Sunday, March 13, 2011

Piha Beach, and Haere ra, Aotearoa. For Now. :-)

Well, this is likely my last blog post from New Zealand. In fact, I'm kind of in the no-man's-land of the International Departures shopping mecca of the Auckland Airport as I type this, so I'm not sure if this can still technically be classified as New Zealand Soil.

I'll just start typing about today, and we'll see how far I get before my parents and I get called for our final boarding call.

My mum had her sights set on going to the Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter museum in Auckland this morning, to the point where she had me book our admission passes online so we could get at 10% discount. What she didn't count on the 70 000 runners participating in the 39th annual Round the Bays run down on the same street the museum was located on! Actually, it was something of a perfect storm; the Antarctic centre could only be reached by Tamaki Drive, which was blocked off for the run, and the surrounding area had no roads whatsoever, as it was a scenic mountain reserve connected with a Maori Marae. Despite being armed with my computer accessing Googlemaps, and my dad's generally highly accurate sense of direction, we were unable to find a way down and around Auckland's twisty streets. We parked on top of the mountain, walked down over the grass, and tried for several fruitless minutes to wade through the tide of humanity walking/jogging/running down the road. By this point my dad was starting to say things like "We likely won't make it to Piha Beach now", and I was getting closer and closer to screaming in frustration and anger. I didn't want to go to this Antarctic thing anyway, and if it meant I was going to miss Piha, where I had wanted to go to since I first arrived in New Zealand... aaaagh!

We eventually gave up, hiked back up the hill, and using my computer once again plotted a route to Piha Beach. And thank goodness we had my computer, because without the route it plotted there is no way my dad and I would have figured out how to get there; the signage was all but non-existent, and one intersection wasn't even marked from the angle from which we approached it! Add on top of that your typical windy, narrow, densely-forested New Zealand highway, combined with my dad's slightly-too-fast and not-quite-mastering-lane-tracking-for-being-on-the-left driving, and we had a highly interesting ride.

The plane is boarding now, so I will write more later.


[Update: now typing to you live from the BC Ferry!]

But finally, an hour and twelve minutes after we left, we had crossed the Waitakere Ranges and were walking barefoot across the volcanic black sands of Piha Beach. The beach itself is majestic; smooth black sand, rolling surf, and dominated by a massive volcanic rock mountain called Lion Rock (or Te Piha in Maori, which means "bow wave", the waves hitting the front of a waka [canoe]). We climbed up the side of Lion Rock (as far as we were allowed!) for the magnificent view... and then as we came down observed a group of French people climbing up past the barrier and beyond to the very top of the rock. I certainly hope they got down safely, as the sign warned of loose and falling debris (and indeed we observed a large slip on the other side).

Piha Beach, while beautiful, is also deadly; there are many dangerous rips, and swimming is only permitted in a narrow strip of beach between two flags where the lifeguards are on duty. The danger doesn't stop it from being a popular surfing hangout however; there was a crowd of surfers out catchin' the waves, and noobies coming out for a lesson from the Piha Surf School. There was a sizeable crowd of families down at the water as well; I figured any Auckland family that wasn't participating in the Round the Bays run had escaped town and come out to the beach for the day!

Even though our cat is named after Piha beach (her former owners being from Auckland, and obviously enchanted with the beach's beauty), I don't think Piha herself would be very happy there; she wouldn't like the salt water, the noise of pounding surf, or the many eager dogs running down the sand with their owners! After a semi-nutritious lunch of chips, crackers, cheese, and veggies (we were trying to eat through the remainder of our food supply), we made a brief stop to take a picture in front of the Piha Beach Fire Brigade Station, bought a souvenir window decoration (to commemorate our visit) from the local tourist trap art gallery, and then started making our way back to Auckland and to the airport.

Navigating back to the airport was easier than navigating to Piha - airports tend to be a little bit better marked than remote beaches - but my computer and Googlemaps still came in handy. Once at the airport, we managed to return our rental car and check in with minimal fuss: interestingly, the flight we were on (NZ84) was overbooked by the airline, and as such they were offering incentives to switch to an alternate flight: $500NZ off to fly instead to L.A. with a four-hour layover, and then connecting up to Vancouver. We turned them down; you could not pay me enough money to make me go through US Customs, particularly after a 13-hour flight.

While we were waiting upstairs in the terminal, eating our way through the last of the food we couldn't take through security, we started talking to the couple sitting across from us; turns out they live in Napier (near Maraenui, where Frank lives) and their daughter (whom they were seeing off today) lives and works in Nanaimo! Sometimes it's crazy how small the world can be.

Going through security we had a minor hiccough (we had forgotten to fill out departure cards), and I had a slightly more major one: I forgot that I had a water bottle in my backpack half full of water! The security guard was merciful, however, and said I could keep the bottle if I drank the contents of it in front of him as there was nowhere to dump it out. So there I was, by the x-ray machine, chugging my way through half of my stainless-steel water bottle's H2O. After carting it all around New Zealand, I wasn't about to loose it!

I'm not sure what was particularly exciting that I can say about the flight... the plane went up at 8:15pm, came back down at 1:15pm (so thanks to the International Date Line, we got back before we left; that always amuses me), and it didn't experience any problems in the middle. I got my typical upset stomach about eight hours in, and spent the last five hours trying not to hurl up dinner while choking down a little juice and tea for breakfast (more like brunch, I guess... it was breakfast time back in New Zealand, but brunch time in Canada). My parents were seated together about five rows back from me, and I was by myself next to a nice Kiwi couple who now live in Vancouver. I didn't watch any movies, but listened to music on my iPod, and enjoyed glancing around seeing what everyone else had chosen to watch (The King's Speech, Black Swan, and episodes of Glee and Two and a Half Men were all popular).

So now I am back in Canada... in some ways it feels like I never left, and in others things are weirding me out. The weather wasn't that much of a shock - the air quality is just as good in New Zealand, so I wasn't taking huge gulps of the Vancouver air like I did when I got off the plane from Hong Kong in May 2009. What I did do was change out of my capri shorts and into a pair of pants (slightly more suited to Vancouver's 8°C as opposed to Auckand's 26°C). It's the little things that are getting to me: seeing traffic driving on the right, sitting in my uncle's left-hand-drive car when he picked us up from the airport; walking on the right-hand side of the foot path (pardon me, sidewalk); hearing the Canadian accent in all the conversations going on around me; and knowing that my accent doesn't stick out here. It's a reverse culture shock of sorts. Nevertheless, I definitely do still have a place in Canada; here on the ferry, my grade eight science teacher Mr Drew just walked by, and when I called out to him he came over and gave me a hug, said, "Carolyn! How are you? What have you been up to?" and sat down to have a conversation with me and my parents. Yes, Vancouver Island is still a place to call home.

Alas, I imagine this brings an end to my daily blog posts on Carolyn in Aotearoa, as Carolyn is no longer in Aotearoa, but Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It's going to be very strange not to be blogging every night; forgoing food, relaxation, and very often sleep just to make sure I got everything from the day down on (digital) paper to share and reflect on later. The next few days will be spent unpacking and readjusting to life in a place where I have a permanent bed and room (such a concept!). I have several books, some cast-off clothes I collected from fellow backpackers and op shops (thrift stores), and some CDs to add to my collection here. Despite being away for so long I brought back very little from New Zealand, mainly due to subscribing to the Backpacker Philosophy: if I bought it, I'd have to carry it!

I'm going to add pictures to almost all of my blog posts, as I'm going to leave the blog up as something of a digital photo album and memoir of my travels for myself and my friends to view (if I flatter myself to think that they would be so interested to do so). As such, I leave you with this, a traditional Maori goodbye: haere ra, kia ora. Farewell, and good health.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Parnell: The Funky Part of Auckland!

After dinner last night we went for a walk around Tauranga, and saw a group of people clustered around a television screen; when we got back to the motel we found out it was likely due to the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan. New Zealand had been issued a marine warning, but we (the country) were very fortunate as nothing significant came of it. I had a moment of horror when I went to contact one of my friends who is currently living in Japan, but she is thankfully okay, aside from being terrified by the experience. I can't say that I blame her; I know exactly what it's like to live through an earthquake.

This morning we drove from Tauranga to Auckland without stopping; it took us about two and a half hours, and then another half hour to get from Customs St in downtown Auckland up to the hotel in Parnell! Ah, city driving, I definitely do not miss thee. To be fair, however, a lot of the delay was due to construction work, not heavy weekend traffic.

Once checked into the Kingsgate Hotel, and finished snacking on our lunch of cheese, crackers, fruit, and leftovers from last night's dinner, I phoned Michael from Mainline Steam and confirmed that yes, indeed, we had made it to Auckland and would be walking over to the depot in a few minutes. He asked if I remembered how to get there, and I said, "Oh, yes, and anyway, I'll just follow my nose!" to which he responded (quite brilliantly, as he knows about my cold) "Well, your nose is running, so you'll be here quickly!" Bada-bing.

As it turned out, Michael was all by himself at the depot waiting for us to arrive; I felt badly, as I had assumed more volunteers would be around, but it turns out they all went home just after lunch. Nevertheless, Michael was very gracious, welcoming my parents and I, and gave us a little tour around the depot, showing us the different locies. Ja 1240 has come a long way since I took photos of her back in October! It's thrilling to see such care and attention being paid to the engines. I know my dad was impressed with the scale of the operation, and particularly with the huge engines from South Africa (the "giant beasties" as I refer to them); I think the firebox on one of them could have easily fit my Honda Civic inside. It's so large that there is a direct feed from the coal box into the firebox; one wouldn't be able to keep up with it stoking by hand.

