Monday, February 10, 2014

Dispatch 69 Australia

May 2011

Australia, often referred to as Oz for short, is BIG!  It is pretty comparable to the size of the US, so, planning a month’s vacation there was daunting.  Where should we go?  The center of Australia is very desolate, so much of the tourist oriented stuff is in the population centers on the coasts.  We took our best shot and decided to fly to Sydney (southeast coast), fly to Adelaide (central south coast), drive to Melbourne (furthest southeast coast) along the Great Ocean Road and then play the rest by ear.  We knew, but didn’t worry too much (not enough as it turns out), that we were going to be in the south of the country in the late fall meaning it might be colder there.  But, as we had lived a year in Oamaru at 45 degrees S latitude, and nothing in Australia is south of 38 degrees, we thought it wouldn’t be an issue.

Sydney is a gorgeous city.  We enjoyed every minute even though it rained every day we were there in the beginning of our trip.  Port Jackson, the harbour that Sydney is on, is huge and beautiful with many inlets, sandy beaches and heaps of protected waterway, similar but not quite as large as Puget Sound.  There are many sailboats and even more ferry traffic than we are accustomed to and it made us feel at home.  The temperatures were cool (50’s-60’s), but we walk
ed all over, enjoyed the museums and gawked at the buildings.  The city has some gorgeous architecture, both old and new, not the least of which is the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, both iconic.  

We took in “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Opera House just to experience it.  Our hotel was a bit of a walk from the central business district (CBD), but that walk took us through many of the gorgeous parks in the city including Hyde Park, the Domain and the Royal Botanic Gardens.  Sydney’s shopping opportunities are overwhelming.  As we walked through various neighborhoods, we found edgy, trendy or just high end shops everywhere.  One neighborhood we happened into, Paddington, (going to a photography exhibit that was quite good), has the largest collection of Victorian homes anywhere in the world.  It was gorgeous and we wandered the streets feasting our eyes on the homes after we walked the long business district with its very fashionably dressed people.

OK, maybe we just became hicks from Oamaru in the past year, but, hey, we’ve seen some great cities in the world and Sydney is right up there.  Let’s say Sydney reminded us of aspects of San Francisco and a bit of Seattle too.

What we learned on this trip was that Australian cities have great architecture and great gardens.  Despite its settlement even more recently than the US, the historic buildings in Australia are far more grand and ornate than anything we could think of in the US.  They were large stone edifices with fantastic carvings, much like, come to think of it, Oamaru (!), but on a much grander scale.  These grand old buildings sit cheek by jowl with gorgeous modern skyscrapers in a wonderful potpourri.

Onwards in our exploration, we flew to Adelaide.  Now that city wasn’t really particularly of interest to us except as a launching spot for further exploration.  As it turns out, Adelaide also has some gorgeous architecture to enjoy, but, it felt a little like flying from SF to St. Louis in that the terrain is nearly completely flat, the city is laid out on an organized grid and it felt, well, Midwestern.  There again, the gardens were terrific—really gorgeous.  And, there again, we started to feel our presence was a weather blight.  Sydney, in the week before we arrived, had been enjoying sunny, warm weather (in the upper 70’s) which turned to cool and rainy when we arrived.  Same for Adelaide—sunny/warm before we got there and cool/rainy while we were there.  Grrrr, we tried not to take it personally!

seeking the "outback"
From Adelaide, we made a decision to head north to experience a wee bit of the “outback”.  We both read a novel while we were there set in that part of the outback which made the travel a bit more interesting.  And the outback is much greener this year than normal according to the locals, because of much higher than usual rainfall.  Be that as it may, it was still a pretty featureless landscape.  We’ve both driven across the US on many occasions and, although it is flat in the center, it is certainly not all desolate.  But, north of a certain area, the center becomes very dry and uninviting.  We drove through certain towns where we joked to each other about whether there had been a deadly virus that killed all the people because we wouldn’t see a living soul about.  In fact, we stayed in one of those towns on the way to the Flinders Range, Hawker.  We had been advised to bring our own water and did need to use it along the way, mainly because the local water tasted so unusual.  But it was not life-threateningly hot or dry as the outback can be we understand.

Malpena Pound

We went to Malpena Pound, a very unusual large crater shaped mountain/ valley formation that is important to the local aboriginals and is really a fascinating place.  It is so remarkably bowl shaped that various literature proposes that it is a meteor crater.  Not so.  The mountains are lovely there in a dry sort of way and we took several beautiful hikes.  We saw our first kangaroos in the area and then saw emus right on the trail on one of our walks.  Australia has some bizarre wildlife and natural phenomenon.  As the Lonely Planet says, the trees shed their bark, not their leaves, for instance.  One of our first kangaroo encounters, we saw a female with her joey (young ‘roo) in her pouch, both looking at us in the woods.  We decided ‘roos are a cross between bunnies and deer and are very cute.  Emus are ostrich-like birds that just run around wild—I know it sounds silly, but it was kind of exciting to see them and get close to them too.  And, just to make the experience that much better, we finally had some good weather for a change.  (Hey, if it had rained in the outback, it would have been headline news!)
Emu and Richard
We had been encouraged by a local to drive through the middle of the country on our way back to Sydney, so we headed to Broken Hill, a city on the highway between where we were and Sydney.  Well, “highway” in this case means 2 lane road on which you are allowed to drive 110 km/hr (around 66 mph).  Unlike the roads in NZ, though, we enjoyed the roads in Australia.  There are actually 6 lane divided highways in Australia (which don’t exist in NZ) and the roads in the outback were straight so you really could do 110 km/hr unlike the windy roads in NZ!  But I digress.  Our hotel hosts in Adelaide were from Broken Hill so they were encouraging of us to go there as well.  Hmmm, well, to this day, we have no idea what attraction that town has for anyone.  The name comes from the hill that is being mined right in the center of the town, dividing it into 2 neighborhoods.  The downtown area looks out on the mine and the Lonely Planet talks about the café in the visitor center that has a view of the “broken hill”, making it sound like something attractive to look at.  Sorry, we didn’t understand the appeal and couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
the "outback" highway
Scarlet Parrots

