Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tane Mahuta - Lord of the Forest

Theme Song of the Day:
  1. "Tree Live", by Ookalah Da Moc, live at Saint Rocke Hermossa Beach

What do you say to something that has been alive for 2,000 years?

Thank you.

At least, that’s what came out for me, a little any scurrying over his roots as he stood silently watching, as he has done through the span of modern history. His presence is felt in my soul, a deep, quiet, knowing consious that permeates the surrounding forest.

My travel companion, a bright-eyed 19 year-old German WWOOFer on a gap year before commencing his studies in biology, whispers
“How can one not be moved?” 

I am glad that he too, is humbled by the simple ancient majesty rising before us.

According to Maori legend, Tane is the son of Ranginui, the sky father, and Papatuamuku, the earth mother. His birth tore the parents apart from their primal embrace, creating the rift in which came light, space, and air, allowing life to to flourish.

Tane Mahuta is the oldest known kauri tree, estimated have sprouted from its seed around the birth of Christ. His massive trunk stretches almost 14 meters in diameter, while he towers about 51 meters above the forest floor. Some 30 species of various other plants grow nestled within his branches, some of which are as thick as the younger trees growing all around in the forest.

He looks like a god with many arms, some reaching to the heavens while others hold the life growing within his embrace. There is a calm aura that radiates into the surrounding forest from within.

Lesser trunks abound throughout, still impressive in their size and age: this one probably 250 years old, that one perhaps 500… It boggles the mind to think that Waiopua Forest was once carpeted with these ancient trees from valley ridge to ocean shores. And there is a lingering sense of loss that permeates the forest here – the ancient beings that once stood tall and proud here have only recently been felled, relative to the ages housands of years that they lived in this wild corner of the world.


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Question of the Day:
  • What would you have said to Tane Mahuta?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Thank You and Congratulations IndieTravelPodcast!

I am truly humbled by all the love and support shown by all of you to help me finish 5th in EntirelyKiwi's competition to win a 3-month blogging trip around New Zealand. Family, friends, and even strangers have posted updates to their Facebook pages, Tweeted in support, and even signed up fellow partygoers on their iPhone - a special shout out and big
MAHALO to everyone on Molokai!

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.

The top 3 candidates are Aussie Niquel, South African Lindy, and intrepid Kiwi couple Craig and Linda. We closed to within 30 followers of Craig and Linda before their impressive network on Twitter kicked in to pull away. Cat from Canada, who has a shared interest in exploring sustainability through her travels, overtook us in the final hours to give the Kiwis a run for their money ... what an exciting experience!!

For the record, I'm hoping that Craig & Linda are chosen for the job - they are fun, passionate people who have been living their dream of traveling the world since 2006 - what an inspirational example of following your heart, especially in these uncertain times. And if the only thing I got out of this contest [which it isn't] was a couple of awesome new friends, then it makes it all worthwhile!

I'm still recovering from the emotional ups and downs of the last few days [what a ride!!], and am going to take some time out to figure out what's next for me. In my quest for ADVENTURE and opportunities to be of SERVICE, there is no shortage of options; I am truly blessed. There are many gifts and lessons to be learned through this experience, and I would like to take time to digest it all and let them percolate ...not to mention, the creative juices are flowing and I can feel new ideas beginning to hatch! One thing is for sure, I will listen to my heart.

Once again, Thank you for all your support.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tamaki Village

I am currently a finalist in EntirelyKiwi's competition to win a 3-month blogging trip around New Zealand.  With less than 13 hours to go, the 3 blogs with the most followers as of 12noon tomorrow will advance to the final round of interviews.  

Please take a moment to click FOLLOW at the right hand side of this blog to help me win!  

If everyone following just got one more person to join in the fun and follow these adventures, we can come home strong in the final stretch and make this dream come true!!

Fifteen minutes drive from city center of Rotorua, Tamaki Village was started in 1989 by Mike and Doug Tamaki, who sold his Harley Davidson to fund the dream that everyone said was a bad idea.  Twenty years later and the Rotorua experience now hosts 100,000 people a year, and is a powerful encounter with Maori culture in a natural forest setting. A pre-European village has been re-created, where proud, passionate, and very talented performers share the story of their people, history, and spirit.

