Hi Gang, as I sit here writing this, it is Thanksgiving for our US readers & Black Friday in Kiwiland. Yes, the stores all participate in a shopping excess day following an eating excess day that have no point of reference here! Go figger – I guess any reason to have a sale is a good reason. I wonder if in February the furniture stores all have Presidents’ Day sales here….
We are in Queenstown now, getting ready in a few hours to jet off to Australia. Aotearoa (the Maori name for this country means ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ which I believe I mentioned before) is an amazing place and we feel we barely scratched the rich top six inches of the surface in the 3 1/2 weeks here. We shall have to return. Soon, hopefully. Before I go on & on about our impressions of the place though, I will fill you in on our adventures since I last wrote.
We left Christchurch last saturday (23/11 or 11/23) for the long drive to Mt Cook – NZ’s highest peak – at 12,220 feet (which is about half way between Mt Baker & Mt Rainer in Washington State). It is a majestic mountain and the home field training climb for Sir Edmund Hillary. The excellent national park visitor centre is named for him.
As we say in WA when Rainier is hidden by clouds, the mountain was out for cleaning that day so we did not sight the peak but saw much of its bulk. It is surrounded by other massive mountains, unlike our Cascades at home which are usually all by themselves.
Along the drive we went by Lake Tekapo (there are LOTS of big lakes here!). Making stopping worthwhile are the fields of Lupines and the Church of the Good Shepard. This little building is the site of many weddings and the subject of more photographs than any church in NZ. As you can see, it is tiny. One of its distinguishing features is the view of the lake window behind the altar leading to many a distracted worshipper!
Since it was a 333km drive there, we decided to have a rolling picnic lunch. Stopping in the picturesque Geraldine, we popped into Talbot Forest Cheesery for some lovely local cheese and continued on. My copilot kept me in crackers slathered in a fine Mesopotmia Blue.
Once arriving at Mt Cook village, we went on a hike to see the Blue Lakes (that are green) and the Tasman Glacier overlook – quite windy there, as you can see from the photo above with Nancy & her scarf.
At dinner in their pub that night I started educating my poor deprived wife of the finer points of the Cricket match on the telly. NZ was in the process of shellacking the Brits in day 2 of a 5 day test match. They were up 365 runs but it is a long game and anything can happen!
The next morning we were on the road fairly early as we had our longest drive of the trip – 423km (263 miles) on the way to Te Anau (tee—an-ow). At home, this could be done in 3-4 hours. In NZ – closer to 6-7. A lovely drive even though it was slooooow. Beautiful farmland, lakes & mountains everywhere though so not too bad a sacrifice.
I was very aware that this day was the first anniversary of my Mother’s passing. We were discussing her, memories, funny stories and favorite moments and as we went around a bend in the road, this appeared in front of us:
Nancy said it must be Mom thinking of me. I think she was right!
We had to go through Queenstown on the way to T-A and just north of there is the world’s first commercial bungee jumping business. It is a BIG operation with a very hi-tech shop, loud music and lots of t-shirts to buy. We watched a few knuckleheads jump off a perfectly good bridge but did not participate.
Te-Anau is about a two hour drive south of Q’town and much smaller. It has the advantage though of being two hours closer to two major attractions – Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. (Milford is STILL 2 hours from Te Anau!) We chose to visit the larger, less visited and much closer Doubtful Sound. The name comes from the ubiquitous Jimbo Cook who wrongfully assumed as he was steering the Endeavor by the entrance that the Sound did not have winds needed to move his ship in & out. Boy was he wrong and he missed a great spot. If we ever run into him, we will set him straight.
To get to the Sound, we drove about 15 minutes, hopped on a big comfy tour boat across Lake Manapouri (did I mention there are a LOT of lakes here?) for 45 more, went up over Wilmont Pass. Our rather entertaining driver also snapped a photo here as he said it was the first day in weeks where he could see (hear?) the Sound from the Pass. We had absolutely PERFECT conditions that day!
Then hopped on the actual DS boat for a 3 hour tour. What a fun day that was! One of the highlights (for me anyway) was sighting NZ’s tallest (unofficial) waterfall – at 857 m tall, Browne Falls is a beauty & I have pics to prove it!
It is unofficial as some other Fall laid claim to the title some time ago & all the brochures say it to be so and they don’t want to reprint, I guess. I told our guide he should start referring to Browne as the tallerest waterfall in NZ. He liked the idea!
Then on Tuesday we hopped back into our buggy and drove back to Qtown which regretfully is our last NZ stop. We turned in our rental car (900 miles in this one totaling 2,000 miles throughout the trip on both islands) and spent the next few days walking and busing. The traffic and pedestrian situation there is quite the thing to behold. Our hotel was about a 20 minute walk outta downtown and up a BIG STEEP hill. We more often walked it than bussed it and that makes up feel better about the ice cream, gelato and other treats!
Speaking of which, there is a place there called Fergburger. After walking by it a few times and seeing the very loooooong lines, we researched the joint and it has great reviews so we decided to try it. A 10 minute wait in line and 6 minutes for the food & viola, amazing burgers and gelato thick shakes.
Here is the line and my food model. (She wants it known that she did not eat the whole thing.) If you can see the Bakery sign next to the burger joint – that is theirs as well and the delicious buns are made there of course.
These were humongous beasties and actually worth the wait. If the line was much longer though, who knows.
