New Zealand Wrap

“If the people of New Zealand want to be apart of our world, I believe they should hop off their islands and push ’em closer.” – Lewis Black

It’s not that I like using a Lewis Black quote.  The truth is, I hate Lewis Black with a passion and wish I could bitch slap him repeatedly until he finally decided to use his inside voice.  But the quote does shed some light on New Zealand culture.  The countries size and isolation have enabled it to maintain that small town charm almost country-wide.  The exception of course being the booming metropolis of Auckland.  The residences being refered to by the rest of the country as JAFA’s (Just Another Fucking Aucklander).

“The only thing worse than being from the North Island is being from Auckland” – Mainlander (aka – someone from the South Island).  

This North-South rivalry extends past geography, who has the greenest grass (an actual conversation example from Christmas at The Farm) and even finds its way into the pub.  Be prepared for some sideways looks if you order a Speights or Monteiths in the North Island and you’ll be instantly labeled if you grab yourself a tallboy of Waikato down south.

But this playful prejudice is usually conducted with a smile on the face and it doesn’t take you long to realize that the Kiwis are just as cheeky as they are welcoming.

Food:

When your country is synonymous with sheep, it’s difficult not to dig into the various available dishes with the highest of expectations.  But whether it was getting my third helping of hammed mutton on The Farm or cooking our own roast in the hostel, Sally and I enjoyed every bit of the nations unofficial mascot.

During our 2+ months of time in New Zealand, we managed to do several trips down memory lane.  Visiting virtually every doughnut, egg roll, and pie shop we could find.  But nothing topped the Ferburger in Queenstown.

Top Rated:

Like trying to choose a favorite beer when you live in the NW of the US.  Trying to pin down what we enjoyed most about New Zealand is a pretty difficult task.  If we had to choose a singular activity it would have to be the wine tour in the South Island.

But after long debate we decided that our top rated for New Zealand isn’t a particular event or place.  But rather the entire Great New Zealand Road Trip (North Island).  They say you can pick your nose, you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family.  Thankfully, if we were to speak comparatively (and I ate my boogers) Sally’s family is like a big, juicy, deliciously fresh booger.  Not something you want to whip under the coffee table or flick across the room.  But rather something that can be enjoyed and actually puts a smile on your face.

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The Great New Zealand Road Trip (South Island) The Final Chapter

“Everywhere you go you always take the weather, Everywhere you go you always take the weather with you” – Crowded House

(Some of you might be wondering why I chose an “Australian” song to start off a blog post about New Zealand.  “This is blasphemy” you cry.  Relax Bogan, one of the founding members is a Kiwi and considering Australia claims most of New Zealand’s accolades as their own anyway, I thought a reversal in tradition was warranted.)

We most certainly were following the songs instructions.  It just wasn’t the weather we wanted to be taking with us.  We walked and jogged through the streets of Kaikoura with our eyes squinted and heads dipped.  Because everyone knows that by extending your neck in a downward forward motion and reducing your vision, you actually help decrease the amount of rainfall you come in contact with.  A hand raised in the salute position approximately four inches from your forehead also seems to help.  We took the knowledge we gained from Patches O’houlihan and we dodged, ducked, dipped, dived, and dodged the rain by scampering from awning to awning, bar to souvenir shop, and of course restaurant back to the bar.  Even our visit to the famous BBQ Kiosk to grab some seafood lunch had us hiding in the car to avoid the bad weather.

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We pulled into Christchurch with most of the afternoon to spare.  We had heard about the cities continued displacement and most of the people we came into contact with suggested skipping through this “ghost town”.  Telling stories about a CBD that was reminiscent to a war zone and a list of things to do that started and ended with a single word, nothing.

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It has been a long and slow rebuilding process for the city of Christchurch since the devastating series of earthquakes in 2011.  While I will admit that the CBD is a sight for sore eyes; large blocks of abandoned buildings cordoned off, the concrete rubble and bent steel laying in the same position as just moments after the quake occurred.  But it is far from the war zone fellow travellers had described.  The first thing we noticed was the large amount of tangible items that were still visible through the office building windows.  Phones, chairs, computers, clocks, and everything else a standard business would utilize, were still in place almost 2+ years later.  I was amazed that these objects weren’t snagged up in the first hours of the travesty.  I have been in a war zone or two and I can assure you that everything down to the wood frame on the back door would be stripped away faster than you can say Sexual Chocolate.  I actually had to google if there had been any looting after the quakes because I was that amazed at the Kiwi’s respect for other people’s property.  While I found a few stories, there was nothing in comparison to the cops in New Orleans filling up their shopping cart at Wal-Mart.

