A Travellerspoint blog

Remarkables

rain 8 °C

It is 10.00pm on Thursday February 19 and we are holed up in our Wicked camper, safe from the black sand flies who are swarming the lakeshore of Hawea , not far from Wakanapa. While the sun has long set behind the huge mountains surrounding this lake, the left over light is still plenty to see and walk, however when one stops, the flies know, and are out to get us.
After leaving Te Anau on Monday evening we have been traveling plan(e)less again. One of our Milford Track buddies called our mode of traveling this, and I never understood his wording correctly. It must mean our “flying by the seat of your pants”. That describes our New Zealand itinerary. While our hike dates were set for Milford, nothing else is except our departure from Christ Church to Australia on February 28. That gives us the freedom to start each day there where we feel called to go. Most often we depend on directions from friends and relatives who have been here before and shared their good places to be and now locals whom we meet along the way presenting their ideas, either way, we have not been steered wrong. We love the ability this country gives in pulling over there where the spot appears right for a night’s rest. On Monday night we landed on a very Southern Beach, next to small Monkey Island. While it was brutally cold and windy, there is an incessant wind by the shore, it was the right spot for observing and sharing a colorful sunset with many winged friends. In the morning the beach gave me endless miles to walk while slowly watching clouds peel away and showing an unexpected view of Fiordland from a different angle. From there we drove on to Bluff, the Southern Island’s last city and spent time at New Zealand’s land’s end, a couple of weeks after experiencing land’s end up North at Cape Reinga. It was in Bluff I saw the most remarkable toilet ever, fully electronic. Right on the most Southern point of New Zealand is a unisex toilet one can only enter when on the outside there is a green button to push. That allows the door to slide open and silently closing behind you, locking itself with a voice announcing that at any time you can unlock yourself by pushing a certain button and that the door will unlock spontaneously after 10 minutes, regardless of the job done. Men, do not bring your newspapers here. Unobtrusive music is played and when it is time for the flush you discover that this will happen automatically after your hands are fully washed and dried and not before. All parents should have this device in their bathrooms while teaching children the art of toilet hygiene. I was so amused by it all, such an isolated spot to have encountered this, I made Tom go! He was equally entertained.

While our intent was to ferry over to Steward island, the bitter wind changed our mind and we started traveling North again and inward a couple of hours until there where we found more warmth and a beautiful lake and stopped for that day. Tom is the one with the map, and with me sitting back enjoying a sun doing the same, he announces “ Remarkables”. I full heartedly agree but Tom goes on and informs me that the mountain range surrounding lake Wakatipu where we have landed is so called. The Remarkables mountains. What a name for that which is! Waking up the next day with a peek from our camper I see only a very isolated “Remarkables” spot lit up by a sun I cannot yet see and wonder from where the light today is thrown and again have an endless walk, this time by a lake’s shore.
From there we headed into Queens town which is indeed a town fit for a queen. There now is a struggle between Te Anau and Queens town for my new favorite places to be. In Queens town we go straight to a Holiday Camping park. Three days without a shower is my max and while I enjoy the warmth of shower water and the other luxuries one encounters at Caravan Parks, in trading up we trade in the freedom of stopping there where nature is the greatest. It is here in the Remarkables area that I notice the remarkable of camping out in freedom where when there is another free spirit sharing your space, connection and conversation will be made, while in the caravan parks, where one's space is only the width of your van and you are surrounded by herds of white campervans no talk is exchanged while paths constantly cross in crowded bathrooms and kitchen. Do we lose ourselves in the crowd?
What was absolutely great in Queenstown after walking for hours in a town which offers hills and a harbor was the ride up in the gondola with Tom, dressed up in a pair of jeans and eating an absolute feast above Queenstown’s sun setting lights. Remarkable, six course feast where we ate so much that the gondola groaned on the way back down. It was on this ride down that I saw for the first time the Stellar Southern Cross, a Southern constellation Tom has been trying to point out to me for days but one can get lost when only trying to see that which others want us to see, we should instead wait until it is our time to see the Southern Cross.
For the rest of the night, the Southern Cross in its kite like appearance shone through our moon roof.