 See if you can get on the bus that Mark is driving, he is, as he proudly pronounces: “Maori with Irish blood in his heritage”, and is flat-out one of the funniest guys I have met in a long time.  His explanation of the Maori greeting, “Kia Ora” took us to 52 countries, languages, and accents in 15 minutes that had the whole bus cracking up in stitches!  Very simply put, Kia Ora is similar to Aloha - i means 'hello',' goodbye',' I love you', 'it's all good brotha' ...KIA ORA!

Somehow during the comedy act I managed to get nominated as the ‘Chief’ of our bus group, and as we step off the buses we gather at the threshold of the village entrance, while our very solemn guide, Darren, explains to the ‘Chiefs’ what the protocol is.  We are going to be challenged by the villages warriors, who will decide if we are friend or foe.  If we are friends, one of us will be asked to accept a branch as a sign that we come in peace.  If we are foes, well then …may the best man win.  *Gulp.*

Chanting starts as a fierce warrior emerges, whirling his spear, and showing off his weaponry skills as he walks right up in our faces, eyes wide open and tongue flashing to tell us "You would taste my belly..."  Darren had made it a point to tell us not to smile or laugh during the greeting, and with the hardened wooden speartip whipping inches from my face, smiling or laughing is the last thing I was thinking of right then.  I felt so much respect for this kindred spirit, summoning his mana from his ancestors and looking me right in the eyes to feel my spirit.  We connect unspoken, and he motions for me to pick up the branch as an offering of goodwill between our parties.

Then one of his sisters launches into a beautiful, harmonic welcome song in the Maori tongue, and chills run up my spine as I close my eyes and let it wash over me.  The bond with Hawaii is obviously there, but also a deeper connection that seeps directly into the land around us - the trees, the cold ground, the moon peeking through the canopy.  We enter the village and are invited to explore, where we wander amongst the huts and speak with beautiful Maori dressed in traditional garb, learning about Ta Moko - the technique and meanings of Maori tattoo, Maori Kai [food] and the Pataka [food storehouses], and Mahi Raronga - the art of weaving flax to create garments and shelter.

Our meal that night is prepared in an authentic Hangi, or underground oven.  Similar to the Hawaiian Imu, a pit is dug in the ground and a fire built.  When the wood has burnt down hot coals, rocks are placed amongst the coals and superheated, then the food - lamb, chicken, beef, fish, potatoes, and kumara [sweet potato] are all wrapped in leaves and buried to cook all day.  The result is a smokey, tender and succulent taste that nourishes and strengthens us for our next battle - in my case, an impromptu Haka.

When the guys hear that a 'Brother from Hawaii' is in the audience, they invite me up to perform a Haka with them to honor two of the performers who will be leaving the village tonight... trouble is, I've never done the Haka in my life!!  However, it would just be plain rude to decline, so despite my nerves I straighten up as best I can and walk to the front of the room where all eyes are watching us expectantly.  Suffice to say, I did my best to keep up - eyes fierce, elbows and hands slapping, heels grinding and pounding...

Though my cheeks were burning with embarrassment at my lacklustre performance as I walked back to my seat, it was truly an honor to be accepted like a brother by these men.  For a brief moment we were connected by a shared bond, beyond all the boundaries of society and distance.  We came from the same place, connected by cultural protocol.  

To the Western eye, Maori culture can seem so aggressive and war-like, but underneath that appearance lies a warm, generous and beautiful people.  

The Maori families who have opened their hearts and homes [and offered to open their homes - thank you Darren!] to a stranger like me on this trip have truly and deeply touched me, awakening a yearning to connect with the rich, complex, yet beautifully simple island culture that I was raised in.  


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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Less than 48 hours to go...

...and I'm very grateful for everyone who has supported me - THANK YOU!!

The competition closes at 12noon on this Tuesday Sept 8th, when the 3 blogs with the most followers will proceed to the round of final interviews, and possibly another challenge!