The more important and less storied attributes of this recovering city is the creative and persevered resurrection of its crumbled central business district.  Like peeling open a dark and chipped clam to expose a beautiful pearl, the cracked grey concrete of Christchurches downtown has a pearl of its own.  A series of shipping containers have been transformed into a funky new beginning for the CBD and serves as an inspiration for those who have stayed to rebuild.

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We left Christchurch with the high hopes of experiencing the “best drive ever”.  We decided to take the inland scenic route from Christchurch through Mount Cook and onward to Lake Tekapo at the suggestion of one of our more referenced blogs.  Their opinion and suggestions have been considered scripture during our trip thus far.  But like Monteiths and their line of excellent beers, statistically you’re bound to fail eventually, and shit out a hot garbage excuse for an adult beverage (see the Radler).

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Like the confusion that overcomes you when you regurgitate after letting the Radler make it past your lips, we ended our five-hour journey with bewilderment as to how such a trusted source could put forward something so out of line with the rest of their quality information.

Ok, ok, I may have taken that comparison a bit to far.  To size anything up to the Radler is completely unfair, and the truth is the couple at Worldtravelforcouples do a far superior job at blogging about travel in every aspect.  Also to their credit, the first 40 minutes of the drive was absolutely amazing.  But the excellent mountain views quickly faded into low rolling hills and then eventually became the typical New Zealand farm land.  We personally found the drive out of Queenstown up the west coast to be more impressive geographically and captivating.  But the walk at Mount Cook was fantastic (and short, score!) and the view from the old church overlooking Lake Tekapo was impressive enough to make anyone consider attending Sunday service.

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We decided to split our last four days in the south island between Arrowtown and Queenstown.  Our Great New Zealand Road Trip (South Island) began in Queenstown, so we didn’t have to many things left to accomplish in the south island tourist hub.  But Sally had caught wind of another bike/wine tour in Arrowtown and thoughts of redemption were heavy on my mind.

We marvelled at the shocks on the well equipped mountain bikes, not realising they would serve as a prelude to our unexpected and extremely intensive afternoon of biking.  We spoke with the young Dutch girl who was working as the temporary front desk of our hostel.  While she had never actually rode the track to the wineries herself, she assured us it should be quite fun and easy.

We set off with the a smile on our face and wine tasting on our mind.  The first stretch was approximately 8K’s and we thought it would be a great way to build up a thirst.  An hour later, 42 hills climbed, and energy levels on low, had us re-thinking our afternoon.  We spoke to a few of the locals and they mentioned that while we were close to the wineries, the track narrowed and intensified on the final stretch.  It was enough of a deterrent for us to change our plans of sucking back free shots of wine.  It would have been an excellent treat at the end of our ride, but to weaken our legs with the delicious alcohol at the half way point, we would have certainly damaged our moral and enthusiasm beyond repair for the ride back.  We did an impromptu mapping of a different track home and decided to ride hard, then get home and drink hard.  But the mixing of the two would most certainly not be happening on this horrendous excuse for a “fun and easy” bike ride.

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We did the calculations at the bar over an ice cold beer and discovered we had managed to squeeze 33K into our four hour bike rental.  While we congratulated ourselves on the accomplishment, we also cut our hands and made a deal that is bound for eternity, never to attempt a ride that fast, long, and intense again, ever.

Our last remaining days in the south island were highlighted by the second best thing you can do with your mouth, eating.  (Drinking alcohol of course being the clear first, kissing third, using profanity fourth, and from there after the placing system becomes a little blurred.)  We had heard great things about Fergburger and the perpetual lineup that made its way often times around the corner was all the confirmation we needed to wait the 30 minutes to try one of our own.  Words can’t describe the amazingness that followed.

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Our final night we paid homage to the unofficial mascot of New Zealand and cooked a roast lamb for dinner.  The three bottles of wine and overzealous selection of the meat ensured that we not only burst the zipper on our jeans that night, but had enough lamb to eat the leftovers for breakfast before we flew back to Australia.

South Island Road Trip Photos

The Great New Zealand Road Trip (South Island) Part Deux

There are some things in this world that seem like the perfect match.  Things that were meant to be together.  Things that make each other even better when used in combination.  Take chocolate and peanut butter for example, movies and popcorn, or Thanksgiving and turkey.  How about alcohol and that extended family get-together. (You know what I’m talking about.  The people your parents insist you drive four hours to spend the afternoon with because it would mean so much to the “family”.  Never mind the fact that they (your parents) have only met these people once in their life, in 1977.  But it’s soooo fucking important that you show up.  Nothing to do with personal experience, I am simply speculating).  We all know that fourth glass of wine seems to make everyone a bit more conversational.  But maybe you’re not convinced that alcohol is made better with a family reunion?  Try doing one with out it and see how good that first sip of beer tastes afterwords.

