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  1. One of the questions that came up was whether we had our motor home in Australia. This is something that one might consider for an extended trip but it isn’t really feasible. There are numerous problems, the first is that the campgrounds aren’t set-up for our motor homes. The power cords we use don’t fit anything here. Current is 220V but the plug is unlike anything we use in the US. They don’t have sewer connections similar to ours, they use one inch hoses for grey water and toilets are a special kind, a small canister which holds toilet wastes. The canister is removed from the vehicle and emptied into specific dump locations. Grey water drains into sumps in some campgrounds but it is quite common to drain grey water onto the ground near the rear of your campsite. Even in campgrounds where sumps are provided for grey water people will drain to the ground if their hose isn’t long enough to reach the sumps. Utilities are not located like our in the US where the electric, water and sewer are all in one place. One electrical post has four or more outlets and would be located on the common corner of four lots in most cases. The four lots being two facing one street and two facing another street. The lots vary in size but most are fairly small. Our 40 foot motor home would not fit on most of these lots. So there are many reasons why a US motor home would be a problem when traveling in Australia and I haven’t even addressed the possible problems with driving on the left side of the road with the driver’s seat on the left side of the vehicle. With a US built vehicle, the driver position when driving on the left side of the road would put the driver on the edge of the road, not in the center of the roadway. Passing vehicles are on the right side of the car which is the far side from the driver in US vehicles. Then there are the roads. The campervan we are driving feels like a very large vehicle on many of the narrow roads here. There are trucks and large busses which travel these roads but I would not feel comfortable driving anything larger than what we have now. Also, campgrounds trim their trees for campers like ours to drag their way through the low hanging limbs and large leaves. We have seen a few large motor homes. When we started our travels in New Zealand we stopped at a rest area. As we were standing there looking at the scenery a 1990 Safari pulled in. We took pictures and the owner came over to talk to us. We told him we were amazed at seeing a US motor home in New Zealand. He said he had purchased it in the US and shipped it to New Zealand. This particular chassis was easy to move the steering wheel to the right side of the vehicle. He had the electric cord modified and a few other changes made. We asked how he felt about driving on the roads and he said he didn't travel much. He has a few places he goes to and they have a special lot for him. The only other big rig we saw is in the picture with this posting. We saw it at Exmouth in Western Australia. It had two of the Australian 220V power cords which look like a normal extension cord. We didn't visit with the owner of this rig. The final nail in the coffin as far as I’m concerned is the price of fuel. We are getting around 15 miles per gallon (in US terms) with the campervan. Fuel prices in Australia have been about $1.55 to $2.45 per liter. So here is the conversion to US terms. It takes 3.785 liters to make one gallon. Multiplying the above dollar figures times 3.785 gives us $5.87 to $9.27 per gallon. These figures are in Australian Dollars which are worth about $0.92 US at today’s exchange rate. Multiplying 0.92 times these figures gives us $5.40 to $8.53 in US Dollars for a gallon of diesel. The prices are lowest in cities and highest when you get way out into the outback, especially on highways to nowhere, those roads that are one way in and one way out. For most of the outback, we’re paying between $1.80 and $2.10 for a liter of diesel. Unfortunately, there is a whole lot of outback in Australia. Needless to say I’ve left a few dollars at Shell, CalTex and BP stations around the country. There are a few other fuel companies but these are generally the least expensive. Frequently there is only one station, no choice at many of the roadhouses in the outback. If the tank is empty, you pay the price and say thank you! With two weeks to go, we have driven about 15,000 kilometers or 10,000 miles in Australia. Most people here camp in trailers pulled by an SUV or small truck. They frequently attach a tent or screened apparatus to the side of the trailer to give them plenty of protected outdoor area. Camping trailers are almost always pull-behind trailers. We’ve seen just a few fifth wheel trailers. It is not uncommon in the outback to see camping trailers which are built for high clearance being pulled behind a beefy four wheel drive SUV which is used for the many dirt and gravel roads which penetrate the outback. The roads we are traveling which are paved are often the only road in an area with all other roads being dirt or gravel. If you really want to get away from it all in Australia it is easy, most of Australia is away from it all but you need a four wheel drive to explore this area. The alternative for us is to take tours which will haul us into those areas for day trips.
