Archive for August, 2007

by Jim
on Aug 31st, 2007


Days 4-5

I meant Taupo to be a cruisy part of the trip. Taupo is your typical lakeside holiday town filled with all the lakeside stuff. The lake is a reason for a lot of cafes, restaurants and hotels to collect, though there are quite a few adventure activities that are based here as well (skydiving, gliders, dirt bikes and so forth). My interests were R&R, and I booked a decent hotel for two nights instead of the usual YHA. Mission accomplished: a lot of hanging around, reading, and basically chilling out.

I did head out on a hike that was a partial success. Unlike most of the many immaculate Dept. of Conservation trails we’ve been on in NZ, this trail was really just a rough path up a hill that’s on Maori land (not a DOC site). It was a pretty tough hike, and I’m surprised the LP guide was so casual about it–or maybe I’m just that out of shape. You first cross some farmland and then start heading up a steep slope. Once you enter the woods, the trail narrows to a mud path and winds all over the place. After a good hour of solid uphill climbing I was rewarded with immaculate views such as this. I pressed on for a while more, but pretty soon the weather got worse and the trail was reduced to a muddy mess. I might have been 2 minutes or 2 hours from the top–I have no idea. The trail was completely unmarked and no one else was around. Mission aborted. I headed back to the hotel and cleaned up my filthy clothes.

The rest of the day was pretty much spent driving around. There are all sort of little sites just off the road. Huka Falls, Craters on the Moon, the Wairakei geothermal power station, a little shop that sells honey and has beehive in plexiglas, etc. I closed out the night with a fine linguini con scallops dinner and a view of the total lunar eclipse that just happened to be visible in these parts.

Tomorrow morning I’m off to Napier….

(P.S. I’m noticing that my late 2004 edition of Loney Planet is chock full of restaurants that no longer exist. Turnover here must be high. Get a recent book if you visit.)

Huka Falls

Tauhara track

Amazing views from Mt. Tauhara

Bees, up close

by Jim
on Aug 31st, 2007

Good Luck, All Blacks

header_footer.jpgThe All Blacks just departed for France amidst much fanfare to play in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, which starts in about 8 days. The US is in it as well but I have absolutely no connection to that team, so I’ll pull for the Kiwis in this event. (They’re a much better bet, BTW.)

Have a look at the main World Cup homepage for more information.

by Jim
on Aug 30th, 2007


Day 3

Rotorua is probably the tourist trap/destination on the north island. But that isn’t without good reason. I found the city very interesting and enjoyable, despite the huge number of hotels, resorts, minigolf, souvenir shops, and so forth.

Rotorua is located on a very active geothermal field which is one of it’s main claims to fame. There are steam vents and boiling mud pools scattered around the city. They can burn you so most of these have a little fence surrounding them, but otherwise they’re just left as is. There are even such vents right in the middle of the fairway on a golf course I drove by! The evening I arrived in town, I took a stroll through a city park and marveled at how bizarre it all looked, what with swing sets and billowing steam in the same scene. The downside of all this steam and boiling mud: the city reeks of sulphur, smelling basically like rotten eggs most of the time. Some areas are particularly bad, and at first it can just about drive you nuts when you can’t escape the stench whether in a store, your car, or anywhere else. Thankfully my YHA room was paneled such that the eggs were overpowered by cedar.

(Note: I’ve not been to geothermal areas before, and I was wondering how they’re managed in the States. Are they denoted as hazards? Comments welcome.)

In addition to the geothermal sites, there is a large Maori population (take that both ways) around town, as well as a wealth of Maori cultural attractions. I visited Te Puia for a tour of the Maori museum, famous geysers, and a traditional Maori dance. It was a great time and I quite liked the Maori dance. If I had it to do again I’d sign up for the dance/dinner which I’m sure would be great.

I visited the German-styled Rotorua Museum and Art Gallery. This used to be a bath house in the early 1900s and half of the building has been converted into a museum of the bath facilities. I got a kick out of the large menu of treatments that could be used to solve just about any ailment through various combinations of hot, cold, mud, massage, electricity, etc. I can at least imaging how one’s skin might be helped by a mud bath, but fixing kidney problems or a ‘weak heart’??? I don’t buy it..

Lastly, I went to an attraction which was probably geared a bit more towards kids but was nonetheless really interesting: a show about sheep. Since I would never get this on the agenda if I was traveling with anyone else I decided to seize the opportunity. It was a good show, and now I know all about 19 different types of sheep. I even got to see a dog trial, which is basically commanding a dog to herd sheep through a serious of gates. (I heard this used to be a staple of the Sunday morning agriculture shows here in NZ.) Flame on.

With that I leave Rotorua. A full one day is probably enough IMHO. Off to Taupo…






by Jim
on Aug 29th, 2007

A Famous Photo at Last

You may remember that a while back I was sent a note requesting permissions to use one of my photos in a magazine. Unfortunately, it was subsequently dropped from the final edit.

Just the other day one of Angela’s Auckland photos was selected for inclusion in an online accommodations directory. You can see it at Schmap. Just scroll down to Auckland City YHA and hover over that listing. One of the photos will be credited to “Kalafut” (due to the Flickr account name).