There are also things that look good on paper, but once put into action, don’t seem to go together as well as you would expect.  Lingerie football comes to mind, or gum and ice cream, ASUS and tablets would be another.

So when the idea of a wine tour by bike came up, I was slightly concerned about which way this combination was going to go.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that alcohol can make just about anything better.  I also have to rate wine tasting as one of my top activities (When not pestered by a pretentious vintner who obnoxiously points out the pontoon and pushes the bottle menu in front of your face.  Knowing full well by the way you’re slurring your words, the only reason you are there is to get lit off of the tastings.)  It was the 14K bike ride down a road with no shoulder where not everyone who was tasting was doing the responsible thing (driving sober) that was slowing down my enthusiasm.

Renwick is a small town in the Marlborough region of New Zealand.  Not familiar with Marlborough wine?  Pick up any bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from the region and enjoy.

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If the best thing that has ever been done with fruit doesn’t interest you, Renwick might not be on your list of places to stop in New Zealand.  The “highway” that leads you to Renwick briefly slows down to act as the main road of town before picking the K’s back up and continuing its wind through the north part of the south island.  Outside of the essentials (two pubs), Renwick’s non-alcohol related activities are limited to a single room museum and a visit to the convenience store.  But if 25 wineries within a 5 km radius in one of the best wine-producing regions in the world does sound like a delightful way to spend an afternoon, then Renwick is exactly where you want to be.

The Watson’s Way Lodge is the only game in town if you’re looking for a hostel in Renwick.  But their monopolized hold on accommodation doesn’t mean you’re stuck with a sub par experience.  The owners have a great facility and a wide selection of bikes for your tour.  They are also well poised in the best approach to exploring the area.  A map is provided with the wineries they suggest, price of tastings, the best places to eat, and even a prefered route that has enough thought put into it as to have the winds in your favor when peddling along.  Suggesting that you have the winds to your back as the day progresses and you become more “fatigued”.

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We set out on our bikes just after 10 AM.  The last of the wineries closes at 6 PM.  The premium wineries (i.e. Cloudy Bay) charge $5 a tasting (5-7 tastes).  But there is also more than a handful of vineyards that are happy to serve you up their wine for free.  That’s right, for free!  We managed to make it to 6 wineries (and one beer tasting) by five o’clock, before disaster struck.

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We pulled into the fifth winery feeling happily “fatigued”.  As we parked our bikes and made our way to the tasting room we ran into a women from Germany.  She was with a group of 15 but didn’t drink wine herself.  So she was walking the grounds and enjoying the scenery.  She marveled at the fact that we were on bikes.  Her group was a little better funded than us and was enjoying the area via a large tour van.

“You don’t worry that the bike ridding will become more difficult with the tasting?” she asked.

We assured her that we were in complete control of the situation and laughed off her obvious foreshadowing as we went to down seven more quarter glasses of wine.

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As we were wrapping up our fifth tasting experience we noted the day had got a little a head of us.    It was 5:30 and we had only a half an hour to make it to one of the few wineries that remained open until six.  We jumped on our bikes with determined aggression.  We raced down the long driveway of the winery, whipping past vines of grapes at the highest speeds possible on our ten speed bikes.  Sally had a bit of a head-start and was about ten meters in front.  The natural competitiveness between the two of us is only heightened by inebriation.  I stood up on my bike and began to throw my entire body weight into each push of the pedal.  I quickly closed the gap between Sally and I to only three meters.

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That’s when the chain of my bike slipped off the sprocket and I proceeded to introduce myself to the cement by exiting the bike over the top of my handle bars.

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It only took Sally a quick glance over my mangled body to see that the most serious injury was the deep wounds to my pride.  She asked with a smile on her face if I was alright and then proceeded to inform me that I was not a cancer patient and noted that the old adage ‘just like ridding a bike’ must not apply to me. (This would be in reference to a comment I made to her after her horse riding accident in Bolivia.)  We hobbled our way back to the hostel and were greeted by concerned hosts.  They cleaned and bandaged me up, then pointed us in the direction of the two pubs.  Sally narrowed her eyes and asked in a firm voice if I was going to be alright enough to go grab a pint.

It took some serious soul-searching, testicular fortitude, and a deep thirst for a pint of beer, but I was able to make the one block journey to the bar.

