THE ARGONAUT The South Island by Car Feb 18, 2015

THE SOUTH ISLAND

Crossing Cook’s Strait (Jan 20):  We left Wellington on the 8:30 AM ferry to Picton, a lovely little port on the north coast of the South Island just 13 miles across Cook’s Strait. It was a clear, sunny day with calm seas (which can get very angry during the winter season) making the 3 hour trip delightful. The ship weaved in and out of the lovely, picturesque islands which are in reality the tops of mountains that extend from north to south in New Zealand. They are covered in green grass or forests, depending on the microenvironment, and the gorges in the steep hillsides provided little bays, some of which had a building or two marking a town’s site. The ocean was a brilliant blue, and everything was clean and clear. It reminded us of our trip through Desolation Sound in British Columbia aboard Odyssey in 2011.

Driving to Abel Tasman Park: We disembarked in Picton and picked up our new rental car. From Picton we drove west for about 4 hours to a little town of Pohara on the Golden Bay, the western gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park. The two lane highway took us through part of the Marlborough wine region on the north coast. The geography here is similar to northern California, with broad valleys bordered by low mountains that are covered with forests. The famous vineyards of Cloudy Bay and Oyster Bay, among others, are spread out across the valley along with large cattle farms. The flat plane of the valley floor is broken up by wind breaks of high hedges, Lombardy Poplars, or rows of pine trees. As we drove along we eventually came to the end of the valley, then ascended a windy, hair-pinned curved road over the mountains to the next valley. The drive over the mountains provided stunning pastoral vistas: views of rivers flowing through the valleys and herds of animals grazing lazily in the warm sunshine. The roadside was carpeted in colorful wildflowers of orange, yellow, and purple. We stopped at the little town of Havelock for lunch and as we entered the café we spotted a couple we knew: Leslie and Don Brown from Trueblue, a 65 ft. Oyster sailing yacht we met in Papeete and again in Vava’U. What a surprise: they were touring the country by motorcycle! After a nice lunch including a bucket of Green Lip Clams each the size of an egg, we were off again.

As we continued along, the highway began to skirt Tasman Bay at the city of Nelson, an artist colony and resort town at the eastern entrance to the park. Here golden sand beaches were the largest I had ever seen, and people by the score took full advantage of the fabulous sunny weather and ocean surf. An hour or so more down the road brought us to Takaka a few more miles further to our hotel in Pohara on the shores of the Golden Bay. Our hotel was a nice little spot run by a New Hampshire transplant and his partner. From this base we explored the park, but more importantly Cape Farewell and the Spit. 

Cape Farewell and the Spit (Jan 21): Cape Farewell is the northwestern most point on the South Island and it is named for the countless seafarers who bade farewell to their loved ones as they went to sea. The cape itself is a beautiful promontory of greywacke rock, and the “Spit” is a finger of sand that extends 36 km. north and encloses the Golden Bay by its eastern flank. The Spit is growing, as it has for thousands of years. It was formed by sand carried north by ocean currents from points south on the South Island’s coast. The sand comes from the erosion of New Zealand’s Southern Alps. The Southern Alps are made of rock that has been pushed up by tectonic plate forces as the Australian Plate folds under the Pacific Plate. The plates slide against one another: the resulting fault is the boundary of the plates and can be seen from space as a rift line falling on the western side of the Southern Alps and extending in a straight line from northeast to southwest. The fault is often the site of large lakes lying within the mountains of New Zealand. On the western side of the fault the mountains are made of granite or dolomite from the Australian-Indian Plate, on the eastern side the rocks are greywacke, sandstone, limestone, rock and mud or sea floor strata from the Pacific Plate. Ancient creatures from the Cambrian are fossilized in some rocks, while others date from the Earth’s original Gowanda continent a billion or more years ago. The last ice age ended about ten thousand years ago, but for perhaps one hundred thousand years, massive glaciers two or three miles thick crushed the mountains and carved out New Zealand as we see it today. The glaciers ground the stone and as the glaciers melted rivers formed that brought the stone to the ocean’s shore. The glaciers piled up huge moraines that radiate outward from the central mountains and look like mountains themselves. The ancient riverbeds of gravel, perhaps 400 feet deep, formed the plains that are the agricultural heartland of the country. The plains of the south island are largest in the east and southern portions of the islands, and are narrower on the western side of the mountains. When driving around New Zealand, one of the most fascinating things I have found is that the geologic history of the world is all laid out before you, with different ages apparent around almost every turn. It is all simply breathtaking!

