Monday, March 31, 2008

Do We NOW know What a Kiwi Is?


Or This?

Or Maybe Even this!

When we arrived in New Zealand I raised the question about what a Kiwi is. I hope from reading the blog you now have a much better idea about what New Zealand (and New Zealanders) are all about. I suppose six weeks isn’t really enough time to really figure it out, but we have had a good glimpse.

If we really want to have a definition of the word, there seem to be at least three. First, judging by all of the souvenir stores in New Zealand, they think it is a nocturnal flightless bird of New Zealand having a long neck and stout legs; only surviving representative of the order Apterygiformes. Second, you are probably most familiar with a kiwi’s form as a fuzzy brown egg-shaped fruit with slightly tart green flesh. I have to admit that I have not eaten a kiwi, fruit or bird since we have been in New Zealand. Finally it is defined as a native or inhabitant of New Zealand, which is how you hear it used most.

Our emersion in New Zealand was a great experience and I would certainly encourage you to give it a try. A final heads up, there is a $25 NZ per person departure tax payable when you go through departing immigration.

Quirky Living Note: When ever “New Zealand” is written you invariably see the word Aotearoa close by. The country is very careful to write Maori definitions wherever possible. Aotearoa is the word for New Zealand with a precise definition of “Land of the Long White Cloud.”

Mary Ann's South Island Web Album

My favorite photographer has grouped 87 of her hundreds of photos taken during the time we spent on the South Island. You can access them on the web at the following address:

The Final Leg

As the seven weeks (my, has it been that long and gone that fast) have passed it seems impossible that we are flying to Tahiti in less than 24 hours. In the evening in Wanganui we explored a very pleasant and non-tourist community. Beautiful parks, boys’ colleges, river walks and exceptional public buildings such as the Serjeant Gallery, museums and memorials. Victoria Street, the main shopping venue has 150 year old buildings which are full of shops and restaurants. The street is shaded with huge trees and flower baskets everywhere.

This region of the island does not seem to be overwhelmed by tourists (like Queenstown) and the drive on to New Plymouth was with little traffic, going along the surfing areas of the Tasman Sea, and in the shadow of Mount Taranaki. The mountain is quite stunning in the same way that Mount Rainer is. Everything around it on the western promontory of the island is sea level, while the mountain rises nearly straight up from the plain. We fortunately took a photo early on as the mountain soon became covered by clouds and we had a rare occasion of rain.

New Plymouth, although apparently growing a lot, seems to be a pretty much ordinary city and has not had the advantages of old buildings, harbor (although it faces the sea), or historical significance. A very workman like place which is aspiring to be the stepping off place for mountain climbs. Our final drive after the night in New Plymouth was to the Auckland airport.

We knew it was time to end the vacation as our luck was running out. At dinner I was reading a local tourist magazine and realized that today, just an hour north of New Plymouth was the “running of the sheep” as a part of The Great New Zealand Muster in Te Kuiti. The Running of the Sheep is described as thousands of wooly sheep scurrying and making their way through a crowd of 6,000 on the main street of Te Kuiti. It is their version of “the running of the bulls.” To top it off there is a large cash prize for a correct number of the total sheep in the run (1733 last year). How could we have missed this icon of the festival in the self proclaimed “Sheep Capital of the World?” And we were only an hour away on the day of the run!

We were glad that the mm made it all the way to Auckland Airport, struggling up the hills as she did. When we turned her in to Ace Rentals I was a bit concerned because on about the second day of the trip I had lost a hubcap. How much was that going to cost? The girl at the car rental said it happens all the time and I was charged only $10 NZ for the replacement. Whew! All in all we put 5900 kilometers (3540 miles) on the car.

Quirky Living Note: With the recent death of Sir Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Mt. Everest, and New Zealand’s favorite son, the Hillary Foundation for Youth is using this time as an opportunity to raise money for the foundation, focus on exercise, and honor Sir Edmund. On March 25 a nationwide tour of summits for ed started at the bottom of the South Island and will visit 30 cities throughout the country, ending at the northern tip of the North Island on April 19 with an event attended by Lady Hillary and members of the family. For a lot of interesting information about the project and its goals you should pay a visit to Now, go climb a summit in your local area.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

South Island Marathon

Wanganui Downtown Flowers

Wanganui Serjeants Gallery

Picton Harbor
Our exit from Queenstown seemingly was like a marathon. We scheduled ourselves to drive from Queenstown all the way to Picton, where we were to catch the ferry for the North Island the next morning. This is 822 kilometers (493 miles) of two lane road, lots of traffic, and much of it on twisting roads. The maps say is should take over 12 hours of driving. So we could get into Picton at a decent hour we decided to leave at 6 a.m.