I've moved up to 5th place, and am knocking on the door of 4th place... spent yesterday hanging out with the competition - Craig & Linda - and had a great time. Everyone I've met in New Zealand is so warm and generous ...even if they are competing with me for an amazing 3-month blogging trip around the country!! Here's the vid we shot together yesterday:

Co-Opetition, what a concept!? Oh yeah, and spot the guy from Hawaii wearing 3 layers and a huge jacket while the Kiwi guy is crusing in his t-shirt!! Seriously though, if I could pick the top 3 candidates then it would surely be Craig, his lovely wife Linda, and of course me! Great people! ;-) Check out their site and consider doing the same for them.

Be sure to check out this very quick and fun little video touring Auckland City - what an amazing town. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the harbour is full of sailboats. Ate a delicious home-cooked meal last night: fresh green-lipped mussels steamed in coconut milk and red thai curry sauce last night,
yum! Life is great.

Don't forget to keep spreading the word through Facebook, Twitter, or any other [legal] means - if you've got an iPhone on you then don't be ashamed to sign up the person sitting next to you ;-) ...and click FOLLOW at the right side of this blog to help me win this dream job and share the wonderful people, places, and culture of AOTEAROA with you!!

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Why Choose Me

This part of the competition is strictly a #s game... and I am trailing the leaders in 6th place at the moment.

So I thought I'd take a moment to write about why I feel so passionately for this job. Yes, New Zealand is known for its spectacular scenery, amazing hiking and snowsports, and adventure sports galore...

But it is the people who truly give a place its character. There is a rich culture to dive into and experience in Aotearoa, the Polynesian culture of the Maori people. It is based on family, respect, and stewardship. It means that your home is always open for guests, and the gifts that we all have for each other if we take the time to hear each other's stories and connect. It means taking care of each other, and of the land that will take care of us.

This competition is an avenue for me to contribute. If I win the job of exploring New Zealand for 3 months, in addition to exploring and enjoying all the adventures that EntirelyKiwi has in store, I want to incorporate the cultural and Maori perspective in my blogging and reporting. Here's why:

I am born and raised in Hawaii, but am not of Polynesian decent. However, my experience of growing up with Hawaiian culture is all I know ...I dont know much about the Irish, Scottish, or Filipino cultures that comprise my ethnicity, so I feel closest to Hawaiian culture - especially, the Aloha Spirit. Our hearts and homes are always open to family, and once we are friends then you become extended family... I don't know any other way.

I've spent the last 10 years living in Hawaii, though living in an office in pursuit of the almighty dollar... missing out on so much of the beauty that surrounded me each day. I am blessed that I've been given the opportunity to re-evaluate my life's priorities, and explore how best to pursue my passion & creativity to live a happy & fulfilled life of creation and contribution.


So I have to come halfway around the world to learn more about the Polynesian culture I grew up around. I had to go all the way to Rotorua for my first WAKAAMA [outrigger canoe paddling] experience! Go figure...

My hope is that by sharing my own journeys, explorations and education about Maori culture, I will help to bridge that gap of understanding between western and indigenous cultures.

All this talk of Eco-Tourisn and Sustainability and Transition Towns and Permaculture and Slow Movements... it's all there in indigenous culture. The modern world is finally realizing that basic fundamentals like being good stewards of the resources we are blessed with, looking after your neighbours, and connecting with our fellow human beings are what is truly important - there is so much to learn from indigenous cultures.

Please take a moment to click FOLLOW, and come along with me on this journey of adventure and discovery!


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Monday, August 31, 2009



I am so excited to be nominated to the final shortlist of candidates for the role of New Zealand Expert on Everything New Zealand.

If you've not yet seen my video application, check it out here:

In April 2009 I left my beautiful island home of Hawaii, and all the material comforts of my modern western world existence behind to wander the planet seeking ADVENTURE and opportunities to be of SERVICE. I arrived in AOTEAROA a couple weeks ago to begin my Kiwi Adventures and start training for the job:

The road here included a stop at the World Championship Thong-Throwing Competition in the Noosa Hinterlands of sunny Queensland:

And I even discovered a rare Apeman in the Aussie bush, an encounter which I narrowly survived:

Global recession? There's never been a better time to re-evaluate how we want to live our lives, and never been a better time to travel.

I've done more
rockclimbing, hiking, camping,sailing, motorcycling, volunteering, adventuring, and just hanging out with loved ones in the last 2 months than I have in the last 12 years of living in Honolulu.