Plate tectonics is forcing the mountains up about one inch per year, but erosion diminishes them by about the same amount. The tops of many mountains are huge gravel fields. As the mountains are eroded by wind and weather sand is created, the mountain streams carry the sand to the Tasman Sea, sea currents carry the sand north to Cape Farewell where a counter current causes the sand to be deposited forming the Spit.

Our tour was conducted on a large bus especially customized to be a four wheel drive, oversized dune buggy. Our tour lasted about eight hours; we drove 30 km down the Spit to an old light house. There the tour operators provided tea and snacks as we walked around the enclosure that once was home to the lighthouse keepers. We made several other exploratory stops along the way to examine interesting things like Fur Seals, the Gannet colony, and to climb the beautiful dunes and explore features of the beach. The life along the Spit was very interesting, particularly the bird life, such as seeing Oyster Catchers and Gannets. Touring the Cape Farewell Spit was one of the most interesting things we have done.

Driving to Arthur’s Pass (Jan 23): The drive from tiny Pohara on the northern coast to Wilderness Lodge high up in Arthur’s Pass was a nine hour trip across the northwestern quadrant of the South Island. It started with a 20 km winding trip across the Arthur Range of Mountains which are high and very beautiful with lush, verdant greenery. Wildflowers carpet the sides of the road and large limestone massifs inspire awe as we whipped around hairpin curves avoiding giant double tandem lorries. The scenery was remarkable. We descended the mountains into the Tapawera River Valley to find large dairy and sheep herds grazing on beautiful pastureland. We followed Highway 6 over hill and dale through the valley for several hours until we reached the coast of the Tasman Sea at Westport. Along the way we picked up Simon, a young (24) lad from Salzburg, France, who had left home after his mother died of cancer three years ago. His father died at sea when he was age 13. Simon had traveled first to Kazakhstan, then to India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam before coming to New Zealand. He was a very intelligent young man, but he said he had no reason to return to Europe or France (as he seemed to have no one to love or care for him there). He told us of his experiences twice being robbed of his backpack at knife point and being cheated by temporary employers or hostel owners. He asked me all sorts of questions about investing his inheritance of $20K euros. It seemed so sad to us that he wanders the world by himself without anyone to care about him or know where he is. One thing we did learn from Simon: backpackers don’t shower much and Rebecca was forced to keep the A/C on full blast to provide relief for her delicate olfactory senses! 

At Westport we turned south and followed Highway 6 to Greymouth. This part of the South Island is covered in rainforest. Here they get plenty of rain, 6 -7 meters of rain per year. It rains 25 days a month here, but fortunately we are traveling during a dry spell, so the sky is clear and beautiful. The road winds around the shoreline with the mountains and beautiful, lush fern forest on our left and the Tasman Sea on our right. The sea water is a beautiful grey-blue color unlike any I have ever seen. Perhaps the sun reflects off the sand bottom or the suspended sand in the water being carried north as I described above. As we drove south we came to the “Pancake Rocks”, a very unusual rock formation jutting out into the sea. The rocks look like chimneys of very thin stacks of pancakes. We spent an hour here and it was fascinating. A picture is worth a thousand words, so I will direct you to the website picture gallery to see them.

An hour or so further down the road brought us to Greymouth, a major crossroad on the island: it connects Christchurch on the east coast with the west coast via both rail and highway. At this point we bade farewell to Simon and turned east up highway 73 toward the little town of Arthur’s Pass and the Wilderness Lodge. 

