Saturday, April 11, 2009

New Zealand Rocks!!!

If there is one thing at which New Zealand excels - and, in fact there is not just one but many things - it is naming mountains and mountain ranges. A couple of my favorite examples include a range called The Remarkables (which they pronounce Remahkables) and peak called Mount Aspiring. There is something inherently satisfying about waking up in the morning and saying to yourself, I'm going to climb Mount Aspiring today. The fact that the mountain namers had the fortitude not to change the name to Mount Inspiring, as I'm sure they were pressured to do by various self centered interest groups, is inspirational in itself.

But I guess I owe you some chronology before we go too far off on this or any other tangent. We left Tahoe at the start of March, spent a couple of days taking care of wedding plans and other arrangements at Alle's parents place in Marin, and then flew to Sydney to meet Alle's sister Dorianne and her family - husband, Charlie Coventry, and baby daughter, Alexandra. We spent the day in Sydney and Balmain, which is the close-in 'suburb' where the Coventrys live... think Hoboken or Sausalito or Manayunk or Cambridge only even easier access to the city. We also attended a 70's themed surprise birthday party for one of Charlie's 'best mates' thrown at the ultimate Balmain Bachelor Pad belonging to the birthday boy's brother. The place had an incredible roof deck with lots of flowing water and a five star view of the Sydney skyline, as well as a great glass living room. The next morning the five of us left for New Zealand. where the Coventrys spent a long weekend while Alle and I spent a full week, and from there traveled to Fiji.

After a false start (the first plane we took got 2.5 hours into the 4 hour trip to NZ before turning around and going back to Sydney to fix a crack in the windshield... apparently flying 18 wheelers can spew stones at your vehicle even at 35,000 feet) we landed just before dusk in Queenstown, an adventure travel mecca on New Zealand's South Island. This part of New Zealand is so uniquely beautiful that simply looking around while deplaning and walking down the runway is enough to take your breath away.

We spent our week in New Zealand in Queenstown and Wanaka (rhymes with Hanukkah). Some highlights of our time there were:

- The Rob Roy Glacier Hike - A 4 hour trek that started with fording more than a few creeks in our rental car to get to the trailhead. On the hike we passed through meadowlands, rain forrest, raging rivers (via suspension bridge), and waterfalls, ultimately ending up at base of the glacier itself. This was a hike that our very nice, very friendly, somewhat sissy Bed & Breakfast proprietor told us we were crazy to do given the 'cold' weather... as it turned out we were hot in jeans and t-shirts, and we no longer took his advice on activities. This trip was representative of many of the hikes we did, but we won't spend time on the gory details of each one - suffice it to say they were all dramatic and beautiful.

- Luge Carts - Basically adult tricycles that you can race down a paved mountain course. Never underestimate the power of a silly helmet and a little bit of speed to put a smile on your face.

- Pizza at The Cow - A veteran of NZ skiing, Charlie's favorite apres restaurant is a pizza joint called The Cow. As we were there in late summer/early fall, there was no skiing, but the place was still hopping. It looked like a little tavern out of the Lord of the Rings* movies, and it served some of the best pizza I've ever had.

* I mentioned in the previous post that I now believe Peter Jackson's real stroke of genius was simply shooting the LOTR movies in New Zealand. After all, the plot of the second movie was "There's going to be a battle, now there is a battle, now the movie is over." And yet it was a mega-hit, mostly because it looked really cool. Well, EVERYTHING in New Zealand looks really cool! Alle and I were taking pictures and saying things to eachother like, "You know, I really think you have an incredible eye for photography... these are top .1% pictures we're taking here... I don't know why more people can't take breathtaking pictures like we can... We are really talented!" Turns out New Zealand is so picturesque that if you have good light and an index finger you're going to take phenomenal pictures.

- Meat Pies - Did you know that the national food of New Zealand is essentially a hot pocket? Me neither. If I had, I'd have gone there sooner.

