Saving the best? for last.

We arose early Monday morning in Wellington and caught the 9am Interisland Ferry back to Picton on the South Island.  Our destination that day was Kaiteriteri, virtually the last town before New Zealand’s smallest, but very popular, Abel Tasman National Park.  It was about a 3 hour drive from Picton to the house we rented, a drive made ever more difficult because of the gauntlet of wineries we had to pass by in the region of Nelson.  Ouch.  But, our perseverance in the drive was rewarded with amazing vistas of the beautiful white sand beach in the tiny village of Kaiteriteri.

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The house we stayed in was amazing.  It was set up on a hill above the beach, with panoramic views in two different direction through large sliding glass doors.

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We never wanted to go out to a restaurant while we were there; how could you top sunsets from your kitchen table every night?

On our first day there, we drove to the Anatoki salmon farm (number 35, on the top 101 Kiwis must do!).  It is a really cool idea.  They have a salmon farm, with salmon in varying stages of development, and the largest area reserved for the ‘mature’ salmon, each weighing about 1kg.  There is plenty of fresh water for the salmon as the farm is fed by a large mountain river.  You get a pole and some artificial bait and whatever you catch, you keep.  But the best part is they will hot smoke (and flavor) the fish right there, and you get to eat your salmon for lunch.  We had a blast!

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And the freshly smoked salmon was delicious (we had 4kg of fresh salmon to eat…..and we ate it all).

Just down the road from the salmon farm is a cute little zoo, and we couldn’t resist it.

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The zoo was alongside a river (the same river as the salmon farm) and it was also the site of a famous spot where a woman, for decades, had fed local freshwater eels.  We couldn’t resist that either.

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And if you want a closer look at these creatures……

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We put chopped meat on a stick, and then fed them with great care.  We also visited some freshwater springs (Te Waikoropupu Springs) which produce some of the clearest water in the world (at a constant 11.7 degress C) with recorded visibility of over 40 meters.

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The colors were simply stunning.  I searched and search the waters for trout (you can’t fish there, but that never stops me from looking), and sure enough, Debra spotted a nice brightly colored rainbow hiding amongst the weeds.  _MG_5111

 

Then, it was back to our little beach village for some more fun in the sun.

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The next (and sadly our last) day there we took a boat into Abel Tasman Park (there are no roads, so you either walk the whole park, or do what we did, take a boat part way in and walk whichever part you want to).  I’m told the Park gets over 500,000 visitors a year, and I can see why, with waters like this….

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The boat passed by some great sites, like broken apple rock.

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We asked to be dropped off about half way through the park, and then we did a great hike along the water to a lodge where we had a late lunch, and then we went and explored the beaches some more.  We didn’t want to leave.

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There was one particular beach, with long stretches of perfectly clear shallow water, and I really enjoyed just watching the boys explore this new land.

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All too soon the boat came and we headed back to our house for one last glorious dinner at our house.  The sunset cooperated, and we had picture perfect weather that evening.

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Then Thursday came, and we reluctantly loaded the car, and pointed our noses to Dunedin.  We were a bit unsure of whether we should take some of the smaller roads on our way to Christchurch, so we stopped at a gas station in town on our way out to get some ‘local’ advice.  The mature gentleman behind the counter was very nice, and so helpful.  He said, “Oh, sure, I’d recommend the smaller roads.”  He said, as he sized up Deb and I.  “You two look young, like you could handle it.  I mean, I wouldn’t take those roads myself now, but heck, if you find yourself getting sick, just pull over and enjoy the views!”  He said with enthusiasm.  “And,”  He said, as he gazed out the window at our car, “you’ve got one of the SU-BAR-U’s, so you’re car is likely to make it through the mountains.”   We thanked him profusely for his advice, and then, and we drove away hoped he wasn’t looking as we took the exact opposite road from the one he recommended.

So, what part of this two week holiday was our favorite?  I suspect you’d get a different answer from each of us.  Abel Tasman Park is amazing, and we could have easily spent an entire week there.  So, too, with the Marlborough Sounds, Kiakoura and any of the tours through the wine country.