Even with standard time now in effect in New Zealand, the sun really doesn’t get rolling until about 8 a.m. Thus we spent two hours of driving north to Omarama in the black of the late night-early morning. There are some good things and some bad things about this experience. The good thing is that none of the blankety blank slow moving campers are not on the road. The bad thing is that those who are on the road are mostly natives who are driving much faster than you because of familiarity with the road. I just hate it when those bright lights are bearing down impatiently in your rear view mirror. From Omarama we took a new route to the Pacific Coast which turned out to be a very good highway with little traffic and few curves.

Highway 83 and 82 took us to Timaru on the coast where we joined Highway 1 for the run all the way to Picton. Along the coast we were in rolling plains with immaculate farms. We were able to skirt around Christchurch with little delay and then on up the coast to Blenheim and Picton, the Marlborough wine region of the South Island. We stayede overnight in Picton which has a very picturesque harbor and small downtown.

After a good nights sleep (my fingers were finally uncurling from gripping the steering wheel) we got in the queue for the Interislander ferry. This ferry had a train deck on the bottom. For some reason we were one of the lucky selected cars to fill in between the train cars. This required us backing on to the ferry. More fun! It was a quiet sunny trip to Wellington. We then headed out of Wellington and on to Highway 1 up the west coast of the North Island to Wanganui. The city is a regional province center and has been around since the 1840’s. They have done a good job maintaining their historical downtown, large parks, and public buildings, all along the Wanganui River. A very pleasant day after the marathon!

Quirky Living Note: As you travel around the South Island, you see signs warning about DIDYMO. I couldn’t pass up this one, particularly when a DIDYMO inspector visited us when we were waiting for the Interislander ferry. You have always wanted to know that DIDYMO is more commonly known here as rock snot. Didymosphenia geminata, commonly known as didymo or rock snot, is a species of diatom that grows in warm and shallow water. If it overgrows, it can form large mats on the bottom of lakes, rivers and streams. It is not considered a significant human health risk, but it can affect stream habitats and sources of food for fish and make recreational activities unpleasant. It is considered a nuisance organism or invasive species. The microscopic algae can be spread in a single drop of water. This looks like a problem similar to milfoil in Washington State.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Te Anau

Breathtaking Scenery

The Southern Alps in all their glory

Lake Te Anau

We were spending only two days in Queenstown so we decided to do a driving trip on our second day to maximize what we could see of the Southern Alps. This forfeited the chance to visit the Milford Sound (I know, what a bad travel agent I was) but, that is something we will just save for some future trip to New Zealand. A whole itinerary doing the west coast of the South Island would not be a bad idea. You could fly into Queenstown, and then visit Doubtful Sound, Milford Sound, Fox Glacier, Franz Josef, and possibly Mt. Cook. It would be a heck of a trip if you had good weather.

Te Anau is 170 kilometers south and west of Queenstown. The road goes next to Lake Wakapitu, which is the very large lake upon which Queenstown sits, providing wonderful vistas of the mountains. Upon leaving the lake it goes through several wonderful valleys that have immaculate farms raising cattle, tens of thousands of sheep and deer. The road fishhooks to the west and comes back north to Te Anau.

The community is at the foot of the lake of the same name which then goes north for probably 60 kilometers. North of Te Anau the road is the only highway into Milford Sound. We went as far as Te Anau Downs which is about half way up the lake. All the views along the lake are to the towering east side of the Southern Alps. At any location to or from Te Anau you have great vistas of high rocky mountains.

South of Te Anau we did a little loop on one of the designated scenic highways through Manapouri. It provides scenes across Lake Manapouri to the very high peaks surrounding Doubtful Sound and the Fiordlands National Park. If we had continued on the scenic highway, rather than cutting back to Queenstown, it would eventually have taken us to Invercargill at the very southern tip of the South Island.

To finish off the day on returning to Queenstown, we drove up to the small gold mining town of Arrowtown. When the gold ran out it has been converted into a crafts village somewhat similar to Winthrop, Washington.

Quirky Living Note: Anywhere you travel in New Zealand you see thousands of sheep, sometimes literally thousands in a single pasture. Mary Ann and I were talking during the drive today about how you would think with all this wool, that wool products would be inexpensive. In Ireland they are, so shouldn’t New Zealand also have bargains? They do have beautiful products, many of very high quality merino wool. But the prices are also very high. We have not seen a full wool sweater under $200 NZ.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Heading Further South

Downtown Queenstown

Sally & Tony Fodie with Mary Ann

On the River into Queenstown

In Queenstown - View from our hotel

With our navigator being very efficient we made a fast getaway from Christchurch today. Through the flat lands of the Canterbury Plain and then headed up into the South Southern Alps. When we got to the lakes at the foothills of Mt. Cook, it was unfortunately overcast and as we say when in Seattle, the mountain was not out.

