Matthew's News and Gossip: 06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003

Matthew's News and Gossip

A man with no talent, but armed with a digital camera, can waste lots of bandwidth

Friday, June 27, 2003

So in the very fine tradition of better very, very late than never, I'm going to dash off the last month of my travelogue, another piece that was originally written in May and then was eaten by my Handspring Visor--funnily enough Handspring was bought by Palm last month, so soon I'll be complaining about another tech company that doesn't exist anymore?­.

Anyway this contains the story of what I did in New Zealand part two from April 1 to mid-May. And bear in mind that I'm writing this in late June so some memories may already be inaccurate! Be warned: It is LONG, but you didn't have anything useful to do at work today anyway, did you?

I got back to Christchurch, recovered my car and set off for Wanaka. (Look towards the bottom of this map of the south island). I couldn't find my hiking boots in the car, so I figured out by looking at my photos that the last time I went hiking was in Wanaka so I called the hostel I stayed in there--the Purple Cow. Amazingly enough the person I got on the phone had found some boots there 2 weeks before, and they seemed to fit the description. I drove down there, past the huge hedges of the flat Canterbury Plain, through a rather nice Valley Gorge, past Mt Cook, and picked up my boots and spent the night in Wanaka before heading back to Queenstown.

Back in Queenstown I did very little other than more paragliding. I found Liza's Extreme Air Paragliding school open for business for one more week and by now her partner/boyfriend John had got off his suspension. (Lisa actually won her court case against the guys who beat her up the mountain the day before I started with her later that week). I certainly got a few more good flights in. But I was also keen to zip off to Fjordland and do some hiking. Anyway, the last day I was there the pilots all went off to a more difficult site that I wasn't allowed to fly from (because the last one of Lisa's students to do it had flown into a tree--he was OK but the glider wasn't!). So that day I went up the Gondola. Took some fabulous pictures, and did the rather hair-raising luge run a few times! All the Queenstown pictures are here.

My next stop was an overnight trip in Milford Sound. Milford is the most famous tourist destination in New Zealand. It's a huge fjord rather similar to Yosemite Valley, in that it has glacier cut cliffs and huge mountains rising out of the water. There's also an amazing road to get there, complete with a very rough tunnel hewn out of the rock. Several aggressive mountain Keas (an Alpine parrot, would you believe) hang out in a parking lot to entertain the passers-by, trash your car and try to get fed!).

Once at the water I went out on an overnight cruise (after a long chat with the staff at the local cafe, who were not fans of "President" Bush). We cruised up and down the sound (which is actually a fjord not a sound--for the definition look on the right hand column here!), and then put into a bay for a quick kayak. I saw some dolphins across the other side, so paddled out towards them, but they of course were too far away and swimming in the other direction.. The night on board the Wanderer was quite fun, with hearty dinners and endless games of trivial pursuit. The next morning it was (as it usually is there) raining. This meant that we got to see the fjord in all its waterfall glory. It also meant it was bloody cold! But it could have been worse. I could have chosen to start a 3 day hike that day but luckily delayed it--a great decision as it turned out! The drive out was still pretty wet. The granite cliffs turn into multiple waterfalls, and there was even the odd rainbow. All the Milford photos are here

After multo-preparation including buying a sleeping bag and making sure that it fitted into my day pack, and buying lots of noodles, I set off on the Kepler Track. A quick digression--New Zealand's DOC is damn serious about making its outdoors tourist friendly; beyond all the extreme sports, well built out tracks, free national parks and general insistence that you should get out there it's an accepted career path for people to quit sensible jobs and become mountain guides, whitewater guides, etc, etc, etc. There are even college courses for it, and plenty of guides are middle-aged types mid-career rather than the typical drop-out who's going to go back to college to be an accountant that you tend to meet in the US. That alone means that the place has lots to recommend it.

Back to the Kepler track; the Kepler Track was created because too many people couldn't get a booking on the more famous Milford and Routeburn tracks. It has the decided advantage that you start and end at the same place (Te Anau) and it's the most "Alpine" of the southern tracks--although strictly speaking Fjordland is south of the Southern Alps. On the Kepler there is one day of walking around the lake and up into the hills above the Bush line, the next day is in the mountains and the last day or two (depending how you want to leave) are mostly in the bush around another lake. The path is fabulously maintained by the very effective Department of Conservation. You stay in back country huts but huts with gas cookers and bunk beds. After a somewhat late start on the first day I made the climb past the lake out of the woods up to the top, where I met an amusing Irish/American couple Fearghal and Amy who were torturing a Kea. The top was still fogged in, but as the night came on it got very clear and cold and the moon came out. My role in the kitchen was boiling water for two young Nebraskan exercise physiologists, Melissa and Sophia who had obviously missed the class about eating properly in extreme conditions (tuna only?) and hadn't brought a pot. All 50 or so of us in the bunk room at 4000ft/1200m and minus 10 degrees C froze our arses off. Getting up for a pee in the middle of the night was one of the grimmest experiences of my life! But the next day made it all worthwhile. I had a fabulous walk the next day. It had snowed the day before and now it was crisp and clear and glorious--all the mountains had a sparkling snowline and the two huge lakes you could see were deep, deep blue. I started the day with a detour to a nice cave, then caught some of the early departers and headed up Mount Luxmore. This is me on the top. Then it was 5 hours walking over and around great peaks. If I had to pick one scenic day from my entire 9 months, this was the best. If you don't have time to look at the whole huge set, these one, two, three are great samplers.