Southern Ocean
We scampered back down toward Goyder’s line, a theoretical line drawn by an early Australian showing the theoretical limits of the successful agricultural land as compared to the outback.  There is a huge change when one approaches that line—farms, vineyards and settlement suddenly appear out of nowhere, and it felt more comfortable.  We discovered Grampians National Park, a stunning place where we once again enjoyed the ‘roos and emus along with the exotic bird life and some nice walks.  It was there that we first had temps in the 30’s (Farenheit), but we were in a snug, lovely cabin and the days warmed up.  Because of the unusually heavy rain, many parts of the park were washed out, more evidence of the unusual weather. We continued south to the Great Ocean Road, the stretch of coast between Adelaide and Melbourne where the ocean has carved the limestone into fantastic formations in lovely colours.  There we found tourist busses to prove we were on the right track.  It was a beautiful drive even if it was “cold as” by this point.  The next challenge nature decided to throw at us was an unseasonable cold snap!  The wind helped whip the Southern Ocean into a wild state as it hit the scenic rock formations, so we had some good photo ops and took time to appreciate travel by car instead of by boat considering the weather conditions!

We stayed a night on Cape Otway at one of the most southern points on the mainland of Australia, and there we saw koalas in the eucalyptus trees.  Oh my goodness, how cute is that?  We were glad for our merino wool clothes (and the heat in the cabin we stayed in), but the area was gorgeous and we really enjoyed the wildlife.  

Melbourne is a city we found to be unique.  Try as we might, we couldn’t find one to compare it to.  It had the most fashionable people, the most interesting and fashionable boutiques, amazing cultural events, great architecture, beautiful parks and bizarre traffic rules.  Here’s one:  stay left to turn right.  The streets often had trains or trams in the middle so cars had to hang out in the left lane before crossing all the traffic, including the tram 
lines to turn right.  We did the sensible thing and parked our car in the hotel garage and walked or took public transport throughout our stay.  Yikes!  Despite the cold and rain (!!), we loved our visit there and felt it was too short.  We barely scratched the surface on the museums and galleries, didn’t even get to take the whole free tourist tram ride that circles the city (only part of it), barely sampled the delectable food options and didn’t shop nearly enough.  We’ll just have to go back!

From Melbourne we decided to go through Kosciuszko National Park to see the country’s highest mountain (about 7000 feet—the geography is very old, the mountains not very impressive, but, well, it was the highest one and worthy of a look), and home to a couple of the rare ski resorts.  In case you are smarter than us, you may have already figured out that, with our weather karma, this wasn’t going to be a warm decision.  Of course, we never saw the highest peak because it was totally clouded in with, you guessed it, SNOW clouds.  We had a gorgeous drive through windy, forested roads, snow along the side at the passes and ended up bypassing the area we intended to stay in favor of a slightly lower elevation.  It was still -3 degrees (in the 20’s) at the lowest one morning!!  But the mountains were beautiful and, after a little snow and rain, it became sunny and cold which we enjoyed!  

Blue Mountains
Our last foray was into the Blue Mountains (will they never learn?) outside of Sydney.  There we had some beautiful hikes through canyons and fantastic rock formations while we stayed in a cabin with adequate heating in the living room anyway.  The Blue Mountains are so named because of the blue gum trees (a type of eucaplytus) which exudes an oil that makes the air appear blue.  Whereas many people extol the beauty of the place in the mist and clouds (a frequent weather pattern), true to our luck, the weather was sunny while we were there.  No complaints from us!  We saw some fantastic birds there.  An evening stroll treated us to King Parrots.  (And a word about birds in general in Australia.  Parrots, cockatoos and other “tropical” birds (as we think of them) are native to Australia, in fact, the white cockatoos with the yellow comb which have previously in our lives been spotted only in cages are endemic to Australia.  Richard was busy in Sydney trying to capture pictures of these “rare” birds in the wild until we realized they are nearly as prevalent as pigeons in that city!)  So one morning we headed out early for our hike in the hopes we would spot a lyrebird.  This is a bird with an extravagant tail of feathers likened to a lyre.  The tail feathers are huge and long and probably only exceeded by a peacock in their size.  It was cold and early when we hit the trail, but, being the first there, we were rewarded by our glimpse of 4 lyrebirds at the very start of the trail.  They make burbling noises and scrambled about while we tried to stay quiet and still, but they skedaddled pretty quickly and we’re pretty sure we were the only ones to see them that morning.  Fun!

By then, we had realized that the south of the country really hadn’t been such a smart idea and we had booked our last few days to go north to the tropical part of the country for a little sun/swim break.  We dropped the rental car in Sydney and headed to Cairns, latitude 16 (closer to the equator than Tahiti and Fiji as they like to say), still not the furthest north you can get in Australia, but north enough for us.  We had warmth and sunshine (and some rain of course, “Very unusual for it to rain this time of year” our host at the hotel said, and we just ducked our heads and mumbled something about nearby rainforests and tried not to feel guilty about disrupting what is supposed to be their dry season…) at last.

You know that feeling of getting off the airplane and the air is warm and humid and 
tropical?  And you get led into you hotel room and the sliding doors to the veranda open onto the most perfect temperature and the sound of the waves crashing below?  Heaven, I must say.  There were many interesting tours and things to do from our hotel (we were actually on Trinity Beach north of Cairns), but we spent our first day doing almost nothing except walking on the beach and around town.  Swimming on the beach was limited to the 
netted area which limits the possibility of box jellyfish stings (which are fatal). There were also shark baited spots further out and signs warning of possible salt water crocodiles, but, I was assured by the lifeguard, if a croc was spotted they would have “beach closed” signs, so not to worry.
But, in truth, it was the 25-30 knot winds that made swimming less appealing (and cooled the air nicely).

Our second day, we had signed up for a Great Barrier Reef trip.  We were whisked by bus to Port Douglas and took a high speed catamaran (with, you know, a hundred other day trippers) to the “outer reef.”  There was a high wind warning and, starting with our bus driver, the message about taking something for seasickness was loud and clear.  They needn’t have worried about me—I had the meds in my bag and took them before anyone said the first word, salty dog that I am!  Well, it was a tad rough, even for a large catamaran and a few of the passengers, ignoring the warnings, got green and worse.  One guy paid to take a helicopter back rather than experience another 1.5 hours of such bad seasickness.  But my meds worked and the ride was fun.