On towards the south to Omarana where we had a special reason to stop. Several years ago Barb and Jerry Gibbons had been visiting New Zealand and became acquainted with a lady ferry boat captain on the Auckland – Devonport run. Sally and her husband Tony became good friends resulting in the Gibbons visiting their home and eventually their new friends visited Wenatchee. Upon retirement they moved to Omarana and opening a gift store. We stopped and passed on greetings from Barb and Jerry and had a wonderful conversation before continuing to Queenstown. Sally has published a wonderful book of the great stories of being a Ferry Boat Captain (the first woman in the fleet) titled Waitemata Ferry Tales. She generously gave us a copy and I am already enjoying her humor and her history on the boats.

By that time the sun was out and the remaining drive through the gorges and over the rivers to Queenstown was great. When you see and visit Queenstown it just takes your breath away. Some of the great cities by the water, Cape Town, Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, Boston, Hong Kong, and Wellington all have their beauty and charms, but Mary Ann and I think that Queenstown may top the list. As you see the photos published with the blog it will make you want to visit without delay.

In the evening my timing was good, and I was able to visit the Queenstown Rotary Club. It is a club of about 80 members. They were informed of the Australian-New Zealand Rotary Pacific area child surgery project and the plans for a 2009 Winter Olympics pre-event contest to be held in the Queenstown (Otago) region in August about 6 months prior to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.

Quirky Driving Note: The roadway billboard advice today was "Arrive Alive - Drive to Survive.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Easter at the Cathedral

Great Pipes!

As our Christchurch apartment is about three blocks from the Anglican Cathedral, the dramatic icon of Cathedral Square, it is only appropriate that we celebrated Easter by attending their Festival Easter Day Eucharist. We arrived about 20 minutes early, expecting a large Easter attendance and we were not disappointed. The sanctuary is huge, as cathedrals are wont to be, and it was packed from front to back and side to side. This was not only an Easter service, but we found much more was going on with the future of the Cathedral.

We learned that the Bishop, Dr. David Coles, was preaching his final sermon on his last day as Bishop. To top that it was his 65th birthday landing on the conclusion of his 18 years as Bishop of Christchurch. He will be going to Queenstown as pastor of a local church. This week his replacement (by a very convoluted election in the Anglican denomination) was announced, and will be the Rt. Rev. Victoria Mathews, who is presently the bishop-in-residence in Wycliffe College in Toronto, Canada, and who until last year had been the Bishop of Edmonton.

To make the day even more dramatic, the Dean (the pastor in charge of the Cathedral congregation), Peter Beck, was serving his last Sunday before leaving for a 3 month sabbatical where he and his wife will be walking the ancient pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. If the church was not going to have enough of a transition, the Associate Dean Diana Rattray, will be leaving in June for her installation as pastor in Ponsonby (a neighborhood in Auckland).

As often can be viewed in high church Anglican worship, this service was magnificent. The Cathedral Choir, composed of high pitched young boys, and older men singing tenor and bass was wonderful. The Bishop’s sermon was excellent and the entire pageantry with probably 50 people participating in putting on the service with candles, banners, readers, and colorful robes was inspiring. The conclusion was emotional with gifts being exchanged from and to the Bishop, along with his final words of thanks and farewell. The entire production was flawless, which included communion for the hundreds of worshipers in the Cathedral.

To top off the day we decided to attend the Festal Evensong at the Cathedral. This is an Anglican service that dates back to the 16th century where the choir and minister sing the whole service, except for the Apostles’ Creed, Confession, and sermon. With the beautiful acoustics of the Cathedral, it was another wonderful service. To enhance the singing the church has a magnificent organ used to great effect. A very inspiring Easter Day.

Cathedral Facts: The Christchurch Cathedral is over 125 years old and is the most visited church building in New Zealand. Over 660,000 people visit the Cathedral each year. For a lot of information visit:

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happenings Over a Couple of Days

Sumner Rock and beach

The Tram Through a Pedestrian Alley

Punting in the park

The customs of a country are always interesting to experience. This weekend is Easter and New Zealand takes this as a four day weekend. Good Friday and Easter Monday are official holidays. As it is the fall here and March is the equivalent of September in the Northern Hemisphere, this weekend could be considered the last hurrah of summer, somewhat like our Labor Day holiday. But when they declare a holiday like Good Friday, it is a real holiday and nearly everything shuts down, like Christmas or New Years. No big box store or mall sales. Everything except a few restaurants were closed. A couple of years ago we experienced this four day Easter holiday when we were in South Africa. Now on Saturday, that is not the official holiday, so many of the stores are open again, and the downtown has come back to life.

