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  1. After our long drive from the Waipoua State Forest we pulled up for the night at Sheep World. We had seen this place on the way north, it is right on NZ Hwy 1. It looks for all the world like a real tourist trap but we were tired and it was late so there we’ll stay. The owner is a real character, elderly and quick with his mind. We had breakfast at their restaurant the next morning then stayed for the dog and sheep show at 11:00. We visited the many animals they had in pens and cages, everything from rabbits and opossums to pigs and deer. There was a nice nature trail and then the show. John described the two kinds of dogs, eye dogs and away dogs. An eye dog works the sheep by looking at them and running around near the sheep. The sheep react and the dog then reacts to their every move. If they start to go back where they were the dog moves quickly back in that direction and the sheep will immediately turn around and go the other way. The eye dog never barks, only stalks and pursues the sheep in a way that makes them move. He never gets really close to the sheep, always a distance of 20 feet or more away. The dogs instinct is to keep the sheep in a single group and to bring them to John. Not just near him, the dog tries to put the sheep at his feet. John communicated with the dog with a series of commands and whistles. It took five minutes or so to bring the group of sheep into the corral. The job of the away dog is to bark and get the sheep moving. The away dog is used to flush sheep out of remote areas of the pasture. With a big bark he will rouse sheep from ravines and in the bush. Once the sheep are moving his job is finished. Both dogs answer to commands so the herder can stand in one place and round up the sheep. Doing this job for a single person would be almost impossible without the dogs. Once the sheep were in the corral, John showed how they sort the sheep. Sheep are run through a chute in single file. Standing at the end of the chute a person manipulates two gates to direct each sheep left, center or right into three chutes leading into three different holding pens. If done by a professional, they can do the sorting almost as fast as the sheep can come through the chute. A member of the audience was brought up to sort a group of about 30 sheep. Each of the sheep had a color marking on their head, red, blue or no marking. After a bit of training, she was able to sort the sheep making only one mistake. John described sheep shearing including job opportunities and pay. It is a high paying profession for really good shearers and they can travel worldwide to work. Then he demonstrated shearing making some of the initial passes. Then he brought up members of the audience. Louise was one of three selected to get their hands on the shears. She got a handful of wool for her efforts. I got to hold a bottle to feed the little lambs which came charging up to get their bottle of milk. It was quite a show and one of the things on Louise’s list that she wanted to see and do on this trip. This will remain a special stop in our memories, kind of like finding a diamond in a coal bin. Leaving there in the afternoon we began our drive back to Auckland where we would get the water heater repaired. We haven’t had hot water in the campervan since we picked it up five days ago. A quick stop in Auckland and our water heater is working. It took just 15 minutes for the repair at the rental shop. Then we began the drive south out of Auckland. Our destination was a small town, Thames, in the southern part of the Coromandel Peninsula. We were delighted to find the first straight roads for any significant distance. We were able to get up to 90 km/hr (about 56 MPH) most of the way. This turned a long drive into quick work. There is a little yellow sticker at the top of the windshield informing us that we are a “heavy vehicle” and our maximum speed is 90 km/hr. The highest speed limits we have seen here are 100 km/hr. There have been precious few roads that I would feel safe driving the campervan at 90 km/hr.