Saturday here. It is raining, not cats and dogs but more like elephants and rhinos. We decided to head up more towards the Western Coast and spend a couple of days in Glacier country which is also a rainforest and we were due for a catch up on rain. Yesterday afternoon the downpour stopped briefly to give us the opportunity of hiking to Fox glacier. Amazing sight to see and to be able to walk up to this ancient wall of ice. Close up one can hear the sound of a dying glacier and huge chunks of ice break off and are carried away in a furious flowing, milky stream , disappearing forever down the valley it created so many years ago. We spent last night behind the dunes of Gillespie’s Beach on the Tasman Sea. The wind was ferocious and the beach walk was cut very short before we holed back up in the campervan, listening the rest of the night to a fierce Southern New Zealand storm. Thank goodness for the great readings we keep acquiring. When we left we carried two paperback books with us, one given by a good neighbor, the other picked up at Something Brewing, a Conway coffee Shop. Since then we have been trading out and up. In Maui I read the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and the Painted Alphabet, a great story on life in Bali. Thanks to our friend Maha, we acquired Kite strings of the Southern Cross by Laurie Gough and it is absolutely the right book to read while under the Southern sky. After each book read we leave it behind and pick up another. At camping parks, hostels and coffee stores throughout New Zealand free book exchange is found and with great international flavor. My next book is written in the Dutch language. TV has not been seen since leaving the USA and newspapers here limit themselves to news of the Southern Hemisphere and the only American news read was on Michelle Obama with whom New Zealand appears quite smitten. What I recently read in the paper was a remarkable article on a robbery which occurred in a local brothel. Yes, here they are licensed, law abiding and taxpaying. The article mentioned that the female receptionist who was robbed experienced quite an emotional distress but assured all that she was doing much better and the police was on the lookout for the perpetrator, a European male in his early 30’s. I thought that to be quite a broad description. Later that same day, while enjoying a picnic lunch by the lake, a man came sauntering by and struck up a conversation. The New Zealanders overall are the least reserved people I have ever encountered and I greatly enjoy the interaction while it gives me opportunity to ask who exactly the police is looking for when the only description given is… European. Simple he says… It means white. But you are white, I replied. Yes, he said. But I am a Kiwi. He then proceeded to tell me that there are only 4 kinds of people, Moeri’s , Kiwi’s, Aussies and all others are European. Remarkably simple and it is just as well that the crime rate here is very low.

Tonight we are in the township of Franz Josef in a nice, dry and warm backpacker hostel hoping for the rain to take a break again tomorrow and a chance to see more of the glaciers around.
Remarkable is what our trip is, day by day, sunset by sunrise.
Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 20:20 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (2)

Milford Track

rain 5 °C

Today, Monday February 16 we are back in the township of Te Anau after 4 days of glorious hiking through the Southern Fiordland on the Milford Track. It was great to have a good dinner and a hot shower after days without. We are trying and upload lots of pictures so you can share in this beauty with us. Our muscles are a tat sore but thanks to my sister Marianne’s husband Bob, who is the best brother-in-law a person can have, I am blister free. He is the one who steered me towards purchasing Trampers Friend, a wool product I am sending on to my hiking buddies Cathy and Shelley.