The weather on Good Friday was another warm sunny day. We went on another of the three hour Mary Ann forced marches. We hiked out of the downtown up toward where the Avon River was starting towards the ocean. The hike then proceeded on the river paths back into and through the downtown to the Botanic Gardens on the west side of the central business district. The trees, lawns, river and views, as the Avon wanders through the city, were remarkable. When we reached the Botanic Gardens we explored it much more thoroughly, along with hundreds of the Christchurchians. Hmmm, maybe that is not a word.

We found that the Christchurch Art Gallery was open and it was a pleasant surprise. They have an extensive historical art section showing off the works of Christchurch, Canterbury, and New Zealand artists. Some of them, although not household names like the Dutch or French, are very good. It is a very new building in the Culture Precinct and architecturally striking.

Saturday started out pretty cloudy and raining a bit, but that did not stop us exploring the Pacific beach areas of Christchurch. We drove the mm to Sumner and then up to New Brighton. Good sandy beaches which we are sure would be packed if a sunny day. Even with the cool weather there were a lot of crazies trying to learn how to surf.

Quirky Living Note: I was reading a sign in a store window promoting a child care music program. The mothers, or stay at home dads, were being tempted with the closing line of “followed by a cuppa and a time to chat.” How can you stay away from the Tippy Toes Preschool Music with a come-on like that!

How is the Blog Doing?

Tom beside the mm

I have never been someone who “journals” or who kept a diary. Writing for the blog is, however, somewhat like that. I admit I really do enjoy it, and knowing I will be writing, makes me much more observant about our travels. The Tom Off The Bench blog also has married me daily to the laptop. The subject matter of the postings also have become the subject matter of other articles that I have, and will be writing, for those publications that are kind enough to print my observations and opinions.

What does amaze me is how many people read it on a daily or weekly basis. At the bottom of the blog, if you scroll all the way down there, you will see a sitemeter logo. Click on the logo and you will be sent to another page where there are all sorts of categories describing the visitors. It is fun for me to see who visited on a weekly basis, and then go to the location pages to see where they are from. You can also bring up the maps and see the visitors graphically around the U.S., or the world.

Last year, while living in Mexico, I posted 52 articles over the approximate 12 weeks we were in San Miguel de Allende, or traveling to or from. From the start of the blog until I wrote this posting there have been 1082 visits. Of that number, 379 have visited during the time we have been in New Zealand. I know there are a lot of hits that come from people who are just interested in other people’s blogs, and enter by searching This became apparent when reviewing the locations of where the visitors were from. I certainly do not know people in all of those locations! A sample of the countries over the past 100 hits has included:

Austria, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Panama, Turkey, New Zealand,
Indonesia, Netherlands, United States, Spain, Japan, Italy, Brunei, Canada,
India, Australia, Portugal United Kingdom, Israel, Romania, France, Ukraine,
Chile, Poland, Hong Kong, Myanmar (Burma)

On the “by Location” section it also gives you the city of where in the country the visitor was from. It is fun to see, so check it out. See you on the blog!

Another Missed Opportunity

Hanmer Springs

Hanmer River just out of Hanmer Springs

When we were in Baden Baden, Germany, we had the chance to bask in grand splendor in the thermal baths originally used by European royalty. We passed up the decadent soaking. When we were in Pamukele, Turkey we could have wallowed in the steaming mud and purged all the bad things from our bodies. Nope. Today we drove about 125 kilometers to Hanmer Springs, located Northwest of Christchurch on the Lewis Pass highway to the Tasman Sea West coast. It is famous for its mineral springs, skiing, and lots of adventure chances.

I dutifully told Mary Ann about the spa opportunity. Her reply was “the swim suits are packed in the bottom suitcase with the stuff we are not using.” As a man who can read between the lines I interpreted this as “No way Mate!” Three chances and three missed opportunities can only be interpreted as “it is not in the cards”. As we do not use the hot tub at Riverwalk this should be a sign that we are not going spa-ing.

In any case, the drive was beautiful, through rolling hills, into the canyons winding up to the Southern Alps. Hanmer Springs is dedicated to only one pursuit – outdoor pleasure. The thermal springs are open to the public, with a lot of pools to enjoy. Hotels and lodges all over the village and adventure merchants are everywhere. If you did nothing and just lay around it would be a great day.