For now, though, we’ll revel in the memories of a great trip since it’s back to the working world.  Well, until this weekend…..when we are off to Doubtful Sound.

Cheers,

 

 

 

 

Places you just have to see…..

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This blue green water was is a in a cove in the Marlborough Sounds at the Northeastern end of the South Island.  This was our destination after leaving the wildlife paradise of Kaikoura. But to get there, were had to (I mean we just had to) travel through the wine country around Blenheim.

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Our first stop was Mt. Riley wines, and we ended up farther up in a valley appropriately called ‘Spy Valley’ because of the all ‘spy’ satellite equipment located there.

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The wines were very, very good, and indeed the surrounding mountains and valleys reminded us of Napa.  It was also warm, something we hadn’t experienced (yet) in Dunedin.  We spent the night in Blenheim, and then headed to the port town of Picton, which is also the port on the South Island where the Interisland Ferry runs from the South to the North Island (to Wellington)…and vice versa.  This was also the place I got (so I found out in the mail yesterday, two weeks later) my first New Zealand speeding ticket.  Apparently whoever was driving on the 15th of January went through a radar trap, and got clocked at 107 km/hr….a whopping 7 km/hour (so, maybe 4 miles per hour) over the posted speed limit.  The ticket was $30; I paid it online and feel good about contributing to the Nz economy.   Anyway we arrived in Picton early Thursday morning, and this entire portion of the trip was a surprise for the family.  No one knew where we were going, or how we were getting there.  At just after nine o’clock in the morning, our ride arrived.

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Never having been in a float plane before, Deb and boys were really excited our upcoming flight!  Especially when they saw our pilot….

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The pilot had planned to take us on a fairly extensive aerial tour of the Sounds, but said the winds had picked up a bit and he was just going straight to our destination….unless, he said we did mind ‘a little chop in the air’, and then he’d be happy to do the tour.   Having now understood the Kiwi habit of underplaying things, we took his advice and decided to just go straight to our resort.

Our destination was the Lodge at the Bay of Many Coves.  It’s a pretty amazing place which can only be reached by boat or seaplane.  A short but amazing 20 minute plane ride later, we docked at the resort and just a short time after that were relaxing on the expansive deck, with this view.

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The lodge was truly an amazing place.  Kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, row boats…all free to use (and we used them all, even on our first day).  Below are a couple of pictures taken from our rooms.

 

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There were incredible hiking paths (leading to the Queen Charlotte track, one of New Zealand’s most famous), star viewing that left us breathless with the number of stars we saw, and several nighttime walks to see glow worms.  Glow worms (which, by the way don’t photograph well) are pretty famous throughout Nz, and if you’ve never seen them before it is truly an incredible site.  It’s most like looking up in the sky and seeing all these twinkling stars, only you are looking (usually) in caves or the side of some eroded section of earth.

And the food at the lodge was mouth watering, and every single meal was an event.  Dinners, which we usually started at about 8pm,  lasted until well after 10pm, with much laughter and talk about all the things we did that day.  IMG_1495

Every morning we would come down to the dining room for breakfast, to be greeted by the lodge dog, ‘Merlot’.  Merlot is a rescued dog, whose only passion in life is to have someone….anyone…..throw the rugby ball he carries around everwhere.  He has mastered the ‘sad eye’ look, and will bring the ball to your table, set the ball at your feet, and then look up at you with eyes that say, ‘Please, just throw the ball one more time?’.

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Whenever it got quiet around the lodge, we knew Matt had gone swimming.  He’s part fish, that boy, but he comes up with the most unusual things during his water excursions.  This is a giant mussel he pulled out of the deep.  And for those of you who don’t know my little 13 year old Matt, his feet are now a half size larger than mine at 10 1/2.

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One afternoon a Southerly wind began to blow (read, cold), and these spectacular cloud formations appeared.

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But they blew over just as fast as they arrived, and we were shortly back on the water.

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We were so sad to leave the lodge, and vowed to come back.  We took a water taxi back to Picton, and then boarded the Interisland Ferry to Wellington.  It was a beautiful day, and cruising through the Sounds, on the way to the Cook Straight which separates the South and North islands, was magnificent.