At the end of that beautiful day walking in the magical mountain landscape you drop back below the bush line and head to another hut, the Iris Burn, this time thankfully at less than 200 meters, and a damn site warmer. Over the course of the day as I started late and walked quickly, I also got to hang out and chat with several fun people some of whom I've got shots of here. There was a big group of Kiwis from Auckland including Alan from the Phoenix research company (sounds a bit like Harris where I used to work, but luckily he didn't offer me a job), and Max and Frances (in front here) who run the Art of Work career consultants, and felt that if I just knew what I wanted for a job they could get it for me. Frances was marginally stumped by my desire to get paid for drinking beer and watching footy. Fergahl and Amy somehow got in the middle of it all too. Suitably Fearghal's site is called --He had obviously done plenty of "touring" by the time he got to Kepler because for some reason he decided to hurl himself off the cliff next to me at one point. Luckily I caught enough of him to stop him becoming Kea food. The Kansan chicitas posed gracefully, as did the lovely but very, very slow walking Yumi from Japan and Yue from Okinawa, who took this rather good picture of me. Yue was very somewhat dismayed to learn (from me because I asked, she was far too polite) that of the 6 Americans in the hut only Amy (who'd lived in Japan) and I knew where Okinawa was and that the US has a huge, totally superfluous, Marine base there, which the Okinawans would like us to remove because of incidents like this. In fact the huts were a good place for explaining the US primary system to dumbfounded Europeans who just cannot fathom how we ended up with the Shrub as President, and why we let the religious right dominate politics (and who can blame them)

The next day I walked out past this big landslip, next to the very pretty Lake Manapo­uri (of which more later), and eventually several Kms later over this bridge and up to the road, where two lovely young American students gave me a ride back to my car. The score for the 45Kms I walked was one blackened toenail, one duffed knee (the right not the left), and pretty sore feet and back. But the psychic reward was much greater than the pain. It had been a great walk, the longest and best I'd ever done. All the pics of the Kepler track are here (be warned, there are over 120!)

But my adventures continued on and on. The next day I got up at 6 am to go on a 2 day kayaking trip on yet another fjord, Doubtful Sound. No Danish girls this time, but no snoring Englishmen either (for more on that in Abel Tasman see the MArch 2 entry by scrolling down here). We had a great group including waggish northerner Dazza and his girlfriend Sarah, honeymooning Aussies Sue and Mark (on right), and three single girls all for me (well I'm supposed to think that, eh!) Sile an English Kiwi, Tara a fun Irish girl with great dreadlocks, and my paddling partner Sarah from Martha's Vineyard who used to be a dot comma in San Francisco at but was cursed by never seeing a dolphin, and most importantly our guide, Ben. We took a cruise over Lake Manapouri past the power station, that had a very controversial beginning and was the birth of environmentalism in New Zealand, when it was discovered that all the power would be sold to an Australian aluminum smelter for cheap. The good news about the power station is that a very expensive road was built from the lake to the sound (see this map for an idea--the road is between the lake at the bottom right and the fjord out to sea--no other roads anywhere near it) and so people wanting to get to the Sound can. Hence our Kayaking trip. The company was Fjordland seakayaking and they were great. After being made ot share a tent with the snoring Englishman, I counted on my fingers, divided by two and was looking forward to one of the girls being allocated to my tent. But Ben had thought ahead and got an extra tent. Pity they didn't think of that at Abel Tasman! Overall it was a very well run operation. The gear was excellent, the camp site was excellent, it didn't rain (incredibly) the water was totally smooth and the sand flies (who's bites are absolute murder and itch for far far longer than mosquito bites) were relatively stand-offish. Two days on incredibly still water, with mirrored reflections like these, were interspersed by a comfortable night with lots of good cheap wine in the camp--although I think that Sue thought it was a little more rustic than she expected for her honeymoon! We saw lota of seals very very close up, but the dolphins never joined us. Still a beautiful relaxed experience. Actually I was accused of being too relaxed by Tara and Sile, and leaving Sarah to do all the paddling, but I'm sure that wasn't true! All the Doubtful Sound pics are here.