New Zealand Roads: In New Zealand there aren’t any super highways, just two lane roads that were built in the 60’s. Both the scale of the roads and their engineering are very basic. The construction is gravel over bitumen. As the whole country is mountainous, rivers and creeks transect the land and bridges are frequently required. Bridges in New Zealand are almost always one lane, and a sign on the road tells you which direction has the right of way. The roads are narrow, and the bridges are often narrower. Roads are very curvaceous: straight sections rarely extend for more than ½ km. When driving up or down a mountain the road follows every bend, twist, and curve of the mountain side and they are steep, too, sometimes with 160 slopes. Some curves have signs reducing the speed limit to 10 km! That’s how sharp the turns can be. Mountain scenery is fabulous anywhere, but these roads help the traveler get up close and personal with the mountains.

The Wilderness Lodge (Jan23): Arthur’s Pass is the only pass across the Southern Alps in the central part of the South Island. The Alps are 10,000 ft. or more in elevation and the peaks are snow capped all year around. They are beautiful, spellbinding, majestic peaks of rock. The western slope is forested and green, but the eastern slope and the Dunstan Range to the east are much dryer and arid. In fact 60% of New Zealand is arid or semi-arid land. The drive from Greymouth to the Wildness Lodge is almost halfway across the island. The lodge is a combination sheep station, cattle ranch, and eco lodge. The sheep station raises Merino Sheep, noted as the world’s finest grade of wool. As we were shown about the station and introduced to several sheep, we were told that a human hair is 60 microns, carpet wool is about 25 microns, but Merino Wool is just 18 microns or less, making it very fine indeed. It is used in Smart Wool and Ice Breaker brand garments.

When we arrived at the lodge we were met by Michael who manages the property and is the son of the owner; he was very friendly and helpful. The lodge offers hiking and kayaking as primary activities, and includes guided morning and evening hikes in the nearby Beech Forest. A five course dinner is served after a social hour in the evening, and a full breakfast is prepared in the morning. The first day we took a half-day kayaking trip to a mountain lake and packed a picnic lunch to enjoy on the shore. The next day we tramped (in NZ you can tramp or trek, but you can also walk or hike) about the Beech Forest with a guide, and later in the day we drove to tiny Arthur’s Pass Village for lunch. We enjoyed the company of fellow travelers, Margo and Paul of Saskatchewan, who were very good company and experienced travelers with whom we traded travel recommendations. The third day was ostensibly my birthday; ostensibly because it depended on which hemisphere I chose to use as the time to be observed, so I chose both! How lucky to celebrate a really big birthday literally at the top of the world (in the Southern Alps) and feeling that it is a metaphor for the way my life has turned out. Anyway, we tramped for about 90 minutes across a paddock (pasture) to the Mountain Gorge Trail, which took us up a riverbed and though a Silver Beech Forest. The forest was graced with many types of ferns, moss, lichens, fungi, tiny colorful textured seedlings, and beautiful large trees. The riverbed was strewn with rocks and boulders with a light grey coloration and uniform appearance through which ran a gurgling stream of cold, pristine mountain water. It was so lovely – I am running out of adjectives to describe the beauty of New Zealand – it is hard to imagine or describe. What a wonderful way to spend a birthday! After a wonderful dinner and chorus of Happy Birthday, the next day we departed the lodge for the Franz Josef Glacier, about four hours to our south. 

One night while we were having dinner, Rebecca became alarmed by the sight of not one, but two mice chasing about near the kitchen. She asked that something be done but Alan, the guide, said that the forest was experiencing a population explosion of mice and nothing could be done. Mice were everywhere! This didn’t comfort Rebecca at all, but the next day at the hotel in Franz Josef we bumped into a couple who were with us at the Wilderness Lodge. The lady told us that mice had gotten into her room and tried to open a bag of nuts she had near her suitcase. She apparently tried to rouse her husband to handle the problem, but he just turned over and went back to sleep. She thought she chased the entire family of mice out of the room, but the next morning she found one in bed with her! Later in the day when she arrived at the Franz Josef hotel she found another live mouse in her daughter’s suitcase and was absolutely outraged! She wasn’t too happy with her husband either! We asked if she asked for a refund from the lodge, but she hadn’t and didn’t know the price of the room. When we told her, she immediately got in touch with the lodge and they refunded her the cost of the rooms. He husband, who was a good natured fellow, also took a hit.

