Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nelson and Blenhiem

We got up really, really early to make the first ferry from Wellington to the South Island the next morning.  It’s a huge ferry.  There are nine decks, one of which is just for semi-trailers, plus another 3 for other cars.  They even have a cinema, which we decided to take advantage of since it’s a three hour ride. 

We arrived in Picton, and started the drive to Nelson, where we were staying for the next three nights.  The northern part of the South Island is wine country.  It’s more of those pretty green mountains covered in sheep, but with vineyards scattered all about.

Nelson was a bigger town than I had thought it would be, and had a very cute downtown.  They also have lots of little cottages and the yards and hills are full of foxglove, hollyhock, snapdragons, and roses in full bloom, adding even more to the English countryside feel.  As we drove in to another fabulous vista of mountains, water, and flowers, I commented to Daniel, “Gee, it’s a shame New Zealand is such a dump, huh?”

Nelson has a very striking Art Deco church that is confusingly called Christchurch Cathedral, even though it is several hundred kilometers from Christchurch.  The ugly thing in the front is supposed to be a Christmas Tree of some sort.

Near the church I spotted this silversmith shop, and I had to go in:

Now, I would have stopped regardless because I like looking at original work by jewelers (not Zales everything is the same kind of stuff).  However, I believe this particular jeweler is a bit of a tourist stop.  For you see, the Ring to Rule Them All was forged here:

The next day Daniel decided he’d stay in Nelson and have a rest day, while I drove out to Blenheim, where the wine country is.  It was beautiful and tasty. 

The region is particularly good at growing a lot of dry varieties, so I didn’t actually do much tasting since I’m a sweet wine girl.  However, where there is wine, there is cheese.  At the second winery I stopped at, Saint Clair, they had a cafĂ© and I opted for the Monk’s Platter.  This was the most awesome cheese board I had ever consumed:

It contained pate, salmon mousse, cheddar, brie, a small cheeseball rolled in sesame seeds, chutney, carmelized onions, olives, grapes, a slice each of kiwi and orange, a slice of a spiced date roll, homemade foccacia, three kinds of crackers, and even a small salad.  Heaven.

I would like to note here that Daniel had lunch at McDonald's.  We were both equally happy with our choices :)  Our hostel in Nelson was also chosen based on food, believe it or not.  They are known for the free chocolate pudding cake and ice cream they serve every night at 8pm.  The time for the dessert is posted in several languages on what Daniel called the Rosetta Stone of Pudding:

It's quite good, and hot from the oven:

It causes quite a stampede for the kitchen and shows that young people can be prompt when motivated.

The Three W's

After the Coromandel, we passed through a succession of W Towns:  Waitomo, Whangunai, and Wellington.  We didn’t stay in Waitomo, but stopped for a couple of hours to see the famous glow worm caves.  The caves themselves are that remarkable, but the inhabitants are.  Hanging from the ceiling are thousands of glow worms.  They don’t capture well on film and they don’t let you take pictures anyway, so I wasn’t able to document it.  However, it was sort of like looking up and seeing tiny stars on the cave roof.  It was cool, and a nice low key activity since that day I came down with a nasty cold and didn’t feel like exploring much anyway.  From Waitomo we drove several more hours to Whangunai, a river town in the southern part of the North Island.  There wasn’t much there to see, but it was a good place to stop for the night.  We stayed in a YHA with an owner that was a bit hyper with his rules and signage.  Daniel took several pictures which usually means he intends to blog about it.  You’ll have to stay tuned and see.

The next day about lunch time we rolled into our hostel in Plimmerton, a suburb of Wellington.  It was very nice, probably the nicest so far with a great commercial kitchen and a lovely view from our room window:

We had a bit of excitement while we were there, too, as one evening right before dinner, a shark washed up on the beach.  It was dead, but still looked ominous.

The first day we were pretty tired, so we napped and did a lot of laundry.  We sort of took over the hostel’s clothes line and got a few comments as people were amazed.  Daniel and I have always maintained that laundry should be done about once a month, and everyone should own 30 pairs of underwear to make this possible.  I guess most people grow out of that after college, but we are still firm believers. 

