Monday, April 27, 2009

Me and Katy down by the schoolyard

So I'm a bonafide catsitter these days. Yup, a change of career. This one pays differently, tossing in free accomation in a 3 story townhouse, minus any actual payment. So I'm living like a king, out in a nice suburb, living with a cat and taking a bus to work.

The life is good out here, except for the bad weather which has been rainy, windy and cloudy for a few days now. Had to borrow a bike to get into work before 6am yesterday and lets just say, the ride wasn't that nice. But the perks of not paying rent and getting the cash flow problem fixed are quite nice. The main problem with the cash flow, was that there was no cash flowing in for 2 months of travel in a van, therefore, the account got down to the double digits and I got back to working. Now with money coming in and not much going out, the future looks like I found the golden treasure of El Dorado.

I've got a sweet view from my bedroom on the third story. Overlooking a huge park with several playing fields, and Mount Kaukau across the way. I'm up on a hill which is wicked, giving a sort of valley texture to the area between myself and the mountain. I've attached a photo of a sunrise and will get more once the current clouds go away.

Hope all is rocking with everyone. Enjoy the pictures

Katy giving me the staredown

Spotting something much more interesting outside

What's that, who's playing reggae?

Sunrise colours at 6:20, time to head off to work

More travel photos

Jumping over the Moeraki Boulders
What a penguin would do if it could

The boys tackling the world's steepest street in Dunedin

Check out the beard and the steep street

That'sa me, way up there

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The tranzscenic train going from Christchurch to Picton

More good views along the way from the open air viewing car

Me in the viewing car with no view at all thanks to my wonderful photographer

Kaikoura with the snow capped mountains meeting the ocean

The travels are done. It’s been a bit over 2 months and we’ve been to pretty much most of NZ. Done both islands, seeing both sides of each, plus some good stuff in the middle. The trip has been amazing and I’ll miss traveling around in the van. I’ve got to get back to civilization, taking showers not in the ocean and sleeping in a bed once again.

On Easter, I took the train from Christchurch up to Picton where I then took a ferry to Wellington. The train was definitely the highlight of the day, starting at 7am with the sunrise through the fog and out along the coast, past seal colonies, snow capped mountains, vineyards and salt flats. Pretty much you get to see a lot of types of NZ landscapes all on a 5 hour trip, in the cushiness of a train. There was a open viewing car, where you could go and get some fresh train air with no windows to mess up your photos. Pretty sweet stuff.

Now I’m back in Wellington, and back working at Midnight Espresso. Things are golden as always. It’s good to be back in town, seeing a bunch of friends in the first few days and staying with some up on a hill over the city. I’ve got myself a nice walk into the city for this week, before moving in next week to a townhouse I’ll be house sitting for. So this week, I’m close to the city and able to get around quite easily.

Work is sweet as, as the Kiwis would say. Cooking and doing some baking shifts as well. Baked some wicked peanut butter chocolate cookies yesterday that got rave reviews as did my caramel slice. It’s been fun to mess around and try new recipes, things that are typical in NZ. Baked some Anzac Biscuits today, sugary coconut cookies that are named after the Australia New Zealand Armed Corp. They’ve been baked since WWI.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The south of the south starring the Catlins

Nugget Point Sunrise
The scruff and the falls

The southernmost point on the south island

The travelers see Stewart Island in the distance

Big Blue spends a night on the beach

Named after a former landowner, the Catlins is basically the very southern part of NZ, along the water, full of beaches, waterfalls, caves, fields and heaps of sheep. At Slope Point, you are at the southernmost part of the south island. Since we’d already been to the northernmost point on the north island, it was customary to be a good tourist and do the bottom of the bottom. Pretty rough water out there, with a few islands a ways off being the actual southern part of NZ. We saw some sweet 4 tiered waterfalls along with an old shipwreck from 50 years ago. Several lighthouses, along with seal sightings were other stops that we hit up along the way, going from sealed to unsealed roads, taking our time, enjoying it all and trying to stay ahead of the rain, which we actually did for a while.

For about the third night in a row, we ended up camping on top of a hill. With it being autumn and having had a cold spell lately, it was again a cold night. Bundled up in some woolen socks that were used in Antarctica (not sure if that means they work in the cold, or they didn’t work and therefore were sent back) and an extra blanket, we made it through to wake up for another sunrise. Unlike the last few days where there were too many clouds, we had some breaks of blue skies for the sunrise over Nugget Point.

Nugget Point is unbelievable. Nugget shaped rocks spread around the water, with a lighthouse on the cliffs above make it a good photo op. Watching the sun come up, with nothing but you and nature, is tough to beat. That’s definitely been one of the highlights of each day on the trip. The clouds which were there, rained and then hailed on us, but that couldn’t take away from the place. Nothing like watching the sun rise, with blue skies in the distance and yet getting pelted with small frozen raindrops. Definitely better than the blowhole from the day before that wasn’t blowing. Anyways, from Invercargill through the Catlins, we made it out to the eastern part of the southland.