To get another culture fix we went to an improv play at the Court Forge Theatre in the evening. The title was Pulp William. Three guys combine Shakespeare with music, fun, and a bit of slapstick. The thread is that they ask the audience for help with a script by asking for an occupation (marine biologist), a Shakespeare play (Taming of the Shrew), something philosophical (if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there…), and something small to put in a briefcase (ipod). They then improv the play by making it work with all of the selected subjects. It was a lot of fun and for a modest $15 NZ per person.

Quirky Living Note: In a lot of stores I have seen a sign that said EFTPOS. I was pretty sure this was not some political commentary the effete dead possum. I finally had to ask and learned it is a New Zealand debit card system. What had also been confusing me was sometimes the signs said NO EFTPOS, and sometimes it just said EFTPOS. And the definition is? Drum roll please. Electronic Funds Transfer at Point Of Sale.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Back to the Culture Precinct

In the Botanical Gardens

The iSite in Cathedral Square

Canterbury Museum

The Christchurch downtown core, between Cathedral Square and the Botanical Garden, is referred to as the Culture Precinct. I assume this is a local term for a neighborhood. I needed to get back to the Court Theatre in the Arts Centre to pick up some theatre tickets. This may have been a mistake as it let Mary Ann back into all the arts and crafts shops in the buildings of the former Canterbury College.

After our cappuccino break it was like an explosion when the lightning struck her. Wham, kazam, we were the owners of another major piece of art work by a local Christchurch artist. I do confess I may have aided and abetted the purchase. She handled me like a car salesman: which do you like best, object A or object B. I don’t recall being asked the yes or no question. While the artist saleslady (it was a co-op where all the participating artists have a day of work) was kindly wrapping object B, we went on to the Botanical Gardens.

The Botanical Gardens are a part of the larger huge Hagley Park System and it is impressive. We walked a portion of it and were amazed of the condition of the flowers in the middle of the local fall. The Avon River flows through the park and with the great weather we had today there was a lot of action on and around the river. The natives were enjoying sitting on the grass, having lunch, punting and paddling on the river and generally making a great day of it.

At the edge of the garden is the Canterbury Museum. It was a good museum showing the history of the area and some great artifacts. It also is the repository for a lot of the materials retrieved from the various expeditions to the Antarctic. By this time I was shopped, walked, and museumed out, so it was time for a nice lunch at the Gardeners Cottage restaurant on a corner of the Botanical Garden. I needed a nap after all this culture and shopping trauma.

Quirky Living Note: Being formerly trained as a tank unit commander, when in the U.S Army, a tank driving adventure really appeals to me. Should I sign up? The ultimate off-road driving experience. Bad day at the office? Let off some steam with the ultimate tank driving adventure ‘tanks for everything’- the only place in New Zealand where you actually get to drive a 52 ton battle tank! They’ve got a range of other wild and wonderful military vehicles you can take for a spin on their custom off-road track.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Adventure Touring Update

I know, I know, I have been having a little fun with the adventure-eco tour options. However a lot of people do enjoy this and there seemingly are some great adventure companies and the programs they offer. When on the TranzAlpine train I met Chris, a very nice guy from a suburb of Toronto who was on a four week jaunt around both islands. He seemed to be in his late 30’s and was experiencing his first trip out of North America. He had previously been a forester in Revelstoke, British Columbia and obviously had a lot of outdoor experience. He was also visiting some acquaintances (including a New Zealand Olympic sculler) in New Zealand, so had people to stay with to break up the trip.

Chris’ formula was to book with an adventure tour company who took you from camping, climbing, or eco event by van or bus dropping you off for the event and then you can hop on a similar bus a few days later. He said the groups he was in varied from 10 to 26. He now works in commercial refrigeration (maybe not as active as when he was foresting) and he was wondering when dirty, sore, and blistered exactly why he was doing this. He did hike, climb, crawl on rocks, sleep in tents, river raft, sand surf and generally have a good time.

When in the Queenstown area, he booked parasailing, skydiving, and helicoptering over the Milford Sound and glaciers. Unfortunately, after waiting for the weather, he never got to face these death defying pursuits. Bummer, but I’m sure his mother is happy. He will just have to return sometime for this type of extreme fun. I of course, gave Chris a lot of good advice about world traveling, and I’m pretty sure he is hooked. I don’t know whether any of the following are good or bad (you might check for the Qualmark New Zealand fern symbol which is an endorsement by the New Zealand tourist authority) but it is a sample of the companies for this type of traveling:

Quirky Living Note: Another option for traveling in New Zealand is the RV. Here the self drive traveling hotel room is called a caravan. It is very popular for people who want “some” out of doors, don’t want the hassle of hotels, but still want to drive the country. If I selected this travel alternative I would also be investing in a divorce. My intrepid navigator seems to think RV’s and motor homes were invented by men who think it is really cool for the little woman to cook, clean, and continue waiting on the man of the house, while he sits back and has a beer and enjoys sitting outdoors in a lawn chair. Now the mm (modest Mazda) isn’t much, but it also is not the campervan like shown above. I am still married to the same woman! If you want a similar campervan check out

