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  1. I’ve had several commenters ask questions so I’ll take a little time to answer one of them here. This was written in February and I’m posting it now that our trip has ended. Regarding the nature of the night sky here in New Zealand. First let me say that you don’t have to go far outside the large cities to experience some of the best dark skies you can imagine. The population is spread thin outside the major cities. One in three people live in Auckland and 85% of New Zealanders live in cities or towns so that leaves just 15% for the rural countryside. On the South Island the population is spread really thin with much of the area being mountainous. The Milky Way stands out brilliantly from most everywhere on both the islands. This alone can confuse the casual visitor. There are few places in the US where you can see as many stars in the sky as you will here in New Zealand. That is simply because it is almost impossible to get far from centers of population in the US and we have a love of light at night. So we light up the night sky to an extent that hides many stars. See The Globe at Night website for more information about light pollution in the US. In major cities you will only see a handful of stars, the brightest planets, our Moon and Sun. Fill the sky with stars and it’s hard to pick out the familiar groupings you may know. Now, as far as recognizing constellations, there are three challenges to be met. The first is that when you look to the south you are seeing stars that an inhabitant of the northern hemisphere never gets to see until they cross the equator. This is one of the great treats of crossing the equator. The whole of the south circumpolar region is completely new. It would be like someone from New Zealand coming to the northern hemisphere and seeing the north circumpolar stars, the Big Dipper or Ursa Major and Little Dipper or Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Perseus, Andromeda, and Draco would all just look like a jumble of stars until they picked up a star chart and began to pick out the patterns of those constellations. The second challenge is that the portion of the sky that we are familiar with is all upside down. As we look at the sky in the northern hemisphere, the projection of Earth’s equator onto the sky would form an arc from east to west and at its highest point will be south of the zenith (the zenith is the spot straight above your head projected onto the sky). Everyone has their own personal zenith and it changes as we move about the planet. The equator is south of our zenith in the northern hemisphere. The further north you are, the further to the south the equator will be. Take the constellation Orion as an example. Earth’s equator passes right through the belt of Orion. When we look at Orion from the northern hemisphere, the star Betelgeuse forms one shoulder and is well above (to the north of) the equator. The star Rigel forms one knee and is well below (to the south of) the equator, thus Orion seems to be standing upright with his head toward our zenith (our head) and his feet toward the southern horizon in line with our feet. Now imagine seeing Orion from the southern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere, your zenith is south of the equator. When you look to Orion, you are facing north. In the northern hemisphere you were facing south. This causes a left right reversal. So now, Betelgeuse is upside down and the star Betelgeuse is to your right instead of the left as we are used to seeing it from the northern hemisphere. That means that every constellation we see will be left-right reversed. And this is the third challenge to recognizing the constellations which are familiar to us. So the entire sky is now rich with stars, upside down and backwards (left-right reversed) and there is a whole cast of new characters around the South Pole that you only see from the southern hemisphere. Even for a seasoned observer of the sky, this presents challenges. The casual observer may want to enlist the help of a guide! Or, you could just stand on your head and wear sunglasses to observe the stars! Watching the sun during the day presents the same problems. When the sun rises in the east for us in the northern hemisphere we watch it move across the southern sky and it sets in the west. As we do this we are facing south and the sun seems to move from left (east) to right (west). In the southern hemisphere, it will rise in the east, move across the northern horizon and set in the west. Facing north, the sun will move from right (east) to left (west). So the sun seems to move across the sky in the opposite direction because we are turned around. This also applies to the motion of the stars at night. I have been an avid observer of the sky for many years and figuring all this out has been an interesting challenge.
  2. 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!
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