The unquestioned lowlight was:

- Losing our camera - One evening toward the end of our stay in Queenstown we went sailing on an America's Cup style sailboat. On the boat was a crew of 4 people and about 20 tourists, most of them late middle aged American couples. Long story short, one of the couples on the trip asked us to take their picture, and then returned the favor by dropping our three week old camera containing a couple hundred unsaved pictures into the lake. In the grand scheme of things, this is clearly small potatoes. That said we both felt like we'd been punched in the gut when we saw our camera hit the water. While drowning our sorrows in creative cocktails, we realized that the worst part of losing all of those pictures was not being able to share our experience the way we want to with all of you. While we are loving this time, we also really miss being with everyone back home, having lost the ability to show you the Rob Roy hike or the view from the B&B is certainly a bummer. Fear not, we bought a brand new camera the next day and we were able to take some great shots. Unfortunately and somewhat ironically, Alle accidentally erased all these photos while playing with the new camera one day before we left. In the end, we realized that these camera mishaps may be your good fortune as we had taken more photos than we imagine you would want to see - apparently some of you have jobs.

A few of the things we found ourselves talking about were:

- If you were tasked with starting a colony on another planet (maybe one that looks a lot like New Zealand?), and you could set 4 parameters before the mission leaves, what would they be?

- Was Slum Dog Millionaire (which we saw while in Queenstown) depressing or uplifting?

- Do public service announcements and ads (of which New Zealand has a ton) actually provide a public service?

- Is a Cheeseburger still a Cheeseburger if its more like a steak and covered in disgusting relish (as they are in New Zealand)?

Despite being afflicted with two of the ten plagues preceding the Exodus,* and serving sub-par food, Fiji is a beautiful place. We arrived and spent one night in the second largest city, Nadi (pronounced Nandy) and then took a ferry to Plantation Island Resort where we spent 5 restful days. The Plantation Resort is located on Malolo Island and has been around since Alle's parents were first married 30+ years ago. It turns out that Alle has already been to Plantation, but she was so young that she can't remember her famous attempt to escape from her parents by running away down the beach.

* frogs and locusts**
** locusts were actually mosquitos and sandflies. I basically used Alle as bug repellant; she had 46 bites on one leg at one time while I slept peacefully, maxing out at 2 bites on my elbow and 2 on my ankle after a particularly bad night.

Highlights from this portion of the trip were:

- My first scuba diving experience. The variety of fish and sea life in Fiji is spectacular. We saw rays, gigantic lobster-type creatures hiding in caves, and all kinds of colorful tropical fish. The water is clear and warm and even Alle was happy to stay in it for hours, despite the constant threat of man-eating sharks lurking in every cave - or so she believed. Fiji is also a great place to get scuba certified - it takes about 25 minutes.

- A hotel sponsored hermit crab race where I got the best odds I've ever gotten in anything, but still lost.

- Good runs & good books - 'Killing Yourself to Live' by Chuck Klosterman, 'Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency' by Douglas Adams, 'High Fidelity' by Nick Hornsby, 'Empire' by Niall Ferguson, and 'The New Jewish Wedding' - the last one is a serious page turner.

- Playing touch rugby with the locals and having a very loose grasp of the rules and an even looser grasp of the strategy. You wouldn't really call it 'playing rugby' - 'running around like a jackass' would be more accurate.

- Stepping on an ants nest and getting bitten by the ants crawling into my sock, while Alle explained to me that she 'didn't like the tone' I was taking with her at the time.

- Sweating constantly. (That one was all me, Alle looked lovely as always.)

Thats all for now. As the Fijians say, 'Bula!'

1 comment:

  1. Well, I've finally figured out why Charlie married me 38 years ago....he needed bug repellant too! Alle...I'm so sympathetic about those sand flies...they LOVE me!

    Keep those postings coming. What an incredible trip you're having. Stay safe, xoxoxo m