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As were exited the Sounds (which were very calm because they are so protected) to the open water, there was an announcement.  “The conditions in the Straight today are LESS than favorable.  Passengers who might experience sea sickness should drink cold water and remain outdoors.”  Deb heard this and looked at me.  I went and got some cold water for her.  The boys were inside playing video games, but lasted only about 20 minutes before they, too, came outside looking somewhat green.  The seas were pretty rough (no one in our family actually got sea sick, but we saw PLENTY of people who did).  But, out on deck we made friends with many a local Kiwi, who assured us, “Hey, this is NOTHING!  You should do this in winter when the seas really get big…like 7 meter swells!”  Yep, sounds like fun.

We endured the three hour crossing which was even more beautiful on the return trip three days later when the seas weren’t so rough, and landed in Wellington and bright sunny day.  I left out the word ‘windy’ because it’s always windy in Wellington.  We had a great in this city that so reminded us of San Francisco.  Deb and I went up in the ‘cable car’ to the hills surrounding the city and spent a couple of hours walking through the park there.

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We went to the great museum, the Te Papa, and also the Saturday market which was held just outside in the museum parking lot.  It was a huge market, and all kinds of food and drink.

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We also walked around Cuba street, which is quite an experience.  Very eclectic!

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This is a coffee shop called Midnight Express, and they had the best coffee and vegan pastries!

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And what two doctors could resist a sign like this:

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I don’t really know how to top the sign, so I’ll sign off on that note.

Next stop,  Kaiteriteri and the Abel Tasman Park….

Cheers,

If Alaska and Hawaii married, this would be their baby.

And so the road trip continued…

We left Christchurch early Monday morning heading to Kaikoura, a town known for its amazing connection with the sea.  There is a 6000 feet deep trench just offshore and the diversity of wildlife in the seas around Kaikoura is unparalleled in New Zealand.  The road to Kaikoura just happens to transect a great wine growing region, and of course we had to stop and try a few local wines.  Then, we headed over a mountain range, and descended into a world unlike any I previously seen in New Zealand.

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There were so many possibilities of things to do for our planned two day stay in Kaikoura, and we found ourselves overwhelmed with the choices.   But since the town is known to be the whale watching capital of Nz, our first choice to see whales.  There are a number of resident sperm whales around Kaikoura; although much of their lives are a mystery, what is known about them is they feed mostly on squid and fish at great depths (usually over 1000 feet deep) and that most of their feeding dives last about one hour, after which they come to the surface and rest for about 8-10 minutes, repleting their oxygen supplies.  Given the predictability of their time on the surface, we hired a helicopter to take us offshore to where they surface.  Here’s our pilot.

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Well, not really.  The pilot is the guy still in the helicopter.

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And, here are his co-pilots.  They were very helpful during the flight.

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We hopped in the helicopter and headed into the great blue sky.

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Sure enough, just as we were heading out, a whale surfaced.

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It was about 40 feet in length, and we circled the whale for about 8 minutes.  It was truly breathtaking.  The whale’s heart is about the size of a volkswagon, and that big heart is needed to circulate the oxygen after a 1000 feet dive.  Then, the whale started to move forward, took a few more breaths, and then dove straight down for some more calamari.

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It was a magical experience, and the boys’ first helicopter ride.

Later that day, we tried our hand at fishing to local waters, and on Matt’s first cast into the waters, he hooked up with this bad boy.

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The locals said it tasted great smoked.  I fileted the fish, smelled the meat, and understood why they said it tasted great….smoked.

The next day we decided to go and swim with the local seal colony.  Where else can you find a seal colony that is totally not flustered by humans?  So, in the early morning we jumped in a boat and headed towards a small rock offshore.  On the way there, we were met by a large pod of dusky dolphins, about 200 strong.  They were energetic greeters, and many of them followed the boat for a great distance, enjoying the draft of our bow wave.  Then, we once again jumped into the cold Pacific and swam for about an hour with these totally docile and friendly creatures.