The Franz Josef Glacier (Jan 27): Franz Josef is a little faux, alpinesque tourist town located south along the coast in the rainforest region. Here tourists flock to see a glacier and we were no exception. It was a five hour drive from the lodge, and it was also January 26 in the western hemisphere. I couldn’t put it off any longer, it was my birthday for sure. We checked into a nice hotel that offered a second story view of the rainforest and high speed internet as well. Wow! Back in civilization. Rebecca lined up a surprise spa afternoon for me complete with massage, pedicure, and bar service. It was completely relaxing and topped off with a cigar, champagne, and a wonderful dinner. It’s good to have a birthday.

White Herons: The next day we drove to Whataroa and the White Heron Bird Sanctuary. There are only about 200 snowy White Herons in New Zealand (an endangered bird) and they only nest along a 50 meter stretch of the Whataroa River deep within a virgin rainforest sanctuary. We took a tour bus to the river and then a hair raising jet boat run to a boat landing 16 km into the sanctuary. Once off the boat, we walked another 500 meters or so through the rainforest until we reached an observation blind; from there we could see across the river to the White Herons on their nests with many hatchlings under their care. These are beautiful birds with special mating plumage of delicate thin white feathers in full display. It felt like we were in a secret, special place in the wild kingdom reserved for just a lucky few, and we were glad to be here.

The Glacier: That afternoon we took a two hour walk to the glacier. It has been receding about 70 inches a day, so in a few years it will exist only at the top of the mountain and may not be visible from below. At one time it filled the valley and extended far out into the Tasman Sea. It has receded about a mile in the last ten years. The little village of Franz Josef is literally abuzz with the sound of helicopters ferrying tourists for $329 a pop up to the clouds for a bird’s eye view.

The next morning we broke camp and headed toward Queenstown, the tourist mecca of the South Island. But first we had a two day stopover at another Wilderness Lodge on Lake Moeraki, this time to explore the costal rainforest.

Lake Moreaki Lodge (Jan 29): This lodge is owned by the same family that owned the lodge at Arthur’s Pass. Gerry McSweeny, Michael’s father and lodge owner, sought us out for a personal visit, perhaps owing to the mouse issue. Gerry is a very nice guy and during our conversation asked me if I had seen the book on Michigan in the library. He then went on to name a few places in Michigan like the Mackinaw Bridge and the Wolverines of the University of Michigan. I told him I hadn’t seen the book and I inquired as to whether he had ever traveled to Michigan. No, he said, but he had a guest from Michigan who came to the lodge three times with his young wife Cathy…his name was Bo Schembechler! 

The lodge was located in the rainforest, and Rebecca and I spent a few hours one morning on a tramp through the rainforest to the ocean. It was a walk we will never forget. The forest looked like a set for The Ring Trilogy or The Hobbit- mystical and mysterious. It is damp, as you might expect a rain forest to be. The canopy trees are large, 1,000 year old pine trees that stand 150ft. or more above the forest floor. In their limbs are mosses, lichens and all manner of ferns and fungi. Lower down live the giant tree ferns, perhaps 20 feet tall, with their fronds spread out like giant umbrellas. Then Beech trees and their seedlings, along with what we call ostrich ferns and other tropical plants and vines occupy the forest. Of course many ancient trees have fallen and are now part of new life emerging from the forest floor, which is covered in sphagnum moss as thick as a carpet. Nestled in amongst the plants are little flowers, or emerging ferns bright with a lighter shade of green. The name of the path we followed was the Monro Beach Trail and after an hour of walking up hill and then down to the beach, we reached the Tasman Sea. This is a beach were Penguins come to breed and raise their young during their mating season. However, when we were there the only life we saw were tiny Sand Flies and they are as nasty as any swarm of hungry Mosquitos. 