After the end of the trip I planned to go to the Caitlins (right at the bottom right ofthis map of the south island). ). I was getting a little bored of driving alone, and found a crazy Catalan called Carmen (of course) who wanted to come too. Carmen was on vacation from working in a jungle camp in Borneo. We went to dump her car in Queenstown (again!) and then took the day heading down to the wild southern coast. If Fjordland is like Norway and the Alps are like Switzerland, and the West Coast is like California's Big Sur, the Caitlins (pronounced Kat-Lins) are like the wilds of Ireland. But they have seals and lots of sea-lions, including these two doing a mating dance, and a very few, rare yellow-eyed penguins (look at this and then at this live one). Sadly it was too rough for us to see any Hector's Dolphins, but I'd already seen some on the West Coast. Funnily enough I met a Canadian couple who told me about this person they'd befriended who was trying to see dolphins but never seemed to see them anywhere--and of course it was Sarah my paddling partner from Doubtful Sound (She did see some later apparently). Carmen and I braved the coming rain (only the second day of rain I'd seen incredibly given that it rains 8 meters a year on the west coast) and saw a few tunnels and waterfalls. However, the clock was ticking and I had to head north. All the Caitlins photos are here I dropped Carmen off in Queenstown, and next morning headed north, stopping to ridiculously play a quick 9 holes of golf on the world's cheapest course in Wanaka (well, it was ANZAC day--Veterans day for Aus and Kiwis), and then went all the way back up Highway 6 on the West Coast to Greymouth (Look towards the middle left of this map of the south island).
That was a long day with some more lovely lake and fall color views, but I did get to stop off at the Ship Creek beach where I'd seen the Dolphins ( they weren't there this time), and at Fox Glacier which I'd seen in 1982 but not since. I watched a Super 12 rugby match (not this one which was the Final between the Auckland Blues and Canterbury Crusaders a few weeks later) in Greymouth (on TV) and hit the sack (it had been a long driving day 400Km). Next day was a more leisurely drive heading north past the Pukitika blowholes (this time blowing properly)over to Nelson Lakes with its pretty lakes and mountain terrain that makes a hell of a hike apparently, up to Nelson and returning to the warm welcome of Deb and Chris at the Green Monkey, the best hostel in New Zealand. That drive did prove that like Tasmania, New Zealand is not necessarily an untouched paradise. In fact there is plenty of industrial tree farming and clear cutting, as this photo of Weyerhauser's Kainui "forest" evidences. Here's the drive photos (took me 2 days driving)

Back in Nelson, it was all paragliding. Richard and Andrea kept their Adventure Paragliding school open in the hope that I'd get some flights in, and boy did I. I really started to click doing all weird exercises like rear riser steering, induced collapses, and getting some great soaring in on the thermals and a couple of top landings. At the end I made the fateful decision to buy the Gin Bolero wing I'd been flying; Richard also managed to flog me a Digifly Explorer vario and nearly a harness. In fact I bought the Sup'Air Profeel harness in Auckland as Richard was out of stock. So now I'm ready to rock! After a last flight in which my previously easy soaring glider sank like a rock (now that it was mine!), and some excruciating money changing hassles (because Richard and Andrea weren't set up for credit cards or Paypal--but I hope they will be now!) I left Nelson, strangely with no photos & headed off to the ferry from Picton to Wellington and up to the North Island. Look a the very south of this map for Wellington.

Wellington started in a blur, especially as the fire alarm went off in the hostel I was staying in and 300 backpackers spent 20 minutes on the very windy street. I looked at the clever ones who'd got dressed and had got all their stuff out with them--I was wearing flip-flops and a blanket, duh! I also met a Scottish girl called Elaine on the street, then saw her again at breakfast a 20 min walk away, then again in the Te Papa national (and rather over-rated) museum of New Zealand 3 hours later. She told me where to go in Napier. I drove up there (Napier is half way up the EAST coast) and found that she was a local celebrity, or at least was in the hostel I stayed in. But it was the town of Napier that's the real celebrity. (Wellington and road to Napier photos are here)

Napier is a microcosm of the 1930s. In 1932, a 7.9 earthquake knocked the whole place down and it burnt to the ground. The entire down town and a few buildings in the 'burbs were rebuilt in glorious Art Deco fashion. It out does South Beach, Miami in architecture, if not in model viewing! Luckily before a bunch of philistines tore it all down (and yes they did start) a movement arose to protect it in the 1980s, and now it's a big tourist attraction with fantastic buildings like this one, this one and that one, great walking tours and great 1930's weekends. All the Napier photos are here. It's also the center of the Hawkes Bay wine region. I brought a few bottles to Auckland and San Francisco for my friends to lay down--of course all the wine I gave away got drunk immediately.