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Just to add a little medical trivia into the post; the cold Pacific ocean commonly produces this response in the hands of our family members.  (I’ll take vasospasm for $200, Alex, what is Raynaud’s phenomena?)

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We did NOT want to leave Kaikoura, and could have spent an entire week there.   We wanted to go kayaking, more fishing, abalone diving, and more dolphin swimming.  We watched beautiful sunsets, had some great walks along the ocean, and when we tried to sum up what was so magical about this place, came up with the idea of it being like a cross between Hawaii and Alaska.  I’d go back in a second.

Next…to the Wine Country around Blenheim and the Marlborough Sounds….

Cheers,

I expected zombies around every corner.

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After we left Omaru, and the Riverstone Kitchen, we drove North for about 3 hours to Christchurch, the site of the massively destructive February 2011 earthquake.  A bigger earthquake occurred in Christchurch in September of 2010 (about 7.1), and technically the February 2011 earthquake (6.3 on the scale) was an aftershock, but is was more deadly (185 people died in the February quake and none in the September quake) and more destructive.  I was not prepared for what I saw when we drove into downtown Christchurch.  I’ve lived in California for most of my life; I’ve been around earthquakes, and was even in the elevator at Kaiser hospital at 5:04 pm when the 1989 San Francisco quake occurred (now, THAT was a fun elevator ride!).   I expected, after almost three years, to see the city nearly rebuilt.  Instead, as we meandered into downtown Christchurch as the sun set on a Friday evening, we saw whole city blocks destroyed, cyclone fences surrounding dozens of empty lots and, eerily, no people.  It was ghostly.

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It was just like those movies where whole civilizations were obliterated…..and we were the only ones left on the planet.

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But in a very Kiwi way, people have tried to put beauty into the face of such devastation.  Like the little colored plastic tiles inserted into cyclone fences, or by painting art of the side of building which suddenly now was visible.

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Saturday morning was the Christchurch farmer’s market.  If you are ever in Christchurch, on a Saturday morning, go there!  It’s held in a beautiful location along a path that follows a river that runs through town.  The food was simply incredible, and it was a total cashectomy (that’s a medical term, wherein you got to a farmer’s market with a hundred dollars and leave with none).

Because new buildings are expensive to build (and it takes awhile), many businesses are adopted the practice of buying or renting shipping containers and using them as a shop (some people have even lived in them).  Now, there is whole mall made up of shipping containers.

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It was really cool.  While we were in Christchurch we drove to the coast to a town called Akaroa.  It is a small coastal town, originally founded by a French explorer, and it tries to retain its French roots, so as you drive through the town you see signs like, “Le Bistro d’ Lamb’ or ‘Oui little kidney pie’.  There we signed up to swim with Hector’s dolphins, which are one of (if not the) smallest of the dolphins (they are only about 3-4 feet long) and are very endangered.

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We boarded a boat, and headed out into the middle of the Pacific ocean, and when the captain spotted the pod of dolphins, he said, “OK, everyone jump in and make lots of noise to get the dolphins interested.”  I’m not kidding, that’s what he said.  I don’t know what Hector’s dolphins find interesting, but we given a snorkel and told to blow into it and make unusual noises.  If it didn’t attract the dolphins, I hoped it would keep the sharks away.

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It did both, (lots of dolphins, no sharks).  It was amazing, to be bobbing like a cork in the middle of the Pacific, with dolphins darting all around you.  What a great experience (and it turns out, a good warm up for our water oriented trip coming up).

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We headed back into Akaroa, and the back to the Heritage Hotel in Christchurch.  The hotel was exceptional; it had an indoor pool, twenty foot high ceilings, and SKY TV (we watched several fun movies at night after dinner).