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The Great New Zealand Road Trip (South Island) Part Deux

The (Not-So) Great New Zealand Road Trip (South Island)

I made the mistake of taking a summer semester philosophy class at the local community college to fill out some of my elective credits.  This was a mistake for two reasons, which are not mutually exclusive.  One, I found philosophy surprisingly boring.  Two, my professor was a fucking crackpot.  Our second week of class, after spending the entire first week lecturing rhetorically about whether or not “physical life is real, is the chair real, is what we see real, how many more dimensions are there that we are not aware of, blah, blah, fucking, blah”, he was asked by one of the students, his stance on drug use to ‘enlighten the mind’.  He replied back without hesitation or inflection in his voice, “I think everyone should take LSD at least once a year.  It clears the mind.”  Now don’t get me wrong, I am just as much in favor of the recreational use of hard drugs as the next guy.  But as I took a look around the room and saw just how impressionable my peers actual were and just how much of this guys bullshit they were actually believing, I became slightly concerned.  I envisioned several of these 18-year-old kids explaining to the arresting officer, “It’s for school, I swear.”  While sitting in the back of a cop car wondering if the hand cuffs that are cutting the circulation to their hands are actually real (Turn on, tune in, and, um, drop out?).

It was about this time that I started questioning the validity of our “professors” teaching credentials.  I know he had written a book.  He had succeeded at mention that part of his resume 17 times during the enthralling first week of class (I kept a tally).  He even offered us a $5 discount off the hard copy version.  The fucking cheap bastard.  To top it off, the book wasn’t even something he wrote.  It was simply a collection of philosophers that he felt were relevant, placed into a single book by him (and a co-“author”!).  I use to make mixed CD’s of my favorite rap artists as a kid but I don’t claim to be a music producer.  Can you imagine if I managed to throw this blog into paper back and then used it as evidence that I should be lecturing impressionable, young, naive college students about global culture.  Undoubtedly I would be telling them to come to my class piss-drunk, to get their head right for my lesson of course.

I personally prefer the philosophers of my generation.  I can not only relate to them on a more personal level, but I feel they are more direct and eliminate some of the bullshit (unlike this blog post).

Take Xzibit for example, “I can drink a whole Hennessy fifth, some call it a problem but I call it a gift.”

That is a great observation of the duality of man.  On one hand, drinking an entire fifth of Hennessy is considered a problem.  While that very same attribute can be seen as a blessing.  Is it a problem?  Is it a gift?  Maybe a gift that is a problem?  Or better yet, a problem that is a gift?  Certainly one for the ages.

Or one of my favorite and more widely applicable quotes:

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” – Mike Tyson

We had a plan for The Great New Zealand Road Trip (South Island).  A complex and in-depth plan that detailed the first five days of our journey.  We spent an entire half hour putting this elaborate plan together, and then we got punched in the face.

We drove from Queenstown to Te Anau at a leisurely pace, without a care in the world, chalked full of excitement for our days to come.  The plan was to stay the night in Te Anau and head to Milford Sound the following morning.  Spending an entire day enjoying the wonderful scenery that Milford has to offer from the decks of an overpriced tour boat.  We had become familiar with New Zealand’s weather patterns from our time in the North Island.  But we never thought (didn’t properly research) that the road to Milford Sound might be closed if the weather was too extreme.  Closed with no fucking clue when it would reopen.  The most we could get out of any of the locals when we asked if the road would open soon was, “Maybe” with a shrug and a half-smile.  Convinced we would be missing out on a South Island highlight, we had no choice but to burn a day, sit inside our hostel, and watch as the torrential rains pounded the already flooded streets outside.

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The weather report comes out twice a day for the roads in New Zealand (South Island).  Once at 4:30pm and once at 7:30am.  We waited until the seven-thirty report but didn’t receive confidence-building news.  The roads were closed, it was currently raining, it was planned to continue raining, and no one wanted to give a firm answer on when they thought the roads would reopen.

Our time in the South Island was already fairly limited and after taking advice from pretty much everyone, to include the local North Island hobo, on where we should be spending our time in the South Island we were left feeling like Shanic Johnson during her supermarket sweepstake run.  Crashing our cart into the wall, trying to grab as much shit as we possible can.  But realizing as we slammed our way through the aisles, there just wasn’t going to be enough time to grab some ribs AND make it to the beer section.  So we did what we thought would be a close second and snagged as many hot dogs as we possibly could.  That is, we cut bait and headed up the west coast, hoping to somehow squeeze Milford Sound in at the end of the trip.