It was good to spend time with Michael at the depot; Mainline Steam was how I started my time in New Zealand, and it was nice to have it as an ending as well. Incidentally, interest in the Mainline Steam Tour 2011 has already been registered, and there are some repeat guests from last year's trip! Sigh, I wish I could go again... but I'm afraid that (aside from the small problem of not being in the country) I broke the bank the first time around and it has never recovered.

After leaving the depot we walked back up (and then down... and then up again... the streets here are very hilly!) to Parnell and found a post box so my mum could mail a postcard, and then back to the hotel, where my parents went across the street to explore the rose gardens and I stayed in the room, nursing my cold to get up enough energy to go out again for dinner. We ended up walking back to Parnell Street in search of a good restaurant, and settled on Nori, a Japanese one on the corner of Parnell and Garfield Streets. I had a wonderful meal; my first good sushi in months! I think even my mom, who doesn't like sushi, enjoyed her dinner: she had salmon teriyaki, and the two of us both had crème brûlée for dessert (yes, I know, such a traditional Japanese dessert. Oh, well).

Leaving the restaurant, we started walking up the street to wander around before heading back to the hotel. I must say, although I'm not a fan of Auckland, I like the funky vibe of Parnell; it's definitely a major improvement to the impersonal, big-buisness feel of downtown Queens Street. As it happened, we found ourselves smack in the middle of White Night, a celebration of "great art, great culture and great fun in a great city". Part of the Auckland Arts Festival 2011, "over 50 public and private art galleries, museums and cultural centres across Auckland [threw] open their doors to let the light out and the public in". The first activity we came across was a colouring one, aimed mostly at kids: we were invited to draw a picture on paper using pastels in exchange for a cupcake or lolly, and then the drawings were taken and posted in a local art gallery for the evening. I'm not much of an artist, so I simply drew a bunch of coloured ribbons weaving and intersecting one another; I suppose in a way it can be seen as representative of my life, and how I have woven and intersected with so many others over these past few months.

Our next stop was across the street; we found ourselves in a greenstone carving store, where my mom ended up buying a beautiful wooden bowl carved with a traditional Maori motif. Then we went next door to a contemporary art gallery, and I was dazzled by several paintings where the artist demonstrated a remarkable ability to blend colour and create the illusion of light. If I had $12 000 burning a hole in my pocket, I may very well have walked out of there with one of her paintings!

As we were walking back down the street toward the hotel we got sucked into visiting Elephant House by a rep woman standing on the street... it's one of the classier souveinr shops, focusing on crafts and gifts rather than cheap crap mass-produced in China. My mom got a shirt, my dad a hat, and I got some yarn to knit into something (with my current skill-set, likely a scarf), and a possum fur wrap. I am not a pro-fur individual, but considering the possums here are an invasive introduced species, and knowing the havoc they have wreaked on the native birdlife, I feel fine supporting their eradiation.

Back at the hotel at last, my mum and I then spent over an hour trying to pack our bags; thankfully, I've gotten pretty good at it after over five months on the road, but it's still a pain to try to squish everything in neatly. I've really been quite good about limiting the things that I buy over here, but somehow I've managed to amass half a dozen books or so (who's surprised? Likely no one), so I'm not so much concerned about running out of space as being over weight.

Tomorrow promises to be an eventful day; my mum wants to go visit an aquarium, and then we're heading out to Piha Beach for the afternoon, provided by dad and I can figure out how to navigate there(!). Goodnight!


Friday, March 11, 2011

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

Today was our first (and thankfully, only) fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants day; we had no set plans, and no pre-booked place to stay for the night. All that was predetermined was that we were heading in a roughly northerly direction. In the end, my parents both got their ways (sort of): we ended up going to Matamata, home of Hobbiton, and for the evening are now situated in Tauranga, a seaside city on the East Coast. Initially my father wanted to go to Mt Maunganui, where my aunt and uncle had stayed and loved when they vacationed here in 2005, but after calling around to a few places we quickly discovered that things book up quickly for a Friday night. I could have told my parents that, having gone through the long and arduous process of selecting and booking accommodation for the rest of this trip, but I did get some satisfaction out of watching my dad call a series of places before finally finding one that had room: see, dad, it takes a bit of work!

Matamata is a small town of 7800 about an hour’s drive northeast of Rotorua; before Sir Peter Jackson selected a nearby farm as the setting for Tolkien’s Hobbiton, its two main industries were thoroughbred horse training and dairy farming; now a substantial amount of tourism can be added to the list. We booked our tour of Hobbiton through the local iSite, and were bussed to and from the farm (on a glorious old white bus named “Gandalf”), located about 10km out of town.

The farm property is owned and run by the Alexander family; Ian Alexander, the father, and three sons, Craig, Russell, and Dean. Peter Jackson originally chose the location in September 1998 after an aerial search of the countryside because of its isolated location (the rolling hills block out any sights or sounds of the 20th century, and the nearest road is 2km away), and because it contained three elements critical to Hobbiton: a lake, a dance field, and a large tree (the “party tree”, for those who know the movies well). To access the site, the New Zealand Army was contracted to build a road around behind the hills (hidden from view), and also built graded spaces for the filmmaker’s technical equipment and the cast & crew’s caravans, make-up trailers, and catering. Site construction started in March 1999, and filming for all three movies took place at Hobbiton from December 1999 to May 2000.

After filming was complete the original contract stipulated the sets had to be completely destroyed, and the land returned to its original state. Demolition of Hobbiton proceeded, with the mill, pub, market, and bridge razed to the ground, and about half the hobbit holes destroyed before inclement weather forced the crews to stop because the work became too dangerous. In the meantime, The Fellowship of the Ring had been released to theatres, and locals had figured out that the Alexander’s isolated farm was where filming had taken place. Soon visitors began to trickle in to see what was left of the sets, and the Alexanders, likely realising the tourist industry could bring in some extra cash to supplement their sheep and dairy farming, spent two years in negotiation with New Line Cinema to keep the remaining hobbit holes (albeit without their decorative exteriors), and developed a tour company to bring the eager crowds of Lord of the Rings devotees through.

Fortunately for us, however, the farm is once again an active film set: Peter Jackson is now directing The Hobbit, and Hobbiton has been resurrected, or more accurately, almost completely rebuilt; a Hobbiton 2.0, if you will. Reconstruction began in December 2009, and filming was scheduled to begin in December 2010. However, Peter Jackson suffered a perforated stomach lining, and filming at Hobbiton was suspended as a result. His loss was our gain: while I am genuinely sorry for Sir Jackson, and wish him nothing but a speedy recovery, I am grateful for his illness, as it allowed for us to have a tour of a reconstructed Hobbiton, looking almost identical to how it appears in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy (actually, it has been expanded for The Hobbit).

Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say about Hobbiton: while we were allowed to take pictures onset, everyone had to sign a confidentiality agreement before beginning the tour, which I will reproduce here:

The property you are about to enter is a working film production location. Everything here is the confidential trade secret and proprietary information of the film production company, 3 Foot 7 Limited.
You must keep what you see and hear strictly confidential. 

Information acquired by you here
must not be disclosed by any means to anyone (including your family and friends).
These disclosure restrictions also apply to Twitter, Facebook, You-tube, My-space or any other social networks, blogs, websites or the Internet generally. 

You are permitted to bring cameras and recording devices but only on the condition that any photography or recording is to be used for your personal, private and non-commercial uses ONLY.
By signing below you are confirming you understand that: 

  • As a condition of your access you are bound by a legal obligation of confidentiality; 
  • If you breach your obligation of confidentiality you may be sued; and 
  • All rights to (including copyright in) any recordings or photographs used for any unauthorized purpose will immediately vest in the film production company upon such breach. 

Serious stuff. I’ll be happy to talk about what I heard and saw and experienced after the The Hobbit movies come out, but until that point I’m going to keep quiet. :-) Nevertheless, walking around the set, I couldn’t help but wonder what J. R. R. Tolkien would have thought to see his beloved Hobbiton coming to life; I think he would have been immensely pleased.

After the farm set tour we were bussed back to the main road, and over to The Wool Shed, where we were treated to a sheep-shearing demonstration, and got to feed pet lambs with with bottles of milk (it’s amazing how affectionate animals can get when one offers food; then again, my brother were the same way when promised a lick of the beaters when my mum was making cookies).

Once back in Matamata, we had a mid-afternoon tea of smoothies (coffee for dad), and then drove the fifty or so kilometres to Tauranga, where we are currently situated at the quiet but centrally-located Roselands Motel. Right now my mum and dad are cooking up a feast of chicken, steak, beans, corn, and pasta in our little kitchenette; I’ve been prohibited from participating because of my cold, but I’ve been informed the dishes will be my sole responsibility. It’s a beautiful late summer/early fall evening, and the wind is rustling the curatins as it blows through the sliding glass door of our unit. The timer just dinged, so I guess I had better be off. Goodnight!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"Some say the world will end in fire..."

I wonder if Robert Frost saw the irony in beginning a poem with the above words, considering the connotations of his last name (likely. He was an ironic kind of guy).

Last night my parents were treated to one of the joys of hostel living: the incessant music from the bar on the ground floor filling the room until all hours of the morning, playing such appealing tunes (to their ears) as Katy Perry’s “Firework”, Duck Sauce’s “Barbra Streisand”, and Flo Rida’s “Club Can’t Handle Me”. I just smiled and popped in my earplugs, which evidently also enabled me to sleep through the drunken swearing brawl on the street at 3am.