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I had planned and booked all the accommodations before my family arrived, and I know enough to search for hotels with free wifi.  This hotel, like every one I booked, had ‘free wifi’, but it turns out you only get a small amount of time and/or data that you can use free.  It was on this trip I learned what a black hole for data my kids have become.  Literally, I put the key in the door to the hotel room, walked in and set my bags down, and the first words out of my sons’ mouths were “WE ARE OUT OF INTERNET!!!!”  I’m thinking, ‘we’ve been here, what 30 seconds and we’re out on internet?’  Sure enough, it was true.  It was a pattern that was repeated in every hotel, and it got be comical to see how fast the internet could be used up after checking in (I think it seemed, to the boys, like a challenge).

We stayed three nights in Christchurch, and then headed North to Kiakoura.  It was easy to find, we just headed North, and followed our noses through valley to the coast.  It was about 250 km and only took 30 minutes!

Cheers,

 

 

Just follow your nose…..

On the 6th of January my family arrived in Dunedin.  It was a wonderful airport reunion and a beautiful sunny Dunedin day….then, we got busy.  Busy enough that I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last blog….but, it was a good type of busy, as you’ll see.   First of all, on the day my family arrived, we all moved to a new house in an area of Dunedin called Company Bay.  It’s out on the peninsula, about ten minutes from town.  Locals wonder why we would want to drive that far (a whole TEN minutes!) every day into town.  But the house is only two years old (read, new construction and good insulation and therefore warm) and we have an amazing view of the Otago harbor from every window. We also get to watch the sunset every night.  It also has an outdoor fireplace, for evenings like this.

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And when you have an evening like this, what else is there to do, except roast marshmallows?

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Those sunsets from every window?  They look like this first photo below, and on a sunny afternoon, the second photo.

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I had planned a tour of the (mostly) South Island beginning just four days after everyone arrived, so the first week in our new house was a bit disorienting.  We did manage to see some iconic Dunedin sites.  Keep in mind, this is the summer holiday time for all the schools here, and aside from the very first day every arrived, the weather was cool and rainy (even the locals complained about the bad summer weather).  In those first few days, we went to Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest street.

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The boys, of course, tried to run up the street.  Their sprint lasted about forty feet, before they decided it was more prudent to walk up.  They got a kick out of watching a (tourist) car try to drive up the street, only to have their wheels spin and screech, and then have to back down, in the drive of shame.

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At the top of Baldwin street there is a little bench (often needed, and often used after the climb up) which is painted in a picture of the street, and there is a garbage can.  They boys thought it was hilarious (and still do) they called garbage ‘rubbish’.  They sound like a Monty Python skit, saying “Rubbish” repetitively when they see one the cans.

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We also went out the end of the Otago peninsula to view the Royal Albatross colony.  This is the only colony of these rare, magnificent birds that nests on the main island (instead of the smaller islands farther offshore).  They are huge birds, with wingspans of 10 feet.  They can’t get airborne unless there is a strong wind (which, fortunately for them, there almost always is).  The nature guides tells us that if there is a (it’s rare) HOT day with no wind, they will go out the where the birds nest, and spray them with mist to keep them cool (as some can die if they overheat).  We didn’t get to see this (it was windy…what a surprise!…the day we were there), but I do so want to go out there on a warm calm day and watch the nature guides spritzing the birds in their nest.  It would be like the Four Seasons in Maui, where the cabana boy walks around with some Evian…’Cool spray, Mr. Albatross?’.  Alas, in the five months I’ve been here, there have been no warm, windless days.  I guess that’s what they mean when the say the weather here is for the birds…..

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Friday came quickly, and in all honesty, we weren’t really quite settled into the new house yet.  But, a planned vacation is a planned vacation, so we jumped into the Subaru and headed out of town.  Speaking of Subaru, they pronounce the names of cars  here differently, and the boys are just cracking up about it.  Subaru is pronounced ‘Sue-BAR-u’; Nissan is pronounced ‘Niss-en’, and Mazda is pronounced ‘Maz (like in the word MAD) da’.

Our first stop was Omaru, about an hour and a half North of Dunedin.  Sure enough, just 30 minutes out of Dunedin, the sun started to come out.  This would be a recurring theme throughout the trip, whenever we met someone and told them we lived in Dunedin, they would ask, in a very incredulous tone, ‘You moved from California to Dunedin?