We started the hike last Thursday after an hour and a half launch cruise on Lake Te Anau from Te Anau Downs to Glade Wharf. It rained, which was not surprising since it rains two out of every three days in this area. The boat’s captain slowed down his vessel and pointed out interesting views which included the burial cross on a small island as a memorial to Quintin Mackinnon who presumably drowned in this lake, four years after he together with companion Ernest Mitchel reached the head of the Clinton valley and crossed the pass and continued down the Arthur valley, today’s Milford Track which we now were ready to explore. At Glades landing we all stepped in and out of small tub filled with cleanser, to protect New Zealand’s unique waterways from unwanted organisms such as Didymo, a freshwater diatom (algae). While the total Milford hike is 53.5 km (33 miles) long, on the first day it takes all of 5 km to arrive at our first hut, the Clinton hut where we meet up with the other 38 independent/freedom hikers with whom we share a bunkhouse, common room and a small bathhouse which holds four commodes and 4 sinks with only (very) cold water. Our group was made up of 15 different nationalities and I heard languages spoken never heard before. The common language when we were together was a form of English. While the first evening we were as strangers and asked where others were from, before the next evening it was more about where we all were and by then we knew each other by name. On the trek fellow hikers would stop and offer their scroggin. I was glad to learn that it was another name for what we call trail mix and all carried a bag full to their own liking and make-up. I was mesmerized the first day with the wetlands, also known as wastelands through which I walked. Colorful carpeted, soft ground with knotty trees, festooned with moss and lichen, their branches veiled with green bridal showers. I would not have been surprised if the gnomes I read about as a child in the brothers Grimm fairytales had appeared and danced in the rains. That first evening at the Clinton Hut we also were introduced to the dreaded and much talked about sandflies. They are indeed the most obnoxious and irritating member of the animal Kingdom, by far surpassing the mosquitoes. James Cook, who thought himself to have discovered New Zealand wrote this about the sandflies in his journal “ The most mischievous animals here are the small black sandflies which are very numerous and so troublesome that they exceed everything I have ever met. Wherever they bite they cause a swelling and such intolerable itching that it is not possible to refrain from scratching which at last brings on ulcers like the smallpox”. Our boat captain advised us to befriend with someone from the UK whom the sandflies seem to like the most and there must be some truth to this with the English couple in our group appearing the most covered in bites. The topic around the table that first night was a sharing of what insect repellant worked the best. All agreed it was called Bushman but those who had it somehow could never remember where purchased. There are two options for tramping the Milford. Besides the independent/freedom hikers one can pay for a guided trek. This means that you are outfitted with a small back pack and all the rain gear needed and you do not stop at the huts instead at nice lodges where you are greeted with prepared drinks and gourmet hot meals. Real beds with soft mattresses and pillows to rest your tired head on at night in a private room and lots of hot water to shower your tired , aching and cold body with. Rumor has it that the guides will even give foot massages and in the morning after a hot breakfast lunch supplies are laid out for one to prepare their daily midday meal and that is all the hiker has to carry in their pack together with a change of clothes. Well, that was not the group we were in. Us freedom campers had the freedom to get up when we wanted and take off when we desired for the next day’s 16.5 km trip. Of course we also had bought the freedom to carry ALL our gear every day, including bedding, clothing and toiletries, utensils, cooking pans and food for 4 days. Plus all that is carried in must be carried out including all our rubbish down to the tissue used. In the end it comes down to what is affordable both financially and physically since both the freedom and guided hikers use their own legs to cross over the pass a vertical 1000 meter climb both up and down very rocky terrain. At the three freedom huts, Clinton, Mintaro (2nd night) and Dumpling (3rdnight) there is a warden/ranger on duty whose job it is not to clean up after us instead to give us the information on the safety for the next day’s trek and that what we may encounter regarding flora and fauna. These wardens/rangers were highly entertaining in their delivery of abundant knowledge once I