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After a sort of long time on various planes, we are safely back in our house with our kitties.  We had a fabulous time, and I *promise* I will absolutely get at least short write-ups on what we did on a daily basis soon, with more detailed versions to come later.  (But if I don't do the shortish posts soon, they won't get done at all.  And I want them to get done.)

Off to do useful things, like grocery shopping and prepping the bedroom for attempting to clean mold off the walls.  Happy fun fall down. 
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We're in Australia!  I'm getting to use a full-size keyboard, which means I can type really fast!  But all my journaling is on the NexusOne, so I won't be posting much in the way of detailed day-by-day stuff.  'Sides, we're hanging out with friends currently, and I shouldn't be *too* antisocial.  :)

Lemme just say, though, the flock of parrots by the side of the road last night as we were being driven away from Melbourne Airport was really really cool.


Mar. 17th, 2010 11:57 pm
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Sunday March 14

We got rained on some more this morning in Auckland while waiting for the bus to the airport. It was actually kind of refreshing, actually, and it was further mitigated by knowing we'd spend the next few hours in airports and on planes.

Auckland International Airport is fairly small by the standards of, say, SFO or Logan. One international terminal and one domestic terminal and that's it. Security at the domestic terminal was distinctly light compare with US security - after computerized check-in, we were never asked to show ID to anyone, and we only had to produce boarding passes at boarding time, not at the security gate.

The flight to Queenstown was unsurprisingly brief and fairly dull due to the cloud cover for most of the way. But when we were about 15 minutes away from our destination, the clouds cleared and we got the very dramatic sight of the mountains below. (We also had dramatic turbulence, also due to the mountains!) When you step out of the plane and onto the tarmac, though, it's totally worth it because you're looking straight at Queenstown's most famous mountain range, the Remarkables (see photo). You just kind of stop, and stare in wonder.

We got a bus into downtown and found the place we were staying for the night. Turner Lodge is the nicer half of Alpine Lodge, but it retains a quite strong hostel flavor from its neighbor. You get a private room with your own bathroom and a TV, but that's about it - you'd better have your own soap and shampoo. But for the equivalent of about US$63 per night, you really can't complain too much. Oh, and as a bonus they have a cat on the property, who was happy to be petted and fawned over by two cat-deprived humans. They also have free wireless, but it's painfully slow.

Downtown Queenstown caters to the outdoors crowd - where in Auckland you couldn't go two blocks without seeing a convenience store and a Chinese restaurant, here it's a camping&tramping store everywhere you look. Which is great - and there's no shortage of hiking to do in the area!

The other thing that downtown specializes in is restaurants of every variety. Happily for the hiking and backpacking crowd, the vast majority of restaurants are both tasty and inexpensive. Once you get to Queenstown you can eat and sleep on the cheap. Which is great, because you'll want to save your dollars for some of the many attractions in and about Queenstown, about which more in the next couple of days.

We spent most of what remained of the afternoon taking one of the easy in-town walks around a little peninsula and through the Queenstown gardens. The lakeshore walk is beautiful, giving one abide introduction to the various mountains that surround Lake Wakatipu. It's just gorgeous. The gardens are really nice too, with an extensive rose garden, a pond, and other assorted plantings. There's also a Frisbee golf course that runs through the park and gardens which is free for anyone to use.

Tasty dinner at a 2-for-1 Indian place, then bed. Beds not all that comfy, but usable at the price we're paying. Tomorrow: Cruise on the lake and Queenstown gondola.

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Mar. 16th, 2010 05:22 pm
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Saturday March 13

Today was our last morning in Paihia. We took some more photos both around the condo (it turns out there's a mangrove swamp out front, it's hard to tell because the mangroves are only 3-4 feet high), the waterfront, and in town. Shortly before lunch we stumbled upon the Paihia Mission Station, a tiny historical site containing the ruins of the mission building, a reconstruction of the hut that the missionaries used before the stone house was built, and a lot of informative placards about relations with be natives, etc. The site is neat partially because it's still so new. The preservation society eventually hopes to turn it into a small 'living history's village with actors in residence, a working blacksmith's, and such.