After a brief look around the beautiful Napier Cathedral we were once again on the road, this time heading Northeast to Rotorua, the smelly geothermal capital of New Zealand. The highway was littered with sealcoating operations, so we were constantly stopping and starting, surrounded more often than not by tree plantations of pine and Douglas fir (planted in their straight rows, marching up and down the mountainsides; it unnerves me). We made it to Lake Taupo (and the town of the same name) around noon, and stopped for lunch at the side of the largest freshwater lake (by area) in New Zealand, where we ended up feeding a feral cat morsels of cheese from our sandwiches.

As we drove highway #5 up toward Rotorua, my mother became increasingly agitated about how we just “drive all day and then never see anything”, causing my dad to pull off the road while she consulted the Lonely Planet and tried to figure out what activities we could do for the later afternoon and evening. We ended up driving down the road to Waimangu Volcanic Valley, the only hydrothermal system in the world where the exact date of its commencement is known: June 10th, 1886, with the eruption of Tarawera Volcano.

Waimangu Volcanic Valley is a Scenic Reserve and its geothermal features are classified as Category A (of international significance); as such, it is administered by the Department of Conservation. However, part of the reserve is leased by the Crown to a New Zealand-owned private company that charges a fee for admission to the site, but in return provides a café, gift shop, boat tours on Lake Rotomahana, and a shuttle service from the end of the walking track back to the main parking lot. We opted to do the 4.4km walk through the valley without the boat tour, as my mum had booked she and my dad into a Maori cultural experience dinner and show in Rotorua that evening starting at 6:30pm, and we needed to be on the road by 5:30pm.

The eruption on June 10th, 1886, radically altered the landscape: what was once rolling, scrub-covered hills with no evident hydrothermal activity became overnight a series of craters, and completely destroyed all plant and animal life in the surrounding area. Before the eruption, the area was the most famous tourist destination in New Zealand due to the Pink and White Terraces, silica deposits on the shores of Lake Rotomahana, formed by geothermal heated water (high in siliceous sinter) flowing down the hillside, leaving pink and white silica deposits behind in a terrace shape, and thermal pools that people came to bathe in. The eruption of Mount Tarawera destroyed the terraces, burying everything under hot mud, boulders, and ash. Tragically, the volcano aslo buried the nearby Maori and English settlement of Te Wairoa, killing over 120 people.

The eruption created a huge crater, which eventually filled in with water, creating a new Lake Rotomahana, considerably larger and deeper than its predecessor. Today, the lake is a peaceful bird sanctuary, and we observed black swans, little shags, and New Zealand scaups all happily swimming around its banks. Amazingly, it turns out the terraces may not be completely destroyed as was previously thought: scientists working in January this year discovered the lower tiers of the Pink Terraces intact at the bottom of the lake, at a depth of 60m!

Having experienced some of New Zealand’s geothermal activity before when I was traveling on the Stray Bus I was well-acquainted with the sulphur smell permeating the air, but I still find it a surreal experience to see hot water bubbling out of pools, and steam rising directly from the sides of a cliff. As we walked down the pathway beside Frying Pan Lake we could hear the mud burbling away; the CO2 and H2S gases bubbling up give the lake the appearance that it is boiling, and also give it an acidic pH of 3.5. In fact, parts of the lake underwater are boiling, but the average temperature of the lake is around 55°C, due to cooling from evaporation, convection, and radiation of heat. Frying Pan Lake itself was the site of an eruption in 1917, which sent steam and debris surging up the hill and destroyed the accommodation house.

Another famous feature of the valley was the Waimangu Geyser, which although only active from 1900-1904, was the world’s largest geyser, hurling black sand, mud, and rocks 400m into the air every 36 hours. Now the basin has been mostly filled in with native bush, and the only sign of the geyser’s presence is a white cross erected on the lowest part of the crater rim, marking where three tourists (who had been warned where they were was unsafe) were swept to their deaths on August 30th, 1903, when Waimangu erupted unexpectedly.

creekside). Also fascinating to see was the colourful algae that could survive and grow in such hot water, creating blooms of dark green, orange, and yellow. The most surreal feature for me, however, was Inferno Crater Lake, which lies in an 1886 crater blown in the side of Mt Haszard. The lake has a complicated rhythmic rise/fall cycle, where the water level rises to around 30m, overflows into Frying Pan Lake (at a temperature of 80°C!), and then recedes to a minimum of about 8m. The lake has a very low pH of 2.1, and is the largest geyser-like feature in the world, even though the geyser cannot be seen (as it’s at the bottom of the lake). What I found surreal was the beautifully intense sky-blue colour of the water, seen under ideal conditions a few days after its overflow has stopped (we were lucky and caught it at just the right time). The colour is caused by the fine silica particles in suspension in the water. It was quite difficult for my glacier-trained brain to accept that this bright blue water was not freezing cold, but nearly boiling hot!

By the time we got down to Lake Rotomahana at the end of the 4.4km walk and took in the giant red crater (Tarawera Chasm) in the side of the volcano on the opposite side of the lake, it was time to catch the last shuttle bus of the day back up to the gift shop and café. I was more than ready to go, as my sore throat/cold/stomachache/headache-suffering body was ready for respite from the intense sunshine we had been walking in for the past two and a half hours.

The drive into Rotorua took only twenty minutes or so, and about half an hour after checking into our motel my parents took off on the shuttle bus to go to their Maori cultural experience (a traditional meal and concert, hosted at the somewhat less-than-traditional location of the Holiday Inn). I think my mum was happy in the end, however; she got to see geothermal activity, and she got to see something of the Maori, culture, all in one day. I was left to fend for myself, which was just fine, as there was a Countdown across the street, and food in our chilly bin that needed to be eaten up.

Now it is 10:30pm, and I promised myself that I would be in bed by now, so I must be off. We still aren’t sure what we’re doing tomorrow; my mom wants to go to Matamata and see Hobbiton, but my dad is angling for heading of to Maunganui and to the beach. We shall see! Goodnight.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Trainworld, Art Deco, and Hanging with Frank

I love my canalphones. My dad can snore as loud as he wants (he’s been remarkably quiet this trip, actually), and all I can hear is the beautiful sounds of Goldfrapp’s Felt Mountain.

This morning started with several different activities; my mum went off to the Napier iSite to find out about the best places to buy souvenirs, and my dad and I went to Trainworld (at last!), a 2,109 square foot 00-scale model railway located on the 1st floor of a building on Dickens Street (what back in Canada would be called the 2nd floor). Run by Anne and Michael Deitz since 2004, Trainworld actually consists of five different layouts. Besides the main 87 x 27 feet 00 layout, there is an American O-gauge railway running about six feet up in the air along the back wall in a circuit (a work in progress, but it was nice to see a “CP Rail” boxcar); a Thomas the Tank Engine layout with four different trains (Thomas, Percy, James, and Doc) that one could control by pressing buttons on the side of the layout case); the Marklin Layout created by the late Francis Marsden of Napier in his basement; and Lilliput, a 60-year-old automated layout that took twenty-five years to build, and contains several animations, such as a loader digging a hole, a steam boat rocking gently at the dock, and a tractor ploughing a field.

Some of the scenes modeled in Trainworld’s main layout made me smile; it’s always interesting to see what little details and scenes model railroaders choose to build. These included:
  • a battalion of Beef-Eaters marching back up the hill to their medieval castle 
  • a house fire being fought by the fire brigade, and a crowd being kept back from the flames by the police
  • a cricket match in full swing 
  • a train wreck strewn about a gully below a viaduct 
  • Wiltshire white horse cut into the pasture on the side of a hill 
  • a wedding at the church 
  • advertisements on the side of the rail line’s wall proclaiming “Yorkshire Relish” (Yum?)
Also highly hilarious was a sign posted on the wall by the control booth. While it applies to model railroading, I think it also translates over to those of us who enjoy playing trains with life-size models...


Model Railway Disease 
Adult Males Very Susceptible 

Symptoms: Continual compliant as to need for a constructive hobby. Patient has blank expression, sometimes deaf to children and wife. Always haunts basement, attic, or garage. Won’t do work around house. Has nose in model railway catalogues and magazines. Often found wandering around railway shops with camera. Mumbles numbers such as 4-6-2, 0-4-0, 2-6-4T. 

No Known Cure - Disease Not Fatal

We met up with my mum back at the hostel, and she filled us in on her morning: she ended up doing an Art Deco tour of Napier’s downtown core, and then went shopping for a nice merino and possum wool sweater, and a souvenir for my brother, Arthur. She took the two of us down to the Art Deco Trust’s headquarters on Tennyson Street, where we watched a short twenty-minute documentary on the history of Napier’s terrible 1931 earthquake, then subsequent rebuilding in the Art Deco style of the day. I was always mindful of Napier’s history and its characteristic buildings, but after watching that video I found myself paying even more attention to the ziggurat constructions, sunburst motifs, and intricate carvings found all over the city.

After lunch at Jester’s Pies (so good that dad had two), we got in the car and headed up the hill to Napier Bluff lookout, where we took in the splendid view of the Port of Napier and Hawkes Bay. The last time I was up there was with Stefan and Harrison, and it was so cloudy we could hardly see a thing! That certainly wasn’t the case today, as we watched the huge cranes unloading a container ship, and graders and loaders scurrying back and forth grading a new section of the breakwater to hold even more logs waiting for export.

At 2:30pm we headed out to Maraenui visit Frank; I had a little bit of a shock when we got there, as the City of Napier is digging up the old creekbed beside the house to create a more “meandering stream” out of the currently straight concrete viaduct: the result is two huge piles of sand, which the neighbourhood kids took great delight in sliding up and down after the machine operators had gone home for the say.