realized that they were talking in English and learned to make a conversion in my head. Ross, Clinton’s warden was the tallest man I have ever met and when he mentioned that the crossing through some of the second day’s streams and falls could be done through water, waist deep, depending on that day’s rain fall, one of our shortest hikers very timidly asked on whose waist that would depend . Ross’ legs after all stopped at six feet. He grinned before acknowledging that it would be by his high set standards. Tom and I had seen pictures where hikers indeed crossed at waist level and had accordingly lined our backpacks realizing that rain covers would not be enough to keep our sleeping bags dry if we would have crossing as such. We were blessed with amazing weather for day 2 and 3. Absolute dry crossings both through the Clinton and Arthur valleys and on the morning we crossed the Mackinnon Pass it was right at the moment we stepped on the highest point that the sun peeked over the largest Eastern Mountains and burned the clouds from around us displaying the most magnificent view of both the Clinton and Arthur valleys which the pass divides. On the top is a toilet , a loo, which has such an amazing view that a large window was cut in the door so one can enjoy while taking a break(leak). Upon arrivial at the pass top, these were the only words heard, depending on Nationality. Stunning, awesome, wunderbar, magnifique… before all became still and filled their lungs with that which had taken their breath away. The three day hike takes one over uncountable suspension (swinging ) bridges and if it is over one of the Clinton or Arthur calm pools the clarity of the water at times makes one wonder if the water is truly there or an illusion. That is until one sees record size brown trout reverently swimming by or lumbering eels. At other times the water gushes and rapidly rolls over and under rocks, finding the fastest way downward. It is a hike which needs to be done slowly, not only for the rest knees and ankles need but also to see and hear the many birds, often native only to this area. Tom especially stopped often and pointed out Whio’s (blue ducks) and weka’s. We heard and saw Kea’s, New Zealand parrots with a definite attitude. We made many side trips to see additional waterfalls including New Zealand’s largest, the Sutherland falls which drops 580 meters in three stages and gives a great shower when standing at the bottom even while at least 100 feet from where it pounds on large rocks. On one of these side trips a couple of rangers needed assistance moving some of the boulders(ankle busters) on the path and asked for Tom’s help which he gladly gave and he probably would not have minded to stay a day or more to help with the Milford track. I did not mind the side trips as long as it did not mean I had to haul my pack along. My pack seemed to grow larger and heavier as the days carried on. Around me at night I saw the other hikers pull out gourmet meals out of these tiny packs. I am not kidding, meat and fresh vegetables sautéing in olive oil and made into sauces mixed with freshly cooked pasta in actual usable pots and pans. I had one pan about the size of a tuna can which heated enough water for about half a cup of coffee and a couple of sips of dried soup/meals. The next morning these hikers would beepop by me with their tiny magic pack. I want one of those! I saw one man, a true lover, who piggybacked his girl friend’s pack over his for two days since her feet hurt. I asked Tom if he would do the same for me, after all it was Valentine’s Day. He opted to buy me dinner instead on our first night back to Te Anau.
At the end of 33 miles we all gathered at Sandfly Point to meet the 2.00 pm boat which would ferry us over Milford Sound so we could catch a bus back to Te Anau Downs where our Wicked Camper was waiting. I had not thought it possible to find a place with more sandflies than I had encountered at the huts or on the track but indeed there is one and it carries the right name. Maori legend has it that Hine-nui-te-po , the goddess of death, visited the God Tu-to-Rakiwhanoa at sandfly point as he carved out Milford Sound. This place she found so beautiful she feared mortals would want to linger there forever. She therefore liberated a large species of namu, or sandfly with an injunction that they multiply and multiply they did. It is not a place to linger instead to hastily jump aboard. It had been an amazing 4 days, hiking indeed through one of creation’s most beautiful places and we were blessed with weather which made it very pleasurable indeed. The wettest our boots ever got was stepping in the cleansing tub at the onset. On the last day it rained quite a bit which made the crossing of the sound mystical and the bus ride back rewarding with the white water ribbons streaming down the great ice worn mountain faces of Fiordland.