The bus ride back to Auckland was fine. We both managed to doze some, which was nice. And we got photos (on the other camera, naturally) of a couple of interesting sites we'd noticed on the way up.

Once in Auckland, we checked in to our hotel, went to a tasty North African place for dinner, found that the chilly offshore breeze that had started back in Russell still hadn't stopped, and got sprinkled on. But since this was the first time we'd been rained on all trip, no biggie.

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Mar. 16th, 2010 12:45 am
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Friday March 12

If I were at home, I would take a sick day because of my cold. Humph.

We visited the Waitangi treaty grounds today. New Zealand started seeing English colonists about 1800, who introduced the usual crop of guns and germs. By the 1830s, the many local tribes were killing each other much more effectively, the English were acquiring land at a decent rate, there was general lawlessness over across the bay in Russell, and a Frenchman was making noises about declaring himself the sole sovereign ruler of New Zealand. The way that the Waitangi preserve tells it, some of the tribes appealed to the English for protection. The Waitangi treaty, signed in 1840, did four things:
- established the sovereignty of Victoria over New Zealand
- gave the tribes the right to own their land as long as they wanted it
- made the tribes promise that if they ever wanted to sell off land, they had to offer it to the English first
- in return, Victoria offered the tribes the same protections as other British citizens

The unspoken repercussions of the treaty were first that, contrary to the right to hold land clause, tribes were probably pressured into selling their land to the English. (There's a tribunal on to redress tribal land losses now.) But secondly, it marked the beginning of the unification of the multitudinous tribes across New Zealand into a single nation, which is held in great importance at the treaty ground.

The grounds are pretty neat. For the centennial celebration of Waitangi Day, a huge waka (war canoe) was built using traditional methods. It's the longest single-hull waka in the world, and very impressive. Then for the 150-year anniversary, a meeting house was built. It's quite unusual because the carvings inside come from all the different regions of New Zealand, rather than being in the style of a single tribe the way a usual one would. The cottage that the Englishman who wrote the treaty (whose name I've forgotten) lived in has been restored with period furnishings and has lovely gardens around it. The rest of the grounds have boardwalks going through forests of native trees, with wild birds wandering about. It was a neat place.

Near the treaty grounds there's a trail that goes over to some waterfalls if you follow it far enough. We didn't, but we got some marvelous views of the river as it flows out to the Bay of Islands.

We went back to the condo to rest and do laundry, then went into town again for dinner. We recommend Thai Garden (I think that's what it's called - there's only one Thai place in town): they use super-fresh veggies, which they cook but lightly in their stir-fry dishes, and the calamari that was in the seafood dish (I think it was called Ocean King) just about literally melted in my mouth. Yum!
In other news, we are safely in Te Anau, where our local source of wireless Internet is quite spiffy and fast. New pic up on my Picasa page!

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Mar. 14th, 2010 08:06 pm
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Thursday March 11

I woke up with some sort of itchy rash on the backs of both hands. Will keep an eye on it and see what it does.

After getting up and eating breakfast, we hiked awhile along a trail that ultimately connects Paihia with the next town south, Opua. We didn't go nearly that far - just 20 minutes or so up to a camping beach. We saw a large rock that was covered with oysters which was quite impressive.

I then took a turn at driving over into town. It's a distinctly odd sensation - everything is on the wrong side, including the turn signal. My windshield wipers got turned on accidentally more than once, but nothing worse than that happened. When we arrived downtown, we were delighted to find a craft fair in progress. We wandered about and had the pleasure of knowing that our purchases were made in New Zealand by New Zealanders. We spent the rest of the morning wandering around the tiny downtown. The souvenir shops in Paihia are generally nicer than those in Auckland.

Paihia has various ferries and cruises. We looked into a "Discover the Bay" afternoon cruise, but instead decided on the much more flexible (and much much cheaper) ferry over to Russell, a nearby peninsula settlement that our condo-owning friend had recommended. As we'd just missed the regular ferry, we took the 'fast' ferry across. The skipper seemed to take pride in going quite rapidly once out on the open water and giving any passengers who were sitting out in the open a good wetting as he cut through the waves!