Frank was in good spirits, and greatly enjoyed showing my mum around his garden as the two of them talked plants. I did a load of laundry for the three of us, and of course the moment I hung it out on the line it started to cloud over (mercifully, it didn’t rain). I was also able to socalise with Tiger again, who despite running away at the first sight of the three of us coming up the back walk, reappeared when I was out in the garden and then wouldn’t leave us alone (although that may have had more to do with the fact that it was close to suppertime). Poor Frank got to listen to our earthquake story, complete with visual aids in the form of pictures from my laptop... every time I look at those photos, the more amazing I am that we walked away relatively unscathed as we did.

Waiting for me at the house was some mail that didn’t make it to me before I left on New Year’s Day; I finally got to open my mum and dad’s Christmas card, and my copy of Australian Railway Enthusiastlocie J 1275 at the Hoteo Quarry on the front cover! It was fantastic to finally see it in print. :-)

For supper we went to the Frying Dutchman and picked up an order of snapper and chips, and then sat in Frank’s kitchen, enjoying our “fush and chups” with Tuimato sauce, a couple of good beers (ginger for me, regular for dad and Frank), topped off with some Rush Munro’s ice cream for dessert (passionfruit, so delicious!).

Around 9:30pm we said our goodbyes; we loaded my suitcase that has been under Stefan’s old bed for the past two months into the car, so I now have all my belongings with me again. I wore jeans for the first time in two months today! It was a slightly odd feeling.

I am now off to bed... this entry has been a bit more terse and less descriptive than previous ones because I have been feeling progressively worse all day, and I’m coming down with something (lucky me). I simply don’t have the energy in me to write any more... goodnight!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Te Papa, Featherston, Waipawa, and Napier (and Motion Sickness).

Last night at 12:30am, just as I was drifting off to sleep, Wellington had a minor earthquake... likely no more than a two-point-something on the Richter scale, but I felt it as my bed rocking back and forth. Wellington regularly experiences minor tremors - the city is built on an active fault line - but you can imagine what it did to my blood adrenaline levels. I didn’t fall asleep for a long time.

When I woke up this morning I didn’t feel very well, which was exacerbated by the sore neck and shoulders I got from sleeping on my pillow wrong. I made my omelette for breakfast, and about halfway through got a very queasy stomach. Lying down on the floor helped to abate it, but I wasn’t keen to be starting the day nauseated, as I knew we had at least a four-hour drive ahead of us to get to Napier.

After checking out of the motel we went and visited Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. It was my second time going there, and as such I knew what we were getting into; Te Papa is fantastic, and it was unfortunate that we had only a few hours to spend there, as one can easily get lost and spend the whole day wandering around and looking at all the fascinating exhibits. Some of the interactive displays are so engrossing and well-designed that one can lose all track of time. We limited ourselves to the third and fourth levels, and took in the Colossal Squid, Awesome Forces, and Blood, Earth, Fire. Even though I had seen all three exhibits before I found them interesting the second time around, and learned a few new things.

The most poignant additions to the museum were a model survival kit illustrating the supplies every household should have in the event of an earthquake, and a small poem, donation box, and comment book for visitors to leave messages for the residents of Christchurch. The survival kit exhibit was illustrated with pictures of Manchester Street after the earthquake, and I could see the restaurant we were eating at in the background; it was a sad reminder of the devastation from which we escaped, while so many others did not. I also steered well clear of the interactive walk-in exhibit featuring a house going through an earthquake; I didn’t feel the need to relive that experience.

We finally set out for Napier around 1pm, and since we were taking SH2 we found ourselves on the very windy, very steep pass up, over, and down the Rimutaka Ranges. Unlike the train trip through the Rimutaka Gorge, which I thoroughly enjoyed, this trip, courtesy of my dad’s just-a-little-too-fast driving, gave me a severe case of motion sickness. I didn’t actually throw up, but just thinking about it now makes my stomach queasy.

We stopped for a picnic lunch at 2pm just outside of Featherston at the site of the Featherston Military Camp, which in 1916 was the largest camp in New Zealand (4500 men in huts, and another 3000 in tents). Here soldiers received the last of their training before marching over the Rimutaka Ranges to Wellington and the ships that would take them overseas to fight. In 1942, the camp was restarted to hold Japanese prisoners-of-war, and on February 25th, 1943, forty-eight POWs and one on-duty solider were killed in a riot. Today, the site is a memorial to peace; there are forty-eight ornamental cherry trees planted in memory of the dead Japanese, and a cross for Private Walter Pelvin, as well as a camphor tree sapling grafted from a tree which survived the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. The message of peace, however, wasn’t shared by the four chickens who came over to us and fought over the apple cores we threw on the ground for them. They also fought over the remains of my sandwich that my dad fed to them, which was technically cannibalism, as it contained chicken...!

Piling back into the car (my stomach somewhat more at ease, even though I ate little lunch), it was drive drive drive... thankfully the highway between Featherston and Napier is nowhere near as windy, as it mainly passes through rolling hills and farmland. When we entered Waipawa I took my parents up for a little detour to pass by Skye’s house, and as luck would have it she was out in the garden! I definitely surprised her, but she was delighted to see me again and meet my parents, and invited us all into the yard where she showered my parents with praise about how wonderful I was (they were skeptical) and pointed out all the things I had done in the garden for her. Several beds needed weeding... I was instinctively bending down and wanting to get to work putting things in order again.

When we finally bid adieu to Skye (and Finn, sitting on the back porch, quietly knitting), it was 6:30pm, which put us into Napier here at 7:30pm or so. We checked into the Criterion Art Deco Backpackers, and while I’m content to be staying in a room with a bunk bed and single bed, my parents are lamenting for the lovely two-bedroom apartment we had in Wellington. I’m just trying to help the budget, mum and dad... and besides, here we get a free continental breakfast!

Tomorrow we are going to wander around downtown in the morning, taking in the Art Deco buildings, and then in the afternoon we’ll head out to Frank’s, where we’ll socialise, pick up my mail, and take him out to dinner. I can’t wait to see him again, although the excitement is bittersweet, as this is the first time I’ve been back in Napier since Fay died in January. Nevertheless, Frank seemed quite excited about our visit when I spoke to him on the phone this evening, so perhaps things will go well. Goodnight!


Monday, March 7, 2011

Meet the Flossers

Today’s blog post title refers to my parents, who are both standing directly behind me as I type, flossing their teeth. They’re doing it now just to annoy me.

Last night was the best sleep I have had in over a week... I had no one else in my own private bedroom (simply glorious). We also didn’t have to get up early today, as my parents’ Lord of the Rings tour didn’t start until 10:10am, and as such we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of bacon and eggs. (Somehow we have to get rid of that dozen eggs... I’m thinking omelettes for breakfast tomorrow!).

When my parents left the motel at 9:45am, I was officially by myself for another free day in Windy Welly. Oh, how glorious it was to have the day to myself! I’m sorry to say I didn’t go out and do anything wild and crazy, but it was wonderful to only have to worry about coordinating myself and my own likes and dislikes. It is nice to have company whilst traveling, but it’s quite another to be stuck with that company 24/7; this gave me a chance to breathe.

I headed downtown to the post office, where I bought some postcard stamps for the postcards I know my mum is going to want to send, and then wandered down Willis Street into a Borders bookstore outlet. Books are normally highly expensive here in New Zealand ($25 for a trade paperback), so I felt like it was a steal to buy Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons for $5 (about $3.50 CDN). I also went into Unity Books farther down the street, but the front of the building was covered in scaffolding, and after a few minutes inside I found myself unable to relax; I had to leave. My experience in the Christchurch earthquake has left me fearful of buildings showing any signs of weakness or fragility, even though my rational mind knew this building was in all likelihood simply getting a cosmetic upgrade, not a structural one.

After leaving the bookstore I went to the BNZ Centre, where I at last found somewhere I have not been in a long time: the record section of JB Hi-Fi. The name of the store is irrelevant; what I had been missing was being surrounded by CDs, and actually being able to purchase a few! I bought Brooke Fraser’s album Flags, as well as Vertical Horizon’s latest album (which isn’t exactly new; it came out in 2009). I also bought a package of blank CD-Rs so I can burn some CDs for the rental car’s stereo; I figure we could use some road music to help ease tensions as we navigate the North Island.

I bought some sushi at the food court in the mall and brought it back to the motel to eat (surprisingly, it wasn’t that bad). Walking down the street, my shoulder bag slung over my arm and carrying my sushi, it suddenly struck me how much I probably looked like a resident of Wellington rather than a tourist. It’s a nice feeling to blend in, as I’ve been here in New Zealand for so long now that I no longer feel like a tourist (even though I don’t claim to know Wellington very well). Then again, not dressing in head-to-toe nylon and fleece, and not carrying around a map with a camera hung over my neck probably also helps.

After lunch I tried out the spa tub here in the bathroom; very relaxing, if not for the smell of chlorine. It was nice to have a bath again! The afternoon I spent out on the town again; I went out to the Wellington iSite to purchase some postcards (looking very much like a tourist, ha) and then went to the Wellington Public Library, where I sat and read and listened to music to my heart’s content. Sometimes it’s nice to just have a slow day, and not try to cram in any more touristy sight-seeing.

I walked back to the motel around 6pm right in the middle of rush hour, and got to experience for myself some Wellington gridlock. Apparently it affected my parents, too, as they didn’t get back to the motel until after 7:15pm, albeit carrying grocery bags full of dinner (steak and potatoes and corn on the cob). I’m not sure about my dad, buy my mum definitely enjoyed the tour, nattering on and on about the tour guide, Ted, all the places they visited, and the different film clips and poses they struck (I wrote all about my own experiences on the same tour here).