My adventures so far have brought me back to the
bar in Melbourne where I saw my first naked woman with my Grandpa [at age 8!], to an epic 11-hour motorcycle ride on a couple of Harleys down to the famous Twelve Apostles, to the little tea house owned by Violent Femmes founder Brian Ritchie, and to an organic 'Luxury Campground' living 'off the grid' in the mountains of name a few.

I'm looking forward to exploring more of the places, people and culture that make up this beautiful country, and I humbly ask for your vote. Please click on the 'Follow' link at the side of this blog, log in using your Google, Yahoo, openID, or other service, and tell your friends to vote Matty Lynch!!

Stay tuned for more exciting adventures...and thank you for your support!

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Of Wetas, and The Wallabies vs. The All Blacks


After a quick tour of the Massey University Medical Research Facilities for Ola this morning, we are whisked away by our VIG [Very Important Guide] to Karori Nature Preserve, which sits in a protected valley of Wellington Harbour.

A pest-proof fence keeps out the rodents, possums, and cats that would otherwise decimate the populations of native birds that are protected here.  Our bags are even checked for any potential stowaway vermin that may have been crafty enough to hitch a ride with unsuspecting park visitors. 

We wander off the main trail to follow a sign pointing the way to an abandoned gold mine, and are invited by a park ranger to explore the old mine shaft.  In the 1800s, the owners of this land discovered some flakes of alluvial gold in their rivers and caught some gold-rush fever; this mineshaft was the result.  

The ranger tells us that back then it was quite the spectator sport to sit around the entrance to mine, sipping tea in their Victorian finery, watching the miners pick, chip, hack and detonate their way into the hillside.  She tells us to keep an eye out for some Cave Wetas, the shy and quirky creepy-crawlies that live underground in this part of the world, and we find a bunch of them chillin’ out just around the first bend.


Further up the main trail, we encounter a Kokoru feeding station, and watch these large native parrots stomp on their food trays to open the lid and pick out some seeds, while a watchful ranger takes notes on who has come for today’s feed.  A couple hours are quickly lost wandering the trails here, stopping every now and then to snap a photo of yet another lush view unfolding at our feet.  This is a very special and picturesque pocket of Wellington that is well worth a visit, expecially on a sunny day.

Meanwhile, our guide has arranged for a hangi tonight with some friends to watch the All-Blacks play the Wallabies. His cousin is off diving for some fresh paoua, or abalone,  to eat tonight, while chicken, pork, lamb, and kumara slow cooks in the portable hangi they have built.  Traditionally, a hangi is the Maori version of the Hawaiian imu, or underground oven, where superhot rocks are placed into a pit filled with banana leaves, and the food is left to slow cook all day. 

The food is delicious - tender meat that falls off the bone, sweet kumara slow-cooked to perfection, and I can’t get enough of the paoua, which has been ground up and simmered in a rich, creamy butter sauce.  We’ve made yet more new friends, who open up their home and welcome us into their families, patiently explaining the rules of rugby to us both even as they cheer on one of the most exciting matches against the rival Aussie team that anyone can remember.  


Somehow we wind up at a pub on Cuba St, the famous stretch of bars and nightlife in Wellington for the final 10 minutes of the game, and I find myself cheering on the AllBlacks at the top of my lungs for the thrilling finale of the game.

Final Score: Wallabies: 18.  All Blacks: 19.


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Friday, August 21, 2009

Kia Ora from Wellington

Theme Songs for the Day:
  1. "One Love", Bob Marley and the Wailers
  2. "Aotearoa Aroha", by Diwata Tribe
  3. "Island Style", by John Cruz

We missed the bus!

The plan today was to catch another shuttle, Intercity Buslines, up the coast through beautiful Kaikoru to Picton, where we could jump on a ferry to cross the Cook Strait and land us in Wellington by nightfall.

ATTENTION ALL TRAVELERS: When catching the 7am Intercity Bus to Picton from Christchurch, note carefully that Intercity are the only buses which depart from their own terminal station on Worcester St, behind the chapel.  Lesson learned. 