Unfortunately our contingency plan was about as well thought out as our initial strategy. The road back to Queenstown was also closed due to flooding.  We had to make an hour and half detour to circumnavigate the additional flooding.  We managed to get as far as Lake Wanaka, until we were met with flooding again (this is summer right?).  The lack of planning (in general and due to flooding) left us scrambling for a place to stay, along with half of the South Island tourists.  All of the hostels and motels were full with people who didn’t leave and or people trying to hustle their way up the coast to avoid further saturation. Thankfully, after five different attempts, we scored a cabin at one of the camp sites for only $40 more than we planned on paying for the nights stay (that’s drinking money man!).

With nothing to keep us entertained during our stay but a couple of bottles of wine, Dancing On Ice Finale 2011 (featuring Vanilla Ice), and a Thanksgiving episode of Ellen. . . we were more than ready for an immediate departure and sunnier skies.

The drive up the west coast of New Zealand (South Island) is nothing short of amazing. The rugged mountains sharply find their way into the stunning blue water that can only be described as the kind of beauty that literally takes your breath away.  The kind of beauty that could at least land a part-time modeling gig.  The impressively turquoise water seems more out-of-place than an intelligent comment coming out of the mouth of Lindsay Lohan. The color rivals that of the waters of Thailand, but the temperature (if tested), would ensure that your manhood served as dimples for your belly button (regardless what the locals say and do).  It grabs your attention every time you come around a corner and it is brought into sight.  Interrupting conversations, slowing the speed of travel, and requiring one or both of us to state how “fucking awesome” it is.

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After several days of driving and stopping at virtually every scenic lookout available, we finally reached the north part of the South Island.  Our time in the South Island thus far was pretty much spent confined to the inside of the car and or inside our hostel watching the rain pour down.  We couldn’t help but feel like Charlie Brown when we watched the evening news.  It seemed like the rain was literally following us around.  Leaving sunny skies and warm weather both behind us and where we planned on going.  At least we were achieving a scenery change with the different hostels, but we were starting to have a growing hatred for the car.

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Thankfully the following day was supposed to be partly cloudy with off and on light rain. That was encouraging enough for us to make a dash to Abel Tasman National Park.  Even if there was going to be just a moment of sunlight, we had to get outside and do something, anything!

As luck would have it, we arrived to the park just a pinch too late.  Most of the tours had left only 15 minutes prior to our arrival.  We had two options left:  A boat trip up the length of the park and a two-hour break to walk and explore.  Or we could be dropped off half way up the coast and walk back four hours.  Those of you who know me, understand that I am inherently lazy and though I tried my best to smile at Sally and explain that I was game for either option.  We ultimately ended up doing to the longer boat ride, shorter walk (score!).

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P1040791The boat company turned out to be more geared toward taking people to various parts of the park to drop them off.  A taxi service if you will, hence the name Aqua Taxi.  I am not sure why they sell a “Tour Package”, but they do, and we bought it.  The tickets really entitled us to speed up the coast as quick as possible and drop off/ pick up other passengers.  But as luck would have it, the weather took a turn for the worse (surprise surprise) and the waters became a too rough to continue the trip up the coast.  The boat company was able to turn a perceived rip-off into an extremely enjoyable afternoon through the single actions of our skipper.  The local Maori (ex-kayak guide) Eric provided more cultural experience about the local culture, plant life, and history then we collectively experienced during the duration of our trip in New Zealand thus far.  He also catered the rest of the afternoon to our interests.  By taking us (and another couple) to Seal Island and a little cove for a quick swim in the water (Sally and I stayed on the boat).

The Great New Zealand Road Trip (South Island)

Queenstown

“Oh, you have an accent.  Where are you from?

“New Zealand”

“Oh, New Zealand, I LOVE New Zealand.  The South Island is absolutely stunning!  Where are you from?”

“Hamilton”

“Hamilton. . .Hmmm. . . where is that exactly? “

“It’s in the North Island, south of Auckland”

“Oh. . . . Well. . . living so close, you must’ve spent plenty of time in the South Island, I’m sure!?”

“Yeah. . . . . I’ve never actually been to the South Island

(A confused look comes over their face and the conversation about New Zealand is officially over)

I spent seventeen years of my life calling New Zealand home and not once did I make it to the part of my country that would seem to give me some kind of “credit” with those who have visited.  But after leaving the country thirteen years ago, I have finally returned to see what all the hype is about.

The flight into Queenstown is absolutely amazing.  It has to be one of the first flights I have ever been on where Bret actually paused his movie to look out the window.  As the plane dips under the clouds it exposes the stunning snow dusted mountain tops, a sharp bank to the left, and the beauty of Queenstown is brought into sight.

P1040323We had a small list of things we wanted to accomplish while in the actual city of Queenstown.  But after our time on The Farm, I was told that it is an absolute must for me to take the TSS Earnslaw vintage steam boat across Lake Wakatipu to the Walter Peak Sheep Station.