After dinner, we watched two episodes of the Big Bang Theory on my computer (while my dad nursed his fourth beer, much to my mother’s delight; the man keeps buying big cases of the stuff, and then having to drink all of it himself, a burden he seems to eagerly shoulder). Tomorrow morning my mum wants to go to Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand, so I imagine we’ll be spending four or so hours in there before heading up to Napier later tomorrow afternoon. I better get burning one of those CD-Rs for the 4.5 hour car ride... night!


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Windy Welly Calling

Last night I was treated to the sounds of the cover band of the wedding in the restaurant next door running their way through some of the standard wedding fare, some more successfully than others; "Mustang Sally"  came off quite well, but the final selection of "Dancing Queen" was decidedly painful, mostly due to it not being well-suited for a male rock voice. I don't suppose it mattered very much; the lead singer was all but drowned out by female voices shrieking along in the crowd of dancers.

This morning we made our way from Kaiteriteri to Picton, retracing our steps along highways 60, 6, and 62. Watching the countryside zip by outside my window, I was struck with the fact that today I was leaving the South Island, and I have no idea when I will next return. The South Island is my second Vancouver Island... and despite my harrowing experience in Christchurch, it feels like home. I have so many wonderful memories of life on the South Island, and it saddens me to think that is all I am going to have until the next time I return. That is, unless someone from the South Island comes up to Canada to visit me.... :-)

We arrived in Picton at 11:30am for the 1:10pm sailing, returned our rental car, and in the process of emptying all our belongings from the vehicle I slammed the car door into my left hip. In a word, OUCH. (The actual word I said was a wee bit stronger...) I now have a lovely purple bruise forming to compliment the slowly-healing ones I received during the earthquake.

After collecting our boarding passes and checking our baggage, we nipped up to the bakery for some pastries and treats, and then ate leftover pizza for lunch (my mom's dinner from the night before) in the warterfront park in Picton, taking in the sights of the miniature electric train traipsing merrily around the grounds, carrying three or four children behind it at a time, and the musical stylings of a poor fiddler in the bandshell playing a cover of The Corrs' "Toss the Feathers", who was actually quite good, but unfortunately falling victim to a rather poor microphone set-up (high amounts of buzzing and static). The last time I had wandered around Picton was with Gary and Jean and Al, when we were all on the Mainline Steam tour; we ate at The Flying Haggis and caught the 10:30pm sailing back to Wellington, arriving at 1:30am. The advantage of sailing that late at night is it is far less busy, as my parents and I discovered when we found ourselves riding a nearly full-to-capacity sailing of the Interislander's Kaitaki to the North Island.

Having seen the current conditions posted as "moderate", and having observed the moving clouds out above the Queen Charlottes, I was apprehensive for our journey across the "roaring 40s". My parents seemed blithely unconcerned, and lightly made fun of my predictions of a stormy crossing. They went out on deck as we threaded our way through the beautiful coastline, making our way out to the open ocean; I sat inside, knitting, preparing myself mentally for what I knew was coming. Sure enough, when we hit the open water, I could see the whitecaps on the waves, and two recorded announcements came over the PA system, informing us that the conditions in the Cook Strait were "less than favourable" and could we please remain seated and use the motion sickness bags if necessary. How reassuring! I put my knitting away, put my head down on the table, and happily enough, I was able to survive the crossing without throwing up. It wasn't as bad as that awful first crossing I had with Mainline Steam, but it definitely wasn't one of the better ones, either. My parents came back and sat down, and although they said they were feeling fine, my mom closed her eyes and lost her appetite for a couple hours, and my dad remarked at dinner tonight that he still felt like he was on a boat going up and down and up and down and up and down....

We arrived safely into Wellington Harbour, and my parents got their first glimpses of "Windy Welly" as we cruised around town in our new rental car, trying to locate tonight's accommodation. While I had a vague idea of where it was, I hadn't taken into account all of the one-way streets that limited our options in the way we could approach things. After five minutes of getting ourselves turned around the right way, we made it to Victoria Court Motor Lodge, where we have a "freakin' palace", to quote my rather unpoetic description upon crossing the threshold. It's not fancy, but we have a kitchen/dining/lounge area, a bathroom with a huge spa tub, and two bedrooms! Believe me, in backpacker travelling terms, it's a palace.

For dinner tonight we walked down to the New World Metro Supermarket on Willis St, and picked up supplies to make pasta, salad, and omelettes (for some reason I felt like an omelette), which means we have a dozen eggs to eat our way through in two days (my dad is gleefully looking forward to making bacon and eggs for breakfast tomorrow). On the agenda for tomorrow is a Lord of the Rings tour for my parents (I already did it back in November), and a day of lazing and relaxing for me, all by myself. Peace and quiet and solitude... it will be a nice change. ;-) Goodnight!


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sailing and Walking in Abel Tasman (For the second time)

Apparently Nelson has a deal with mother nature: torrential rain downpours are allowed between the hours of 3am and 7am, but after that the weather has to slowly clear into a gorgeous sunny day. We woke up this morning at 6:30am rather disheartened at the prospect of sailing in the wind and cold, but as we ate breakfast (this time Dave expressed his opinions on WWOOFing and how he thinks WWOOFers are abused by a lot of hosts making them work too much) the skies started to lighten. By the time we were once again on the highway (and AGAIN my dad managed to turn the wrong way when we hit the roundabout for Richmond, which exasperated me to no end), I could see hints of blue sky off to the west in the direction of Motueka.

We arrived in Kaiteriteri at 9:10am in plenty of time for our 9:30am checkin with Abel Tasman Sailing Adventures. Using the BoD ("Bank of Dad", as the sales rep called it) to pay for our reservation, we then parked the car over at the Kaiteri Lodge, where we would be spending the night, and then liberally doused ourselves with sunscreen... coming from a family with boating experience, we all know too well what can happen on the water without sun protection.

Our boat today was called Jamarah, and it was a much larger catamaran than the one I was on when I sailed the Abel Tasman with Stray back in November; it's the boat the company normally uses for the overnight cruises, but because of the forecasted rain (which mercifully did not arrive), it was decided we would likely be happier off in a boat with a covered back deck and a cabin. As it was, we were even happier to have beautiful sunny weather, and to be enjoying it on a big boat with a large trampoline area in front, and plenty of seating for everyone without having to worry about being hit by the boom or tangled up in the jib sheets. 

Our sail pretty much followed the same itinerary as my trip back in November: a two and a half hour sail around the shores of Abel Tasman National Park, followed by a 12.4km hike back from The Anchorage to Marahau. It was wonderful to experience the sailing on a warm and sunny day, however, and to not sit huddled together, freezing cold, in the biting wind on the decks of the boat. We were even able to enter into an estuary today that isn't normally accessible to Jamarah, as the rainfall last night had been significant enough to raise high tide to 4.5m (maximum high tide is 4.6m!). My mom especially loved it when we sailed up along the shoreline of Adele Island, which has been pest-free (free of stoats, ferrets, possums, rats, and mice) for two years now, and as a result contains a thriving population of bell birds; the bird song could be heard sweetly and clearly from the boat.

If anything, the one disappointment of the sail was that we couldn't, well, sail that much; the winds were quite small, and seeing as we were sailing in the bigger catamaran going under sail-power would have meant our 2.5 hour sail would have taken 5 hours. We managed to sail under our own power briefly several times, but for the rest of it were using the motor lightly to keep us around 5 knots an hour.

One interesting thing our skipper told us about Abel Tasman National Park is that it is the only National Park in New Zealand to consist of entirely regenerated forest, as well as contain private residences. When the Golden Bay area was first settled, the mountainside was completely logged for timber, and after all the salvageable wood had been recovered was torched to create pasture for sheep farming. After about twenty years of trying to encourage grass to grow on the rocky, granite and quartz-covered slopes, the farming initiative was abandoned, and the land has slowly regenerated to its native bush. However, because parcels of land were sold off privately, and here in New Zealand there is no way for the government to usurp that land (short of paying the owners for it on the open market), there are still many beach and summer homes scattered throughout the park, and these are only accessible from the water (as road access cannot be built through the National Park). It's kind of odd to see beach houses in the middle of an otherwise public place, but combined with the knowledge that the entire park is the result of mother nature naturally regenerating the native bush, it seems fitting.

When we arrived at The Anchorage, we sought out a picnic table and treated ourselves to an oh-so-nutritious lunch: seeing as we hadn't had time to buy supplies on the way up to Kaiteriteri, and seeing as our food supplies were a bit of a hodge-podge, lunch ended up being a very nutritious mix of potato chips, cookies, trail mix, apples, and granola chocolate bars. Oh, well, we likely burned most of it off anyway hiking the trail!

The hike back along the shoreline seemed longer than the first time I did it; perhaps that's because we were going slower, as my mom's pace is slower than my own, but I think my feet were still sore from the 10km trek out of Christchurch on February 22nd, and as such were not happy about being treated to 12.4km of sandy, rocky path. Nevertheless, my mom and dad seemed to really enjoy it, particularly all the spectacular views of the coastline near The Anchorage, and on the tidal flats at the end when we arrived in Marahau.

We had dinner together at the Shoreline Restaurant, and it was the best meal I have had out since starting to travel with my parents; a relief, because after our pseudo-lunch I was definitely in need of some real, nutritious food. Now we are situated in our room at Kaiteri Lodge, and wedding is raging full swing next door (they've rented the entire bar/restaurant), so we'll see how much sleep we get tonight... wish us luck!