The company we chose had a moored pontoon out at the reef.  This made for a nice stable platform for the day despite the choppy conditions.  Richard and I couldn’t wait to get in the water so we immediately put on our “stinger suits” (lycra suits advised to avoid jellyfish stings—i.e., death—and sunburn) and snorkel gear and hopped in.  The conditions were choppier than ideal, but the reef was gorgeous and some of the fishes were huge (parrotfish for instance).  Most intriguing of all were the giant clams.  We had seen these before in French Polynesia and Tonga, but they had been so decimated that all that remained were pretty small specimens.  But these were truly huge, 4 foot diameter clams, the kind Venus alit from in the Boticelli painting, and they were gorgeous and very cool.  Speaking of cool, 45 minutes or so later with teeth chattering we finally emerged from our explorations to have some lunch.  It took a while to warm up (and inexplicably, the inside of the catamaran was arctic in its air conditioning), but then we enjoyed the semi-submersible vehicle which took us around the reef in a submarine with glass walls to look at the fish and reef.  All in all, a totally enjoyable day!

And day 3 was for the rainforest for that area of Australia is dense rainforest once you are off the beaches.  This was another sort of tourist/Disney type day.  We took an historic railroad trip up the mountains into the forest—gorgeous views, interesting history.  Then we walked through the rainforest to the tourist village where they sell some “interesting stuff and some rubbish” as our tour bus driver had warned us.  We signed up for the Wildlife Park tour where we got to pet koalas and feed kangaroos and see wombats and salt water and fresh water crocodiles all at close quarters.  We also saw a cassowary, another ostrich-like large bird, and dingo dogs.  From there we took a rainforest tour in an amphibious “duck” vehicle and learned quite a bit about the plants and their medicinal uses.  The way down was done on a gondola over the rainforest—a stunning ride with 2 stops for further exploration in the forest, and quite an engineering achievement as well.  Wow, another wonderful day.

Being up north was a welcome relief after our bad spell of weather and our return to Sydney was greeted with more seasonable weather, sunny, low 70’s, and quite delightful.  We took one of the ferries to an outlying community, Manly, where we took a coastal walk of 6 miles of trail through bush and along beaches after enjoying the gorgeous beaches in the little town itself.  Fantastic.  What an amazing place! 

Pugsley reviews our route
When we unfolded our Australia map to trace our “epic voyage” we discovered we had seen a tiny corner of the country in our busy month.  We forgot to mention that we shared this voyage with our dog "Pugsly" who traveled with us from Seattle aboard our mighty ship (and lived in New Zealand and traveled through Australia all without requiring vaccinations or immigration quarantine.)  It would have been possible to move faster, but we felt our pace kept us going fast enough and we did see some wonderful sights.  I suppose it was enough to whet our appetite for more, but, for now, we’ve gotten our taste of Oz.  And we are winging our way back to the US, boatless, homeless, and without a true plan after 6 years of continuous travel.  I have a job in Seattle and we will see what the future brings.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dispatch 68 Qayaq is Sold

We report with deeply mixed feelings that Qayaq has been sold. We held off on mentioning anything until we were sure, but, as of now, Neil, an Auckland resident, is living aboard her. In a great episode of luck and serendipity, Qayaq’s next owner presented himself to us. Everyone hopes their boat will be sold to someone who appreciates her the way we did, and, we feel happy that Neil will be a wonderful new owner.

Here’s how it all happened. While we were in Auckland finishing up our last bits and pieces with the broker and the boat, we had a small misadventure while flushing the watermaker in that the sink drain, corroded from years of salt water exposure, broke. How apt that the last time on Qayaq should turn into a boat project, but what do you expect?

The old drain had to be removed with our friends' hacksaw (no more tools on the boat after packing!), then Betsy was dispatched to find a replacement. As she got into a friend's van on the way to the store, a man approached and asked if she had just stepped off that double-ender on the dock. When she said yes, he basically offered cash on the spot for the boat. Well, she sent him down to Richard who talked to him for a bit, and, when Betsy returned, we decided it was worth meeting with Neil the next day.

He came out to where we were staying with friends, and, over coffee, he showed us his photo album from one of his prior boats, a Westsail 32, which he had rebuilt from the hull up with his wife. It showed great skill and love for boats which we really appreciated. Now he wants to have a boat like Qayaq to live aboard, fix up and hopefully sail off with his young son. He is a boat engine mechanic and works aboard large yachts, so we know he will take tender care of our boat. His thoughtfulness at bringing the photo album was touching and he said all the right things to let us know he really understands our dilemma--boats do not do well to sit un-used as we would have to do and he knew how emotional the turnover was. So, several steps later (only 3 weeks really), he is now the owner and we are boat-less, homeless and kicking around Oz (Australia) before heading back to the US and work.

They say the best 2 days in a boat owners life are the day you buy it and the day you sell it. Well, I don't think we will agree that selling Qayaq has been a good day. We can only say, it was the right decision for the boat and we are really happy she will have a good next adventure and be taken care of. For us, one door just closed, and we know there are millions opening up if only we dare to walk through them.

From Oz, somewhere over the rainbow, cheers to you all.

Dispatch 67 New Zealand A to Zed

We are wrapping up our time in NZ with a strong measure of sadness and nostalgia. We drove from Oamaru to Auckland, 1700 km, catching a few of the highlights we had missed on the way down, but, it was a fast trip and we didn’t get to savor much. We did enjoy a couple days in Wellington, a beautiful and energetic city, did some wine tasting in Martinborough, saw the quaint art deco town of Napier where a 1931 earthquake (7.9 magnitude) wiped out the city’s buildings so they self-consciously rebuilt in the style of the era. It gave us hope for Christchurch.

Our week in Auckland was spent, again, dealing with boat issues. We were hosted by Jeff and Deirdre, friends we first met cruising in Alaska who have made their life and business in Auckland, and Richard and Suzanne, new friends we met cruising in Samoa who are from Auckland. Both did their best to feed and shelter us while we dealt with our grief at saying goodbye to both Qayaq and NZ at the same time. We were off balance to say the least.

So here, in reflection, are some of our favourite things about NZ.

A for the Albatross who rode the air currents next to the ferry on our way back north between the two islands.

B is for all the British-isms we have learned to love/hate, but that add colour to our favourites list (as well as heaps of extra, unnecessary letters like the “o” in “oesophagus”, the many “u’s” in harbour, flavour, favour, colour, etc.)