  2. Here is another question. In a recently posted picture the ground looked rather dry, not the lush green paradise that many imagine for New Zealand. Let me assure you there are many places that are lush and green. The North Island and indeed much of New Zealand has experienced a rather dry summer. They are quite a bit behind their normal rainfall. So farming areas are dry. The moist rainforests, protected by shade from trees holds moisture better and tree roots help the forest absorb almost every drop of water that falls there. Right down the road from the picture of the farm on the shore is a forest preserve. The picture with this posting shows that green forest, it makes quite a contrast. There is a rainy season as well. It varies in different parts of the world but winter and spring here will be wetter than the summer or fall. I mentioned in a previous post that this is hurricane season in the southern hemisphere. Hurricanes and tropical storms will deliver large amounts of precipitation this time of year but they are hit and miss and everyone pretty much is rooting for a miss on that rain. Louise and I had compared some of the places we were seeing with what we are used to seeing in California during fall visits when the hills are a golden brown color. Some areas here look like that right now. There is some irrigation here but not too much. We have seen only a few of the large sprinkling systems that are common throughout the prairie in the US.
  3. May 29, Thursday, we bid farewell to Australia. After three months our Australian adventure comes to a close. A van to the airport, check in with the airlines and proceed through security and we’re on our way. Of course it just doesn’t happen that quickly. We awoke at 5:00 a.m. to catch a shuttle at 5:30 to the airport. By the time we’ve checked our baggage, it is 6:30. We’re given an exit card to complete to clear customs and immigration as we leave Australia. We stopped for breakfast and this gives us a table and time to complete the questions on the card. Louise picked up several books (3 to be exact) because you just can’t find books everywhere anymore and it is a long flight to our next stop in Auckland, New Zealand. Five hours later we were in New Zealand. It really wasn’t five hours in the air, there is a two hour time change between New Zealand and Australia. The country has a wonderfully familiar look. We were here four months ago! Our hotel was near the airport and we got a shuttle to take us to the hotel. A nice room with a Jacuzzi greeted us and we both got our money’s worth from that Jacuzzi! Our night was short again, we were up before 7:00 a.m. to be ready for the airport shuttle at 7:30. Grab the bags and run – that’s our motto. We got cards to clear customs and immigration in New Zealand and then on the plane we got arrival cards for Fiji. The flight to Fiji is a short hop, 2 hours and 30 minutes straight to the north of Auckland. We arrive shortly after 2:00 in the afternoon. Transport to our hotel in Lautoka just 20 miles away is quickly arranged. We are sharing a van with another couple and their two children. They are from New Zealand on a winter vacation to Fiji. The ride to Lautoka is an awakening. We are in a genuine third world country. For all its romantic image, the nation of Fiji is a very poor country. Poverty is evident everywhere. Our hotel, the Tanoa Waterfront Hotel is a quality hotel and our room is very nice. The food at the restaurant is excellent. After two early mornings we slept in late. Check out is 11:00 a.m. and we have three or four hours after that until our cruise boards. We got lunch and then relaxed in the lobby until time to get a cab to the docks for our cruise. It is a five minute ride to the dock and then a half hour wait with the rest of the arriving crowd until we are able to board.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. The Coromandel Peninsula is a favorite holiday area for the Auckland area. It is just a couple of hours drive from Auckland to the southern end of the peninsula. There is hardly a straight road anywhere in the Coromandel. To the west lies the Hauraki Gulf and to the east is the Pacific Ocean. So this is similar in some ways to Florida but it is also dissimilar in many ways. Primary among these is that the Coromandel is mountainous and has some indications of volcanic activity in its many hot springs. In 1852 gold was discovered in the Coromandel Peninsula and a gold rush was on. As with most gold rushes, they don’t last long and things quieted down for a while. Eventually tourists discovered the peninsula and it remains popular with locals and tourists. We stayed at a small park in Thames on Tuesday night. Wednesday we began our drive north along the western shore. The road was literally on the shore of the Firth of Thames. Driving north meant that we were in the lane right next to the water. There were places where the white line on the road marked the edge of the Earth as Louise described it. We were never at great height above the water but disaster was never far away. The road curved in and out of every bay and inlet. There were houses on the landward side of the road in little communities and an occasional park on the seaward side of the road. Log trucks and places where the road narrowed beyond the normal road kept me on my toes. We stopped where there were pull-outs to take pictures and marvel at the view. There were also slow moving vehicle bays which allowed us to pull over and let faster traffic continue on their way. Now instead of getting honked at, I’m getting thank you toots from the drivers. We stopped for lunch at a nice seaside park and ended up spending an hour watching some of the birds in the area. Shortly after lunch the road rose up into the mountains. Scenery was everywhere. We had views of the seashore, small towns along the coast, wonderful rich forest growth and farmland. As the afternoon went on we neared our destination for the night, Hot Water Beach. This is a well-known tourist attraction. A hot spring near the beach floods the beach with hot water. Dig a hole in the sand at low tide and you can sit in a pool of hot spring water. All the holes fill in as the high tide washes everything back to its prior state. We checked in at the TOP 10 Holiday Park just a short walk from the beach. Since it was low tide we decided to make our way to the beach immediately. Shovels weren’t available at the holiday park but the desk attendant suggested we could just take pools dug by others this late in the day. That worked fine. We found one pool then moved to a warmer pool when its occupants left and finally to a really hot pool. We’re lying in sand and water and our swim suits filled with sand. Even a dip in the ocean didn’t remove anywhere near all the sand. We brought a significant part of the beach back to the holiday park! The following morning Louise was off to the Laundromat early in the morning. She filled three machines with laundry and was just about finished when it started to rain – hard. I had almost finished preparations for our leaving the park when the rain started. The rain began to subside and I was preparing to unplug and go pick up Louise. As I went the door, she came down the street lugging the laundry. After hanging up the almost dry laundry and stowing the rest we were on the road south to get groceries and then on to the town of Rotorua. We were really glad we had taken advantage of the dry afternoon before to go to the beach. This day was not going to be a good beach day.