Friday, March 4, 2011

Tea with Howard and Rosemarie (hey, that rhymes!)

Calling yesterday's blog post "once again in sunny Nelson" inspired mother nature to heights of irony last night... we woke up this morning to pounding rain on the roof, which abated slightly but continued on into midmorning. I certainly hope it's not like that tomorrow when we go sailing in Abel Tasman!

This morning we were treated to a lovely continental breakfast in the dining room downstairs, served by our charming (if highly opinionated) host, David (for an interesting conversation, ask him for his thoughts on the state of Israel), and chatted with several of the other bed and breakfast guests, including the couple from New Hampshire and a woman from Scotland. After breakfast I had a shower, and then performed various trip housekeeping tasks (budgeting, managing our itinerary) while my mom did two loads of laundry and then because of her hatred of dryers proceeded to hang the wet laundry all over the room, such as from the wardrobe door, balcony doors, and bed posts. Mercifully, she hung the towels and several other big-ticket items outside on the actual clothesline, as the rain had stopped and the sky was starting to lighten.

For the rest of the morning we headed downtown and wandered along the streets of Nelson, ultimately ending up in the MacPac store, where my dad bought a raincoat, and my mom bought two shirts and a nice blue coat. She's still getting used to the sizing down here, and I don't blame her; with all the media focus on thinness, and being so used to North American sizings, it is a bit of a shock to be buying clothes that say "Size 10" (the average sizes here are 12-16). I ended up getting a pretty merino zip-up hoodie, which I likely didn't really need, but it's a nice colour and warm yet light, so I'll get a lot of use out of it in the fall weather here and the spring weather back home.

Back at the bed and breakfast we had a lunch of meat and cheese sandwiches on the balcony outside our room, marvelling in the rapid upswing in the weather, which had gone from cold and drizzly to warm and sunny; perfect weather for our planned visit to Howard and Rosemarie's this afternoon. Getting there, however... that's a story in itself.

My mom and dad are getting increasingly frustrated with the traffic signage here in New Zealand, or lack thereof. I suppose I didn't think much of it, as I know the way to Howard and Rosemarie's without relying on arrows and placards to direct me there. Unfortunately, the multiple ways to get to Richmond, so helpfully pointed out by a multitude of signs along the highway, ended up causing major headaches for my dad. We ended up at the Countdown in Stoke so I could buy some pavlova and cream for tea, and I called Howard to apologize for our tardiness, saying, "Well, no, we're not lost, but I should be driving!"

At last we made it to their beautiful house in Hope, and after greeting Howard and Rosmarie with a big hug and making introductions, I excitedly showed my parents around the garden, pointing out all the places I had worked and they had read about in my blog. My vegetable patch was a half success; the radishes had definitely sprouted and were doing quite well, but the lettuces were very small, and only growing in the back corner near the fence; I have a feeling the centre patch was just too dry for them (either that, or I didn't sow the seeds to the correct depth). My flower garden looked much as I had left it (to me, at least), but the plants all looked healthy, and even sported a previously feared-lost plant (a lily? I think it was a lily) growing on the very edge of the garden with beautiful white flowers. The vineyard was still mostly weed-free, thanks to the efforts of four Malaysian and two Thai WWOOFers that came after me, and two more sections of the concrete garden path had been poured and set with cobblestones. It was delightful to see all these little changes, even after just one month away; as Rosemarie said, "Well, you'll have to come back next year, just think, everything will be twice as big then!"

We showed my parents around the kiwifruit orchard, and then while Rosemarie took them around the front of the house and discussed topping and taking out the gum tree by the garage Howard and I went inside and got tea ready. He had already laid out melon, strawberries, and a slice of feijoa chocolate cake for each of us, and I added to the afternoon tea feast by setting out the mini-pavlova cakes and whipping up some cream for their tops. Howard was even nice enough to let me use some of their strawberries to garnish them (as is traditional; the Countdown didn't have any strawberries, so we had bought peaches to use instead, but it really wouldn't have been true pavlova without strawberries).

The teatime conversations ranged from the inevitable (the Christchurch earthquake) to the technical (my dad asking about insurance and coverage of WWOOFers working on the property) to the slightly humourous (my mom asking, "How do you get WWOOFers to leave that you don't like?" and Rosemarie answering back, "Well, first the wine stops getting served with dinner, and then the food stops being as good, and then the tasks get even harder..."). It was so nice to be back in Howard and Rosemarie's house again, sitting around the table where I have so many good memories. It was slightly odd to have my parents there - kind of a mash-up of situations in my head - but they seemed to get on well with my gracious Pom-cum-New Zealand hosts.

After tea I took my mom and dad into the rec room to see Howard's train layout, and Howard explained a little bit about how it works (I love that thing. I think it's such a cool idea and a technological marvel; and doubly more impressive because he wrote the code and designed it all himself). I also showed them the model trees I attempted to make for the layout; glorified toilet brushes would be a better description. Perhaps I would have more luck if I tried my hand at programming or model building assembly!

Just before we left the five of us posed in front of Howard and Rosemarie's house for photos, including several in front of the reflective window in the breakfast room, so you can see all of us in the frame (albeit with my dad holding the camera up to his face). I'm sorry for Howard and Rosemarie's sake that I think they haven't seen the last of me; a little part of my heart now belongs to New Zealand, and I know I am going to have to come back here. I would love to come WWOOF again at their house... and the second time around, I will be sure to refrain from purchasing and eating sketchy chocolate bars!

For dinner tonight my parents went for a walk through the gardens and into downtown Nelson, where they picked up some chicken kabobs from a take-out joint; I stayed back the B&B, once again doing more trip planning and enjoying the beautiful sunset from the balcony. I also got to hear the roars and cheers coming from Nelson's stadium; I believe the Crusaders rugby team must have had a game tonight, as there were all sorts of people streaming toward the studio this afternoon, clad in red and black and sporting face paint of the same colour. 

Tomorrow morning we leave for Abel Tasman National Park to do a half day sail and then a half day walk, so I had best be off to bed. I've been writing this blog entry while sipping the feijoa wine Rosemarie and Howard gave to us when we left (simply delicious, and reminds me of all the evenings I spent there) as well as finishing the complimentary port left here in the room with my dad, so if this blog entry is a little convoluted or disjointed that would be the reason why: I've had a little too much fruit ambrosia. :-) Goodnight!


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Once Again in Sunny Nelson

Ha, well, going to bed early last night didn't happen... I was banished to the lounge to write my blog entry, and just as I had finished writing the entry the hotel manager came upstairs and joined me, and she ended up talking to me for 1 1/2 hours until 1am. It sounded like she'd had an exhausting day, and needed someone to listen (I guess I was filling in the role of her spouse, who works out of Christchurch, so they don't see each other for four nights of the week). She told me that the tourism industry has really died down in Kaikoura; it used to be a popular stopping point for tourists making their way down to Christchurch, but now everyone is avoiding Christchurch like the plague and travelling down the West Coast of the South Island instead. Case in point: we were the only guests in the (albeit small) hotel that night.

And just as an aside -

I HATE the sound of my mom flossing her teeth across the room. It drives me insane. I'm not sure why; it's one of those things that I can't stand, like the feel of cotton squeaking between my teeth. Maybe it's because she flosses for about five minutes until I'm sure she's trying to rip her teeth clean out of her mouth. Then again, she likely HATES the sound of my fingers clickety-clacking away on the keyboard when she's trying to sleep, so maybe she's just trying to get her own back.


We left Kaikoura around 10am this morning and drove up the highway toward Blenheim, stopping briefly so dad could take a picture of the beautiful Pacific Ocean. I was scrambling down to the beach to take a closer look at one of the rocks when I almost stumbled over a New Zealand fur seal! Thankfully it was feeling more sleepy than angry, and simply gave me a look of annoyance before turning away and hopping down off the rock into a nice cushy pile of drying seaweed. We took a few pictures of him hopping and sunning himself, and then got back into the car and drove on.

In Blenheim we stopped briefly at the New World grocery store (this particular New World can probably claim the title of "worst-designed car park and traffic flow corridors in all of New Zealand") to pick up some luncheon meat and such for a picnic lunch, and then continued on SH6, heading for Nelson. We traversed our way across the Marlborough region's "Golden Mile" of vineyards, and once in the hills stopped at Pelorus Bridge for sandwiches, hokey pokey cookies, and a little L&P to drink. I'm slowly introducing my parents to classic Kiwi foodstuffs, although I've yet to have them try Marmite or pavlova... I'm thinking the latter might go down better than the former. :-P

After a long and windy descent over the mountains (much loved by my mom.... I put my head down and had a nap) we arrived in beautiful, sunny Nelson; it was just as beautiful as I remember it being when I was here just over a month ago. We checked into our B&B, a grand old heritage conversion called Sussex House, where each of the five guest rooms is named after a composer; we're in the Beethoven room. My mom and dad went out shopping this afternoon for a new suitcase so they don't have to keep hauling everything in plastic bags, and also bought new slip-on sandals apparently make right here in Nelson, which have been giving them blisters for the rest of the evening (my mom said they'll break in... I hope she's right). I stayed behind here in the room to work on my blog; I finally have the post up about the Taieri Gorge Railway from two days ago.

For dinner we wandered downtown to Café Affair, which wasn't actually all that great in my mind, but proved to be an interesting meal as my mom ordered a steak cooked on a stone slab: they bring out a square piece of stone, about 15 x 15 cm, heated up super-hot, and then one cooks one's own steak or kebabs on the stone at the table! It certainly was more tasty than my lifeless Thai beef salad.