Omaru is famous for a couple of things.  One is the Omaru limstone, and many buildings around New Zealand were constructed using this beautiful stone (This one is actually in Omaru).

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The other claim to fame for this quaint little town is book binding…the old fashion leather bound way.  There are dozens of book binders that line the cobblestone streets of the old section of town.  It’s really interesting, although the time intensive process mean that if you wanted to buy, for instance, a leather bound diary as a souvenir, it would set you back a cool $200.

The abundant limestone also meant the color of the water, with the very white limestone sand beneath, was a tropical blue-green (but it was still cold).

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Just North of Omaru is a great restaurant, the Riverstone Kitchen, where we had lunch reservations.  The food was amazing, and it was the boys’ first experience (repeated many times during this trip) with venison. I tried, diligently, to capture a picture of the food, but in the time elapsed between when I got the camera out of my pocket and then readied to take the picture, the boys’ food was gone.  This was also an event repeated many times throughout our trip.  An here’s an interested fact.  When Ryan arrived here in Dunedin, I marveled at how much he had grown.  We measure ourselves, back to back, and I was just 1 cm taller than him.  We repeated this same measurement yesterday, because he seemed have have grown a lot in just four weeks, and he had growth so much he was now 1 cm taller than me.  I told Deb, “See, this is what happens when you feed the boys”.

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The Riverstone Kitchen is famous throughout New Zealand.  They grow all their own vegetables and fruit and the food is simply out of this world.  Plus, on the extensive grounds of the restaurant, is a playground, extensive gardens, fountains, and several types of shops.  One of the most interesting things I saw was a living fence (see below).

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From here we drove into Christchurch, where we stayed for three days.  And that will be my next post (hopefully not a month from now…).

So, where did I get the title for this post?  Well, it goes like this……On our road trip we would, on occasion,  ask for directions or perhaps for a local person’s opinion of the best way to get somewhere.  The answers were absolutely astounding.  No one, and I mean no one, uses street names.  So, you won’t get an answer like, ‘head down High Street and then turned left on Princess Street and go for three blocks.’  You get get directions like we did, when we asked the owner of one of the homes we stayed in on our trip when we asked him what was the best way to get from the Abel Tasman Park to Dunedin (about 900 km).  He said, and I quote, “Oh, that’s a wee-little drive.  Just head into Motueka, go right at the gas station and then head into the valley, keep the mountains on your right, and just follow your nose to Christchurch, and then head down to Dunedin.  Easy peasy, about an 8 hour drive.”  Keep in mind the Abel Tasman Park is a the top of the South Island, and Dunedin is all the way at the bottom of the South island.  We also found most New Zealanders seriously under estimate how long it will take to drive somewhere (either that, or, when they drive, they are traveling at supersonic speeds in their car).  It took us 11 hours to drive the distance we were told (but by this time we knew better, and didn’t really believe him anyway) would take 8 hours.

Until next time,

Cheers

It’s a holiday, you know.

Today, January 2, is a public holiday.  Banks are closed, no city services…nada.  Most importantly, because I worked New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, I got the day off today.  Not familiar with any particular event which occurred on the 2nd of January, I asked why it was a holiday.  “Because….it’s the day AFTER New Year’s Day.”  I was told in a very matter-of-fact manner.  Well, yes, of course it is.

But the REAL reason today is a holiday is because it’s my wife’s birthday!  Sadly, she isn’t here yet to celebrate the day that was apparently created in her honor.  So I did what any good New Zealand husband would do on their wife’s birthday.  I  went fishing.  And I caught fish, too, which simply must be so overwhelmingly joyful to my wife..I’m sure she’s beside herself with excitement.  Oh, I think I just heard her scream…

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Nothing, and I mean nothing, says I love you like a brown trout.

It can’t all be about fish, though.  (OK, it can, but it’s Debra’s birthday, so I’ll mix it up a bit).

Ever find yourself looking in the mirror and thinking, ‘Damn, I’m too skinny.  I need to put on a few pounds.’ ?  Well, here in New Zealand we have just the thing.