C is for all the cows that make up the fantastic meat and dairy industry of NZ. It is unnecessary to ask if your beef has been “grass fed” in NZ because there is no other kind of beef and you see them all grazing by the road every day. The taste is amazing and something we will sorely miss.

D is for the farmed deer which make for such a bizarre roadside site (also see “V”).

E is for the wonderful euphemisms we have adopted from our Kiwi friends. Like, when someone is no longer sound in their thinking, they are said to have, “Lost the plot.” And when they are old and not in such good health, my mentor would refer to them as, “Well past their “use by” date.” Difficult issues are “diabolical.” Being busy is “flat out”, hiking is “tramping”, cookies are “biscuits” and evening meal, dinner, is “tea” (not to be confused with morning tea which is second breakfast in hobbit-speak or afternoon tea which is yet another excuse not to do any work for ½ hour.)

F is for Fantails, wee little birds that fan out their tails when resting on branches that we enjoyed watching flit about in our many travels in the bush.

G is for Godwandia, the original mega landmass from which NZ separated millions of years ago (“ best thing we ever did mate”) leaving it without dangerous animals and Australia with all of those. Also Gas which was $2.18 a liter when we left which is about $8.25 a gallon in US dollars.

H is for a healthcare system in which “EVERYONE” is covered for hospital and emergencies and payments, if any, are usually within the reach of most for other care.

I is for the expression “it is too,” which in NZ is not an argument (is too/is not), but an expression of agreement, as in, “it’s really cold today,” and the response, “it is too.”

J is for jandals, their word for sandals (flip-flops) which is the universal footwear of NZ, that is next to being barefoot.

K is for kilometer and relearning distances and the time it takes to travel between them on two lane roads with one way bridges and occasional sheep crossings—it all works because, there just aren’t that many people in NZ.

L is for the darling lambs we enjoyed last Sept/Oct who are now, sadly, being transported in huge trucks to the freezing works and their final resting place. We console ourselves by knowing that those ewes we see grazing away are, even now, pregnant with next season’s lambs!

M is for metric which the whole world uses except the US. Of course, some of the oldies I met in Oamaru still measure their weight in “stones” which, for those of you who don’t know, is around 14 pounds.

N is for the word NO pronounced “NOOOEE” by most NZ’ers , especially endearing when used by the ankle biters (which means kids, see E for “euphemisms” above. )

O is for, of course, OAMARU, our wee town of little blue penguins and limestone edifices.

P is for PENGUINS and all the varieties we have enjoyed.

Q is for Queenstown where people continue to jump from sound foundations and great heights to confront their fears. And, of course, for Qayaq, who remains in NZ and is now Kiwi owned.

R is for religion, which NZ has little of. The 2010 survey shows that fewer people in NZ claim any religious affiliation than in any other country. Good on ‘em! And let’s not forget what R really stands for which is of course for RUGBY which is, come to think of it, the official religion of NZ!

S is for the sheep that out-number the people 10 to one in NZ.

T is for “tracks”, their word for trails and “tramping”, their word for hiking. It really is a different language! And Tipping which doesn’t exist in NZ because they pay their staff a reasonable salary and let’s not forget Taxes which are high but included in the price so what you see on the pricetag is the price you pay. What a wonderful experience that is.

U is for the US which everyone seems to want to emulate for some unknown reason. Our biggest exports seem related to the spread of obesity: KFC, McDonalds and Burger King.

V is for venison made from the farmed deer. It is delicious!

W is for weather which is, truly, a law unto itself in NZ. One day in Oamaru, it was 38 degrees by 2 in the afternoon (that’s around 100 degrees F) and people were wilting. Literally in 5 minutes, the wind switched to a southwesterly and, in the space of time it took for our friends to consume their ice cream cones, it became cold enough to have to go inside—it dropped to around 22 (72 degrees F). This is normal for NZ. One never counts on the morning’s weather to continue all day, leading to the saying that the weather is “4 seasons in a day!”

X-rated? NZ suffers from none of the puritan modesty of the US. The advertisements and television programs are solidly sexual without apology (although the tele does give a parental warning before airing something that might be “offensive”). Where brothels, “escorts”, and sex ads are a part of daily life which includes having their own labour unions.

Y is for “yonks” a NZ’er term as in “I haven’t seen them in yonks” for those of us more literal types I haven’t seen them in a long time, years , ages well yonks.

Zed which is the way English speaking people pronounce the letter “Z” the world ‘round except in the US. And that illustrates what is so wonderful about travel in general. The US may think it has everything right, but, there is always so much to learn and enjoy from other countries, people and cultures.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Dispatch 66 The Wild West

5-13 March, 2011
Our last frontier on the South Island was the west coast. Like the US west, this is still a wild area and some of the settlements are, thanks to mining interests and the brief gold rush here, much like the US west. In fact, they have a shanty town preserved from the mining days. We admit, we weren’t very interested in that part of the history as it is so similar to the US.

But we were very interested in the beautiful terrain. Our route to the west coast took us purposely a little out of ourway to drive a road we had not yet been on that follows the “rail trail”, a disused railroad path, now a bike path, well used by bicyclists. It goes through central Otago, an area with a climate that is good for growing Pinot grapes and is thus full of wineries. Again, we were struck that the area is virtually treeless. Geologically in its past, apparently, it was a giant inland lake, but now it is undulating plains and hills with various low mountainranges leading up to the beginning of the Southern Alps. We stopped at a small railway museum to get the flavor of the area’s past, tried to go to a winery whose wine I had enjoyed (called Three Miners) only to findit closed, and finally pulled into Wanaka for a couplenights. Wanaka had been our base when I did my little ski adventure in the winter.

We love Wanaka. It is a stunning place, full of
young people, with an atmosphere of excited
physical activity. The morning after
we arrived we headed down the lake road past triathletes, some finishing their swim and others already on the bike leg. The day was gorgeous and clear after a heavy rain the night before left the first dusting of snow for the
season (we are headinginto fall here) on
the mountains ringing thelake. The snowwas melted by afternoon but made for a beautiful scene that morning. Half the road was unsealed, but pretty smooth gravel so we toodled along the valley
floor next to the lake and then its source river happily.