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The sheep station was founded in 1860 and taken over by my grandmother’s family, the MacKenzie’s in the late 1880’s.  It takes 40 minutes on the Earnslaw to cross the lake and reach the farm at the opposite end.  Upon arrival we were greeted by one of the station helpers who took us to their holding cages to feed a few deer and sheep.  We also had a little pat of the three Highland Cattle kept on the farm as a tribute to the Scottish roots of the MacKenzie family.

P1040394We then enjoyed an afternoon tea of scones, pikelets and banana loaf.  Followed by some relaxation in the gorgeous gardens before seeing a quick demonstration of the working sheep dogs and a sheep sharing demo.  These days, Walter Peak Station is a 25,758 hectare working high country sheep station running approximately 18,000 Merino and Perendale sheep and about 800 beef cows.  The scenery is absolutely stunning and it was really something special to see where my grandmother grew up. The family history made it a pretty interesting trip for both Bret and I.

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With three nights in Queenstown we were able to explore the small city quite well on foot.  After having a blast the first time in Rotorua, we decided to have another go at the luge ride.  We took the gondola up and were treated to a spectacular view of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu before flying down the luge tracks, Bret almost taking out the cautious tourists slowly making their way down at a leisurely pace.  The course is a little newer than the one in Rotorua, but quite a bit shorter and with fewer track options.

Bret’s highlight of our Queenstown adventure was the fact that we managed to find a good pub to watch the Seahawks play their first play-off game against the Redskins.  Pleased with the outcome, we were able to talk ourselves into joining in with the locals and treating ourselves to a “Sunday Session” in the Queenstown sun.

Queenstown Photos

The Great New Zealand Road Trip (North Island) The Grand Finale

There some things that are inevitable when traveling as a group.  Weather it is a pack of senior citizens mindlessly strolling down the middle of the sidewalk (taking up the whole-fucking-thing) or a journalist and his lawyer ingesting large quantities of drugs on their way to Vegas.  There will always be the conflict of opposing preferences, the stagnancy of indecision, and the weary eye of cost and equal contribution.  (Not to mention the off scheduled bowel movements).  After leaving Waitomo caves feeling like we would have been better off buying some glow in the dark stickers for the inside of the campers, the group was suffering from a combination of all of the above.  The kids already had their eyes on the next event and were hyped up on a jet boat trip down the river.  But the adults were still walking with a limp from our jail house introduction to New Zealand tourism prices.

We collectively drove to Rapids Jet  (Taupo) to inspect the next scheduled activity.  With a somewhat impressive marketing video and a sticker price that could double as a defibrillator, the group was reluctant to commit the $105 per adult for the 20 minute ride.  The general consensus was to sit on the sidelines and let the kids squeeze in with the final boat of the day with a bunch of strangers.  But like a concerned parent trying to build her child’s confidence after they’ve been informed they have to ride the short bus, Kaylene stepped in to boost morale.  An act that is more complicated than just simply shouting the cost of the activity.  (As the weary eye of cost and equal contribution had already popped a blood vessel at the amount of money The Olds thus far had shelled out for the trip.)  Any additional contribution was under the watchful scrutiny of the rest of the crew.  But Kaylene soothed our egos by swindling the company out of 40% of the ticket price.  It put a smile on everyone’s face and we all agreed it was well worth the money (At the discounted price that is).

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Throughout the duration of our Great New Zealand Road Trip (North Island) expedition we have been attempting to utilize as many Top Ten camp sites as possible (Richard scored a discount card that he convinced every-single-campsite was good for both campers, even though policy states otherwise).  The Top Ten title is one that doesn’t seem to be representative of a particular standard, but rather just a catchy marketing ploy (Lesson: All Top Tens are not created equal).  Thankfully, Taupo adhered to the perceived expectations of the organizations brand and we found ourselves spending three days in a well-kept and modern facility.  It also helped that the Waikato river ran at the base of the camp, with Huka Falls just 30 minutes running distance away.

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It only took the group a few days to develop some habits that quickly became rituals; getting the camp set up and the beers cracked in under ten minutes, eating enough crackers, cheese, and salami to satisfy a small army’s appetite, and discovering the sites noise policy through a trial and error process.  Occasionally we did break up the boozefest to do some actual activities (crazy, I know!).  One such day found the ladies peddling their way around the area (attempting to burn off some of those empty calories) and the boys striking out fishing (only to make their way to a pub to make some additions to those empty calories).  Richard had been spending the day entertaining his nephew’s son, but managed to track us down before the first beer was cracked (A boozers intuition?).  The weather was turning to typical (raining), so Richard went to round-up the ladies and what was originally just a pit stop, turned into the afternoon.

