up a little more rain on the way back but not the drenching I’m expecting.
    Back at the campervan we fix sandwiches for lunch and then head on south toward Franz Josef and the Franz Josef glacier. It is 330 kilometers which is 200 miles, not that far to drive in the US but on these roads, it is late in the afternoon when we pull in and park. Most of our route had been in intermittent light to moderate rain and on wet roads. When we arrived I got out of the driver’s seat, hooked up the electric and turned on the gas and then flopped on the couch to rest my back. The driver’s seat of these campervans are not comfortable. About 20 minutes later, someone came by to tell me that the headlights were still on.
  22. tbutler
    February 11 we left Blenheim on Highway 6 which runs up the Wairau River valley. This river drains the eastern side of the mountains. Its valley is wide and straight, formed by ancient glaciers and now filled with the silt and sand of those glaciers. As we drove up the valley the vineyards gave way to sheep and cattle grazing land. We stopped at Nelson Lakes National Park to hike for a while. After the Visitors Center and gift shop, we went on to hike a trail partway around one of the lakes. I called the forest a black forest as all of the trees had a black fungus growing on their bark. We spotted several birds we had never seen before and got acquainted with the sand flies which are the major pest in New Zealand. They like the shade and we were in the shade. They really liked us!
    Leaving Nelson Lakes National Park we continued on to the Buller River and followed it through its upper and lower gorge. These gorges were absolutely spectacular. The forest growth could only be described as genuine rain forest. At times both sides of the road were lined with ferns and fern trees for long stretches. It gave the roadway a real garden look. Travel was slow as we followed the river channel. Along the way we stopped at overlooks down into the river channel far below. We crossed numerous single lane bridges. Finally we arrived at Westport on the Tasman Sea, the west coast of the South Island. Our camp host welcomed us and gave us suggestions for our next day of exploring.
  23. tbutler
    On Saturday, February 8 we woke to rain and heavy low clouds. Our plans had been to drive from Rotorua to the National Park and do some hiking and sightseeing around the mountain territory in the center of the North Island. Since the scenery would be hidden and hiking in a constant rain would not be our idea of fun, we decided to turn the day into a travel day.
    We needed to be in Wellington on Sunday night so we could get on the Interislander Ferry to the South Island at 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning. We changed plans and decided to get there on Saturday and then have Sunday to explore Wellington. That plan went out the door when the rain continued on Sunday. It was a fine mist, the kind of tropical rain you get in Hawaii. It will thoroughly soak you in no time at all. There was wind as well. We sat in the campervan all day. That was the break in our active schedule I needed to start this record of our trip. We had good computer access and we used the day to our advantage but we didn’t see anything of Wellington other than the drive to the holiday park and then to the ferry.
    The ferry trip on Sunday left about fifteen minutes late and arrived in Picton on the South Island about an hour late in part because the ferry that was to make the return run was having trouble and was in the berth we needed for unloading. The trip was scheduled for three hours. During the three hours we never lost sight of land. The ferry departs along the southern coast of the North Island. Before we leave that coastline the South Island is in sight. We then enter a passage through a series of islands that form the northern part of the South Island. These are narrow passages with the ferry moving very carefully through this labyrinth of islands. The scenery was quite spectacular. As soon as we cleared Wellingham the rain had stopped and the weather was wonderfully clear for this part of the trip.
    After leaving the ferry we secured a spot for the night at a TOP 10 Holliday Park in Blenheim. Then we went to visit several wineries in the area. This area is thick with wineries and there is no way to visit them all. We stopped at several that were listed in the guide books and purchased a few bottles. Since I was driving, my tasting consisted of swirling, inhaling and tasting but not swallowing. They have quite strict rules about drinking and driving here in New Zealand. We were given strict instructions, no drink driving (their term). We have to drink it all before we leave for Australia on February 28!
  24. tbutler
    Rotorua is a good size town. Among its claim to fame is having a number of local boys playing on the All Blacks Rugby Team, the national team of New Zealand. The name comes from their original uniforms which were the least expensive available, all black uniforms, no stripes, no decoration, no names. The team has become a cause celebre for the nation and now are internationally ranked in the top rugby in the world.
    We had one objective in Rotorua and that was to learn more about the Maori people. There are several interpretative centers in the Rotorua area. We chose Te Puia, and went there on Friday, February 7. This center hosts a national center for the Maori arts. There is an air of authenticity in this park with all the statuary and art works on display. On the grounds are several active geysers. These geysers erupt constantly with periodic pulses that take them higher into the sky. We chose to attend a dance performance for our introduction. After a short introduction, we were greeted outside the meeting house by a warrior who approached in a menacing manner to greet our leader and determine our intent, peaceful or war party. Once that was settled, we were invited to advance. Then the performing group danced and invited us into the meeting house. The performance that followed was most interesting. The Rotorua area is the traditional home area of the Maori. The native dances by the women were graceful and athletic, the men danced the menacing dances of warriors. During their dances they would periodically make fierce face and stick out their tongues.
