Archive for March, 2008

NZ: Day 16

Posted in NZ, Travel on March 21st, 2008

Went hiking on the slopes of Mount Doom today. The hike we took was part of the Tongario Crossing tail, which loops up and over the most volcanically active part of NZ. I was totally up for the doing the entire crossing (including the extra three hours or so to climb to the top of both giant volcanoes) but there was no way my sister could have hacked even the simple Crossing, let alone the summiting. So instead we just hiked the end part of the trail the opposite way, starting from the finish of the Crossing up to the first hut where people sometimes stay when doing multiple day hikes. About a four hour roundtrip hike. It was exactly the sort of hike I love, very similar to those in Rocky Mountain National Park or the Smokies. These are the sorts of hikes that feature a lot of uphill hiking, but it is not all steep and there are patches between the uphill sections where it is either level or only gently inclined. They are trails where it is very easy to maintain a constant speed and hike for long periods of time without being fatigued. They contrast with trails in places like Yosemite, which are just continuous uphill switchbacks, providing no trail space to recover or rest. You have to stop far more often and it is harder to get into a good rhythm. So I loved this trail. My sister, on the other hand, completely had her ass kicked by it, mostly I think because the sun was very intense and most of the trail was out in the open. But we still made it to the top in two hours and twenty, even though it was listed as being a three hour ascent.

After the hike, we drove into Auckland to our hotel. We’re staying here for the night and then driving up to the north peninsula for our last hike. Since it was our only night in Auckland, we’re staying at the five star Sky Hotel Grand. We got dinner at The Observatory restaurant, a seafood buffet perched atop the Sky Tower, the larger free standing tower in the Southern Hemisphere. It was quite tasty, although the service (considering it was a nice restaurant and buffets really aren’t that hard to manage) was pretty terrible. Not as bad as the restaurant in Picton where we had to wait twenty something minutes to place our order, but not what I’d expect in a good restaurant. Tomorrow is the last hike followed by crashing it Dargaville, then it is back to Auckland to see the aquarium and then board a plane to return. Crazy how it has all gone by so fast.

NZ: Day 15

Posted in NZ, Travel on March 21st, 2008

Blackwater rafting day. So we got up early and drove over to Waitomo. My sister was going to explore three different caves in the area and I was going underwater rafting on the cave rivers. So I went down and got all kitted out in the wetsuit, boots, and helmet and headed off to the caves. The first part of the adventure was abseiling down into the cave. Essentially there was a hundred foot hole that lead down into the caving system and a rope leading down into it. You attached your little belaying device to it, stepped off the platform and descended down into the caves. The first part of the decent was open, with the walls being too far away to touch, then you had to squeeze through a small opening and then you could brace your feet against a vertical wall and walk down it. Lots of fun. That got us down into the caving system, but we still weren’t at the river. So we walked a little ways through the cave and then they hooked us up to a zipline and sent us flying through the darkness down to where the river was. Again, lots of fun.

We then grabbed some tubes and jumped off the ten foot cliff into the river. We rafted part of the way up the river and into the depths of the glowworms. This was much cooler than the glowworm caves down in Te Anau, because here we could actually get close enough to see the worms and the little sticky lines that they emit to trap food. We floated along under the glowworms for a while, then headed back downstream. Stowed the tubes and hiked downstream on foot, alternating between hiking in knee high water and swimming through the deeper sections. Meet a couple cave eels and got to feed them some bacon. Probably not the most environmentally sound thing to do, but it was cool. Got to the end and had to do some free climbing up two waterfalls to make it back to the surface. The whole thing took around three hours. Had a great time. There were some pictures taken which someone is supposed to be emailing me, so I may end up with some photos. Drove down to Turangi that night, to be close to our hike the next day, got some dinner at The Four Fish, and then passed out.

NZ: Day 14

Posted in NZ, Travel on March 20th, 2008

Got up and grabbed breakfast as Pandora, a muffin shop in Wellington that the girl at the hotel counter gushed over. It was pretty good; had a sun-dried tomato muffin. Then we headed out of Wellington and drove north up to the Rotorua area. Got in a spent an hour or so relaxing the Polynesian thermal spa there. I tried to schedule a massage, but they were all booked up alas. But lounging in the thermal water was fun. Then it was off to the hotel we were staying in, where they upgraded us to a spa suite, complete with a jacuzzi tub on its enclosed patio. Pretty swank. Didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy it because we headed off to the Maori village for a cultural experience and hangi meal. The cultural experience was pretty cool, a lot more in-depth about the culture than the Hawaiian luau was. It is obvious the Maori are making a concerted effort to preserve as much of their way-of-life while still incorporating some modern things. For example, they talked about how they had added the guitar to their musical repertoire because it was something that made the young Maori more interested in performing.