That’s where I stayed a few days ago as well.

by Jim
on Aug 27th, 2007

Auckland City

Days 1-2

I departed Christchurch on the first flight to Auckland and landed just after 8am. This was to be my only full day in Auckland so I wanted as much of it as I could get. I picked up my run-of-the mill rental and headed into the city.

I thought I was lost a number of times while following the “City Center” signs as I meandered through the surrounding residential suburbs. The route in from the airport basically wound through little towns that were situated upon rolling hills. It was unlike the typical large city approach on a major freeway with the skyline in the distance. And then after coming around yet another bend… there’s the Sky Tower, the harbor, and I’m about two minutes’ drive from downtown.

img_3190.jpgI didn’t really have much of an agenda for Auckland. Most, if not all, of the Kiwis I know recommended not even entering the city. I couldn’t in good conscience skip it altogether, so I allowed one day. My first to-do was food: I needed a proper breakfast, and Lonely Planet recommended a small pedestrian-only street called Vulcan Place. I was expecting a bit more prominent a plaza and managed to walk right by it twice. There are a couple of blocks worth of little pubs and restaurants, and as LP promised there were a few serving breakfast. My choice was the very hearty Moorish Eggs, served with kefta meatballs and Turkish bread. I’d give it a 6/10, though it suited me fine as I was starving.

Looking through LP there were only a few attractions that stood out for me, and a number of them tended to be museums. I didn’t really want to start on such a slow note and opted for sailing instead. (Auckland is the “City of Sails” after all.) SailNZ runs cruises on the harbor in a real America’s Cup boat. It’s pricey, but the novelty seemed worth it. It was a decent cruise, but it wasn’t a good day for sailing. There was simply no wind. The boat nonetheless went, and we had an informative and entertaining trip. Most of the NZ tourist attractions are very well done in that regard.

img_3195.jpg img_3199.jpg img_3197.jpg

So… this is where the Auckland City portion of my trip starts to fall over a bit. After the cruise, the crew invited us for some beers in a nearby pub. That would have been fine, but I met a couple of amicable guys on the boat (including the COO of Bank of New Zealand who just moved to Auckland from Sydney) and it turned out to be a full night in the pub. Here’s the short version of the next 12 hours: left the car (and accidentally my toiletries) downtown, had a painful night in the mediocre youth hostel, got kicked out in the morning against my will to sleep in, found the car (no damage 🙂 ), found the $40 parking violation 😥 , and finished my sleep in the car down by Viaduct harbor.

Having blown through half of day two, the time and interest in Auckland museums etc. was well and truly gone, so I chose to hit the road and head to Rotorua, which is where this will pick up…

by Jim
on Aug 24th, 2007

The Storm Before the Calm

(Note: this post was written especially for Ngaira, who called to say that she didn’t want any more “boring political stuff” showing up on this blog.)

I’m on holiday starting tomorrow. Aside from the 500m walk between the international and domestic terminals at Auckland airport, I’ve not seen any of the north island of New Zealand. So I’ll fly into Auckland tomorrow morning to start a week-long journey by car which will end in Wellington. I’ve booked hostels and have my route roughly planned:

View Larger Map

But before I can leave I have to prep the house for the movers who will be showing up just about when I’m returning. I’m not actually relocating for a while, but the atrocious sea shipment schedule has pulled everything forward a bit. (11 weeks?? I assumed the container would actually be put on a boat and not just set adrift, but I was wrong.) This premove sorting seemed like a pretty manageable task before I started, but now some four hours later with not much to show for my efforts, I’ve decided it’s a pain.

By this time tomorrow I’ll be relaxing in Auckland, but for now the piles of stuff are calling me back to work.

With any luck I’ll be able to post from the north island next week.

by Jim
on Aug 20th, 2007

If you had $50 to spare.

I just donated $50 to Ron Paul 2008. I, however, don’t know who I will support in the 2008 election. This $50 was paid by me on behalf of a colleague and friend who cannot submit a donation as he’s not a US citizen (thereby making it against FEC rules).

I find this support pretty impressive. It not only reinforces to me the importance of the US worldwide and the attention paid to it, but it also is indicative of the immense frustration that has built up during the current administration. But aside from just supporting a candidate, this $50 is also a vote of confidence in the US system and ideals. (I know because I was told so.) While I’m not yet a Ron Paul supporter, I can see why he might look attractive for those wanting to get back to basics:

Brief Overview of Congressman Paul’s Record:

He has never voted to raise taxes.
He has never voted for an unbalanced budget.
He has never voted for a federal restriction on gun ownership.
He has never voted to raise congressional pay.
He has never taken a government-paid junket.
He has never voted to increase the power of the executive branch.

He voted against the Patriot Act.
He voted against regulating the Internet.
He voted against the Iraq war.

He does not participate in the lucrative congressional pension program.
He returns a portion of his annual congressional office budget to the U.S. treasury every year.

That’s the end of the free support for now. I figured if a foreigner will put money behind a long-shot candidate that he can’t even vote for, I could at least plug the guy too. Now I can only hope the US populace is as interested and participative in this election as my colleague is.

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