Monday, August 31, 2009
Saturday, August 22, 2009
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.
GO THE ALL-BLACKS!!
# # #
Friday, August 21, 2009
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
- "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.
EVERYBODY BACK ON THE BUS!!
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
# # #
Fall down seven times, get up eight.
Me and my cousins on Coronet Peak, Queenstown:
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
VIEW FROM OUR BALCONY AT GARDEN COURT
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.
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.
LOOKING OUT FROM THE TOP OF CORONET PEAK
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.
AW YEAH, THAT'S HOW I ROLL...
Monday, August 17, 2009
- "Carmina Burana", Carl Orff
THE LONG WHITE CLOUD
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 Café.
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.
COMING DOWN FROM THE OBSERVATORY
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.
SOMEWHERE ALONG THE ROAD TO WANAKA
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.
IS THAT THE SAME LONG WHITE CLOUD WE SAW IN TEKAPO!?
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.
CRISPY SKINNED SALMON W/ PESTO ON WARM SALAD
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.
COMING OVER THE MOUNTAIN PASS TO QUEENSTOWN
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!
# # #
Sunday, August 16, 2009
- "Happy Birthday", by Stevie Wonder
Solo travel has its perks, but there’s nothing like a great travel companion to really make an awesome roadtrip.
I am being joined for the next two weeks by a friend from Hawaii, the beautiful Kapuaola Gellert [or just Ola for short], who is an Epedemiologist currently working and conducting medical research on the tiny island of Molokai. She also happens to be a mad keen Waterwoman: StandUp Paddling, Outrigger Canoes, Surfing, and anything to do with ocean sports are the loves of her life.
So at 10.26am I meet her at Christchurch airport’s baggage claim, we pick up our $5/day relocation rental special [Toyota Previa family van] and head towards Lake Tekapo. We’ve got 48 hours to complete the journey and deliver the vehicle back to the depot at Queenstown Airport.
Breakfast [at noon] is a smoked chicken panini with blueberry salsa and melted camembert cheese from Vic’s [again!], where we make more new friends at the table. Apparently, in Christchurch you make friends by slamming down your table number to startle your neighbors… Anna and Paul are studying Organic Horticulture and turn me on to some key people and places to visit while I am here.
The 3 hour drive to Tekapo takes us through the rolling green pasturelands of Central South Island. The cloud cover is low, muting the colors and swallowing the hilltops. Sheep, cattle, deer and lamas munch and stare as the kilometers easily tick past, and before we know it we round a sweeping corner and are greeted with an epic turquoise view of Lake Tekapo.
After a good hour taking photos on the shoreline behind the iconic Church of the Good Shepard, we check into The Chalet, a cozy little boutique inn run by Swiss-expat couple Walkter and Zita. The couple has been here since 1987, and show us the available rooms with obvious pride –Zita has designed each one herself. We drop our bags and head to the Alpine Springs Spa and Winter Park for a Skate‘n’Soak.
Two Hawaiians on an ice rink? Trouble. Luckily, there is only one spill between us [me of course], and the rink is empty so as to minimize the risk of us mowing down any unsuspecting skaters.
The natural hot spring waters are slightly salty, and wonderfully steamy in the cold night air. There are three pools ranging in temperature from 36 – 40C degrees; we choose the warmest pool to soak our tight hamstrings and watch a group of backpackers flirt with each other across the way. Ah, the simple voyeuristic pleasures of people watching…
Dinner is at Pepe’s pizza and pasta tavern: one large handmade pizza, half venision [with BBQ sauce and roasted kumara] / half lamb [with mint jelly and roasted potato] with a pint of Speights cold ale to wash it down please. Lamb and venision pizza… only in New Zealand.
BEN AND JUAN FROM GREAT BRITAIN
Two friendly Brits, Ben and Juan join us at our booth and we strike up the travelers conversation: where you from, where you been, where you goin’…? Turns out they have been on the road for 5 months now, and have covered the skifields of Europe, the backpacker treks of Southeast Asia, the trails of Nepal, the suburbs of Sydney, and are now in search of the magnificent scenery and powder snow of New Zealand. It’s also Ben’s birthday, so we end the night with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday [the traditional version, seeing as no-one knew the words to the Stevie Wonder version], and show some restraint by not dancing on the tabletops per his request.
Happy Birthday Ben!
THE WATERS OF LAKE TEKAPO REALLY ARE THIS COLOR!
# # #
Friday, August 14, 2009
- "Wonky Donkey", by Craig Smith
We tour the Arts Center Market early in the afternoon and wander through stalls of hand-made merino wool clothing, carved greenstone jewellery, and beautiful photography of wild Kiwi landscapes. Lunch is a spicy Lebanese Lamb Wrap from a street vendor, while my hosts and tourguides munch on a Czech Potato Pancake with Beef and Sauerkraut [I’ve never seen a Czech Food street vendor before!].