The dinner was pretty good and the alcoholic fruit punch was amazing. After dinner we had the bus ride back to the hotel. Now our bus drivers were all Maori and ours was a woman. On the bus ride back, she made ever nationality on the bus sing a native song. Me and my sister tried to decline, but were eventually coerced into singing “This Land is My Land.” Anyway so as we’re approaching town, she says there is one more song for us to sing and starts singing “She’ll be coming round the mountain.” As the entire bus starts singing along, she turns the bus into a traffic circle and drives at high speed around it three or four times while vigorously honking the horn. This all caused extreme consternation among the other cars that were attempting to enter the traffic circle. Best part of the evening by far.

NZ: Day 13

Posted in NZ, Travel on March 20th, 2008

Ferry ride over was uneventful. Spent most of the day wandering around Wellington, getting some shopping done, catching up on life a little. Nothing too exciting. Got dinner with Mike Perry, a friend of Jim’s from Weta which was a lot of fun. We were hoping to get a look around the studio, but they’re pretty locked down these days, so that was a non-starter.

vasectomy no more sex bitch

Posted in The Blog on March 20th, 2008

“vasectomy no more sex bitch” is apparently one of the search strings that someone found my blog through. The mind really boggles as to what they were looking for.

NZ: Day 12

Posted in NZ, Travel on March 17th, 2008

Quite possibly the best day we’ve had yet. First thing was seal swimming. We put on wetsuits and snorkeling gear, climbed into a little boat with about eight other people and motored out to the rock formations where the fur seals hang out. Once there, you slide into the water and swim over to the seals area and the seals come out and swim with you. It was pretty amazing to be out there with them. The seals weren’t afraid of us at all and were completely aware that they were far more capable in the water than we were. So they dove and weave around as they chose, and we swam a little and watched them. The best was when two of them came out together and were playing, so we got to watch them close up. The water was a little cold, but not prohibitively so in the wetsuits so staying out there for over an hour wasn’t a problem. Came back into town and got some lunch at a Thai restaurant. I had puia, which was good even if I still don’t know what sort of seafood it was. Seemed cuttlefishish.

Then it was time for the whale watching tour. They warned us that the surf was really choppy, but we were fine with a little fun on a boat. So we went motoring out looking for sperm whales. The guide told us that the average tour saw two whales. We ended up seeing four, totally, although the last one dove right as we approached it. The way sperm whales work is they come up to the surface for about ten minutes to recharge and then dive for around forty minutes to an hour. So you can see them briefly as they restock on oxygen and relax, but if you miss them, they’re going for a long time. They’re pretty cool to look at, over forty feet long with massive heads. As they dive, you get a cool tail flip above the surface which then generates a massive upswell as they dive, stilling the surface of the ocean in the immediate area. After the fourth whale, our guides took the boat back into shallower water to look for other sea life. We swung by the seal colony again and were able to get some pictures this time (since we were lacking a waterproof camera earlier). As we left the colony, a pod of dusky dolphins showed up and started playing around the boat, leaping and diving in front of the prow of the ship. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. They were absolutely amazing.

When we got back we got in the car and headed up to Picton. We got dinner at Suemus, a seafood restaurant which had the worst service of any restaurant I’ve eaten at in NZ. Waited over twenty minutes for them to even come and take our order and then our food took forever. There was some amusement provided when a fat, angry, drunk Kiwi tried to pick a fight with a British man who had asked him to stop smoking. The cooks pretty much had to drag him out of the restaurant. We were staying in the Atlantis hostel that night, which I think wins for worst hostel we’ve stayed at. We had a private twin room, but it was off the main dorm room and had no windows. The lack of ventilation meant it smelled something like a locker room, plus the bathrooms were on the ass end of creation on the other side of the hostel. The beds creaked liked you wouldn’t believe and the walls were thin, so we could hear the enthusiastic Germans next door talking till all hours. Thankfully it was a short night, since we were up at 3:30am to catch the ferry back to the North Island and Wellington.