So, it was back to the source of all knowledge – Google – to find us an alternative way to get to Wellington where Ola’s friends were expecting us in time to make a 1:30 tour of the city’s museum.  

$400 in airfares, one hearty breakfast, and 3 hours later we are waiting for our bags at the Wellington Airport baggage claim with a friend of Ola’s who has offered to be our guide while we are in Wellington.  This is no small feat, as this friend also happens to be the Director of Medical Research at Wellington University School of Medicine, and is a very busy and important man.

He whisks us away in his sporty little coupe and takes us to Te Papa Museum on the shore of Wellingon Harbour, where he is delivering an award to a colleague.  She happens to be the Chief Curator of Te Papa, and takes us on a brief whirlwind tour of the Maori history exhibit, which is scheduled to be changed very soon.  Ola is stricken by the beautiful and intricately carved Waka [war canoe] that is the length of the hall.  

We learn about the Marae meeting house and Pataka food storehouses.  We learn about the Treaty of Waitangi, and of the continuting struggles for land rights between Maori and Pakeha [non-Maori].  We learn about how the Maori population has been decimated since white man’s arrival: from 130,000 in the 1700s to about 40,000 today.  The Hawaiian population has suffered similarly, although far more heavily: from 800,000 to about 40,000 today. 

It is fasciating to compare notes between the two peoples, and how each dealt with, and continues to deal with adapting to modern-day society whilst honoring and preserving the rich culture of their ancestors.  This will become a theme for the remainder of our trip. 

After a cup of coffee with our guides, we are whisked away again, where we visit another friend, the Director of Maori Studies at Wellington University.  This part of the city is a college town, with townhouses built into the hills and students lugging books and listening to iPods as they rush to their next class.  We ask for permission to visit the Marae, which is hidden behind some buildings in a protective elbow carved into the hillside.

Led by our guide, we stand at the edge of grass before the Marae and wait to be invited in before crossing the threshold.  We take our shoes off and are led to seats just inside the entrance, where we stand facing a small group of Maori students who survey us with a fierce curiosity. We are motioned to sit as he begins to welcome and introduce us to his family in his native Tongue. 

The students then launch into a beautiful harmony, a welcoming song that gives us goosebumps, and recounts the story of the sacrifices made to build this Marae. The Maori language is beautifully musical, similar to Hawaiian, with a more war-like quality to it.

Now it is our turn: we are introduced as friends, and a little about who we are is shared, before it is sugested that Ola may dance a hula as our offering.  There is enough similarity between Maori and Hawaiian language that Ola understands this part of his speech, and she is visibly nervous.  Her lone voice quivering, she dances and sings beautifully for us, her courage and grace moving everyone in the room.

The ancestors of the many different tribes represented here glare down upon us from the walls as we are welcomed and shown around, learning about the different tribal ancestors represented in each beautiful carving, and the meanings of each intricately weaved pattern.  The mana is strong here, vibrant and pulsing with its own life force. Our host explains that this is very much a living marae, with regular events scheduled and familes coming to sleep under the watch of their ancestors. 

I feel so blessed to be invited into the marae as a 'Brother from Hawaii' to learn about Maori culture .  You see, although I am third generation born and raised in Hawaii, there is no Native Hawaiian blood flowing throw my veins: my family heritage is Irish-Scottish-Filipino.  Though the Hawaiian culture is the one I feel closest to, I have always felt an outsider because of my lack of Hawaiian cultural knowledge.  It is truly humbling and an honor to be so warmly welcomed.

Although we are invited to take photos, the experience of sharing cultures so intimately is so profound that it doesn’t feel right to take out the cameras and start snapping away.  The images and music and emotions of that afternoon, however, will remain etched into my memory banks. 


Afterwards we are invited to have a cup of tea in the student house, where we watch the Maori-language news broadcast, then are taken to the staff lounge to enjoy a couple Friday night drinks.  As we relax on a balcony with our new friends, sipping on a cold brew and watching the sun set over Wellington Harbour, I notice that my cheeks are actually sore from the smile that has been on my face since our arrival in Wellington. 