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It had been several days of driving (racing) on Richards petrol mistake and the smoke had finally stopped coming out of the exhaust pipe (just kidding Richard).  We deemed the vehicle fit for the open road, so we broke camp and headed for our final resting place of 2012, Rotorua.

Rotorua had a list of activities and the group had spent the three days prior to our arrival preparing for one in particular.  Our scheduled race day down the Skyline Rotorua Luge.  Some sat in the bathtub and practiced the tracks turns like the Jamaican bobsled team in Cool Runnings, others meticulously watched Talladega Nights in case they fell victim to the dreaded invisible fire.  This  would be an event that would not only bestow bragging rights for all of 2013, but would also dictate inheritance percentages in the unlikely event that a long-lost relative left a large sum of money to the family.

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Unfortunately rule #4 of the Luge is “No racing” (listed right before rule #5, No fun allowed) and the employees are inadvertently able to enforce this ridiculous rule by sending riders down one at a time.  Thus no true “fair” race was ever conducted.  However, we did manage to find ourselves in a pack the very first trip down the hill (minus Drew who grabbed all the luges for the group to facilitate this unique occasion).  Yours truly managed to speed past every one of those slow a$$ bi*tch$ to grab the checkered flag.  Sending Brodie into the wall and leaving Richard to supposedly “stop and make sure he was alright”.  I ran my mouth for approximately an hour as the alpha male.  At which point Drew showed me what happens when he is able to be in the mix (sending me into the wall while casually hanging on the wheel with one hand and flipping me the bird with the other.  Winning the “race” by more than a couple of lengths).

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When visiting Rotorua it may smell like you just shoved your head inside Cool Hand Luke’s ass after he attempted to eat fifty eggs.  But, unlike some of the hostels we have had the misfortune of visiting, there is actually a reason for this pungent odor.  Rotorua is surrounded by a large amount of thermal pools.  The largest of which has been created into a tourist attraction and is home to Pohutu.  A geyser that is forcefully erupted every day at 10:15 A.M. (in reality, more like 10:40).  The pools are actually quite impressive and worth the money (even though they are fenced off for protective reasons, which prohibits you from kicking mud into them, unlike in Bolivia).

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The geyser however begs for an inappropriate sexual comparison to an elderly man using a mildly effective dose of Viagra.  A lot of waiting around for an unimpressive and short eruption.

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Our final night in Rotorua was New Years Eve.  One of the most over-hyped, over-priced, over-crowded, let downs of the year.  We collectively understood that Rotorua was not the most popping location to spend the holiday, but it didn’t discourage our enthusiasm for a night out.  We had made a reservation at Hennessy’s, the local Irish bar.  The pub was conveniently located on the street that had been cordoned off as the over 18 drinking street, complete with a stage for live performances.  Having only one minor with us that could pass for 18, we devised a plan to eat dinner around 7:30 and milk the table for the duration of the night.  Thus no I.D. check and hopefully avoiding sending the young ones home in a cab.

It was a slow start to the night, as we spent the first twenty minutes trying to find a cheaper alternative.  Just as we gave in to the high prices and inside table (shoved in the back corner), the waitress informed us that there was a table available outside.  From there we were a stones through from the stage and right in the middle of all the . . . action? (As much action as one can expect from a town of 56,000).  It didn’t take long for the group to be knee-deep in Jager bombs, shots, champagne, and excessive amounts of beer.  As the adults night began to blur, the kid’s night began to become long.

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The night ended up being a complete success.  With bar tabs that would collectively pay several months mortgage on a five bedroom house, wrestling matches, and plenty of drunk shenanigans.

Bret’s Drunken Jig

We ended our journey as the Wolf Pack by completing a full circle for the trip and crashing once again in Matakatia.  This time proved to be more successful with our strength in numbers.  No 1 AM wake up by the local teenage kids looking to get a reaction and the next morning we awoke to a beautiful sunrise.  We milked the last few hours as a group, procrastinating the departure of Nat and Drew (Zak and Brodie) by drinking the remaining portion of their alcohol contributions and enjoying the beautiful New Zealand backdrop.