The second day we headed into Wellington.  It’s known as Windy Wellington because of the gales coming off the Cook Strait, and that day it was wet and earning it’s name.  Both the weather and the city itself reminded me a lot of Seattle.  We decided to spend most of our time at Te Papa, New Zealand’s answer to the Smithsonian, but in just one museum.  It was really a good museum and very informative.  Daniel and I both found the exhibit on the Treaty of Waitangi  helpful, which is the basis for Maori relations even today.  It is really interesting being in a country where the native people were not beaten into submission or eventually defeated in battle.  They instead signed a treaty with the Queen of England and therefore were able to keep some of their rights and land, and their culture and language is pervasive throughout New Zealand.  It makes me wonder what the United States would be like if the American Indians had been able to retain their power and way of life.

They had lots of other exhibits, though, including one on earthquakes where you could go into a room and feel the equivalent of about a 5.0 earthquake.  There was also this cool map of NZ, where if you stepped on the different regions, photographs and videos about that region would pop up on nearby screens:

The second day in Wellington was sunnier, so Daniel and I explored the city.  We took in the view from Mt. Victoria first:

Then we headed to Cuba Street, looking for tacos as they have a small Latin community there.  However, our Tex-Mex place wasn’t open for lunch, so we ended up eating falafel.   Foiled again!  Cuba Street is sort of a funky place full of vintage shops and skate/punk places.  This eclectic mix of people once again reminded me of Seattle in the 90s, but there were enough hipster emos in their skinny jeans to convince me we were in the right decade. 

From there, I went to the main shopping district, Lambton Quay.  I found a NZ department store sort of on the scale of Marshall Fields in Chicago.  On their top floor they had a Christmas shop.  My first thought when seeing it was, “Buddy the Elf has been here.”

Finally, I ended my afternoon at Mojo, one of many coffee houses in Wellington (Seattle, anyone?) with probably the best mocha I’ve ever had.  They serve mochas with marshmallows here, always two, and one of them is always pink. 

Wellington is Peter Jackson’s hometown, and I think they might still even be filming the Hobbit right now, but we didn’t see evidence of either.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Coromandel Peninsula

I have been fortunate enough to see many beautiful things:  the Blue Ridge Mountains, the South of Spain, Mt. Rainer, the Badlands—but yesterday I saw perhaps the most spectacular natural area to date.  The South Island of New Zealand is much hyped, and I am eager to see it still, but I have a hard time believing I will see anything as stunning as the Coromandel Peninsula of the North Island.  It’s not a place that most guidebooks devote a lot of time on, and most the people I know who visited NZ never stopped there.  However, I’m nothing if not thorough, and I’ve read 4 books on NZ cover to cover.  While the Lonely Planet section on the Coromandel is brief, it did contain this line of description, “Gob-smacking beautiful.”  I decided that I had to see, even though it’s a bit remote and there’s not much else around there.  I even went so far as make reservations for multiple nights here, something that’s a bit of a luxury when you are trying to see a whole country in a month.  It did not disappoint.  My camera, however did.  I really like my Lumix, and I feel up until now it was pretty good at capturing exactly what I saw, but this time it just wasn’t quite able to show the vivid green of the mountains or the water that is both turquoise and perfectly clear at the same time.  Hopefully, though, the pictures will give you enough of any idea to persuade you to come and see it for yourself one day.

When you first arrive in the Southern part near Thames, the water is muddy and churning and while the forested mountains are pretty, especially now that they are covered in wildflowers, you don’t see what the fuss is about.  The rest of New Zealand has equally beautiful vistas like this:

However, as we rounded the bend of yet another twisty narrow mountain road, we started to see sights like this:

Until we arrived at this particular vista further north where the water had begun to take on that beautiful turquoise hue.  I thought, “What nice view for the cows!”

We finally arrived in Coromandel Town, an old gold mining village, that doesn’t offer much but a couple of places to stay and a few cafes, most of which were closed at dinner.  But it was Thanksgiving, gosh darn it, so we were going to eat something tasty and bad for us.  We finally settled on this:

Believe it or not, this was not the first time I’d had seafood for Thanksgiving dinner.  When I was in second grade, we went to see my Grandparents in Naples, Florida for Thanksgiving.  I remember it even though it was so long ago because I got to swim in the ocean, eat shrimp instead of turkey (still not my favorite), and watch Cinderella:  a banner day for a seven-year-old.