It makes one wonder if it was here where Thoreau received the inspiration to write these words.” I especially feel the necessity of putting myself in communication with nature again, to recover my tone, to withdraw out of the wearying and unprofitable world of affairs. I wish again to participate in the serenity of nature, to share the happiness of the river and the woods”.

Your grateful trampers, Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 18:35 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Southern living

overcast 10 °C

Having enjoyed great summer temperatures in the Northern Island for the first 10 days of February I expected even more of the same with our traveling South, after all is that not what we do, go south to find the sun. Not here in New Zealand. This evening, Wednesday February 11 Tom and I are in Te Anau at a hostel on a lake that Switzerland would be proud to claim and suddenly the temperatures are in the low to middle teens(Celsius). The closest solid land to us here is indeed Antarctica and no longer are there human swimmers in the waters. The past day and a half were spent driving over 900 Kilometers to this Southern spot where the Fiordland starts so we could pick up our tickets for the Milford Sound Track, a hike we registered for almost a year ago. Great landscapes were passed and we plan on returning to quite a few of them after the hike and explore more. Stark and overwhelming beauty and fitting to see most of the mountains shrouded in mist, it adds mystery. The South eastern shore is wild and the only family out enjoying the rocky beach was a group of New Zealand Fur seals. We stopped and enjoyed the glimpse of animal Kingdom. The larger, furry papa seals were snoozing away with the sleek and svelte momma seals hovering around the pools where their babies were frolicking away. The little ones would go climbing over the rocks at a fast speed and hurl themselves in the waters only to climb and slide down on the other side. Occasionally they would stop and find their mum for some nourishment and a gentle slap from her flippers. It was difficult to tear away from and continue driving south. For quite a while Motor Way 1 stays right by the shore and whales, penguins and porpoises can often be seen. It rained for most of the day and at one time traffic was backed up. Since we saw quite a few flashing lights ahead we expected a wreck and were somewhat surprised when one by one each car was stopped by a policeman. When it was our turn all I saw was a policeman in a yellow slicker who pointed his left index finger to us and then pointed this same finger to his forehead, in between his eyes. In certain countries that means you are told that you are crazy, Tom took it to mean that it was our turn to drive up to him. That appeared correct and the man leaned in our window and advised us to keep down the speed while traveling over the bridge ahead. There were at least 4 flashing police cars on both sides of the bridge and a commanding post with lots of action. I was taken somewhat aback by all that was required in New Zealand to slow down the drivers but thought, so what, to each their own. Tom was the one who noticed the machine gun in the officer’s hand, which I missed due to my misinterpretation of the pointed index finger. With that in mind Tom drove VERY slowly over the bridge and then went on and forgot the incident. In the South, to remind the drivers to not continue driving while tired they offer” Driver reviver”. Free coffee and it is sponsored by the government. Great idea , how well worth the lives it may save. Since a potty break was also in order we pulled over. It was still raining and I headed to the side of the building where the ladies sign could be seen. On the door was a note “ due to renovations use the toilet”. Exactly what I had in mind, but found the door locked. There was a key in the outside lock and common sense prevailed and I of course turned the key and opened the door. I am not sure who was more shocked with my invasion, me, who walked in on a man crouched next to the toilet while painting the small room or this man who silently shook his head while pointing to his misunderstood sign. Oh well, I closed the door and locked him back in and headed inside to figure that one out. I was redirected to the men’s bathroom on the other outside wall where a more sensible sign alerted us to “due to renovations this bathroom is unisex. “ Tom in the meantime learned that all the police by the bridge a few miles behind were there to capture a fugitive. While reviving ourselves with a great cup of free coffee we try to hear more details about the fugitive and why did the police not alert us to that instead of telling us to keep the speed down? The women serving us coffee had all the information, their small town alert system was working overtime. It was an unknown person with a hood pulled over his head. Mind you, it had been raining heavy all day long and every smart person I saw that day fit that description including us and the three hitch hikers who walked in. My logic insisted to question her again about the lack in not informing us or at least advising us to not pick up hitch hikers and why was the bathroom door locked from the outside. Her reply was that the law had a look in our car, saw it was fine and made sure we were not alarmed and that one should never pick up hitch hikers anyway. No reasoning on why their painter was locked in instead of the women out. Minutes later, pulling out of the lot one of the hitchhikers flagged us down and said they had changed their mind on where they were heading and could we give them a lift. I am sure they were fine but still we had no room for three and parted on. I love Southern living where logic finds its own way. While at the café we read the paper and learned of the horrendous fires in Australia and New Zealand’s immediate response. The kiwi’s here may joke amicably about the Aussies and one is very aware of the existing competition, but when a neighbor needs help, they are fully there, sending firefighters and money raised by all.

Tonight we are packing our packs for the 4 day trek. While almost 10.00 pm here we are so far down in the Southern summer that the Earth’s rotation on its axis allows us to still have light to see from a sun which gives little heat and is a tad pale. In Maori legend, the fiords we are now ready to hike were created not by rivers of ice but instead by Tu Te Raki Whanoa, a godly figure who came wielding a magical adze and uttering incantations. Milford Sound (Piopiotahi) is without doubt his/her finest sculpture. We are waiting to be inspired by the fiord’s mood, whether teeming with rain, shrouded with mist or with sun glistening on deep waters. Trampers friend is packed for the feet, a natural wool product specially made for us by the zillions of sheep we saw these last two days to keep our feet happy, warm and blister free. We will catch up again late on Monday after the hike.

Apopo,
Tom and Els.

Posted by tomstrick1 10:44 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Glow