After dinner we went to see The King's Speech, as my mom wanted to see it in Dunedin but there just wasn't enough time. Armed with a small package of Jaffas, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie; I can't believe it was almost two hours long... the time just flew by, I was so engrossed! Granted, I don't see many movies, but I thought this one was beautifully written and acted and certainly deserved the Academy Award for Best Picture. Colin Firth was simply stunning in the role of Prince Albert, and Geoffrey Rush's performance as Lionel Logue was perfect as well. The art of elocution is something sadly lacking in modern speech, and for that (and because I am a linguistic English nerd) I certainly enjoyed an entire film devoted to curing a stammer.

Anyway, it is past midnight now, and tonight I'm really going to try to go to bed before 12:30am. Really. Goodnight!


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cadbury World and the Day of Driving

We started today with a little bit of fun: a visit to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory here in Dunedin! Well, to clarify, my mom and I went to Cadbury World, while my poor dad went downtown, signed the agreement for our new rental car, drove it back to the hostel, took the old rental car down to the petrol station to fill up, and then drove it back to the hostel as well. I certainly didn't realise cars were going to be such a headache on this trip.

The Cadbury Chocolate Factory is located at 280 Cumberland Street, almost right in downtown Dunedin, across the from the train station, and just a block down and over from the Octagon. The factory stands on the site of the first chocolate and coca manufacturing plant in the Southern hemisphere, started in 1884 by a man named Richard Hudson. The present factory became affiliated with Cadbury in 1930, and in 1991 became known as Cadbury Confectionery Limited. Today they manufacture all sorts of chocolates and goodies, from Cadbury chocolate bars to Roses and Jaffas and Buttons and huge amounts of chocolate crumb, shipped overseas and used in the chocolate manufacturing process in other Cadbury factories.

Chocolate crumb is a vacuum-dried mixture of cocoa solids, milk, and sugar; at most chocolate factories in the world, it is the base product for making various chocolate products. However, because the Cadbury factory in Dunedin is located so close the dairy cows of Otago, which produce all the milk for the factory, the Dunedin operation does not use chocolate crumb in its chocolate manufacturing process: instead, they use fresh milk (one of the reasons, they claim, their chocolate tastes so good!). Nevertheless, they continue to manufacture and ship chocolate crumb to other factories in Asia, as New Zealand has a plentiful supply of milk and milk powder.

As a result of no longer needing to stockpile chocolate crumb for production, the large silos at the factory have been given other duties: one has been demolished, one is being turned into a water recycling facility for the factory, and the third has been turned into a giant chocolate waterfall. Yes, a waterfall! Apparently, one of the board members is fond of the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and after reading how Willy Wonka mixed his chocolate by waterfall, decided Cadbury needed to have one, too. This one is strictly for show, but what a show it is: standing at the very top of the silo, we chanted, "One, two, three, chocolate!", the tour guide pushed a button, and one tonne of chocolate poured down from a storage container in the ceiling, splashing with a deafening roar into a vat below. It took the tonne twenty-three seconds to fall, during which those of us standing too close to the railings were splattered with warm, gooey chocolate. That being said, we didn't exactly want to lick it off; the same chocolate is pumped back up to the storage container, and falls again and again for every tour group. Once a year, the whole thing is drained, cleaned, and a new tonne of chocolate made by the factory to service the waterfall for the next twelve months.

Cadbury World consists of several rooms of displays detailing the ingredients, origins, and some of the lore surrounding chocolate (i.e. that it is an aphrodisiac). In a mock jungle set-up room they had roasted cocoa beans for us to try cracking open and tasting; I definitely wouldn't eat one of those and think that it could be turned into delicious chocolate, as I found it very waxy and bitter. We were a little rushed through the display rooms, as our tour started just after 9am, but my favourite part was the animatronic puppet displays, which made me think of Tim Burton's movie adaptation of Roald Dahl's books.

For the tour itself we had to don very attractive hairnets, and remove all of our jewelery and watches (no explanation was given; I'm assuming it's just standard practise for a food manufacturing plant). We were also forbidden to take pictures inside the factory itself, which didn't surprise me. What did surprise me was how warm it was on the operating floors; to keep the chocolate in a liquid form, steam heat is used, and the room temperature was around 35°C, with a high humidity. I also liked seeing the maze of pipes that send different types of chocolate all over the factory; each type is colour-coded into its own pipe, be it white chocolate, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, etc. It was fun to think that flowing over our heads was rich, creamy deliciousness! I also liked how so many of the machines were labeled (sometimes it seemed almost to the point of redundancy); it reminded me of the batcave circa the 1960's TV show.

I didn't realise how much of the factory would still involve human assembly; while the Dunedin factory did fully automate a few assembly lines two years ago, we witnessed some of their Easter candy production that was being done by hand: workers were hand-gluing chocolate buttons (using chocolate glue, of course) to the fronts of chocolate bunnies, and packaging them with easter eggs before sending them on down the conveyor belt.

In the end, the tour was a lot of fun; we got to see several floors of the factory, watch several short DVD presentations on how the chocolate was manufactured and assembled into different products, and got a bunch of free samples from our tour guide ("Trick or Treat!" I called out every time she dropped something into my goody bag).

My other main excitement today was driving the Nissan rental car by myself from Dunedin to Ashburton; my mom and dad took the new Toyota Camry that we rented here in Dunedin, and then I drove the Nissan so we could return it to the rental dealership in Ashburton before continuing on to Kaikoura. My mom was pretty nervous about me driving by myself, but I had a great time; I put on the radio, turned on the A/C (there's a lot of dust blowing around, so opening the windows wasn't really feasible), and enjoyed the three hours or so of solitude. Driving on the left doesn't bother me; what did bother me was the very strong westerly winds plaguing the Otago and South Canterbury regions today... I was nearly blown into opposing traffic several times.

Tensions were running high in the car by later this afternoon; all three of us now in the Toyota, we were slowly crawling our way through the outskirts of Christchurch, which (understandably) are still congested and generally not a very fun place to be. I can tell my mom is getting tired of being away from home already; she gets cranky, and when my dad and I are tired from driving our fuses are fairly short (not to mention my mom and dad have been having trouble adjusting to the traffic flow and signage around here; I'm used to the traffic flow and think the signage is more than adequate, but they've been getting confused). My mom also hates two-lane roundabouts, finding them horribly confusing.

By the time we got into Kaikoura at 7:30pm, we were all tired and hungry. We checked into the Pier Hotel (which is quite a funky old building; all accommodation is above the restaurant and bar), my mom went to have a shower, and my dad and I went in search of fish and chips. Unfortunately, Cooper's Catch closed just as we pulled up in the car, but we ended up eating at the hotel restaurant instead, which was tasty and delicious, so everything worked out (my mom even perked up after eating a green salad... I think she was missing fresh vegetables).

Tomorrow we are driving from Kaikoura to Nelson... I'm getting tired of driving, but at least after this we will have several days to relax in the beautiful northern end of the South Island. Goodnight!


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Taieri Gorge Railway and Railroad to Gold

A Taylor family vacation wouldn't be complete without at least one train ride. Seeing as neither the TranzCostal or TranzAlpine are running until at least March 4th (to keep the railway free for shipping of supplies and goods to and from Christchurch), I'm glad we were able to experience the Taieri Gorge railway.

I booked my parents and I on what is called the "Railroad to Gold" tour: unlike the Taieri Gorge Railway excursion, which runs every day, the Railroad to Gold runs on Tuesdays and Saturdays only, and incorporates a train trip from Dunedin to Palmerston, a gold mine tour, and then another train trip back from Pukerangi to Dunedin. The trip from Dunedin to Palmerston is called "The Seasider", and was a considerably smaller train than the Taieri Gorge train: four passenger cars as opposed to eight or nine. The seating was assigned, and my mom and dad were across the aisle from me at a two-person booth, and I was seated at a four-person booth with a middle-aged man and his (very) old parents, all from Australia, and all off a ginormous cruise ship that had docked in Dunedin last evening.

The Seasider train is a 66km journey from Dunedin to Palmerston on the Main Trunk Line of the South Island. The trip takes about two hours, cruising at a nice easy speed of 40 km/hr or so. The track from Dunedin to Palmerson was completed in 1879, but it wasn't until 1945(!) that the Main Trunk Line was completed to allow rail transportation all the way from Picton to Bluff (top to bottom). We started at sea level and reached a maximum altitude of 120 metres, with a maximum gradient of 1:50 (2%), which for early steam engines would have been hard work, but for the (relatively) modern diesel pulling us was a piece of cake.

Thankfully, the awful rainy, windy weather that was supposed to materialise did not, and we had instead a lightly cloudy (if slightly muggy) morning, which provided beautiful views out and over the Otago Harbour and up the coastline. We passed through what is called the "lifestyle block" in the outskirts of Dunedin (what we would call "hobby farms" in Canada), and through four tunnels, including the Mihiwaka, which at 1323m is the tenth-longest tunnel in New Zealand. The guard provided commentary on the PA along the way, pointing out places such as Blueskin Bay (named by the Europeans in the 1830s in reference to the Maori chief Te Hikutu, whose tattoo covered his face and made his skin blue), and Seacliff, once home of the Seacliff Mental Asylum, largest sanatorium in New Zealand (amazingly, no jokes were made that I should have been sent there).

Once arriving in Palmerston (which wasn't much of anything special; a farming community and highway town), a small tour van from Oceana Gold Tours picked up my parents and I and four other people participating in the Railroad to Gold tour. The tour guide's name was Graham, and he introduced himself as being from the public relations department of OceanaGold. Combined with the fact that he was carting around a psychology textbook, I found myself having a hard time trusting what came out of his mouth (although to his credit, he seems like a very kind, level-headed, down-to-earth person).