Dunedin is a wicked city, full of students and some great microbreweries, plus one of the best botanic gardens around. From beer tasting, to walking up the steepest paved street in the world, to viewing the city from the highest mountain around, Dunedin was a good stop. Nearby, the Otago Peninsula, is full of seals, albatrosses and lots of other wildlife. We spent a day out there, swimming around in the cold water and checking everything out. At the beach where we swam, there were some seals showing off and posing, while the penguins were in hiding. It was a wicked day, even with having to hike up for 20 minutes up sand dunes. Great views, blue skies and not many people, out in nature: what the Otago Peninusla is all about.

The Warrant of Fitness test

In New Zealand, cars older than 5 years have to get a Warrant Of Fitness test done every six months. The WOF is a safety test, to make sure that your car is safe for the road, both for you and other drivers. After owning Big Blue for a few months, our warrant was up and we headed south to the largest city around, Invercargill to get it done. Like most travelers, we wanted to get the warrant passed and on our way, no hassles, nice and easy. We found out about an easy garage in the middle of nowhere that was perfect, but he was in a spot of trouble and couldn’t do any warrants, so we had to look into other garages. After having no luck with getting a warrant on the same day, we happened upon a garage that could do it right away. They turned out to be a very strict garage and were quite nice to come up with several things wrong with the van that had to be fixed in order to pass the WOF.

Luckily Invercargill is a big city and after checking out some repair places, we found a place that could scramble up everything we needed, from welding some cracks, getting a new seat belt cover for us, changing brake hoses and a few other things. Unlike the 500 dollars quoted at the strict garage, we were able to get the work done for pretty cheap, paying not even half that amount.

Allan, the repair/salvage yard owner, was a genius with cars, but had to do all the work as he hired 3 braindead people to work for him. Things took a while there, but after 2 days, everything was set, and we passed our warrant. The delay gave us time to see Bluff, famous for their oysters and windy hills, plus good views of Stewart Island.

We drove on the beach where Burt Munroe raced his famous Indian, as seen in The World’s Fastest Indian. Not bad for an old timer to be setting speed records in a self modified 1920s motorcycle. We spent the night on the beach, hoping the high tide wouldn’t be too high and sweep the van away. In the morning, with just a couple tiny islands in between us and Antarctica, we went for a swim. The water was mighty cold, refreshing, and rejuvenating. Clean and ready to rock, with a safe van, we were able to leave the southwest of NZ and move on to the east coast.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Southern sweetnes, yeah the south island rocks

The travellers reach the southern lakes

Nothing like stone towers and waterfalls

Sunset at Lake Wanaka, where it got down to 0 degrees celsius

Natural hot springs after a 7 hour hike up towards the southern alps

The wild west coast

Here are some pictures from the last few weeks of travel on the south island.

Starting with the apples and going through amazing valleys along a river out to the west coast where the beaches were super rough. Driving past vineyards and orchards into the valley was great, as the trees are starting to change colour for autumn and the riverbed was lined with water, stones and trees. The drive along the west coast is also pretty impressive with scattered islands and rocks and some of the rougher water we’ve seen in NZ. The beach swimming wasn’t as nice as before, as you’ll see in a few pics where the waves are higher than I am, and just 10 feet away from the shore, thus being super strong and taking out our feet as we went it. The fact that the beaches were filled with rocks that were shot at our ankles by the waves didn’t help getting out too far, but made for an entertaining time.

Also entertaining on the west coast were the sandflies. For those who haven’t been to NZ before, they are worse than mosquitos. They look like little black flies, quite harmless until they land on you and bite, and when you smack them away, there’s blood coming out. Little bastards. Heaps of them too, surrounded a lot of the time down by the beach. For dinner, we’d walk around eating, trying not to get attacked. We’ve learned a few of the kiwi tricks to fighting them off, using an antiseptic mixed with baby oil which works well. Keeps them from biting, but they’re still around.

The glaciers are a huge draw after the pancake rocks for tourists. Pretty impressive, with the tallest mountain, Mt Cook and the southern alps behind them as a background. After checking out a small gold mining town, we hiked the overnight Copland Track. 7 hours of hiking up through small creeks and rivers, past tons of rocks and landfalls up to a hut surrounded by mountains and some natural hot springs. In the morning, we were greeted with views of snow capped mountains from the nearby river before heading back to the carpark and the sandflies.

From the west coast, we drove to the southern lakes, a land full of huge, blue, beautiful lakes. We’re in Wanaka right now, have been for 4 days. Such an amazing town, on what is regarded as the most beautiful lake in NZ. They’ve got an amazing brewery, a sweet toy museum, lots of hiking, the world’s largest two story maze and much more. Plus Uncle Mike’s BBQ, serving up some great American pork ribs. Today we hiked out to another glacier, driving around the lake up towards snow capped mountains, just doesn’t get any better than that.