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Qualmark Tourism Rating

In the tourist industry in New Zealand, the goal seems to be to receive a Qualmark endorsement. This seems to be the stamp of approval of the hotel, activity, or business. The site and logo are promoted as New Zealand’s “official” quality tourism website. In the printed maps, brochures, and tourist free guides, the logo is very visible. You can check out the system at

TranzAlpine Rail Journey

The Engineer Boarding the train

The Southern Alps

Headed to Arthur's Pass

I have to admit that I am a real railroad junkie. Riding the rails is a great way to travel. Obviously, I am waiting for my children to give me one of the great rail journeys of the world. Maybe Vovos Rail in South Africa, the Oriental Express, or its equivalent in Asia. As a frugal traveler I have never quite bit the bullet for the high end rail journey. Besides, I don’t own a tuxedo.

When you visit New Zealand, there isn’t the luxury rail trip alternative, but there are a couple of fantastic scenic options. Even Frommer has described the TranzAlpine trip from Christchurch to Greymouth as one of the top five scenic trips in the world. In the brochure the New Zealand passenger rail company describes the trip as “Meeting the challenge of the mountains.” The trip goes completely across the South Island from the Pacific to the Tasman Sea and crosses a high pass through the Southern Alps.

As usual with our wonderful luck it was a glorious sunny day. I can imagine that it could be a very dreary day if cloudy or raining. The train, which is very nice, but not a luxury offering, is about 10 cars with the front and back split by an open viewing car so you can take unobstructed photos. For those of you who need to take videos and photos, it does become very crowded and the height challenged Mary Ann had some trouble getting to the rail because of the tall blokes.

You are assigned seats, and it appeared we were going to have a nearly empty car, so we would be able to move around from front view to back view and side to side. Au contraire as just before the train was to leave a tour bus of people showed up and took every other seat in the car. The good news was that they left the train at Arthur’s Pass and rejoined their bus. If you are inclined to coach tours take a look at their website: So we did have delightful space for the rest of the 4 ½ hour trip to Greymouth.

The journey first crosses the Canterbury Plain with handsome farming and grazing lands, and then proceeds along the Waimakariri River and through the very deep Waimakariri Gorge. This provides for terrific bridges and tunnels with panoramic views of the mountains. We were somewhat surprised that the mountains were not quite alp like. It was more like going over the U.S. Rocky Mountains without any snow covered peaks. We must be too early in the fall. Along the route are sheep and cattle stations, former mining areas and no development. The ride down the Tasman Sea side goes through the Grey River valley and into Greymouth; hmmm the river must empty into the sea there. Greymouth is the largest town on the west coast with a population of about 12,000.

You spend an hour in Greymouth before the journey back. We had lunch and Mary Ann left her jacket (you remember the one she now loves and which we searched so diligently for in Auckland) in the café. She ran to the café (telling me to not let the train leave) and found that the café lady had taken it to the train. She thankfully retrieved it from the staff when we got back to Arthur’s Pass. We had a pleasant and full train on the way back. I had a great conversation with a young fellow from Toronto, but that will be another story. The whole excursion was about 10 hours and was certainly worth the investment. For this and other trips on the rail system go to

Quirky Living Note: The train has a café counter in one of the cars. It actually has quite modest prices and their menu at each seat touts the offering as Snacks on the Tracks

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Side Trip to Lyttleton and Akaroa

On the Akaroa pier

Akaroa from the pier
Lyttleton Harbor & Governors Bay

Today we were off to visit the commercial port for Christchurch, which is a suburb reached through a tunnel from Christchurch proper. Lyttleton is a beautiful harbor, but is seriously industrial. We then went around the shore to Governors Bay, over Geddes Pass, and on to Akaroa.

I obviously didn’t read the travel magazines and book carefully enough, as I soon discovered it was much further to Akaroa than I had thought. It was about an hour and a half out of Christchurch. Cruise ships call on Akaroa to visit Christchurch, so I must have assumed it was much closer. There is a real devil of a road to the village, so I was able to keep my mountain tight curve driving skills at an advanced level. However, the drive was worth it as the views are spectacular. As you note from the photos above it was a real chamber of commerce bragging day.

Akaroa itself is a beautiful village on the bay. It was founded by the French in 1840, a few months prior to the British snookering the islands away for the Maori in the Treaty of Waitangi. The French came to a quick accommodation with the British Empire, at least being able to stay and enjoy their village. All the streets have French names and prefaced with “Rue.” We had a very nice lunch at a restaurant with a deck out in the sun while watching the harbor. In front of us they had jet boat rides, but I again resisted, saving myself for Queenstown.