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Just rub a little of this on your tummy, maybe your hips, and in the next morning, BAM! You’ve got curves!  It’s not as big of a seller back in the U.S.

A lot of my friends back home wonder how I’ve survived without my daily blueberry fix.  I wondered, too, until the last month.  That’s when the calendar said it was summer (the weather still feels like winter, but I’ve been assured it will get better).  And with summer came the berries.

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That is one massive boysenberry!  And they melt in your mouth; they are that good.

Blackberries, too, are in season now.

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Pretty awesome, isn’t it?  Blueberries are starting to come into season, but aren’t yet at the Saturday Farmer’s market (where I picked up the bad boys in the pictures above).  Another one of the big things here in Dunedin is Christmas cherries.  They are sold everywhere, in the grocery stores, at the farmer’s market, even out on the streets.  Think back to Christmas stories in London, where street vendors sell roasted chestnuts.  Here they sell fresh cherries.  Very Southern Hemisphere.

Back to Debra’s birthday.  Now you know I had to do more than just brave the elements today and catch a couple of brown trout for her, right?  Right.  Last night, just after the stroke of midnight, I shaved.  Here is the last picture of me with facial hair.  I know, I know, I’m too good to her.

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In all sincerity, now, Happy Birthday Debra! And don’t worry, your present is waiting for you here (in the freezer, but I promise to cook it).

cheers,

 

A New Year

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The sun is setting and soon the books will close on 2013.  It has been quite a year.  For me, the year will end in much the same way it has on many previous occasions- working at the hospital.  But this year I’m far South of the Equator, and as I muddled through my work at the hospital today, I got to thinking.  I’m half way around the world from where I was last year….are things really that different this year?  Did I learn anything in the last year?   After I saw my last patient this evening,  I returned to my office and sat down.  My office….it’s a stark room.  No windows and I haven’t decorated it yet.  It is a good place for reflection.  I sat there for about an hour, thinking about where I was last year at this time, who was in my life at that time and who was not, and about where I am right now.  I drove home, with the highlight reel of this year playing in my head.  My house was quiet, as it always is until Pandora wakes up.  The only, and I mean THE only, good thing about not having my family here (only five more days until they arrive!) is I do have quiet time for reflection.  And so, here is what I have learned this year…..

It is OK to be uncomfortable.

-Fear is a part of life.  A necessary part of life, but it should not rule your life.  Uncertainty is discomforting, but unless you push the boundaries of comfort, you will not grow. If you don’t grow you will involute.  The last time I truly lived on my own I was half my current age.  It was not easy to venture to New Zealand and work in an unfamiliar environment.  It was not easy to live alone for the last four months.  What I have learned from this experience, though, is unmeasurable.  I am stronger, more whole than I was before.

There will be opportunities to help others.  You should do your best to carry these out.

-It is seductively easy to pass these opportunities by.  After all, so many others do, no one will notice if you do too.  After all, it’s just one little thing, and how could that really make a difference?   But then, that’s how the world changes, isn’t it?   One little thing at a time.  Never, never underestimate the value of one, even small, act of kindness.  If there is someone you can help, don’t think, just do.

Our time on this Earth is fleetingly short. 

-Life is too short to waste with anger, vengeance or spite; carry those emotions with you to the grave and you ensure yourself a cold, heartless coffin.  It is too short to not hug the ones you love every chance you get and tell them that you love them.  It is too short to not forgive someone who is, after all, a fallible human just like you and I.  Maybe you will be fortunate and live a long life, even into your 90′s.  Maybe you will pass away when you are just six years old.  If there is justice in the world, it is not for us to understand.  We do not get to choose the length of our lives, but we can choose how to live them.  Choose wisely.

There is more I have learned, but that is for another day.  Tonight, I set out to photograph the last sunset of the year.  The skies looked promising, but in just the short ten minute drive to the Pacific coast, a huge thunder storm moved inland.  As I drove closer to the shore, I was upset my photographic swan song would not happen.  But then, when I parked and got out the car, I captured this.

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You don’t always know what you’ll get with life.  Take a chance, go with it.

Happy New Year,

Cheers,