Today's experience epitomizes what I enjoy most about travel: people, humanity, connection. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Atomic Adventures

Theme Song of the Day:
  1. "Slice of Heaven", theme song from 'Footrot Flats' by Dave Dobbyn


Indie Travel has its perks: the thrill of not knowing what lies around the next corner, where you will sleep tonight, or what adventures tomorrow will bring…

It also has its frustrations though.  Because it was so easy to get that killer $5/day rental deal from Christchurch to Queenstown, I figured that it would be simple to find a great deal to get our way back to Christchurch… not so. 

After 2 hours at the airport internet kiosk, on the phone, and visiting all the car rental outlets, there were no good deals to be found.  It would have even been cheaper to catch a flight back to Christchurch, or even Wellington had they not all been sold out. 

At times like these, you really appreciate having a friend in the business.  With a tip from EntirelyKiwi, we ended up booking a couple of seats on the Atomic Shuttle for only $30 – slightly more than the cost of our cab back to town.

The six-hour bus ride would take us on the direct route back via Tekapo and yet even more spectacular scenery, and get us into Christchurch at 10 o’clock that night.  We get the cool kids’ seat at the back of the bus and settle in for the epic journey north with our new travelmates. 

On one side sits a young Aussie named Lucky, who hangs off the side of skyscrapers with a bucket and squeegee to earn a living, and is on his way to North America in search of new adventures.  He’s sick of hitch-hiking this route and has decided to do it the easy way this time.  Kathy sits on our other, an India-born American from Georgia, who is studying pharmacology in Las Vegas, and is in the final days of a 6-week trip across New Zealand - her first solo travel adventure.  She ‘s just survived her first skydiving experience just the day before.

We wind through giant brown hills, follow bubbling creeks and rushing rivers, skirt massive mirror lakes as the afternoon sun silently backlights everything with an intense drama that culminates in a mad rush to pile out of the bus and snap a few shots of Mount Aoraki as the sun sets.

The bus drops us about a block from Christchurch town square half an hour earlier than our ETA, and we barrel out of the bus, stomachs growling, in search of room and board.  We opt for a room at the Camelot hotel for only $120/night instead of staying at the backpackers’ hostel next door.  With a heartfelt smile from behind the front desk, we are pointed in the direction of Sticky Fingers, a popular restaurant [and personal favorite of our concierge] that is right around the corner. 

As with most things in life that don’t go to plan, it all worked out in the end… and we had a great adventure getting there.  The people you meet along the way are one of the best things about Indie Travel.


Flat White Organic Free Trade Coffee …..………....…...............$3.50

Roasted Kumara Pizza at Sticky Fingers in Christchurch…………..$18

Cab ride to City Center from Queenstown Airport……………….......$25

Atomic Bus Fare from Queenstown to Christchruch [6 hours]…...$30

View of Mount Araki at dusk ….………….........................Priceless


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Snowboarding and the Art of Perseverance II: LYNCHMOB

Fall down seven times, get up eight.  

Enough said.

Me and my cousins on Coronet Peak, Queenstown:


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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Snowboarding and the Art of Perseverance


Queenstown, the 'Adventure Capital of the World', is  a picturesque lakeside town on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.  We are meeting up with my Uncle Darryl and my tow cousins, Danny & Andrew to join them on their annual ski/snowboarding holiday.

The deep blues of the lake reflect the winter blues of the sky, and wispy cirrus clouds streak from behind the snow-capped peaks which surround us - a stark contrast to our entrance into Queenstown late last night:  the dark road wound its way along a black lake, a trail of tailights leading around the next corner as starbursting headlights whooshing past in the opposite direction.  Amber streetlights and incandescent houselights twinkled in pairs across the way, relected in the inky waters.  A deep, throbbing dub soundtrack gave everything a hauntingly surreal feeling, taut with anticipation.

Ferdburger, which has been recommended to me as 'DaBestestBurgerInThaWorld' is packed to the walls and does not disappoint.  Harrys Bar, just up the street, has a warm fire and cold beer, and is full of beautiful people with the satisfied smiles of a good day on the slopes.

Our morning is spent returning rental cars, transferring to the swanky Garden Court lodge in town, searching for a good flat white, and preparing to hit the slopes of Coronet Peak that afternoon. 

I’ve never been a good surfer. 