sunny 28 °C

Tonight Tom and I are finding ourselves in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, waiting for the ferry to cross us and our wicked camper over to Picton on the Southern Island. The ferry does not leave until 9.00 pm and we are taking this time to check messages, write stories and upload pictures at a backpacker’s hostel across from the harbor. The day was spent sightseeing and eating great food at a Brabants restaurant in Wellington’s city center. One knows one is home in Brabant (Els’ home province in the Netherlands) when the restaurant has these sayings on the walls. “ Volk van mijn Brabant, zo vroom en zo schoon, eert uwe Brabantse zeden, die gij geerfd hebt van vader op zoon”. Freely translated; people of Brabant, so pure and beautiful, honor your heritage. Next to that was
“ In de hemel is geen bier daarom drinken wij het hier. Literally translated: In heaven there is no beer, that is why we drink it here. The menu was in Dutch and French and it was not until I went to the toilets and saw the signs designating the men’s from the women’s facility that I knew I was not in a Dutch restaurant, instead a Belgian one. The women entered Fabiola’s stall(queen) and the men’s Boudewijn (king). Oh well, the food was great and yes, Belgium does have claim on Brabant also. We continue and see great country sites here and the sunsets have been amazing. Long after the suns sets its glory keeps on glowing. While camping at Waitoma caves I was walking back to our camper when a young girl stopped her play and announced “ de lucht is pink” ( the sky is pink) and indeed it was. The sky was a blend of shades of pink and it was not only great that a child noticed and announced but in the manner she did, blending the Dutch and English languages. The Dutch word for pink is roze. Later, another child stopped by our camper. We stand out a tat in the Holiday parks where most campers/caravan’s are standard, boring white. She introduced herself “ Hi, I am Isabella and why is there graffiti on your van?” I explained that we had hired the camper for our Holiday and secretly was grateful that I only had to explain this saying on our camper’s back. ” I always wanted to be somebody, I shoulda been more specific”, it could have been what I saw on another wicked camper “ A man who stands on toilet is high on pot.” I had a question for Isabella too, why are you carrying a large bottle of Stella Artois beer? After all, the child appeared all of 8 years old. She replied it was for her mum who was visiting in a camper down from us and who had sent Isabella out on the errand. Isabella was not in a hurry and wanted to learn all the living and sleeping details of our camper and how did the sink work? I showed it all and was rewarded with the knowledge that in Isabella’s eyes we had the best camper in the park. In the parks we have stayed so far, signs are up for parents to supervise children under 5 and that is what we see with the older children free to roam. There is an incredible relaxness in the New Zealand parents, a trusting that their children will be safe and this pureness carries over to the children who have great confidence in their world. Children are running from camp site to campsite, making friends and jumping into pools often without clothes on. When they hop on their bikes they know what is required and expected from them to stay safe and suddenly protection is put on top and bottom, shoes and a helmet are donned while britches are not.

In Waitomo Tom had an opportunity to tube through the wild waters in the caves. He had a grand time and gained additional information about the glow worms the Waitomo caves are world famous for. While as beautiful as the Southern stars by night, it is not worms which are sparkling by the thousands above your head inside the caves. It is really the excrement of maggots but would it draw the tourists by the swarms if it was known that it truly is only shiny shit that one has paid to see? (One really needs to hear this said by a New Zealander). Another glow felt was my skin after finishing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing on Sunday. It is an almost 20km trek through steep, active volcanic terrain. It was there where some of the most amazing scenes for the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. While I have hiked craters in Hawaii, never had I smelled the minerals before, or saw their waters and the venting of volcanic gasses. Pictures were uploaded this afternoon but justice to the land and the experience they do not give. The smells around the emerald lakes were a little overwhelming as was the hike down the red crater. At all times I had to travel with my wits about so as not to end up sliding down by the seat of my pants which still happened more than once. While I wore a sunscreen with a 50 SPF and with already tanned skin from Maui I still felt the glow of skin heated by a sun through a thinning ozone layer. Tom stayed behind at the camp for this hike but I definitely was not alone on the trek. It is the hiking which draws many of the tourists here and I overheard many languages while traveling the path. The guide who dropped me off at the trails head promised me that if I was not back by 5.00pm at the other side the police would be notified and I would be listed as missing and looked for. Great assurance. His only other advice was to be mindful of the water we took. It was up to the hikers to bring and carry enough for the day but if we ran out there were two huts on the trek which gathered rainwater. If we needed this water we were asked to only take that so we could go on and no more so that those who came after us could have the same. It is a rule of life the New Zealanders consciously abide by and which we greatly appreciate.

In a little while we head to the ferry and will travel by the light of the full moon to our next destination. Early on Thursday we cross the Milford Sound and trek there for four days. I do hope my sunrise walks have prepared me well for the hiking days ahead. Yesterday on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing I was so grateful not only for that I am, but that I can.

Apopo, Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 22:02 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

The opposite of right

sunny 25 °C

Today, Friday February 6 is a National Holiday here in New Zealand. Schools and businesses are closed and all appear to be gathered on the beaches. On this day, in 1840, forty Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi thereby ceding sovereignty to the British Queen and affording the Maori people the rights of all British subjects in return. I acquired this wisdom last night from our camping neighbors Catherine and Ian. Sort of a July 4th except no war was fought. The Maori’s are descended from an ancient line of Polynesian people and their language appears closely related to the Hawaiian language. Of course I speak neither. I am learning some of the customs, one is the hongi, a Maori greeting where noses are pressed together and the ha, breath of life, is exchanged and intermingled.