Quirky Driving Note: The road sign of the day was The Faster You Go the Bigger the Mess.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Garden City

The Anglican Christchurch Cathedral

The Christchurch Tram

Punting on the Avon
I wonder how many cities and towns of the world have nicknamed themselves the Garden City? Christchurch is another of those who have adopted that moniker. They do have the advantage of the Avon River circling through the downtown and one of the largest urban parks and botanical gardens in an inner city that I have every seen. The city is a little unusual in that, although portions of the city front on the ocean, the downtown and central business district is nowhere near the ocean.

The heart of the city is Cathedral Square, which not surprisingly is a huge pedestrian only square with the Anglican Cathedral at one end. Cutting along the edge of the square is the restored tram system which circles the downtown and most of the tourist highlights. The tram is very nice for viewing, but is a bit disappointing as to its length, and is very expensive for what you seem to get. It costs $14 for an all day ticket. I personally think they ought to encourage the ticket with a more modest price, like the cable cars in San Francisco.

Christchurch has done a very good job with their downtown. There are several large squares and pedestrian only streets with the large shopping venues. Along the Avon they have a lot of very attractive restaurants, one of which (the Viaduct) we enjoyed last night. In Cathedral Square they have restored several of the oldest buildings, not the least of which is the I Site which has a Starbucks as a part of it. Walking from the square towards the parks of Worcester Street, you can enjoy the views of the Avon, and go punting if you wish for a modest $20.

Along the street are Christchurch Art Gallery and then the Art Centre. This is quite a unique use of the former site of the University of Canterbury which has been converted into arts and crafts shops, theatres, and food stops. It is quite lively on the weekend with all of the open spaces filled with arts and crafts booths. Mary Ann was very frugal, only spending about $20. She must be reading about the dismal downward movement of the U.S. dollar! At the end of the street, which dead-ends at the park, is the Canterbury Museum, which I am sure we will visit later this week.

As today was our first full day in Christchurch, we had to get to a supermarket to stock up. We generally fix all of our breakfasts in the apartment, and some of our dinners. Mary Ann thinks the fewer the better. As a part of the Westfield Mall (they are everywhere in the world) there is a Pak’nSave which supplied our needs, but…couldn’t find any lemon, lime and bitters. We will conduct a full search tomorrow, hitting the liquor stores and mini-marts. The other large supermarket chain in New Zealand is the New World, which has received our custom up to now.

Our apartment here is only about 3 blocks from Cathedral Square in the heart of the entertainment area called SOL Square (south of Lichfield). This can also translate into some loud music. This ought to make St. Patrick’s Day, with the nearby Irish Pub, an interesting night. The apartment is a little smaller than our accommodations in Auckland and Wellington. We miss our second bathroom!

Quirky Living Note: Figuring out the carpark for our apartment is always an interesting exercise. Here the parking garage is closed on Sunday, so you get to learn all sorts of codes to get in and out and to open the doors. The classic however, was finding the elevator for the parking garage in a furniture store named the Nood (New Objects of Desire), fortunately open on Sunday. We were certainly surprised when the elevator opened and we were in the middle of the store. Their signs encourage you to become a Noodist.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Interislander and Beyond

The Sea Lions acting just like our cats

Mary Ann as we enter the Sound to Picton

The Interislander

Wellington view from the Interislander

Well, you know me and travel. On with the adventure. We were pretty excited about the ferry trip between the North and South Island. We only arrived about 45 minutes before they began loading, but there were a lot of cars, campers, and trucks there before our arrival. The weather was just incredible, no clouds, warm and brilliant sunshine all day. It couldn’t have been a better day for the crossing. No problem with the wait as we could be outside and had a nice chat with two New Zealand couples that were going biking for four days on the South Island. They were about our age and advised they would be biking on an abandoned railroad right of way, staying in upscale lodges and certainly replacing the calories with good refreshments and fine food.

We were laughing about my telling them about the modest mazda (compared to their very nice sedan with bikes on the back) and one of them pointed out a huge container ship nearby. He explained that the New Zealand car dealers and rental car companies go to Japan to the used car auctions and buy up thousands of “pre-owned” cars for use in New Zealand. He suggested that because of my mileage he suspected it had a lot of kilometers added in Japan.