One, I don’t go often enough to be any good, and two, I’m just plain lazy.  It’s a heck of a lot of work to get around on the water, all that paddling and paddling and paddling for a short ride on a wave.


That’s why snowboarding sounds so good to me:  strap your boots to the board so’s it can’t float away, ride a lift to the top of the swell, then drop in on the biggest wave, albeit a frozen one, that you’ve ever seen – 1,200 meters above sea level.

So it’s a wonder that I’m not better at it.  But then again, see #2: I’m just plain lazy.



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Monday, August 17, 2009

Queenstown via Mount John Observatory and Wanaka

Theme Song of the Day:
  1. "Carmina Burana", Carl Orff


The day breaks clean, crisp and blue, with the sun making a welcome appearance by midmorning. 

This morning’s adventure takes us up to Mt John’s Observatory, 300 meters above Tekapo. The four massive telescopes on the summit are in active use today by scientists from around the world, and in 2003 discovered a Jupiter-sized planet orbiting a star several thousand light years away.

Only twenty minutes up the road, the town looks like a minature train set from here.  I understand why the Maori named this land ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ as I look out at the bright blues of lake, sky, and distant mountains and sip my flat white at the Astro CafĂ©. 

The amazing interstellar imagery captured in the postcards on display is enough to convince me to return and to do the stargazing tour.  There are images of distant galaxies, comets streaking across the Tekapo night sky, and even of the Aurora Australis shimmering behind and dwarfing the distant peaks. 


As we wind our way back down the hill, my thoughts drift into the scenery - I’ve never seen such massive spaces - the glimpses of wide open nature that I’ve caught always seem to be interrupted too soon by the harsh grid of civilzation.  As I look out at miles and miles of blue lake, brown plains and snow-capped peaks, there are no other towns visible in the distance.

I glimpse a farmhouse here, a small cluster of buildings there… and a now-familiar feeling wells up inside.  It is the same exhilleration that I feel when embarking on a road trip, eating up the endless open road… except these spaces ignite a yearning to be back on foot, tramping and camping with my backpack and a tent, a tiny speck wandering in wonder as the vast landscape swallows me. 


There is also a peace of mind, a stillness that is stirred as I drink in the clean air and blue nature all around me.  Surely only nature could evoke such contrasting emotions with such a deft stroke of her brush.

I’ve no idea how long my thoughts have been wandering when I actually notice the canal that we’ve been following for the last half hour.  The water is still the same glacier-flower blue that was Lake Tekapo, except that it is eddying and boiling in a fast flow, rushing to get somewhere in a hurry.  This road appears to be on a man-made embankment ten stories high that is so precisely engineered that I am reminded of one of those virtual roller coaster rides where you are going down down down into darkness and the track jerks and jolts you around unforseen corners.


The mountains and lake are still our backdrop one hour later, and the I am sure that the long white cloud skirting the mountain is the same one we were looking at up at the observatory.  Suddenly the flume opens up into a squarish pool, and the road turns away from the water. 

A sweeping curve starts our descent, and as we round the corner, massive pipes can be seen plunging out of the embankment towards the lake below.  We must have stumbled across one of New Zealand’s hydro-electric plants.  It is impressive; the energy coursing down through those pipes is almost tangible.


Before we know it, we come to the Wanaka turnoff and decide to check the place out before we hit Queenstown.  I highly recommend the detour: we share the most amazing Salmon filet with pesto over warm rosted veggies with a couple of locally brewed, preservative-free beers from Kai Whakapai.

The road to Queenstown from Wanaka winds through rocky brown and black hilltops that bring to mind images of Mordor as the sun is getting low in the sky and casting long, dramatic shadows.  We gradually climb higher and higher until patches of melting snow appear, turn a corner and the hilltops here are mottled with snow.  Another corner, and the hilltops are now mountain peaks.  Another corner, and LakeWakatipu greets us silently, the grandeur of this view demanding a full orchestra but only getting static on the radio in response.


The sun has disappeared behind the mountains but has not yet set, muting the hues below and backlighting a dramatic skyscape.  We must be a couple thousand meters above the valley floor as the van picks its way down the switchbacks, stopping every kilometer or so to take in the changing views. 

Queenstown, here we come!

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