  9. 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.
  10. We left Orewa Beach Sunday morning headed north to Whangarei and beyond to Russell and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. After several days in the campervan we had a list of things we needed. Groceries were at the top of the list. Yes, despite our purchase on Friday we were in for another purchase of food. We located the Countdown Grocery and Louise went in to start shopping. I went to a housewares store, Briscoes. I thought it was going to be more like a Lowe’s than a Bed Bath and Beyond but I still managed to find most of what I wanted. I found a door mat marked $19.95, two plastic wine glasses marked $10 each, a good steak knife for $9.99 and a sharp kitchen utility knife for $6.99. The door mat was marked 50% off so it should have been about $10. When everything was rung up, it came to $30.00 NZ. I checked the ticket and everything was on the ticket but at a discounted price. Must have been a big sale day. With the US conversion it came out to $25.19. Now that is better! I remarked to Louise that I wish the manager of the Briscoes store was running the Countdown! Louise spent another $170 at Countdown. While she prepared lunch I went to a technology store in the shopping center and inquired about a cell phone for our use. They directed me to the Vodaphone store which knew exactly what I wanted. I purchased a simple cell phone with 30 minutes of time for $50.00 NZ, $40.87 US. I consider this a bargain considering what it would have cost us to use our AT&T cell phones here in New Zealand. We’ll plan to do the same thing in Australia. No, of course the New Zealand phone won’t work in Australia! Shopping and lunch completed, we were off to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. We arrived at 4:00, inquired and found they were open until 7:00 which gave us time to explore. We paid $100 NZ, $82 US for admission. The treaty grounds are the location where the treaty was signed between Great Britain and the Maori leaders giving the British Crown sovereign control of New Zealand in 1860. A small museum displays photos, artifacts and documents from the signing. A short video describes the events leading up to the treaty signing. The house which was the residence of the an early British resident, James Busby, still stands and has been restored and furnished with period furniture. The gardens were in full bloom. Also on the grounds is a replica Maori fishing camp and a traditional Maori meeting house. We missed the cultural performances, war dances and celebratory dances. We would see them at another site later in the trip. There is also a huge Maori war canoe which held 80 rowers and is launched each February 6 as part of the Waitangi Day celebration of the signing of the treaty. We were there on February 2 and weren’t able to stay for the celebration. We did notice that traffic was really heavy on February 6 and the schools were closed. It was only after several comments to that effect that we remembered this was a holiday, the celebration of the birth of their nation. We walked from the war canoe by the beach back up to the house on the same path William Hobson walked 154 years before as he represented the British Crown at the treaty signing. On the western outskirts of Russell is a Kiwi Holiday Park. The facilities were good but the parking was mostly sloping. We found a site that was reasonably level and pulled in. Our neighbors were sitting out having a glass of wine and relaxing when we pulled in. They struck up a conversation right away. I had to excuse myself to hook up the electric and turn on the gas. I told them if I didn’t I wouldn’t get fed tonight. We later went out with our wine glasses and had a wonderful discussion with them. We found numerous things in common. They were from Melbourne, Australia and we exchanged contact information and have an invitation to get together with them when we are in Melbourne next month. The RV community is the same everywhere, friends are just a few words away.