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The last days of our (Bret and Sally) Great New Zealand Road Trip (North Island) The Grand Finale were spent reminiscing with Sally’s friends from Hamilton.  It had been over 15 years since the girls had all collectively met up (A few stories of the past for Sally and a few Steinlager beers for me).  Once the walk down memory lane was complete, Sally and I headed to one of the girls (Daina) house for a little more “catching up”.  Daina and her husband Nick lived in Vancouver for a year while Sally and I called Seattle home.  We were fortunate enough to have spent a couple of weekends with them (In Seattle and Vancouver) and looked forward to hanging out again.  Throughout the duration of our Australia / New Zealand adventure we have come across a range of new parents.  Their stress levels high, patience low, and encouragements for us to have children of our own, limited.  With our trip going faster than an 8-ball of cocaine at a Top Model Party, we find ourselves getting closer and closer to that point in our life where we scheduled what I now perceive as self-inflicted torture (children).  But our time with Nick and Daina not only reaffirmed they are on our top ten couples list, but they also gave us confidence in the ability to maintain said coolness after having the poop-factory, sleep-interrupting, time-consuming, miracle of life.

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The Great New Zealand Road Trip (North Island) is now a closed chapter in the history books and they say that history is the place between where memory ends and fiction begins.  Being the keeper of history for this particular event I would have to mark the occasion as a success.  We laughed, we cried, we laughed hard enough to make us cry (Well. . . everything but the crying part).  We navigated the North Island at alarming rates of speed with only two minor accidents, both coincidentally occurring in parking lots.  The only real question we are left with is ‘Would you do it again?’ and to that I say . . . maybe.

With that I give you your moment of Zen.

The Great New Zealand Road Trip (North Island) Grand Finale Photos

Christmas at The Farm

The Farm has been a part of my life since I can remember.  A gathering place for family Christmas’ and other celebrations over the years.  Where every kid in the family has spent at least one school holiday.  A place that welcomes anyone, and everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the daily workings of the farm; whether it be shoveling and bagging sheep wool, moving cattle, installing fences, collecting eggs from the chicken coop, or helping in the kitchen.  There was even time to have a little fun riding the motorbikes or the old horses, Anzac and Brownie.

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Christmas eve had us making our way to Te Kuiti (the sheep sharing capital of New Zealand!) to my aunty Pam and Uncle John’s farm.  This marked my first visit back since I left New Zealand in 2000.  We began the three-hour journey by stopping for supplies along the way (booze) and for a what was meant to be a quick stop for diesel.  Our fearless leader, being a little eager to reunite with his brothers and sisters, attempted to navigate the process with the same speeds he uses to attack the open road.  It was a simple shake of the left hand, slide of the right.  As the gas attendant stepped away for just a moment, dad took over the process and mistakenly topped off one of the diesel run campers with petrol.  After a few well deserved comments from everyone, we came to the realization that we could very well be stranded at the petrol station for an unknown amount of time.  Waiting on AA to come from who-knows-where, to empty our gas tank.  Thankfully the Christmas spirit and luck were in full force.  While we were standing around trying to figure out our next move, in rolls a local diesel mechanic to top off his truck before his holiday.

Drew, always being on the ball, made his way over to the mechanic to see if he could help us out.  He was a nice guy who was more than willing to help us out on Christmas Eve.  Luckily dad had only put a few litres (24) of petrol in with the diesel, so it was a simple matter of siphoning out the petrol and refilling with diesel.  Half an hour or so later we were on our way.

IMG_7668Pulling up the driveway to the farm brought back so many memories.  It was great to be back after so long.  The first night back on the farm was a good one – I was reintroduced to a few cousins and met a handful of second cousins for the first time.  One particular memory from the farm was the awesome food.  And this night was no exception, the Easton’s put on an awesome feast of steak and salads.  Bret had to force feed himself the remaining steak after being told that the working dogs would be fed the amazing leftovers.

IMG_2102Christmas day was the big family reunion.  Bret and I kicked it off with a long run along the country roads.  Trying to justify the inevitable day of overeating and drinking.  As the day progressed, more and more family members arrived and more and more empty beer and wine bottles stacked up.  Uncle John kept himself busy throughout the day by showing all the first time guests (and a few of the seasoned veterans) around the property.

IMG_2101As always we were all treated to a delicious feed, consisting of mutton, ham and a new one for me, hammed mutton with all the trimmings and some good old kiwi deserts.  After our tummies were filled, the “reuniting” (drinking) continued.  With a reputation at stake, Bret and I helped usher in Boxing day with a handful of worthy participants.  Before we knew it, 4am rolled around and it was time to call it a night.  Christmas 2012 was one to remember.  Catching up with cousins, aunties, uncles and meeting a few new ones.

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After a slow start to Boxing day we continued the Great New Zealand Road Trip (North Island) and made our way to Taupo.  Along the way we stopped by the Waitomo Caves, a once in a lifetime event.  Viewing the glow worms that line the inside of the cave is an amazing experience and the $48 price tag ensures you will be sitting in the cafe if you ever find yourself visiting the area again.