It is so easy to become locked in our own mindset, see our way as the only way, the right way. We now have spent our first week in New Zealand where the opposite of right is lived daily. An upside down world created right. Since Monday evening we have driven all over the most Northern part of the island, camping along the way. Driving is exhaustive here, and I am usually fed up with it after a couple of hours and can become quite crabby, as Tom can testify to. Partly because of the speed limit. It is a 100kilometers per hour, whether it is a motorway (there is only 1, appropriately named Motorway 1) or a winding mountain dirt road. There is even a beach road, yes a 90 mile long road on the beach where the sign said 100 Km. While driving to Cape Reinga , the top of New Zealand, we were stopped by a wrecker sideways on the dirt road. There was a police man close by who apologized for the delay but a car had gone off the side of the mountain and needed to be taken out. He mentioned that all the mates inside were fine but they had taken the road a wee too fast. Duh… I wonder why? Stop placing these signs of 100km everywhere. I have accepted they are speed limits, not minimum speeds so I go comfortably at my speed and gladly move over in the slow-drivers bay at any time to let the New Zealanders pass. I am still wondering how these gentle people behind a set of wheels can turn so quickly into maniacs. We have become accustomed to driving left, even entering the many roundabouts so opposite of than what we are trained to. We take care not to drive while tired since then there can be an ease to fall into automatic pilot driving and go back right. I no longer step in the passenger side of the car when it is my turn to drive and wonder where in the heck the steering wheel went off to. We will have to replace the wiper blades soon. Both Tom and I, when turning or changing lanes inadvertently set the wipers in motion instead of the turn signal. What I ,as of yet have not figured out is whether this opposite of right affects walking up and down stairs in crowds and where does one push the cart in the gocery store?
We no longer buy gas for our van, instead petrol which is sold by the liter. Children are returning from Holiday, not summer vacation, and we get rid of our rubbish. Cricket is played and when I hear this I no longer look around for a bug and the temperature is measured in the metric system as well as everything else. This system was not implemented here until the late sixties and take note America, it can be done successfully. Masks and snorkels are no longer rented, we hire those and fish and chips are not to go, instead take away.
Money is in dollars with the notes in 5, 10, 20 and 50’s and am sure higher ones too but have not seen them yet. There are coins for one and two dollars as well as 50 cents, 10 and 5. With the tax already calculated in, there is no reason for pennies which I have always seen as smart operating. At first glance prices seem very high here until I remember that we only paid 153 American Dollars to purchase 300 New Zealand ones which makes most prices equal or even cheaper. Except of course the petrol at $1.70 per liter.
The country site is beautiful. As one New Zealander pointed out to me” God took the best from all over the earth and placed it together here for the New Zealander to enjoy”. I must agree. While driving on The Northern Island and seeing the beautiful rolling forested hills it takes me back to the Ardennes in Northern Europe. At times the vegetation and roads remind us of Maui and the road to Hana. While seeing a beautiful white beach on the right, on the immediate left there can be the same gentle sloping meadows of England with sheep grazing. On the Largest Sand Dunes in Northern Te Paki visions of the Sahara desert come to mind. Southern France vineyards are scattered throughout and we passed sweet Iowa corn fields. Even a few of Kansas’ claim to beauty, great fields of sunflowers. Wildflowers add color throughout. I am told that the South Island to which we ferry next week is even more spectacular. I am appreciating the dry wit here which often accompanies the hospitality. While stopping for petrol at a deserted and very small station I asked the proprietor if he had a bathroom there. He nodded, and when I asked whether I could use this facility, his reply” What else would you want to do with it” before taking me to his own private quarters and showing me where it was.