NZ: Day 11

Posted in NZ, Travel on March 17th, 2008

Hike from hell day. We got up early and drove down to Arakoa to do some hiking on the peninsula south of Christchurch. The hike I had chosen was Mount Herbert, which was supposed to give amazing views out of the valley. So we get to the hike and start hiking and immediately find ourselves hiking through a cow pasture. Which is filled with cows who are not amused to see us. We make our way through it gently, eventually finding the end. There were a couple dicey moments, but for the most part the cows were content to ignore us provided we didn’t get anywhere near their calves. However the cow fields went on and on and there were always more cows. Thankfully the trail passed outside most of their pens, so we walked by but not among the cows. The trail got to the end of the park and then loops up private land. During the first half-mile of the private land, the trail is overrun with a variety of sticker bushes and vines, making it a painful process to proceed. My sister grabbed a handful of some vine that ended up making her entire hand tingle and raising welts where it pricked her. She was not amused. Once the hike got through this section, it opened up into a tall grassy scrubland which was . . . covered in cows. And the cows like to congregate around the path. So we spent a good amount of time dodging cows and their babies, which forced us off the path at times.

As we kept hiking up the long rambling switchbacks, we kept thinking we had to be close to the top only to find as we gained ground that there was still more to go that we hadn’t been able to see. We got to the point where we figured the hike never ended when we finally found a sign that said it was ten minutes to the shelter that was at the foot of summit. Fifteen minutes later I made it to the shelter. Now mind that I’m an incredibly fast hiker and there is no way that an average hiker could have made it to the shelter in less than twenty minutes. So I was angry the sign lied to me. My sister had had enough at this point, so she stayed at the shelter while I went up to the summit. That forces me to dodge an even larger number of cows, as they apparently liked to congregate along the trail to the peak. The view from the summit wasn’t even better than the view from an hour earlier on the trail. On the way back down, my sister got fed up with walking around the cows and started walking straight towards them, which caused them to scatter and flee in terror. She was very pleased with herself. Going back took forever as well, especially making our way back through all the sticker bushes. All in all, we made incredibly good time, doing a hike listed as seven to eight hours in only five-and-a-half. But it wasn’t a hike I’d ever do again. Too painful and long with very little return on the investment. We finished the day by driving up to Kaikoura and getting dinner at The Crayfish Pot, where I had an excellent half lobster.

NZ: Day 10

Posted in NZ, Travel on March 17th, 2008

The night before we had gone out to find dinner and wandered forever looking for a restaurant to eat in. Ended up wandering way up Columbo Street in search of the Mainstreet Vegetarian restaurant. Nowhere to be found. So we ended up wandering almost all the way back to our hostel to eat a Winnie Bagoes, a gourmet pizza restaurant that was actually pretty good. We watched some rugby with dinner and once again were completely baffled by the rules. I figure if I watched it for weeks at a time, I’d figure it out. The next morning we woke up latish since we didn’t have anything to do till our wine tour at 1pm. We went and wandered around the neighborhood our hostel was in, attempting to find some lunch and were as unsuccessful as the night before. We ended up having to get food at Subway, which was as unappealing as it sounds. However it looked slightly less dodgy than the really dodgy fish-and-chips place right around the corner from it, so I think we came out okay.

The van picked us up and we drove out into wine country. Our guide was a former restaurant owner and current food consultant who worked in the area and knew a lot of the winemakers well. The tour included three wineries. The first was Pegasus vineyards, a larger estate type vineyard with an extensive grounds and restaurant. The wine there was good, but not spectacular. After that were two smaller wineries. The first was Mount Cass, whether we were greeted by a happy dog which was soon disillusioned by our lack of feeding it and went away to sleep. The tasting room here was outside and rather hot, which made it harder to enjoy the wine, which was excellent. They did a late-harvest Chardonnay desert wine, something I haven’t seen anywhere else which was good but not as good as the late-harvest Rieslings we had at the first and third place. They also had the best Pinot Noir of the bunch. The last place was Torlesse Wines, which markets its best wines under the Omihi Road label. The winemaker, who was also running the tasting room, was a garrulous Australian who obviously enjoyed making, drinking, and serving wine. The three almost drunk Christchurch women on the tour and the two drunk Japanese women on the tour gave him no end of amusement. This was my favorite winery of the group, with the best Sauvignon Blanc and the only Gewurtztraminer of the group. I picked up at bottle of the Gewurzt which was only 20 NZ dollars (about 16 US), cheaper than most of the good Alsacian ones you can find in the US. My sister got a bottle of his late harvest Riesling. He also had an excellent fortified port, which I considered picking up but it wasn’t quite good enough to justify having to haul it back to the States.