  11. 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.
  12. We arrive in New Zealand at 6:30 a.m., two days after we left our house. Where did that day go? Crossing the date line erases a day. We are actually 19 hours ahead of Central Standard Time in the US. As I explained to our children, it means we are 5 hours behind their clock time so imagine moving the clock back five hours, and then turn the calendar ahead one day! Actually we are on the same day from midnight to 5:00 a.m. in the Central Time Zone. What about other time zones? Well, it is 18 hours difference for the Eastern Time Zone and 20 for Mountain Time and 21 for Pacific Time. When daylight savings time goes into effect we all effectively move east one time zone so adjust accordingly. What happens here in New Zealand? I have no idea. That is why I came to explore this strange land. I’ll tell you when I find out. As everyone knows, when you are in New Zealand and Australia, you are “down under.” It takes special concentration and great toe strength to hold onto the Earth and keep from falling off. Yes, we really are upside down. I saw the constellation Orion one night and the Great Orion stands on his head in the southern hemisphere! His sword is pointed up toward the zenith, overhead and his head is low on the northern horizon. In the northern hemisphere his feet are toward the equator and his head is near the zenith. The real thrill is to watch the water go down the drain. I haven’t been able to observe this just yet. The drain in the campervan sink is so slow that I could fall asleep before it finally drains out, no spin there. The toilets are water conserving toilets, there is no swirling to the water, just a strong splash and everything is gone. Another thing to be resolved. I can tell you that the rotaries do rotate in the opposite direction! Both New Zealand and Australia are former British Colonies. Despite being half a world away, they decided they would follow Great Britain’s model and drive on the wrong side of the road. This creates great confusion particularly in my mind. Knowing this they have taken special steps to ensure that everyone drives on the wrong side of the road. They have neat little blue signs with arrows to show you which side of the islands and barriers in the road to drive on. Every place you enter the road from a side road they paint large white arrows on the road showing which direction each lane is traveling. Clearly we need to work on the US roads and include these arrows to help remind our drivers where to drive. It is funny (and sometimes not so funny) to learn to drive completely backwards from how you have driven all your life. I worked for days just getting the position within the lane correct. I’m on the right side of the campervan. Constant reminding from Louise has moved me from the line at the edge of the road toward the center line. Louise insists that the line at the edge of the road is near the edge of the world and in a few places here it really is! When I turn off the road into a parking lot I revert to driving on the right side! Then there are the one lane bridges, come off the bridge and my first instinct is to go right – oops. I have tried to be at my most humble when being corrected by Louise. She has after all saved me several times by pointing out my mistakes. She will not take the wheel, at least not yet. Maybe I’ll find some remote road in Australia and convince her to take a turn at it. It is an experience that no one should miss. One of the best things I did before we started the trip was to order the map sets for New Zealand and Australia for my Garmin GPS. I ordered a hard copy as opposed to downloading it from a web site. It arrived in the form of a mini-SD card that simply plugs into the side of the GPS unit. On that tiny little chip is an amazing array of information. I could have rented a GPS here but that would mean learning how another unit works and we all know how painful that is. I have my familiar GPS, I know how it works and am able to use it to its full potential. It is just so wonderful to have step by step directions in a strange country with confusing city and street names, unusual traffic patterns such as rotaries and then learning to drive differently than in the past. Having those directions has taken one mental strain off my mind allowing me to concentrate on my driving. I think we have had to pull over to consult a map or check directions a couple of times. Otherwise, we just get in and drive to our destination. I have found it to be quite accurate and complete with parks and tourist sites usually in the data set. I switched it to read in kilometers and it gives distances, speed and speed limits. Of course it is summer here in the southern hemisphere. February weather here is the equivalent of August weather in the US. You no doubt have read or heard of the weather in Australia and the intense fire season they have had there. We aren’t in Australia. We started the trip in New Zealand which is an island nation. The ocean is within a one hour drive from most of New Zealand and the climate reflects that. We are using our heater at night to take the chill off the night. Daytime temperatures are in the 60’s, 70’s and a few 80’s. One of the mind-bending backward features of the southern hemisphere is that when you travel south the weather gets cooler. Go north to warm up! In fact when we are on the north shore of Australia we’ll be well within the tropics (in April and May, think October and November weather in US) and will see tropical rain forests at or near the end of their wet season. This time of year is also typhoon season. We get alerts from the US State Department regarding travel safety including notices about typhoons and tropical storms near where we are. What great service!
  13. 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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