The second day we slept in a bit and called family to wish them a Happy Thanksgiving, since it was still the holiday there.  Then we drove another twisty road to Hot Water Beach.   This beach isn’t famous for its swimming, in fact the rips are so strong you not supposed to swim at all.  You go to HWB to burn your bum.  There are thermal springs in a certain place on the beach.  At low tide, if you bring a spade, you can dig your own hot pool.  It’s sort of hit and miss though.  You have to dig in the right place or your pool will either be pretty chilly because it’s mostly the beach water, or you can actually scald yourself.  Most of the pools dug around that I stuck my toe in were pretty tepid, but there was one small one that no one was sitting in, and a girl thankfully warned me.  It was HOT!  The whole thing is quite the spectacle, as you can see here:

After HWB, we went just a few kilometers away to the Cathedral Cove trail.  It was a bit longer than I had anticipated, and very steep in spots, but well worth the trouble.  Here’s some of the scenery along the way:

We stopped briefly at Gemstone Bay, which had a marked snorkeling trail I’d have liked to try in the perfectly clear water, but didn’t have the gear, and the water was cold enough I wouldn’t have braved it without a wetsuit.

We also encountered at one point another of the giant fern forests, so I had Daniel stand in front of one for scale.  These aren’t palm trees; they’re ferns. 

Finally we made it to the cove.  It had a magnificent archway:

And another take your breath away beach:

The water looked so inviting I had to roll up my jeans and get into it a little bit.  This seemed to be a common problem.  Everyone looked at the color of the water, thought “tropical” and dove in only to shriek, shiver, and run back out.  At least I didn’t try it in a bikini, as most of the others were doing. 

Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands is where most of Auckland flocks to in the summer to take advantage of the pretty beaches and slightly warmer temperatures.  This time of year it's still pretty empty, though, and the water is still chilly.  However, we still enjoyed ourselves, mostly because we liked our farm hostel so much.

We went to the largest town nearby and did a little shopping and had our packed lunch on the beach there.  Then we headed north to take in Rainbow Falls:

Daniel and I were both amused by this duck that was very nonchalantly diving for plants right at the edge of the falls.  He did not seem concerned in the slightest by the water going over the edge right next to him:

After that we went to this lovely bay our host had recommended.  This is pretty typical of the Bay of Islands, as it is a collection of quiet little bays, coves, and inlets (honestly not sure one what the difference is between the three):

It was a nice slow relaxing day.  We had to drive 6 hours the next day, so that was nice.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eating our way north

This morning we left Auckland for the Northland, specifically Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands.  This is not to be confused with Karekare, which was the black sand beach.  The roads leading north from Auckland are dotted with wineries, fruit stands, chocolate shops, etc. so you sort of eat your way north.  We embraced the food trail wholeheartedly.  Our first stop was the oldest tea room in NZ.  They specialized in Devonshire Teas, which means a pot of tea, a scone, butter, raspberry jam, and whipped cream.  I had already had both tea and another Starbucks that morning, so I asked if I could just have a scone.  He seemed morally offended and said, "You just want a Devonshire Water?"  My response of, "I guess so," seemed to disgust him further and he continued to refer to it as a Devonshire water instead of just saying I wanted a scone.  I decided to ignore him and just enjoy my scone, which really was just a large biscuit.  Here and in Australia they call cookies biscuits, biscuits are scones, and what we would call a scone don't really exist.  Their scones aren't really like a southern biscuit, either.  However, it was very tasty, but I don't know anything that isn't good with butter, raspberry jam, and whipped cream on top.  Well, maybe a McRib.

While eating we got to take in the surrounding countryside.  Mostly today we saw lots of low green mountains with sheep and cows grazing.  That was the view while at the tearoom, too:

It was very pretty and very green after coming from dusty, dry Australia.  

Our next stop was the dairy with a sign proudly welcoming cheese lovers.  We got a cheese plate to share:

Yum!  There was a sharp cheddar, camberet, and a blue brie with bread, crackers, apples, grapes, dried apricots, walnuts, and a spiced chutney.