Then we came upon a pull off and a sign warning of “Ford!”
—not a car
advertisement—this was a warning that the road goes through a river without the benefit of a bridge. There was also a sign warning the next 9 km was rough road with multiple fords. Well, as we’ve mentioned before, we have
this flash car, an Audi A4, which might accelerate like the dickens but doesn’t have much road clearance, so we pulled off to
think things through. Alo
ng came an SUV
and we stopped them to ask if they knew the road conditions and the driver encouraged us that the fords
were probably OK as there really hadn’t been much run off and, if we were careful, “And your
wife gets out to find the shallow spots for you,” (?!) we should be fine.
Sure enough, they went racing off, then another Audi came racing along and splashed across the river without stalling, so off we went. We crossed 9 fords, the first of which was almost the worst and all went fine. When we arrived at our planned trailhead, we saw 30 or so cars and
vehicles who had also all braved the road, and ours was surely not the smallest or lowest car.

Our trail took us to the foot of the Rob Roy glacier. It was a stunning walk through meadows
with cows and sheep, over a suspension bridge and then up a very beautiful river gorge.
The track was very well maintained except for a couple areas of slide. At the top, we were
rewarded with a panorama of the glacier while we sat on rocks and ate lunch in the company of Keas (the parrot-like
birds that each windscreen rubber) who
were actually rather well behaved and posed for
heaps of tourist pictures. Because far from being a wilderness experience, this rugged little 10 km hike attracted quite a crowd. We ate that night at our now favorite restaurant in Wanaka, the Spice Room, with Indian food that is
truly gorgeous
(that is the adjective most often used for good food in NZ, not merely referring to its looks, but mostly to its flavor.)

The next day we drove a drop dead gorgeous road along several lakes out to the west coast and up alongside the coast and the coastal rain forest all the way to the Fox glacier. The weather on the west coast, just like our Olympic peninsula in Washington state, has such a high rainfall (around 300 inches), that it is a temperate rainforest. The weather was sunny so we enjoyed the lush greenery in sunshine.

Of the hundreds of glaciers in the Southern Alps, two of them are large enough to carry on down to near sea level: Fox and Franz Josef glaciers.
They are similar and are only a 30 minute drive from one another. We stayed at the little village at the base of Franz Josef while we enjoyed adventures at both spots. We walked up the river valley that is spawned from the foot of each glacier to get as close as the trails would allow us.
From there, we actually watched calved icebergsfloat downstream and tried to take in the size and grandeur of these rivers of ice.

We had not planned it this way, but, once we had seen these glaciers, we spontaneously decided that getting onto the glacier by helicopter would be worth the trip.
a 6 seater helicopter for a 15 minute ride up and around the Franz Josef glacier. We were deposited at the base of the “black hole”, a huge upthrusted rock face that the glacier had melted around so that it was bare of ice, about
So one morning, we went to the helicopter company, got suited up in glacier pants and rain jacket, their waterproof boots and heavy socks, and boarded midway up the glacier. There our guides helped us put on crampons and gave us ice axes and off we went to explore some of the ice formations on the glacier. The glacier is always active so we saw and/or heard rock and icefalls often while we were up there.
Our guides took us through ice caves, over to a huge
waterfall from the melting ice and through a little ice tunnel.
Our little group consisted of 2 other couples who might have had 5 or 6 cameras between the 4 of them, so much time was spent in various camera poses and less time than I would have liked was spent in actual hiking. But it was a stupendous experience from the helicopter ride to the glacier walk and I was thrilled we did it.Did I mention it was a gorgeous sunny day?
The area also offered beautiful little rainforest walks which reminded us of the cloud forest in Costa Rica, so heavy was the growth of mosses and other air plants on the trees. One night we went out after dark to have our first encounter with glow worms, little phosphorescent worms (actually fly larvae) that hang on the dirt under uprooted trees and on cave walls. They look like stars in the sky when you come across a whole wall of them—fascinating.

Despite our gorgeous weather, we managed to get to the “Reflection
Lake” just late enough in the morning to miss the panorama of mountains reflected in the lake as the mountains accumulated a cloud curtain each day by late morning. But, when we went off kayaking at the Okarito lagoon nearby, we were early enough to see the Alps
before they became enshrouded
—a stunning panorama and backdrop to the
paddle through the wetland lagoon where we also enjoyed white herons, various shorebirds and our favorite little songbirds, the bell birds.

As we signed up for our kayak, we noticed on their picnic table a very large container of in
sect repellant. In fact, when talking to the people at work about our west coast trip, the most common advice was, “bring insect repellant.” The sand flies, those pests we mentioned early on in our NZ travels, are at their worst on the west coast. But it was late enough in the year for us to mainly do our adventures with long pants and long shirts. Still, we took advantage of the offered repellant to help our bare feet stay protected and it seemed to work well. Our only really bad encounter was when we pulled off at a scenic overlook where we intended to have our lunch at the picnic table and lasted, at most, 3 minutes before we retreated to the car to eat away from the swarms.

For a break from our outdoor adventures, we stopped in Hokitika, a town best known for its jade carving artistry. Pounamu, or nephrite jade, or greenstone, is a valued stone, and sacred to the Maoris. It is found in the rivers of the west coast and on the beaches and is carved into some beautiful sculptures as well as abundant jewelery. We, naturally, found a couple pieces to our liking while we enjoyed the little town.

Our last stop on the west coast was Punakaiki where there is a very unusual limestone formation right on the coast that makes the rocks look like stacks of pancakes, so it is also referred to as “Pancake Rocks.” The information signs at this well visited tourist attraction made it clear, with their long obtuse explanations, that nobody really knows how this rock formation occurred, but it was certainly interesting.
Meanwhile, we spent the night at a treehouse-like hotel room in the rainforest and enjoyed the sound of kiwis after dark. It was a wonderful, peaceful place, our first night without a television, and, wouldn’t you know it, the night of the huge Japanese earthquake. So, when we went to check out, we learned all about the earthquake and the tsunami. We seem to have a knack for belated awareness of large world disasters as it was a full day after 9/11 before we learned of that disaster, oblivious as we were on our sailboat heading home from Alaska. No matter.