We have camped out in our “Wicked “camper van every night so far. Mostly at designated camping spots and once by the side of Sandy Bay Beach, a little south of Bay of Islands. We were tired; it was almost 7 at night and saw a tent pitched by the side of the road with a young couple nearby and figured if they can, so can we. Another car stopped and a woman approached us asking if we planned on spending the night there and when we affirmed she said she would too, she would feel safe with us. That is how we met Helga Seefried, an Austrian woman our age, traveling alone. Like us she was tired of driving and needed a place to rest. She had not planned on camping that night and beyond a bag of oranges had no food. We had stocked up that day and had fresh baked banquettes, Edam and Brie cheeses and fruit so I made her a plate and poured an extra glass of New Zealand wine and invited her to our abundant spread on the ground. She was touched; “ Ah, you share your bread and wine, come to Austria and I will share mine”. This is our second invitation in Austria and we hope to see Helga there in April. She speaks excellent English and when at times the English word was not there for her we would move on in German. She was somewhat confused with the word “ Wicked” on our van and I could not find a German translation for it right away so wicked was changed to “naughty”. Friendships are formed when kindred spirits are found as I did in Helga. The next morning Tom and I were awakened to rain pelting down on our moon roof. I stayed in the van for awhile until boredom set in and decided to go for a very brisk beach walk. After a while the rain no longer mattered and the rolling waves looked tempting enough for a morning swim. Helga joined Tom and I in the ocean and burst out singing “ swimming in the rain’ to a familiar tune. Truly a woman after my own heart. We hugged goodbye and drove on North while Helga went South. This is what I hoped our camping would be like in New Zealand. The following night we camped on the shore at Taputaputa Bay, once again a wonderful white sand beach. The sand here is very fine and packs so solid that during my morning or evening walks even my heavy, big foot barely leaves an imprint. It is great for running and the ebbing waters leave very intricate and unique flower designs in the top, blond layer. Pulling only the white sand it leaves highlights perfectly done. I am used to looking up and around during my beach walks while Tom looks down and so it is Tom who made me aware of sand. We learned something else that camping night. By opening the window and letting in the sound of the surf we also let in the dreaded mosquitoes. Tom is my natural insect repellant, as long as he is around no bug will touch me. While I had been out shopping for groceries, Tom bought protection and he doused himself with a repellant which made me more attractive to the bugs. I became the live bait. Needless to say, it was a most miserable night. Tom’s repellant stopped working after 4 hours and I awoke to him fighting back and frantically slapping mosquitos against the van’s ceiling. The next morning it looked like a slaughterhouse. We have a bloody mess on our hands; the van’s ceiling now needs a good cleaning. The morning swim in the ocean that day felt great, even as cold as it was. The ocean water was by far colder than the unheated showers on the camp site but aided as a salve for my many, tiny red mosquito bites. We will spend part of this Holiday morning at the beach site next to our neighbors Catherine and Ian who are camping here for a year with their two young sons. Ian and Catherine met in London but decided to move back to New Zealand where Ian grew up so their sons can be raised here and enjoy the same ease Ian did. Both are very well educated, Catherine a teacher and Ian a business man but they now have taken a year off to spend with their children before they start school. They live very simple and are enjoying this time immensely. In Ian’s words “ I had fallen into that trap of working too hard. The more one has the more one needs “. For now all they have is their time together at the ocean’s side and it is all they need.

By one of the many beaches we have been at I saw this sign: “It seems the ocean did give birth to all the living things on Earth. It makes good sense for all of us to care for it and recognize its worth”. Living where we now are it does appear that the ocean gives birth to both the sun and the moon. New Zealand is intriguing and absolutely beautiful. The summer weather is mild, the landscapes spectacular and its people inviting. . What we miss are our children to share this with and phone contact. While ATT promised me that our phones would work here, that has not happened yet. We are learning more of the history and customs daily and I of course took great pride reading that the first European to sight this great country was Abel Tasman, a Dutch explorer and he annexed the country for Holland. It was not until more than 100 years later that Briton Captain James Cook’s cabin boy sighted this land and mapped it. I now know why the ocean here is called the Tasman sea, I want to visit the Abel Tasman National Park on the Southern Island and wonder about the Tasmanian devil. Hmmm.
We are slowly heading South towards Wellington, very slow, so not to have to spend too many hours on the fast and crazy roads. Tonight we plan and camp in the Waitomo valley . Tom is very excited about the opportunity to go black water rafting. No, not in black water, in the dark. The rafting is inside the Waitomo caves with the only light visible the headlight they furnish and glow worms. While very attractive to Tom, as a claustrophobic I am passing this event. Eye glasses are not allowed so I have a great excuse to back out.

Apopo, Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 21:11 Archived in New Zealand Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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