  2. We left the rental agency with our campervan, our suitcases piled on the floor in the rear and a brand new left-side-of-the-road driver in the driver’s seat. Our first stop was to be a grocery store just a few blocks away but after negotiating several rotaries and getting totally turned around, it took us 30 minutes and a stop to get information from the brochures we had been given. We finally arrived at the Countdown Grocery which is a subsidiary of Woolworth’s, yep, the Woolworths we all remember from our childhood is alive and well in New Zealand! An hour later we emerged with $220.25 NZ worth of groceries. The shock was eased a little when I checked the charge at the bank website. The US dollar amount was $180.23, not cheap but considerably better than the original amount! We stocked the cabinets and filled the refrigerator and were on our way out of town. I programmed the GPS for a city on the northeast coast, Whangarei, and we started on our way. The route took us across town to the motorway (their word for a controlled access highway). Louise was watching like a hawk as I tried to adjust to driving on the left. She corrected me and I said, “Yes dear!” I was positioning us too close to the curb and my attempts to correct were defeated by the narrow lanes. Once on the motorway, NZ Highway 1, I still drifted to the left side of the lane but now I had time to look in the mirrors and check my position. It was long past lunch time and we decided to exit to look for some fast food. They have fast food here but we couldn’t find it. We drove around the town (a suburb of Auckland) for fifteen minutes before deciding to cut our losses and head back to the highway. Once there we drove on until we reached the toll portion of the highway which has electronic billing and we had been told in no uncertain terms we were not to take the toll road. The rental company would be billed and we would pay the charges plus a hefty administrative fee. So we exited toward Orewa Beach. At a stoplight in this resort town we saw a campground, Orewa Beach TOP 10 Holiday Park. We turned in and asked for a site for two nights. We had just come off a twelve hour plane flight and I was driving on the wrong side of the road for the first time. I needed some rest and this was our plan anyway, find a nice beach and stay for a while. Now I had to put into practice all that I was told in the vehicle briefing. We backed onto the site and got reasonably level. Out came the electric cord and after a quick examination I was able to plug it in. I opened the valve on the propane tank and we were set. Inside I switched on the electric and the water heater. The water heater lit, then shut off. I repeated, it lit, then shut off. It went through three cycles on its own each time, just as our water heaters do when the gas won’t fire properly. So I was dealing with a familiar animal. Perhaps the gas line just needed to be bled to get air out. Louise lit the stove and it burned just fine. I tried the water heater again. No luck! We would not have hot water, not tonight anyway. Louise fixed dinner and we ate, grateful to have a good meal. Then it was off to the showers. These were clean and well maintained. Louise made up the bed over the cab and we turned in for the night. Neither of us had any trouble sleeping. In the morning we could hear the chirping of birds and the chatter of children. The playground wasn’t far from us. They had a trampoline and there were always anywhere from six to a dozen children bouncing on it. Sure, the sign said one at a time but good luck with that. The children are not going to wait in line to take a turn bouncing on the trampoline unless the trampoline police are there to enforce the rule. Weather was a beautiful 70 degrees with sunshine. We ate breakfast outdoors and enjoyed watching the surf, the children and the birds. A neighbor stopped by to visit. He was a local and had a nice Class C coach about twice the size of ours. It was new and he had it out for a family trip. His grandchildren were competing in a lifeguarding contest up the coast. They would leave to attend the competition and relax in the park other times. This was the last weekend before school starts here in New Zealand so everyone was out on holiday. I understood some of what he said but struggled with some of the rest of the language. He had what I assumed was an Australian accent, kept saying, “good on you,” and using other local expressions. It turns out New Zealand English sounds just like Australian English in movies. That afternoon I asked at the office about the internet and learned they had internet available for $7 per day. I paid the $7 and we went to work. It was possible for Louise to use the service when I wasn’t on line so we could both work from the same account but not at the same time. I visited the web site of the provider and then went to sign up for one month of service which was $60.00 NZ or $49.10 US. We’ve used it several more times already so this will pay for us. It turns out to be common in the TOP 10 Holiday Parks and some of the other holiday parks (a generic term for campground or RV park) as well. We’ve stayed at several parks that don’t have the same internet service but they have an alternate and so far we haven’t had to pay for any of them. We have since purchased a membership card for the TOP 10 Holiday Parks which gives us discounts at other attractions. It saves us 10% on campground fees. It saved us $12 NZ for admission to Te Puia the day after we purchased the pass. It is also good for BIG 4 Holiday Parks in Australia so we’ll get much more than the $49.00 NZ we paid for the pass. We should have purchased it sooner! Campground fees here are interesting. We checked into a campground and the fee was $20 per person per day. That was the fee for us, using electric in a campervan. A couple came in to check on fees for tenting and it was also $20 per person. We were paying the same as someone staying in a tent. The TOP 10 parks are the best parks we have seen so far and we’re planning to stay there whenever we can. We’ve stayed at a couple of off brand parks and the facilities are way below the standard for the TOP 10 parks. Most of the major cities have a TOP 10 park. We’ve found them to all have clean restroom and shower facilities and generally to be in good repair. The parks have gas barbecues available for use, frequently have swimming pools if it isn’t a beach park. Prices are a little higher in and near the big cities, otherwise the prices are pretty uniform at $20 per person per day. Our activities at Orewa Beach consisted of some beach time and walking in a nearby ocean side park. Most of our time was spent resting and adjusting to the time difference.By the time we left the park on Sunday morning, February 2, We were feeling rested and refreshed.