The rest of our trip home took us through Arthur’s pass,
the highest pass in NZ and a beautiful place in the mountains, and down onto the Canterbury plains through lovely farmland. We took some short hikes in the Peel Forest to see some of the largest trees in NZ, smaller by far than the North Island Kauris, but impressive nonetheless. The most impressive thing was the guy, Peel, who had the foresight in the late 1800’s when the area was being rapidly de-forested for house timber, to buy land and preserve it from logging so these majestic trees could survive. Well done!

Once home in Oamaru, our attention is now focussed on our upcoming departure and return to the US by way of Australia. There is much to do to close up our lives here, not the least of which includes the sale of our car and boat.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Dispatch 65 Qayaq for Sale

14 March 2011
We have put Qayaq up for sale here in Auckland, New Zealand. After a wrenching and difficult decision-making process, we have decided to sell her. So, if you have ever dreamed of cruising, here is your chance to take a boat that is ready to go and sail her back up to the Pacific Islands, or just cruise New Zealand in comfort. Please contact for more information.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dispatch 64 Big Christchurch Earthquake

22 February 2011
I was sitting in the hospital nurse station when my head nurse suddenly cried, “Shivers, that’s an earthquake!” (She objects to any swearing so “sugar” and “shivers” are as bad as her language gets.) The ground rolled for about a minute, several of the nurses complained they were feeling motion sick. Yours truly didn’t—hah, maybe I did get my sea legs after all. I said, “God, I wonder if that’s Christchurch again,” and flipped the computer to the internet to get the latest news. The TV was on in the nursing home section of the hospital and we all migrated there as the news started to pour in. Yes, it was Christchurch again, but this time, the damage was extensive.

Last earthquake happened on Saturday morning at 4:36 AM and our beds shook here that time too. There was damage in Christchurch but nobody was killed. The earthquake was deeper and 30 km from the city. This time the earthquake was shallow and only 10 km from the city and they think the volcanic rock near where it started reflected even more wave power into the city. This time it happened during lunch hour on a weekday. The city was full of people working and visiting—out on the streets, in the historic sites, in their offices.

As the story unfolded, the news reporters walked the newly shaken streets just filming the destruction, the piles of rubble, the buildings fallen over, the people fleeing in shock, sometimes streaming blood. As always, the very first coverage couldn’t begin to convey the scope of the disaster, but that became clearer as the hours went on. It was hard to watch the coverage and not want to go up and help. I volunteered to go, but the authorities did not call for more doctors—as it turned out, there were hundreds of doctors in town for medical conferences and they had a whole Australian field hospital flown in.

This is a small country and the people I work with in Oamaru have many family and friend connections to Christchurch which is only 3 hours drive away. Everyone has been touched by this quake in a very personal way. Many have gone to retrieve their elderly parents, or nieces/nephews who will attend school here while their parents see if they can salvage their lives there. Our nurses describe going up to ChCh with their gumboots so that they can wade through the liquefaction into their family’s homes to help them.

So, instead, we are here picking up the pieces of people’s lives. Refugees from Christchurch, those who can’t stand it anymore, are streaming south. They’ve had over a thousand aftershocks since the first earthquake in September, and, now, this big one, a new earthquake with the promise of another year of aftershocks. People are shaken, literally. We are only 3 hours drive from there. Our motels are full and people are housing others in their homes. Our stores are empty of bread which is being sent up to Christchurch, and, as it turns out, was packaged there, so there isn’t any quickly available to replenish our supplies. We’ve almost run out of petrol with the streams of people coming through and supplies being diverted to ChCh.

One night this week 50 nursing home patients from ChCh were bussed down our way as their home was condemned. They are being divvied up to various homes on the way down, 4 of them landed in our hospital at 4 in the morning when the bus driver suddenly exceeded his daily hours and couldn't go all the way to Dunedin where they were meant to go. I came in to the hospital in the morning and went in to visit them. They were put in one of our hospital rooms all together (a room with usually 3 beds and another one was brought in.) They were from 80-92 years old, lying in bed with their luggage around them (all their live’s belongings no doubt), like an elder slumber party. They were very sweet, sad, accepting of their lot--it was poignant in the extreme. Later that day when we managed to organize another bus to take them the rest of the way to their new home, they trundled out with their luggage moving to somewhere with no family or friends.

Another Oamaru resident is a woman with Cystic Fibrosis who goes to ChCh hospital every 3 months for antibiotics and just became known to us last November when she came down to finish the course at our hospital. She happened to be in hospital this week and, with the other patients, was evacuated from ChCh hospital. She grabbed her portable oxygen and her cell phone, left the hospital and refused to go back in, requesting to be transferred a week early to our hospital. Her husband brought her down. Ironically for her, the cell phone was very important to grab because she is on the list for a lung transplant and a disaster like this might give her a good chance at a donor.

Later, in the ER, I met a woman who had 3 fingers partially amputated when she had her hand on top of her desk as she hid under it and debris fell on the hand. Ordinarily trauma like this would be a big deal—3 fingers on one’s dominant hand—but in this case, it was minor. At least she was alive. Everything has changed perspective in the wake of this disaster.

Like other disasters we’ve skirted, this one seems a bit surreal. Here we are, cozy and safe, while just three hours away, people are living without sewage or water or electricity. I spoke with the specialist who works with our CF patient in ChCh and she said they are being asked to conserve water in the hospital (they do have running water but are not allowed to drink it) and are told to flush toilets as little as possible. The floor she’s working on is being kept open but the 2 floors below were evacuated—but they’re told the building is safe. Can you imagine? It really is like a war zone up there. And the true scope of the impact is yet to be seen.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dispatch 63 Great Barrier Island

1-12 December, 2010

Finally, in December, I took a real holiday—two weeks off work! It was a luxury well deserved after 7 months straight. Richard preceded me to Auckland by a few days to get the green patina off the boat (a typical consequence of a wet winter without attention) and get the systems up and running, or at least identify those that aren’t working, as was the case with our refrigerator on the boat. Buoyed by my excitement of being sprung from work, I was undaunted by holiday aboard without a refrigerator—heck, our first 7 years on the boat we never had a fridge! He also was telling me all kinds of stories about going out and about town in shorts and t-shirt. Right, like I could believe that after months of Oamaru!