As I drove up to Auckland past Lake Taupo, and this really cool waterfall, and this geothermal power plant zone it started to really rain and the window of my trusty Honda Accord started to leak badly. This was a sign that I was going home and towards reality. In fact as I had stayed longer than expected in NZ, the car's Warrant of Fitness (like the British MOT test) had expired, and it failed it because of the window rust, making its value go from US $300 to $30. Still not a bad deal for transporting me around NZ for several weeks with absolutely no problems. The photos from the drive from Taupo are here.

So late on a Friday night I made it to Auckland. Suellen Crab was my nanny in England in 1968 and I hadn't seen her since 1982. She and her husband David, son Anthony and daughter Stephanie made me very, very welcome. Anthony is a psychiatrist and had been living in the UK. He'd traveled there after I'd gone to the US, and was just moving back to New Zealand for good when he met a girl in a pub. who by the way was on a date with someone else! What does today's rational boy who's leaving the country (having sold his stuff, quit his job and told his mum his 4 year overseas jaunt was over) do? Well of course he gets engaged in about 2 weeks. His sister (who'd also relatively recently returned from the UK, but unencumbered by stray men) clearly thought the whole thing was crazy, but after I saw the pics of the gorgeous concert pianist he was marrying, I didn't entirely blame him! (I do think he's crazy but what do you expect from a psychiatrist). After a great family breakfast in which Stephanie showed me her wonderful tattoo despite her mother's less than enthusiastic endorsement of it, David took me fishing out on the bay in his pride and joy, a 36ft cruiser. He caught one fish, I caught none, but we had a good look at where the New Zealand A (or Switzerland) beat New Zealand B in the America's cup, and at the now disused docks. The Auckland photos are here.

Suellen sent me up north to the Bay of Islands, where I randomly met Sunita from London who I'd met in Queenstown 2 months before. We ended up in a karaoke bar hanging with these Canadian girls watching a Socttish guy winning the bar prize with an incredible M&M (or is it Enimem?) impression. Next day I went on yet another attempt to swim with Dolphins. We found the dolphins but they had young ones with them, which meant that you can?¯t go in the water. I took a few cool pics like this, this and this and movies of them nonetheless. And did you know that dolphins spend 60% of their time mating, and that most of the flips they do are in the other 40% of the time preparing for it? Well you do now! (And I know what you want to be reincarnated as!.)

My car meanwhile was failing the MOF test, but still got me to the very north of new Zealand, to the famous 90 mile beach and the huge kauri trees. The farming landscape is a little strange up there, there's a beautiful bay and a wacky ferry (on which I took 3 strange German hitchhikers). I made it to Matakohe where there was the excellent bKauri Museum on the early life of New Zealand settlers, gum hunters (gum is like Amber) and timber before it closed but it wasn't long before I was back in Auckland. I went out with Doug and Paul (the same ones I'd re-met in Taiwan) who shared a beautiful place near downtown, and had what amounted to the only decent resturant meal I had in New Zealand--Hokitika Wildfoods notwithstanding. All the photos from my trip north of Auckland are here (lots of Dolphins again!)

I totally managed to screw up my exit form the country. I arranged to go a day early so that I could go to Stephen Burley's 40th Birthday party in Sydney, then discovered that there really wasn't room at the table for me and I was never invited. By then I couldn't change my reservation back, so I had to crash with Mike & Georgie Gibbons near Sydney airport--they were out that night by the time I go there so I only had a few minutes to chat wasted my time. I managed to not buy tickets for the Auckland Blues v Wellington Hurricanes Super 12 match and then got stuck in traffic jam so I couldn't even make it to the ground in time (ended up seeing it at Suellen and David's house) However, all in all I had a marvelous time in New Zealand. What a great place. I really wish it hadn't taken me 21 years to get back there--Please let it not be 21 more before I go back!

So then I got to seedy Honolulu, in a seedy hostel before moving over to Maui to hang in the Westin with (ex?-girlfriend/booty call) Carter Hachman. Yes she reappears in the blog, still as cool, sexy and difficult as ever, but this time with the news that she's moving to England. We had three great days on the beach in Maui. It was a nice way to tune down--being back in the US without being back really. We did a little bit of rain forest viewing, saw a few cool windsurfers throwing tricks, and had some unbelievably expensive meals (I'm still used to $2 for a slap up feast in Vietnam!) It was a strange way to come back to the US. All the Maui pics are coming when I can find where I put them!.

So after all that traveling, what's my conclusion? Well, it sure beats working. But someday you've got to go home!..or do you?

posted by matthew  # 10:04 AM 


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