  3. In 2012 Louise and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We couldn't decide what to do or where to go for the celebration. Living in south Texas now, we didn't want to travel north in December so we decided to postpone the celebration for a special trip of some kind. We received an advertisement for a cruise from a company we had cruised with once before. This was a really exotic cruise, perfect for an anniversary celebration. Two weeks cruising the Fiji Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. We put our deposit down with about a month before the commitment date. The no refund date passed without much discussion, the trip was on. Scheduled for the first two weeks of June 2014, it seemed quite a long way off. Soon after making the decision to take the cruise, I pointed out that Fiji wasn’t really too far from New Zealand and Australia. Can you see where this is going? We discussed that and put it aside. From time to time one of us would bring up the idea of extending the trip for the cruise to include New Zealand and Australia. At FMCA in Gillette, Wyoming last spring we attended a session on traveling in New Zealand and Australia in campervans with the tour group associated with FMCA. The presentation sounded great, we made notes and inquired about the price. It all sounded good until we sat down to discuss details, the price quoted was per person, double it for the two of us. That was a lot more than I was prepared to spend for a six week trip to the two countries. Louise and I are not tour people, we don’t like to be on a schedule when we travel. We’ll do it when we must but we much prefer to make up our own schedule as we go. So we decided to go it on our own. Finally last fall, we decided that if we were going to see New Zealand and Australia we need to start making arrangements. Louise took the lead contacting New Zealand Airlines to get prices and information on flights. They service all three destinations so we settled on them. Louise started planning a three week trip extension for the two week cruise. I said that I wanted to make the trip a full year to allow us time to see everything we wanted. That’s when the fight started! I found a set of suggested drives for Australia, two week loops that covered most of the country. There were about ten of them so this was far beyond what Louise wanted. We talked and settled the argument on a four month extension of the cruise. We would spend one month in New Zealand and three in Australia. I anticipated doing this following the cruise but Louise wanted to be back in the US following the cruise. So I agreed to scheduling the trip before the cruise. Somewhere in there is a lesson for the US Congress I believe. Louise began to go to work with the airlines and their travel agency. We booked flights for the entire circuit from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand then after a month we would fly from Christchurch, New Zealand to Melbourne, Australia. At the end of three months in Australia we would fly from Sydney to Nadi, Fiji for the cruise. Then at the conclusion of the cruise we would fly from Nadi, Fiji to Los Angeles. From there we built in the details. We would rent a campervan in Auckland and return it in Christchurch, making a ferry trip from the north island to the south island on a ferry so we reserved the ferry trip. In Australia we would stay in a hotel in Melbourne for three days then take the ferry to Tasmania where we would stay in a hotel for a week traveling by rental car to tour the island. When we returned to Melbourne we would pick up another campervan and travel for 10 weeks going north along the east coast up to Cairns then traveling west along the north coast to Darwin and finally traveling south to Perth. We would leave the campervan in Perth and fly to Sydney. Our visit to Sydney, would involve a hotel stay for a week then fly to Nadi, Fiji. All this was going to cost us in the neighborhood of what the six week trip with the FMCA travel agency was charging but we would get four months on our own schedule seeing just what we wanted. What will follow in the coming days and weeks is a running commentary on this trip. I just checked my records and this posting is number 100 for this blog and comes at the end of 5 years of activity on the FMCA web site.
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