Got back from the tour and relaxed for awhile, and then headed into town to get dinner at Portofino, an Italian restaurant. Had a good dinner then head back to the hostel. I stayed up pretty much all night playing GalCivII, which was totally worth it.

NZ: Day 9

Posted in NZ, Travel on March 14th, 2008

The heli-hike. The company running it wasn’t the most organized in the world so there was a whole lot of standing around before we actually got up and running. They kitted us out with socks, boots, and jackets to wear and then loaded us into helicopters to fly us up to the third icefall on Franz Joseph Glacier. The flight, my first in a whirlybird, was awesome. I want my own helicopter. Up on the ice we were given our crampons and brief lesson in walking on glaciers. Being as I had done this before, I pretty much ignored them and just enjoyed being up on the ice. We did about a two hour hike on the top of the glacier. Our group was eleven people. There was one girl in it, Sarah, who was absolutely terrified of walking on the ice and walked up front with the ice guide the entire time, who did a really good job of taking care of her. Given that I’d done this before and felt comfortable, I hung out in the rear (the ice guide asked those of us who felt confident to hike in the back so the weaker people would be up near him in case they needed help) with an Australian couple.

When we reached the end of the hike out, it was at a fairly deep pond that had formed on the glacier. More than ten feet deep and probably about 5 feet in diameter. Our guide said that if three people from our group went in, he’d jump in too. So the large Asian dude in the group jumps in. My sister jumps in. I wasn’t going to jump in, because I was wearing jeans and knew they would be a bitch if they got wet, but after two people had gone in, there was no way I was letting our guide get away dry. So I jumped in. It was cold, but not impossibly so. I wouldn’t have wanted to hang out in there for more than the ten seconds or so I was in there, but once you were out and it started evaporating off in the hot sun, you actually felt really good. Then a large German guy from the other group came and jumped in and finally one of the girls from our group jumped into. Faced with the five people who had done it, our guide climbed up on to a higher ledge and dove into the pool. He really hadn’t expected any of us to take him up on it, let alone enough to force him to get wet.

I had an extra shirt with me, but I ended up giving it to the girl who had jumped in because she had cotton tanktops on, which weren’t going to dry worth shit. I had on a synthetic hiking shirt which dry really fast. So I was a little bit more wet on the way back than I could have been, but it made someone’s day a lot better. Scott, the Australian dude I was hiking with, got a video of me jumping into the ice pool which he is going to email to me. Got some excellent fish and chips at The Breezes, a little cafe with outdoor seating where we soaked up some sun (warming us up from our arctic plunge).

Finished up the day with a drive across the island to Christchurch. It was a drive on the winding mountain highway 73, which is a lot of fun to drive. I had a couple of equally skilled, if not more skilled drivers on my tail for almost all of it, which really pushed my driving, but in a good way. Given the number of really poor drivers on the road here, it was nice to have some good ones who made my drive more interesting. We zigged and zagged through the mountains for a couple hours (the same four cars in a row) and then the road leveled out and we all cruised into the Christchurch area.

NZ: Day 8

Posted in NZ, Travel on March 14th, 2008

A travel day. Had to make it from Te Anau up to Franz Joseph so we could be ready to take our glacier heli-hike the next morning. Drove up to Queenstown first, where we stopped off at the car rental place about our tyre. They sent us over to their tyre shop (this all necessitated three trips across Queenstown), where the tyre guy couldn’t believe what had happened to the tyre. But they gave us another spare and checked the tyres on the car and pronounced them fine, so we were off. Got into Franz Joseph and had a really fantastic dinner at The Blue Ice and then sacked out. We were going to do the hike up the foot of the glacier, but all the adventures with the tyre company meant we got in late enough that we missed it.