The loading was interesting as it is loaded and unloaded from the back, so you drive in and then around the bow so you are parked facing the back for quick unloading. There are two car and truck decks. The lower deck is mostly campers and huge eighteen wheeler trucks. Our ship, the Amahura, had 9 decks with four of them above the car decks accessible by the passengers. They have a couple of bars, food court, children’s play areas, movies for adults and kids, gift shop and lots of seating both inside and out. We spent most of our time on the outside decks with Mary Ann taking a lot of photos, along with everyone else. We had some very nice conversations with others at the rail, from Chicago and New Zealand.

Upon arrival in Picton we headed through the Marlbourough (Province) wine country. I thought I was in Central Washington, except that they have thousands of acres (hectares?) of vineyards. We of course thought it was really beautiful, but some might have thought it to be somewhat dry. After you leave Blenheim you reach the Kaikoura Coast which is a beautiful coast line similar to the Northern California Coast. Hmm, it is on the Pacific Ocean isn’t it? For about 100 miles it is ragged rocky coastline and is called the “marine watch.” Sea lions, whales, and dolphins call this home. At several turnouts we stopped and saw a lot of sea lions leading the good life basking in the sun.

The drive from Picton to Christchurch was 212 miles and we arrived about 6:30 p.m. We had no trouble (because of my excellent navigator) finding our apartment and we are now settled in. Tomorrow we begin the exploration of Christchurch and the Canterbury region. Now aren’t they just overdoing this English countryside thing a bit?

Quirky Driving Note: All over New Zealand, and even on the main highway #1, they have not bothered to spend a lot of money on bringing bridges up to standard. It would drive a U.S. highway engineer absolutely bonkers. Rather than having the bridges the same width as the road, or a divided bridge, they just left the decrepit old bridge from the early days when there was no problem crossing with the horse and cart. They handle these ancient one lane bridges with a sign that advises who has the right away. I am amazed that some of the bridges are wide enough to handle the long haul truckers.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

There are a Lot of Things We Have Not Done in NZ

This is not Tom Warren flying off the Auckland Sky Tower!

As mnay of you know, I write regular travel articles for the American Bar Association and monthly articles for the Chelan County Employee Newsletter. The following was written for that purpose. If you have already received it as a part of my travel writing distrubution, maybe you missed part of it the first time. Let's go zorbing!

Whenever you talk to people about their travels to New Zealand you hear about the friendly people, the gorgeous scenery, and all the TRAVEL ADVENTURE opportunities. Now no one has ever called me an adventure guy. I am famous for my quote of “if it is outside, if it is wet, if it is cold, I do not do it.” But that doesn’t mean you should not consider doing “it”, or maybe you have already done “it.” I thought I would give you a taste of some of the opportunities we have not done, and in fact which even scare the Hell out of me thinking about some of them. By the way, from my review of the promotion materials and websites, being real adventurous is not cheap, so bring lots of money. The following is just a sampling from the North Island.

The bungy jump off the Sky Tower in Auckland: Okay, now visualize the Space Needle. Then visualize jumping off. The jump here is 630 feet with all of Auckland watching you from the street. Yikes! The Kiwi’s seem to have a thing about bungy jumping. They claim to have invented it.

The Skywalk around the Sky Tower: Again visualize the Space Needle, but this time you are walking around the roof on the OUTSIDE! Not for those with fear of heights it would seem.

Go sailing on an authentic America’s Cup yacht: Now I might be able to handle this, but why? If you are a sailor it would be quite a thrill. They take about 20 people at a time and I think they want you to work for goodness sake. Pricey however for a couple of hours.

A forest adventure with 8 different woodsy courses north of Auckland: This is kind of a challenge ropes course for the really eager people. I was always successful in avoiding those employee group feel good confidence team builder things in the U.S., so why would I ever do it in NZ.

Gondolas and luge rides in Rotorua: Now gondolas, trams, and sky-rides I can handle. The three wheel luge looks like fun but I couldn’t get Mary Ann interested. I have noticed they have one in Queenstown on the South Island, so I have another chance.

Kayaking with a thermal pool swim at the end: I am sure I could Kayak…for awhile. This sport is available all over New Zealand on the many rivers and lakes. Opportunities abound for the beginners to the extreme wild water kayaking, and sea kayaking.

Zorbing: This is another one that the Kiwi’s claim to have invented. I am sure you should not eat before you do it. The object is to roll down an 820 foot slope inside a huge plastic bubble, with or without water inside. To make sure you break or injure yourself, you can also do it with your friends along.

For those of you who want to just keep active with the usual stuff without a lot of danger, you can find horseback riding, mountain biking, white water rafting, golf, organized walking (for goodness sake!), four wheel drive adventures, and flightseeing (helicopters and floatplanes) just about everywhere. We really have done a lot of things in New Zealand, so if you want to see what we have done, you best check out my travel blog at:
© Thomas C. Warren 2008