Our Drive to Queenstown (Jan 31): The next morning we got up and going after bidding farewell to Gerry and Ann and the guests we had visited with during our stay. Our drive to Queenstown was 265 km. It began with a two hour trip through the rainforest of the Mt. Aspiring National Park, a World Heritage Site, on the west coast of the South Island. The scenery was once again spectacular. At about the 90 km mark the road turned inland as it crossed the Southern Alps. On the western slope the vegetation is verdant and lush. As we ascended we reached a point where the vegetation turned tawny brown and shrubs replaced trees. Some of the mountainsides were barren and very steep. As we drove along, huge sweeping vistas of rock ledges and outcrops on the mountains came into view. The mountains enclosed surprisingly large lakes some of which were over 50 km long (Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea) which, as I mentioned above, are the faults marking the point of contact between the Pacific and Australian Plates. As we progressed we entered the Otago region of New Zealand which is noted for these beautiful conditions and, like Napa and Sonoma Valleys, supports a thriving fruit and viticulture industry. Occasionally we would see high fences enclosing a paddock (pasture), within which were Red Deer that are being raised for the venison market. They are much larger than our White Tail variety, and are offered on the menus throughout New Zealand. 

Queenstown (Feb 1): After about 6 hours of driving though some of the most spectacular scenery on earth we arrived at Queenstown, located in middle of the Southern Alps. The little town is situated on Lake Wakatipu, a crystal clear lake about 60 km long and surrounded by mountains of differing shapes including rock massifs, striking pyramidal shapes, and high mountains that slope to the lake. The lake itself is in the basin of the rift formed by the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates. Some of the mountain sides are arid, some are forested, some are semi-rainforest, and some are covered in shrub: it all depends on the micro climate. The town itself hangs on the hillsides around a bay: it is a lovely setting featuring a spectacular view of the snow covered, rocky peaks of the Remarkable Mountains.

Queenstown is a resort for vacationers from Wellington and Auckland who flock here particularly during the winter ski season and the summer holiday period in January. The hills are covered with very nice holiday homes and the area near the lake has copious numbers of small hotels and condos. The town is also a sort of “Fort Lauderdale” for Chinese kids from Beijing, who can take direct flights to Christchurch and then hop local planes to Queenstown. The 18 -30 year set likes to party hearty here during the Chinese New Year’s celebration in mid-February. They love the town center with its shops and restaurants that cater to the inexperienced.

We stayed in a lovely hotel right on the banks of the lake facing the Remarkable Mountains and their unforgettable vista. At many hotels breakfast is included with the room tariff, and that was the case with this hotel. Rebecca and I came down to breakfast the morning after we had arrived and sitting near us were four scruffy looking men in their late 60’s; they really looked “rode hard and put away wet”. Tattoos, long stringy grey hair, earrings, and cloths that looked as though they were carefully selected for a particular “look”. Then I remembered that we passed a huge number of cars and busses parked in a field near a stage that had been set up near a hillside that could be used for an amphitheater. Hundreds of people were waiting in the hot sun for the show to start. What was the attraction? None other than Three Dog Night (e.g., Just an Old Fashion Love Song), and yes, these dudes were sitting right next to us for breakfast talking about stage lighting! 

Milford Sound and the Fiordlands: The next day we took a tour to Milford Sound, which is really a fiord because it was created by a glacier not a river. Our trip was by bus, which we chose because we were told the drive to the sound was very dangerous, but apparently our advisors were not familiar with what we had already driven through. Anyway, we took the bus tour and it included overnight accommodations aboard a small ship designed for fiord tours. The bus drive was about 6 hours and provided a trip with out-of-this-world scenery. Queenstown is surrounded by mountains. As we traveled south, the landscape broadened; the mountains spread out to a broad plane glacial plane. The fields became flat and the mountains subsided into rolling hills except at the boundary of the plane. Large herds of sheep, cattle, and deer were contentedly grazing on lush green pastures on hillsides and mountain slopes. It was a perfect, if not a heavenly, pastoral scene.

After several photo and comfort stops the bus finally made it to the Milford Sound National Park, a World Heritage Site. The afternoon was cloudy and rainy, but at the time we didn’t know it was perfect for seeing the fiords. As we ascended the torturously curved roads into the clouds only 3,000 feet above sea level, we entered the world of the glacier and some of the most spectacular formations on the planet. Huge mountains perhaps 10,000 feet above sea level had been literally carved, cut and ground into the sharp gorges and fiords that we entered. The mountains rose vertically from the floor of the canyons or the sea straight up to the clouds. Rain fell and that which fell onto the mountains was transformed into veils of falling water in hundreds of falls over miles of vertical mountain massifs. When the rain stopped the waterfalls disappeared. 