I think digesting all that cheese was making Daniel sluggish, so he took a snooze and I took over driving.  Our next stop was a honey farm, where you could see the bees in a glass hive:

We picked up some cinnamon honey for our breakfast toast, and tried some honey fudge, too.  

We stopped at some craft places after that, but no more food until we got to our hostel, which is set in an orange grove, so there's all the oranges you want:

It is a very small and very cute hostel, with a hammock, even:

It also is a mini-farm, with three dogs, chickens:

You'll note that the chickens are eating some orange rinds.  They also have Maori wild pigs:

Also eating oranges :)  They looked decidedly tame to me.  Sharing their pen is a sheep that was raised bottle fed, so is extremely friendly.  Her name is appropriately Fluffy, and I thought she was going to make a break for it here:

We headed for Woolies to get stuff to grill mushroom swiss burgers and make the whole hostel smell awesome.  I saw some forlorn looks from a couple of girls eating beans on toast and scrambled eggs.  Our host was making something that I couldn't really even process while I was watching it.  She put lettuce, onion, tomato, and cucumber (and I think some sort of seafood when I wasn't watching) on a cookie sheet.  Then she covered all of it in mayo and lemon juice and STUCK IT IN THE OVEN.  For like an hour! I guess I can't knock it because I didn't try it, but it just sounded gross.  It sort of reminded me of the How I Met Your Mother where Lilly makes the Midwest layer salad consisting of weird things like potato chips and gummy bears in between layers of mayo.  Ech.  

Auckland Day 2

Our second day in Auckland I had originally planned to go see Waiheke Island, which is where the rich of Auckland live and there are lots of arts and crafts shops, wineries, and gourmet food all in a beach setting.  However, they apparently want to keep the riff raff out by making the ferry very expensive and then also not making it easy to get around the island once you get there.  So, instead we went to the Auckland Museum.  It turned out to be very interesting.  I got to look at Maori exhibits and decorative arts, and Daniel spent the whole time on the third level which was a war museum.  I particularly liked this Maori meeting house and an exhibit on Maori rugby players.  They do the haka war chant in their opponents' faces before games.

They also had an exhibit with some live NZ animals and lots of stuffed ones.  Guess which one this is:

Daniel says it's the epitome of fake, but this bright green and metallic frog was real and even croaking. 

After the museum, we went to Mt. Eden, which is one of several volcanoes that Auckland is built on, and not all of them are dormant.  The view of the city was spectacular:

There is still a large crater in the middle that is considered sacred by the Maori and you're not allowed to walk down in it, but you can circle the mouth.

Afterwards, we both did some shopping, me at cute little boutiques in Parnell and Newmarket, and Daniel at various internet retailers trying to figure out how we could have consistent internet while in NZ.  We eventually ended up at a grocery store to collect some dinner supplies.  Daniel (of course it was Daniel) found this rather comical energy drink:

In case you can't read the can, it says, "Energize and Revolutionize with Seize Power Tangerine Energy Drink"  Daniel felt this warranted a special photo:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Australia wrap up and NZ beginning

Our last week in Hervey Bay was hectic as we packed, cleaned, and said goodbye to people.  The hardest was definitely the lovely people of St. John's and our Bible Study.  The evening service at St. John's is small enough that everyone obligingly collected at the front for us to take a picture.

We also took a picture with our Bible Study, but still waiting for Paul to send that one.  These two groups really made us feel welcome and our stay in Australia much more enjoyable.

We left for Brisbane a couple of days early so we could drive a day, relax a day, and then wake up at 4:30 in the morning to make our flight to Auckland.   We arrived at our hostel Minto only to discover that due to a loss of internet they didn't get our reservation for the night, but could host us the second night.  This really made me sad because Minto is a beautiful colonial Queenslander with entryways like this:

They even have antique claw foot tubs in the bathrooms.  They are also, clean and quiet and have a marvelous view of the city from the porch.