NOTICE THE DR SEUSS TUFTS GROWING ALONG THE RIVER BANKS
Hagley Park is 400+ acres of lush greenery that we walk through to go home. A crowd is cheering on a rugby match as joggers bounce past us along the river, which is lined with willow trees and other Seussian water plants. Ducks paddle and dive and waddle their way along the fast-flowing water, which is crystal clear and looks no more than thigh-deep.
It's a laid-back Saturday afternoon in misty Christchurch, and we spend it preparing for the party tonight; Marina is making chocolate truffles! Turns out last night that we missed the CouchSurfMeet by a day - it was on Thursday, not Friday - so Matt and I commiserated by sampling a couple rounds of the bubbly drink specials before Marina joined up with us an hour later after her work event. When life gives you lemons, make ...sparkling wine!
After-drinking food is good here: the souvlaki joint was unexpectedly closed so we found a good Chinese take-out place right across the City Square. This one even sold fish & chips ...apparently, not uncommon in these parts!
The festivities tonight are over at award-winning local musician Craig Smith's new diggs. His new song, Wonky Donkey, won the 2009 APRA NZ Children's Song of the Year Award, and I am lucky enough to sneak a peek at the children's book version which is released in October.
Craig is an easy conversationalist with a warm smile and a welcoming aura. We swap stories about our respective journeys and find that we have walked similar paths: a few years ago, he closed up shop - after running his own business in sales and marketing for ten years or so - to feed his soul and pursue his music, and hasn't been happier ever since.
Craig also happens to be the Couchsurfing Ambassador for Christchurch which means that tonight I meet more locals, as well as fellow Couchsurfers from France, Germany, Canada, and LA... and, believe it or not, met someone whose Mum may have worked with my Mum in the Dole Pineapple Cannery in Hawaii... !
I *HEART* Couchsurfing.
The world lies in the hands of those who have the courage to dream and to take the risk of living out their dreams - each according to his or her own talent."
# # #
CHRISTCHURCH CITY SQUARE BY NIGHT
Christchurch is cold, wet, and wonderfully misty as I am driven to my hosts’ apartment at one in the morning.
The streetlights infuse everything with a warm orange glow, and I’ve already made new friends while standing in line at customs. I like New Zealand
Marina [a.k.a The Swiss Temptress] and Matt [a.k.a. The Vagabonding Kiwi] are my Couchsurfing hosts for the next couple days as I make preparations for a short roadtrip south to Queenstown for some snowboarding fun. They met at a Backpackers’ pub in London and between them have traveled through Europe, South America, the United States, and Japan; we are meeting up later tonight at a CouchSurfMeet held on the couches of, Le Plonk of course, with some of the local Couchsurfing Crew. Should make for a fun night out…
LE PLONK, AFTER A COUPLE GLASSES OF LE PLONK
Breakfast this morning was at an organic café called Vic's 5 minutes walk from Matt’n’Marina’s home that makes the world’s best fresh bread. Think home-made sourdough and honey ciabbata and rye loafs – I love the smell of fresh bread in the morning!
Christchurch is one of two cities in the world whose drinking water is so pure that it comes out of the tap untreated. The other city? Evian, France. I am drinking the equivalent of expensive, pure bottled spring water straight from the tap.
Lunch à a café-come-boardroom aptly named, well, The Boardroom where you can meet clients for a cuppa, or hire a private conference room for more privacy. I’m here to interview Peter ‘Pink Gloves’ Taylor, Organizer of Christchurch’s Greendrinks event, and all-around Sustainability Marketing Guru. He quickly turns the tables on me and produces his own video camera to record an impromptu interview with me …
Peter is a bright-eyed man with a quick wit and twinkle in his eye who is involved with a projects in the business and political areneas, all focussed on helping businesses and community embrace and adopt sustainability.
There are many different accents and faces in the streets of Christchurch as I wander around to sort out my new cell phone and find an internet café (there’s a good one next to Starbucks in the city square, $3/ 1st hr, highspeed wireless connection). The sales girl at Vodafone hasn’t heard of the EntirelyWorldFamous competition, so in a fit of shameless self-promotion I take it upon myself to educate her about it, and of course ask for her vote. Thanks Hannah!
Dinner is a yet another café (there are some good ones here) called The Honey Pot that is a favorite of Matt’n’Marina …serving breakfast all day, this is my kind of place.
STEAMING HOT BLACKCURRANT
The customer favorite on the dinner menu here is the B.B.C. - Chicken breast stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes ad smoked cheese, wrapped in bacon and served with baby potatoes, panfried seasonal veges and a spicy BBQ sauce. Fowl Play is also recommended, while Hot Lips and Jimmy The Fish also look like good choices.
I opt for the breakkie customer favorite: The Breakfast Muffin - strips of chunky bacon, fried egg, sliced avocado smothered in home-made hollanaise sauce - and am not disappointed [thanks for the recommendation Sharla!]. It lasts about 2 minutes as I wash it down with some Hot Blackcurrant, a wine-colored drink that tastes medieval and warms my insides.
There is all kinds of art on the walls and a mellow roots-reggae soundtrack soothes and chills me out.
Welcome to New Zealand!