Well, upon arrival to Auckland, I discovered that, in fact, there is summer in New Zealand. Much like travel from Seattle to San Francisco (a comparable latitude change), the climate is really different and we were WARM! Ironically, upon our first arrival to NZ, all we felt was cold after years in the tropics. Now after one winter in Oamaru, Auckland seemed balmy—funny how the body adapts. We wined and dined with friends and enjoyed the big city for a couple days, then took Qayaq out to Great Barrier Island, about 50 miles from Auckland and a real treasure!

Great Barrier Island (so named by our hero Captain Cook) is a large and mountainous island with many, many beautiful inlets and coves. The Department of Conservation has built beautiful and well-maintained trails all over the central island and we enjoyed many of these as well as the lush greenery and the absolutely stunning coastal scenery. The island is complete with its own hot springs, which we visited as well. We didn’t take a dip in the pools, though, once we saw the signs at the head of the trail which mentioned “DANGER - Amoebic Meningitis; which can be fatal” A brief note from the MOH,NZ (Ministry of Health, New Zealand), put it all into perspective that we thought prudent to observe, “Amoebic meningitis is a very serious illness that almost always ends in death”. As the mode of acquisition is via the nasal passage, you are warned not to put your head under water. Now since we have been in NZ we have never heard or seen so much as a danger notice on any of our tramps so this one got our attention and we opted to stay dry and amoeba free. You have to wonder who the first lucky (???) diagnosis was. We ended up renting a car so we could really appreciate all the scenery of the place. The roads are partly sealed, (NZ speak for paved) and partly gravel, and about 1 to 1 ¾ car widths wide. SO travel around some of the sharp curves meeting large gravel trucks and the locals driving at break neck speed was exciting and there were NO danger signs regarding the road width or conditions but the hot springs rates a warning, hence our reluctance for a dip. An additional bonus was the start of the trip; we had a gorgeous sail out to the island complete with a dolphin visit. On the way we stopped off at another island and “summited” Rangitoto, an extinct volcano visible from Auckland (a very well marked trail of 3 hours walk). We think this is the volcano that erupts and destroys Auckland in the “must miss” movie by the name “Volcano”. Mmmm, altogether a delicious holiday.

As, usual, we focused on the local wildlife. There is an endangered duck on Great Barrier Island called the Pateke, a little brown teal (“endearing” as the brochure describes it). There are only a 1000 pair left in the world it is estimated, and all are on Great Barrier Island. Well, we got a close look at a pair which was a thrill until we realized that, just like Mallards, they were swimming around our boat begging! Awww. There’s also a parrot-like bird called a “Kaka” which, just like the parrots in Costa Rica, went squawking its way across the sky each evening flapping its fool wings for all it was worth. Each evening we would enjoy the show of the Gannet’s fishing. We loved to watch as they dive for their fish. They sound like a big kid doing a cannonball in a pool—they hit the water with such force, coming up shaking their heads, and, if successful, take multiple sips to help their meal go down. If not successful they are off again for another attempt. But it is odd to be in such a wilderness and not see mammals. In fact, the lack of snakes in this country was highlighted by a story in the local museum which told of a snake that was found on shore after a shipwreck and it was hypothesized that the ship must have acquired the snake in Panama.

Once again, we ponder how it happened that eons ago NZ separated from Godwondia, the combined continent that included Australia and how all the dangerous things (other than NZ drivers) ended up on Australia (salt water crocs, box jellyfish, man-eating sharks, all manner of poisonous snakes and spiders, etc.) and not one in NZ. As the naturalist on our cruise said in reference to the split from Australia hundreds of thousands of years ago, “Best thing we ever did, ey mate?”

Our last night, we headed to an anchorage that afforded easy exit from Great Barrier heading back to Auckland. Part of the reason for the choice was that our engine was acting up and overheating very quickly so we needed to be able to get out into the wind as soon as possible to sail home, and, we needed to sail virtually all the way to our marina because the engine would only get us from the marina entrance to our berth without overheating. All of that was OK with us—we’ve done it before, the weather report called for a favorable wind (enough, not too much, and supposedly from a good direction).

As we pulled into the bay we planned to stay in, we could see two pods of dolphins in separate areas of the bay. There was one other sailboat so we motored in past it looking for shallower water. No sooner had we passed that sailboat than the dolphins came rushing over to our boat. This was not a social visit—we could tell they were unhappy with our intrusion on the inner bay. They “ganged up” on the port side of the boat and literally swam against it as if to turn it away. Well, we got the message immediately and turned back, and, as soon as we were behind the other boat, they swam off—mission accomplished. We dropped anchor behind the other boat and watched them for a couple more hours. We wondered if one was sick or was giving birth, or what, exactly was going on, but we couldn’t sort it out. There were some young ones but none that looked small enough to be newborn. But their behavior couldn’t have been clearer.

The next morning, off we went, full of optimism about our sail back. It was a sunny day and a gorgeous sail. We saw whales at one point—always a bonus. It was a 50 mile jaunt and we were undaunted by the initial headwind because the weather gurus were clear about the wind shift about to happen any minute (early morning). Well, as morning became afternoon and we were still beating into 15 knots and growing seas and tacking back and forth and adding miles to our voyage, we suddenly realized that the weather wasn’t going to change. Sure enough, the revisionist history weather report shifted around 3 PM to call for SW winds all day (after they had been predicting SE then NE shift in the morning). We were traveling, you guessed it, SW. Then around 7 PM we really started to wonder what we would do as we were still 30 miles or more from our marina and dark happens around 9 PM. We started looking for an anchorage and found one we could get to in a couple hours, but, as the sun was setting, the wind started to drop and we suddenly realized that if there was no wind the next day, we’d be stuck where we were with no engine.

It was a gorgeous night, the wind dropped to light breezes, the stars started to emerge and we looked at each other and decided to keep going. After all, we’ve traveled many a night by sail! And a magical night it was—the wind was just enough to keep us going, we were traveling down the coast now with no seas and Auckland skyline lit up the horizon and provided us a cityscape as we got closer. The only dicey part was the shipping channel which we sailed through slowly just outside the shipping markers and watched as huge freighters chugged by at close quarters. We could only imagine what they were thinking about us! The wind continued to drop until, in the wee hours (4-5AM), there was barely a breeze and we ghosted through Auckland harbor, thankful for a favorable current (at times our only forward momentum) and the virtual lack of traffic at that time of day. The last 5 miles took us more than 2 hours, our 50 mile trip had morphed into 82 with all the tacking, but after sunrise, we were at our marina, fired up the engine, and arrived at our berth, safe and sound on a very still morning. We were pleased to have made the right decision to keep going as there was no wind that day until mid-afternoon, happy to be in our berth and crawled into bed for a nap before putting everything away. You see, even the most mundane of outings can turn into big adventure when sailing!