Instead we had to stay that night at Somewhere to Stay (they try to keep your expectations low with the name), a loud, grungy crowded hostel.  Thankfully there was a fun cat or it would have been a total loss.  It was really, really hot with no AC so we had to leave the window open and the people of Australia apparently rebel against screens as many buildings don't have any.  So I woke up with several mosquito bites including several clustered together in the arch of my foot that itch like murder every time I walk.  So, wasn't sad to leave it for Minto the next day.  Daniel drove out to the Gold Coast again to the waterpark so he could take several laps around the lazy river.  I stayed in town and took in the double feature of Breaking Dawn on IMAX (which came here a couple days earlier than in the US to my delight) and Moneyball.    I ate popcorn for lunch.  It was great.  We went to bed at 8:30 pm so we could get up at the crack of dawn.

Daniel's description of the flight is infinitely more entertaining than it was, which was I think part of his disappointment.  My only complaint was that was an hour too short.  I had managed to squeeze in Captain America (not exactly a 4 inch screen movie, but I hadn't seen it still) and only half of the Help. Now I need to finish it.  I was highly amused, though, that it was subtitled because they assumed you wouldn't be able to understand the Southern accents.  I suppose if I hadn't lived in NC for the last 10 years, I might too.

We got through customs considerably faster and with less hassle than in Australia, and had our little Hyundai Getz ready to go at the rental place.  It was just a 20 minute drive to our hostel in the Auckland neighborhood of Parnell, which bills itself as the creative quarter.  It's an interesting mix of ritzy boutiques, fancy restaurants, and a surprising number of hostels.  Old large homes seem to get converted to backpacker places when they go up for sale, I'm sure to the dismay of the neighbors.  We are in a pretty nice one, and very quiet.

We didn't do much that afternoon and evening.   We jumped ahead another 3 hours, so missed a chunk of the day.  For those of you keeping track that now means we are a full 18 hours ahead of Eastern and 19 hours ahead of Central.  We found a grocery store to do some stocking up, and then had dinner at the same chain Italian place that introduced us to sticky date pudding in Melbourne.  This time they had a new amazing dessert, the chocolate banana calzone with gelato.

Daniel was more excited about finding the Coffee News, and even found that little guy you are supposed to look for.  They also brought us pitcher of ice water that made his day.

I enjoyed talking with our waitress.  She had a Spanish accent I couldn't place, and she told me she was from Chile.  We chatted a bit and I told her it was just really nice to hear a Spanish accent again.  Durham has so many Spanish speakers, I feel a little lost if I don't hear it from time to time.  It's not just the Mexican food I miss :)

While we were out and about last night we walked past an Anglican church we decided to try this morning.  I wasn't paying a great deal of attention to it in the dark, but later discovered it's the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity and is even in our Lonely Planet book as a must see.  It was a beautiful church with modern stain glass.  Here's a one of the windows.

It was a pretty small congregation for such a large building, but the service was nice, and the music very pretty.

After church we headed to the Waitakere Ranges and Karekare Beach.  It's not very far from Auckland and very beautiful.  It meant driving on another of those terrifying one lane twisty roads that are technically two lanes, but it was worth it.  Here's the view of the Ranges:

They had a fun frame you could pose in that Daniel felt was a challenge to fill the whole thing:

Then it was on to the black sand beach of Karekare.  When they said black, they meant black. I was envisioning some black sand mixed in with regular sand, but that was not the case, as you can see here:

It's that color because of the volcanic soil and iron or something.  There was not an informative plaque as I had hoped.  It reminded me a bit of Cape Cod in that you had to hike through tall sand dunes before you could even get to the beach.  They also took you by an interesting forest.  There's a cookbook by Molly Katzen called the Enchanted Broccoli Forest.  I swear this is it.  I couldn't get over how much the trees reminded me of broccoli stalks:

We also passed some large kouri trees:

And this beautiful stream:

The beach itself was a bit surreal.  Daniel and I both expressed it as very Lord of the Rings-esque.

The surf was very rough and the water was cold.  It was only about 70 degrees out anyway, so we did not swim.  We headed back to downtown Auckland to take in some of it's sights.  I even found this helpful sign pointing home:

And happiness in a cup:

Haven't had a Starbucks mocha with toffee nut syrup in months.  Overall, a good first day.