    After the performance we took a tour of the park. Our guide started with a brief introduction and then took us toward the geysers. As we walked, Louise asked him about his hat which looked just like the hats we had seen when we visited the Olympic Peninsula. These hats are woven from wood strips and take quite a bit of effort to prepare the wood strips and then weave the hat. It turned out the hat was from the Salish tribe in the Pacific Northwest. He had been at Montana State University in Kalispell, Montana for several years. His role was to bring more of the Blackfeet and Salish people into the arts programs at Montana State University. From there we were off and running. We had a good conversation with him between the stops to describe the various features of the geysers. As we looked at the geysers he pointed out the boundaries of the caldera of the volcano in which we were standing. The distant hills he pointed out were well outside the city of Rotorua. The caldera was formed by a single eruption long ago. Obviously the volcanic activity continues as the steaming vents and geysers are all over the area. If the volcano were to erupt today, a whole town would be destroyed.
    Our guide then went on to describe the nature of the Maori people. Among the points he made was that the Maori had a good sense of their history and where they came from. Their ancestors came from Polynesia and then went out to Hawaii, New Zealand and other Pacific islands. He talked of the culture of the people and how and why tribes split and warred with each other. He said the tongue in the war dances was a threat to an enemy that they wanted to eat the enemy. Eating an enemy warrior was a way to desecrate them. They weren’t eating for food, they ate their enemies when they defeated them to destroy them completely. They turned them to feces. His phrase, “If you are beaten you are eaten!”
    Tattoos which are a part of the culture were part of a coming of age ceremony and were done by cutting the skin and inserting dye. It was extremely painful and sometimes resulted in infection or death but it was seen as a test everyone had to submit to. His tattoos were done with modern equipment he said! Tattooing of women was prohibited by the New Zealand government in the early 1900’s but continued into the 1930’s. Women’s tattoos consisted of a mustache and circled the lips and down the chin like a beard. Women were extremely fierce and didn’t run the tribe but let their men know when they were out of line.
    The last part of the tour was devoted to the arts. He demonstrated how the Maori made their fabrics by stripping the fibers from a flax plant. Using an oyster shell he cut across the leaf then pulled the ends of the fibers out. Holding them he used the shell to peel the leaf away from the fibers in a smooth motion. Then he wove the strands of fiber into a strong multi strand string by rubbing them on the calf of his leg with his hand. This was done in a series of motions taking no more than a minute. Once done he passed the string around the group. Then he showed how the grass skirts are made using the shell to cut away sections of the leaf and leaving others intact. The alternate sections of leaf and fiber then curl naturally to make sections with fiber and sections with the curled leaf. He gave that sample to Louise and it hangs in the campervan. If we can take it with us to Australia, Fiji and then bring it home to the US, she will have a nice souvenir of our trip!
  25. tbutler
    Gilmour Park was an impromptu lunch stop for us. Louise had purchased a chicken pot pie at the BP Connect Station where I fueled the campervan. While she fixed the rest of our lunch, I took a walk around the park. It turned out to be a delightful park with a nice lake, with paths around the lake and boardwalks over wetlands and a children’s playground, it was a really pleasant stop. In gathering information for this entry, I learned that the park also had hidden beauty that I didn’t appreciate when we walked the grounds. It never ceases to amaze me, all the information on the internet. You can read the whole story at Gilmour Reserve.
    This beautiful lake and park are located on abandoned gold mining ground. Abandoned in 1952 when the mining operation shut down, the city eventually rehabilitated the grounds. Supported by the present gold mining operation who contributed to the project as an offset for land that would be taken by the new mining operation, the park was constructed. Now it serves as a thriving resource for a community. The park continues to improve with plans to honor miners who lost their lives, WW I veterans who participated in underground assaults on the enemy lines and more.
    We saw model boaters sailing their remote control sailboats on the lake, families picnicking on the grounds and people just out for a walk in the park. They had restrooms unlike any I have seen anywhere other than on the news. These restrooms have an electronic door that closes when you press a button. An announcement tells you how much time you have before the door opens automatically. Then the music starts! The facilities are all stainless steel and were quite clean. Ready to leave? Press a button and the door opens. Outside a light system lets you know if the restroom is open or in use. Way too cool! For us it was just a lunch stop. It turned out to be so much more. In preparing to write this for you I developed a much deeper appreciation for this gem of a park and the community that took waste land and turned it into a real asset for the entire community.
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