On Thanksgiving we did the traditional kinds of things. We boarded yet another lake boat (Lake Wakatipu this time) in Q’town for a 45 minute ride across NZ’s 3rd largest but deepest lake (they have a lot of lakes here) with rental bikes. There were about 150 other guests but only 2 other riders doing the time-honored turkey day 8 mile expedition from the 100,000 acre Mt Nichols High Country Farm to the Walter Peak (PEAK???) High (HIGH??) Country Farm. At the end of this sojourn through beautiful farm land with mountains on the right of us and a lake on the left, we were feted with quite the classic T’giving BBQ.
The lady of the lake (boat) gave us one simple instruction for finding our way to lunch – keep the lake on your left. We did & were amply rewarded. So much so, we did not have much of a dinner that night – kinda like a REAL Thanksgiving.
The setting was amazing.
Before doing that trip, we thought we would have a different NZ feast that day:
On the way back to Q, we were on a different ship – this time it was the TSS Earnslaw – a 1912 coal fired vessel (still). TSS stands for Twin Screw Steam (I had to ask). The captain, all of a sudden, had to tend to some personal business (too many desserts, I think) so he asked me to take the helm with strict orders to ‘stay to the left!’ It was fun…
Kiwiland has some fun about it –
This is a beer delivery bike with 2 kegs in the fridge!
This is to remind divers how to stay warm underwater!
Even the road crews are unfailingly polite – the flaggers wave to just about every car going through.
We are not sure about this one
One of Qtown’s big attractions – besides the burgers!
In case the triple scoop of ice cream is not enough – add some melted white/milk/dark or all 3 chocolates to it!
Now that our NZ leg of the trip is over (Australia beckons), we would like to give you some of our overall impression of the country and people:
The BIG picture is we loved it!
As you obviously discerned, Nancy & I like good food. The Kiwis do too. We did not have one bad meal the whole time there, whether it was a cheesy driving picnic, a pie and sausage roll or a 1st class dinner house. The variety of cuisines even in small towns was tops. Diversity rules here. EVERY place it seemed had options for the various food issues people have, gluten, vegan, vegetarian, dairy etc. The burger place I told you about earlier had a vegan version appropriately called the ‘Holier than Thou’!
The whole country seems to thrive on amazing beer, wine and coffee. Some breweries’ beers are only available directly from them but the wineries seem to have better distribution. Every place that serves coffee uses an espresso machine. We never saw a drip coffee pot.
For some reason though, we also never saw a single cloth napkin in any restaurant – they all use paper. Must be a good lumber industry lobby there!
We did not stay in one hotel where we were bothered by noise from the street or other rooms or guests. It was like we were all alone. Also, ALL the beds have been very comfy as were the pillows. Nancy wants to bring them all home! She has also been quite pleased with all the showers. After a while we realized that we had no complaints about any accommodation.
The roads are excellent. While we had many construction projects along the way, especially on the South Island due to earthquakes, we never saw one pothole! No freeways but no axle breaking holes in the road either. Smooth as the butter you put on your toast.
If you are driving intercity, you do not need a map or GPS – the signs are terrific – at roundabouts (of which there are a plethora), intersections etc. However, once you are in the city you were going to, you can’t find your way because the streets are rarely signed and NOBODY likes to put their house number on their house (or business)! Having read stories about how in Europe at the outbreak of WW2, the countries invaded by the Germans removed all the street signs. I wonder if the Kiwis know the war is over & they won.
The tourism industry is doing a good job of organizing operators and other facets. Every little town has an ‘I’ office or 2. They can arrange bookings for tours, hotels etc. Very efficiently – we used them a couple times.
The employment situation is so strong, most anybody can get a temporary work visa allowing you to be in NZ for a year and employed. But depending on your country of origin, you may only be able to work for any particular firm for 3 months then you have to find another job. That does not seem like it would be too hard as in many places we saw heaps of help wanted signs. It seems to us though that it would be toughest on the business owners – just when you have someone trained, they HAVE to leave.
Like the PNW, the weather in NZ is constantly changing. From, sun to rain to wind to sun and… in any one day was not unusual. We think it is partly due to the changing of the seasons.
It is an incredibly clean country – the whole time in NZ we saw maybe 3 pieces of litter (and picked them up, of course). Roads, highways, beaches, parks etc were pristine. We did see in a couple towns official signs saying the Council has removed trash bins in an effort to reduce litter! It seemed to work. Even in places with bins, they are few and far between. This is odd because you (I, anyway) would think this would increase litter not reduce it. Who wants to carry their rubbish around? Kiwis do, apparently!
Whether the restrooms were in bars, restaurants, rest stops, pubs or public parks and streets, they were all clean, fully socked & functional.
Finally, the people of NZ – the Kiwis are amazingly friendly and welcoming. Not only the staff of hospitality businesses (frequently foreigners anyway) but anyone we met along the way – in restaurants, gas stations (up to $US6 per gallon btw), to anybody else we met was cheerful, inquisitive about our home, length of stay etc.
Those accents though! If they speak fast when excited, oy! It was sometime really hard for us to comprehend. Even such – terrific people with a lot of pride – as they should have.
With that, we say so long to New Zealand – we will be back. Now however, it is time to go back to Australia where I spent many years of my youth. Nancy has been a couple times with me but this visit will include places neither of us have been. It is time to put away jackets, sweaters and jeans and rejoice this December in shorts, t-shirts & thongs (Australian for jandals which is Kiwi for flip-flops).
Until our next dispatch – see ya mate!
Chris & Nancy