Our first stop was Dunback, where we enjoyed a roast beef lunch with kumara and roast potatoes, and chocolate mud cake with berries and whipped cream for dessert (yummy). Then it was back in the tour van, and on to the town of Macraes, where after the DVD player in the welcome centre crapped out we moved across the street to Graham's office, and I saved him from further embarrassment by getting the DVD to run on his office mate's 24" iMac. Suitably indoctrinated with Oecana Gold's corporate welcome video, which included and overview of the mine and extraction process, it was back on the bus and on to the Macraes Flat Mine itself, which is the largest gold mine in New Zealand. It's primarily an open-cast mine, with a network of 28km of underground tunnels as well. The size of the mine is almost awe-inspiring; looking north, all the hills we could see were actually piles of waste rock from the mine, trucked over and now re-shaped and planted with grass to look like rest of the surrounding hills. The land around the mine is leased as farms, and sheep and cows could be seen munching away on what was essentially a man-made mountain.

The equipment used to extract the gold is also impressive: a collection of hauling trucks, backhoes (with buckets large enough to fit a small family car), and blasting equipment, it really does look like they are trying to dig a massive hole to China. What is even more incredible (or appalling) is for every payload carted by one 789C haul truck, which have a carrying capacity of 191 tonnes, consume 372L of diesel fuel per hour, have a 1900hp engine, and giant pneumatic tyres that cost $35 000 NZ each, only 2 teaspoons of gold will be contained in and recovered from the mined ore. And that's not even taking into account all the tonnes and tonnes of waste rock (non gold-bearing ore) that have to be carted out of the way first!

The immense size of the operation seemed even more ridiculous when we learned that all this land, ginormous equipment, and high-tech extraction technology produces just one bar of gold a day from all the mined low-grade ore. Amazingly, all this is still profitable, as gold is worth $1430 an ounce, and the bars are 400 oz, or about $570 000 US each! It just seems so incredible that we humans put so much time and effort to recovering gold, even when it is present in such tiny quantities. However, I know gold has important roles to play in medicine and technology because it doesn't oxidise; it's not just all for banks and jewellery.

At the end of the tour Graham took us to see the Golden Point reserve, in the river valley where the original gold rush gold mines were situated; the site still contains several of the sod houses (the area has very little timber) the miners lived in, as well as a working turn-of-the-century quartz stamper and a gold mineshaft we were able to walk into. Unfortunately, the area is still contaminated with high levels of mercury and other chemicals the miners used to separate the gold from the quartz; in the present day, Oceana Gold is legally bound to follow strict environmental laws set down by the New Zealand government, and must render inert the cyanide and arsenic used in the chemical extraction processes before they can bury them in the ground.

Back on the bus, it was an hour's ride to Pukerangi, a tiny train station quite literally in the middle of nowhere, where the Taieri Gorge Railway train came and picked us up at 4:30pm. I watched as the diesel uncoupled and then recoupled to the front of the train for the return journey; I was tempted to go up and try and weevil my way into a cab ride, but figured there were so many tourists (and extremely pushy old men!) I would have little chance of succeeding. Oh, well, it was just a diesel... for a steam train you can bet I would have been more bold.

The trip back along the Taieri Gorge definitely earned its moniker as "one of the world's great train trips": we were hugging the side of the gorge, a "rugged canyon of sheer schist rock cliffs and overhangs, dark peaty pools, wild whitewater and many tributary streams". Constructed from 1879 to 1891, the Taieri Gorge Railway's route was chosen because of the seven proposed routes considered in 1877, it offered the fewest engineering difficulties and was the most direct route to Dunedin. With the gold rush in the Otago area slowly abating, the railway was seen as an excellent way to improve access to crown land (and therefore, expand farming), as the roads were notoriously poor. The railway was integral to the development of Central Otago, shipping goods, produce, building supplies, and providing passenger service to and from Dunedin. 

I wish I had been able to get better shots of the gorge than I did; unfortunately, I felt like I would have needed a police riot baton to secure myself a place on the viewing platform at the back of the carriage, as it was stuffed with fat, grumpy, retired men with huge cameras. As it was I settled for simply admiring the scenery from inside the carriage, including the incredible Wingatui Viaduct, which at 197m long and 50 metres tall, is the Southern hemisphere's largest wrought iron structure. Sadly, because we were only doing the return trip down the gorge, and the commentary was only spoken on the first half of the journey, we were left to read our pamphlets and wonder where things were. One that was obvious was the brief photo stop we made at a bluff called "Arthur's Knob", which as I'm sure you can imagine had us all snickering. We took a photo for my brother.

After waiting for a track warrant to rejoin the main line, we arrived back in Dunedin at 6:30pm, and went for a short walk to a Vietnamese restaurant for dinner at my mother's suggestion (which I thought was very adventurous of her; good for you, mom!), so now I am well and truly stuffed with the deliciousness of ginger chicken, beef soup, and jasmine tea. Off to bed for me... goodnight!


Monday, February 28, 2011

Te Anau to Dunedin

After the flurry of activity yesterday, I don't have any great tales of adventure to report upon today; the main event was driving from Te Anau to Dunedin, a trip of almost 300km, which took us about four and a half hours. The highways took us through the rolling hills of the somewhat confusingly-named Northern Southland, past endless pastures of sheep and dairy cows, small homesteads, and tiny townships that one would blink and miss if one didn't have to slow down to the requisite 50km/h whilst passing through them. I passed the time listening to my iPod and enjoying the musical stylings of Tori Amos and Brooke Fraser.

Now, however, we are situated within the city of Dunedin, which with a population of roughly 125 000 is the second-largest city on the South Island (behind Christchurch). Dunedin was actually the largest city by population in all of New Zealand before 1900; it is also one of the oldest, being founded in 1848. The name Dunedin comes from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, Dùn Èideann, and the city was founded by the Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland with the intent of reproducing the characteristics of Edinburgh... even today, the Kiwi accent from Dunedin and the surrounding area has a Scottish-brogue flavour to it. Probably one of the more famous features of the city's layout is the Octagon, a octogonally-shaped (no, really?) road and plaza where the main streets of George, Princes, and Stuart meet.

Our hostel is called Hogwartz (I'm assuming the ending "z" keeps J. K. Rowling's people from suing their pants off), and is located in the old Catholic Bishop's residence for St. Joseph's Cathedral on Rattray St. It's a delightful old bluestone building built in the late nineteenth century, and while the rooms are fairly plain, the kitchen is bright and modern, the bathrooms are clean, and our fellow hostel mates are kind and friendly. The Harry Potter touches are all over the grounds; while they don't actually run us through the sorting hat to place us into dorms (why do I have the feeling I'd end up in Ravenclaw?), there is a "Hagrid's Cabin" out back, a laundry facility called "Dobby's Room", and a storage room (vault?) called "Gringott's".

The only downside to being in this grand old building is I find myself unable to relax fully... all I can see when I look at these majestic buildings of stonework and brick is the piles of rubble and clouds of dust that I know now litter Chistchurch's streets. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to enter an old brick building or stone church again without a sense of fear, or at the very least a terrible sadness for the beautiful architecture that was destroyed, and the innocent lives lost as mortar, metal, and glass came crashing down. I find it difficult to follow the news accounts continuing to pour out of Christchurch; I know too many of the locations, can remember all-too-vividly walking through those streets of chaos, surrounded by injury and death. I realise this earthquake is now old news in Canada, and that the rest of the world has moved on, but the harsh reality is even though the camera crews have left, the headlines have stopped screaming their proclamations of disaster, and the perfectly-groomed news anchors now fill the television screens talking about other juicy stories of violence or scandal, the aftermath of the earthquake is still real, still heartbreaking, still terrifying in its aftershocks, and has changed the face of Christchurch forever.

The earthquake also has many unintended consequences, which admittedly compared to collapsed buildings are decidedly minor, but still cause headaches. We ran into one today when we tried to rent a car for the second half of our journey here on the South Island; my dad spent almost an hour on the phone this afternoon, trying to find a rental car here in Dunedin. He was ultimately successful, but the supply of rental cars is incredibly depleted, and the price has been jacked through the ceiling. It reminds me of a line from the documentary The Corporation: "In devastation there is opportunity". Earthquakes are good money if one is a car rental agency.

While my dad was on the phone I spent the afternoon on my computer researching places for us to stay (we were originally supposed to stay in Christchurch Wednesday night, but that's no longer going to be the case, obviously), and generally fighting with the world's worst cell phone internet connection (it must just be my location inside this old stone building; Dunedin itself has decent cell phone reception). In the late afternoon, my mom and dad and I went out and did a little bit of sight-seeing down at the Dunedin train station, where we'll be catching the "Railroad to Gold" train tomorrow morning, and then headed over to the Countdown supermarket, where we bought chicken and vegetables for dinner (my mom got her favourite corn-on-the-cob again). My parents have just watched two Big Bang Theory videos on my computer, and are now in bed, and I should follow them shortly... I am exhausted.

I watched some footage of the recovery efforts in Christchurch this evening, and I'm really in no mood to type anymore. It's all so overwhelming and saddening, and my brain can't understand why I (and my parents) escaped relatively unscathed from all the destruction. Perhaps I have a minor form of survivor's guilt, and while I don't want to forget what I went through, as I know it's important to process things, I do wish I could turn off the images and sensations from that fateful day replaying over and over in my head. To bed I go now, hopefully to dream of happier things. Goodnight.