We spent the night aboard the Mariner, a 100 ft. vessel designed to accommodate 100 tourists on just this sort of tour. The ship took us about three miles out into the fiord, stopping at different places and positioning the bow into one of the giant waterfalls so that the water tumbled onto the ship. Later the ship anchored in a little bay and dinner was served. Our tablemates, George and Mary were from England and he was head of Britain’s fifteen nuclear power plants. He had just retired. It was interesting to talk with him about the controversy surrounding nuclear power: Germany’s recent decision to close of all of its plants, China’s plan to build hundreds of them, and Japan’s Fukushima disaster. He feels the technology was safe but Japan is a closed society in many ways, including the fact that Japan does not participate in international professional groups or permit oversight bodies to help them manage their reactors. This led to the disaster and cover-up.

The next day the sun came out and revealed a spectacular day; we got to see the glorious mountain scenery but this time it was in the full sun. By late afternoon we had arrived back at our very nice hotel in time for a lovely meal in their very fine restaurant. 

Queenstown has a downtown area, perhaps a bit more developed than most towns, but nevertheless typical of New Zealand towns. There are no shopping centers like we have in North America, rather their city centers are like the main streets we used to have: small shops, for the most part locally owned, with all sorts of businesses occupying store fronts. Of course there are lots of restaurants and bars in this resort city.

Queenstown to Christchurch (Feb 5): The drive to Christchurch was a long one, about 400 km across the backbone of New Zealand. I thought it would be mostly mountain roads, but it turned out to be smooth sailing once we got over the Southern Alps. Unlike the green rainforest and lush grassland along the western coast, the Otego and Canterbury regions are semi-arid grasslands that look a lot like northern California in some places and like Nevada in others. As we drove eastward the mountains turned to large rolling hills with the most interesting formations, then to flatlands created by the glacial rivers millenniums ago. High in the mountains were the large sheep stations, and as the angularity of the land subsided, cattle herds predominated. New Zealand has about 75 million head of cattle, and 45 million head of sheep.

Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island with a population of 350,000. In both 2010 and 2011 it suffered magnitude 8 earthquakes. The damage was horrific: the entire city center was destroyed, including priceless Gothic Revival buildings, modern fifteen or twenty story office buildings and hotels. Many large buildings are still standing, but are surrounded by fencing to keep people away from them in case they were to fall. The Anglican Cathedral, which dominates Cathedral Square in the center of town, is now partially destroyed and in ruins. The residential areas were not spared: about 20% of the homes were destroyed. In the Fukushima earthquake Japan suffered a loss equivalent to 3% of its GDP. In the case of Christchurch, New Zealand is estimated to have suffered losses valued at 10% of its GDP. Despite the destruction Christ’s College, with its beautiful Gothic Revival buildings constructed of grey stone walls and limestone window and door sills, remains. These buildings adjoin the beautiful and world renowned botanical gardens that lie beside the Avon River as it meanders through the city. We enjoyed the morning walking through the gardens and the afternoon walking around the rest of the center city.

The next day we took the Transalpine Train across Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth and back. While this was a somewhat redundant trip given that we had spent several days in the Pass at Wilderness Lodge, it afforded one last look at these fabulous mountains from a different perspective. 

Christchurch to Marlborough (Feb 8): It is a four hour drive north along the rocky, picturesque coast to the little city of Blenheim, heart of the New Zealand wine industry. Here are thousands of acres of grape vines under cultivation producing the famous Sauvignon Blanc grape among others. Names like Cloudy Bay and Oyster Bay, so familiar to we wine drinkers, dot the countryside. Touring and tasting the produce occupied us for most of a day and we learned, among other things, that the first vine was planted here in 1979. In just thirty-five short years a colossus was established. 