Dispatch 62 Victorian Heritage Festival

17-21 November 2010
Every year in November, Oamaru relives its Victorian heyday and puts on a several day festival in celebration. The festival features a variety of activities including tours of the special limestone buildings and other Victorian era features of the town, little readings and presentations in a Victorian style, an afternoon band concert at which one is expected to don Victorian garb, a ball at which the women must be in costume and men in tuxedos or uniforms of the Victorian era, plays, a parade, pennyfarthing bicycle racing and, finally, a street fair with all manner of crafts and food for sale as well as demonstrations, street performances, etc. We had been eagerly anticipating this one great event for which Oamaru is well-known.

On one of the evenings we attended a one act play and soiree called “Sheeps Ahoy”. It was an amateur, amusing bit of theater. The one act play featured 3 women dressed as sheep discussing the best way to promote their wool—they came up with the idea of crocheted wool sails for the America’s Cup boat. The only problem, in the end, was that they should have knitted rather than crocheted because the wind went right through the sails. Cute. The second half was literally a Victorian style soiree with about 8 people doing various parlour entertainments—reading aloud, playing the piano and singing. It was quaint and entertaining.

Richard was more able to enjoy the weekday activities and captured the amazing dresses that the women put on. People take this festival very seriously. On the weekend we saw the parade and went to the street fair which ended a bit early when the skies opened up into a torrential downpour, but otherwise was very enjoyable. Walking the streets of the historic district, seeing even the children in Victorian garb, one could almost imagine what the town was like at its pinnacle. Small towns can be so wonderful at times like this.

See the link to see more pictures than the above samples.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Dispatch 61 Fjordland

October, 2010

Fjordland is a magical part of New Zealand! In

fact, the general magic of the South Island is we can go from Iowa type farmland to Vancouver Island type coastal ruggedness, to Rockies type mountain terrain, to Olympic peninsula type rainforest to Alaska type fjordland all within a few hours drive. And, no bears, no spiders, no snakes, no raccoons, no kidding. If you look close, you can find penguins and how scary are they?

I took a Friday and Monday off work and we set off to take a cruise on Doubtful Sound in Fjordland, SW New Zealand. This area is just beautiful with mountains that fall straight into the water, still with some snow at the peaks. Everything is green because it rains a lot there, but, miraculously, not while we were there. We just nailed the weather. And, we were also privileged to get half price on the cruise because we live here! Bonus! Doubtful Sound is so named because James Cook, that intrepid explorer who conveniently has charted nearly all the

waters we have sailed in, took one look into the place and “doubted” that they would find good anchorage. We assume he remembered his experience at Desolation Sound, another drop dead gorgeous place he named so negatively because, for him and his crew, tall mountains and narrow waterways spell disaster. Desolation Sound trapped them for days—no wind and wild currents, usually in the wrong direction! So, the wiser for that experience, he didn’t venture into Doubtful Sound where he would have found trouble with the wind, but no currents to plague him.

We were on a purpose built tank of a ship with symbolic sails, but really comfortable little cabins and an awesome galley that produced food of both quality and quantity. Mmmm. With about 60 passengers aboard, we went out into the Sound, spotted dolphins, Blue and Fjordland Crested penguins, Fur Seals and albatross, (Mollymawk). We enjoyed Kiwi calls in the night on a still anchorage deep in one of the fjords and kayaked to one of the islands to see waterfalls up close and provide the sand flies with their dinner before we had ours. The weather was so calm,

the reflections in the water were perfect mirrors of the mountains above. Nearly every cliff face sported multiple waterfalls from recent rains even though we had gorgeous clear weather. Did I mention high quantity food? There was a dinner and breakfast buffet and we took good advantage of those. The trip

was also enriched by a naturalist who was both informative and funny. It was a fantastic experience!

After that overnight cruise, we took advantage of being on the West Coast and drove a stunning road up to Milford Sound on another beautiful sunny day. On the way there, we finally encountered Keas, the native parrot like bird of New Zealand. We have been trying to see them because they are interesting and pesky. They like to eat the rubber out from around the windshield and the wipers. We kept our eye on them every minute when they landed on top of our car. The road traveled through some of the most glorious mountain scenery we have ever seen and was well worth the side trip.

Remember we talked about farmed deer? As we drove the countryside, we noticed a guy driving a herd of big animals ahead of his truck in his paddock. He then proceeded to put gates across the road to stop traffic and create a lane to herd his animals to the other side. We looked closely at the animals as they passed (we got out to watch and take pictures) and thought they looked mighty familiar and not really deer-like. We talked to the farmer and, sure enough, the animals are Roosevelt Elk, exactly like those that run wild in the Olympic National Park in Washington State. The farmer raises them for their antlers which fetch a huge pricetag from places like Korea and are, after all, a renewable resource. He also farms some Elk for meat. He explained to us that the group in yonder paddock were soon to go on their “OE” (overseas experience) in little boxes.

On our detour home, we headed to the southern-most point of the South Island, Slope Point, latitude 46 degrees, 37’ 26”S. We came from Seattle at Latitude 48, so we’ll have to go down to Stewart Island, or beyond, to get equally south.
The south part of the south island is famous for its constant high winds. The trees reflect that environment, although, once again, we were lucky in the weather and enjoyed a walk around the rocky coast near Bluff in still conditions.

And here’s how small NZ is. In Bluff, we stayed at a small hotel. Unbeknownst to us, the couple running it are both ambulance crew which became apparent when I asked where the hospital was in the next town (a place where I had been offered a job so wanted to check it out). They wondered if they could do anything to help (thinking, of course, I needed medical attention). Well, I told them who I was and where I work, and we started comparing names of the people they know who work in Oamaru and used to work in Bluff, etc. It turns out they had trained one of our hospital porters who also happens to be an ambulance crew member. It’s not that strange, really, remember, only 4.8 million people in the whole country.