We stayed at the Straw Lodge, a small 21 acre organic vineyard and B&B in the middle of the valley. Trudy and Barry Gainford bought the farm last year and work it with their son-in-law. They immigrated to NZ twenty-one years ago from South Africa. Barry is an optometrist turned grape farmer, and he and his son-in-law (formerly an accountant) now run the operation. Their first harvest was last year. Barry grows Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Of the 21 acres 16.5 is used for farming, the other acreage is used for roads and buildings. Each cultivated acre produces about 1 metric ton of grapes, which he can sell for about $18,500. Barry told me that he can bottle the wine and sell it for around $20-30/bottle, and it would cost about $4 a bottle to have it processed including the grapes, processing, and the bottle. Each bottle takes 1 kg of grapes, so his property could produce about 16,500 bottles of wine. The profit is potentially much higher before considering marketing expenses. So the whole key to higher profits is to leverage some sort of marketing plan for his small winery in conjunction with other growers.

One morning Trudy asked me if I had ever heard of “green eggs and ham”. What father hasn’t heard of that? I thought it was just a fantasy of Dr. Zeuss, but Trudy told me there is a breed of chicken that lays a greenish egg called an Araucana Chicken and Trudy had a few. She brought me the egg and compared it to a brown egg, and indeed it was a greenish blue. It was about the size of a duck’s egg and very delicious I might add. So indeed, I had Green Eggs and Ham that morning at the Straw Lodge! 

During the day we toured the little towns in the area, lunched at a winery and tramped a trail along the Queen Charlotte Sound. It was a lovely time and very interesting. Our tour of the South Island now complete, we rose early the next day, enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at the Straw Lodge, drove to Picton, took the ferry back to Wellington and the highway north toward Auckland. 

Kingsgate and Lake Taupo (Feb 12 -14): Our first stop that night was in the town of Kingsgate on the Wanganui River at the Sea of Tasman coast, after a three hour drive. It was a good size town with an interesting main street, on the cliff across the river overlooking the town stood a very large, brown stone tower about 130 feet high that commemorated the soldiers of WWI, captioned the Great War. 

The next day we drove about four hours northeast to the town of Taupo, situated on the coast of New Zealand’s largest lake. It was a very interesting drive across tortured ground that is the fault rift marketing the boundary of the Indo-Australian Plate and the Pacific Plate. As we neared Lake Taupo we could see one of three snow caped volcanos that mark this site as a World Heritage Site. Eventually we could see all three volcanos lined up in a row, with Lake Taupo in the same rift line as the volcanos. It was one of the most interesting and gorgeous geologic sights I have ever seen, and desolate as well. Two of the three volcanoes are cone shaped, about 7,000 feet high, and formed of a purple brown rock. There was nothing living on the sides of these mountains. The third volcano was much bigger and was crowned with eight glaciers. It was massive. Surrounding them was hundreds of square miles of colorful arid landscape. It is seldom that one can see one of the active sites that is currently forming our planet. 

We stayed at the Lake Taupo Lodge, a lovely five room small hotel that has hosted Barbra Streisand, Burt Reynolds, and other celebrities. Lake Taupo and environs is one of the premier trout fishing spots in the world, with Rainbow and Brown Trout so large they look like Salmon. I am hoping to return in April for a taste of New Zealand fly fishing.

A Few Miscellaneous Observations:

  • Most homes are small and unpretentious, I would guess 1,400-2,000 sq. ft.
  • There are no billboards along the roads of NZ, making it even more beautiful
  • There are a lot of Japanese cars here. Like Jamaica, the Japanese sell their off-lease cars here at a reduced cost. (If you recall from a previous blog, Samoa changed from left hand to right hand drive to take advantage of the Japanese used car market.)
  • There are a lot of foreign kids backpacking and doing summer work in NZ. They can easily obtain a 1 year work/travel visa here. Unfortunately, we don’t do this in the U.S.
  • The Kiwis use the words “pop” as in pop in for a moment, or, I’ll pop around this afternoon, and “sort it out” as in ”Call your insurance agent and he will sort it out for you.” They often use the word sort when there is nothing to sort out, like:” I left the key in the room.” The hotel clerk reply’s, “that’s OK, I’ll sort it out.” The Kiwis pop and sort all kinds of things all day long! 
  • Kiwis’ do not have a tort provision in their legal code, so you cannot be sued for negligence. This has some unexpected ramifications, for example, tubs and showers are slippery, and pedestrians are in real danger as drivers will run you over if you are in their way.

We will post some pictures as soon as we have some bandwidth.

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