Russell itself was a bit of a letdown. One could tell that it was a tourist destination - they nickel-and-dimed one for all they could. There was the mini-tour, the mission, the museum... We found ourselves stubbornly unwilling to pay for anything extra. We did enjoy the tiny church and graveyard, which are quite old. Inside the church, members have made needlepoint cushions for all the seats, and the Bible has Maori and English side by side on the page.

We took a standard ferry back to Paihia, discovered that the local library had free wireless Internet till it closed at 5, got dinner, and drove back to the condo while there was still light in the sky.
We really have crap free wireless access here; I haven't been able to successfully upload a single picture. Sorry for the inconvenience!

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In Queenstown. Crap wireless access, totally amazing mountains. Does there absolutely have to be a tradeoff?

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Mar. 11th, 2010 07:20 pm
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Wednesday March 10

The first order of business after breakfast was to pop down to our local cafe and get on their wireless network, so that we could use Skype to phone the credit card company. After two attempts, we determined that, while I could hear them just fine, there was something in the nature of the connection that allowed them to hear only every third to seventh word - no good for trying to solve a credit card snafu.(As a result of this lesson, we won't bother trying to call anyone else using that particular method.) We ended up using the phone in our hotel room, and were happy to pay the NZ$8 (about $5.50 US) to solve the problem. We spent the rest of the morning hanging about downtown. After lunch, we boarded the bus to go to Paihia.

The north island between Auckland and Paihia is mostly rolling, relatively steep green hills. There were a fair number of cows, some sheep, and a handful.each deer and alpacas/llamas. A lot of the scenery looked like it could have been in the Central Valley! And the greenness of the hills put me in mind of Hobbiton, even though I know that was in the south island. (We appear to have taken no photos of the trip with the phone's camera, sorry.)

Four hours later, we were in downtown Paihia! The auto rental guy was there to meet us, and after signing papers and calling our contact at the condo, Peter kindly took the wheel and drove the ~1.5 miles to the condo. I thought it was tremendously brave of him to drive on the 'wrong' side of the street!

It's a nice condo - two bedrooms, two bathrooms, good-sized living room, kitchen, eating area. The view outside the living room is much pleasanter than the wall of apartment that we had outside our hotel in Auckland (see
photos). It's on a bay so there's no surf, but it's still really pretty.

And because there's not tons of light pollution, you can see lots and lots and lots of stars, including old friends from home like Orion. The weird thing is, because we're in the southern hemisphere, he's upside down! This is much stranger than having the sun in the northern part of the sky rather than the southern - I've got a poor enough sense of direction that that difference is rather subtle. We took some long exposures of the night sky with our other camera; sadly, unless we switch SD cards around, you'll have to wait to see those.

And now, some Kiwi vocabulary:
Rocket (in the context of food) - a variety of lettuce
Give way - yield
Takeaway or carryout - takeout
Entree - appetizer, mains - main dish
Hokey-pokey - some flavoring that can be used with coffee or ice cream. No idea what it tastes like.

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Mar. 10th, 2010 08:19 pm
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Tuesday March 9

Alas, with our luck it was bound to happen: I have got some variety of cold. Feels like whatever I had back in early December - gook collecting in my throat at night, making it difficult to sleep. Ah well. Think I shan't be sorry that tomorrow I mostly have to sit on a bus for a while. Meanwhile, we carried on with our plan of seeing the Auckland Museum!

There's a bus that runs around the city in a big loop in both directions that we needed to take to get to the museum. We ended up going the wrong way, taking.g a forced tour of the opposite side of the city from where we actually wanted to go, but that was its own sort of fun.

If you ever visit Auckland you really should go to the museum here. Specifically, go to two exhibits: thee Maori Court and the Volcanoes exhibit. The Maori Court is jam-packed with artifacts, mostly wood carvings of one sort or another. Some of these, like the ancestor house, war canoe, and raised storage shed (see pictures) are very large and are heavily carved on every wooden surface! Whether the style appeals to you or not, you cannot fail to be impressed. And, given that Auckland is in a volcanic field, it's in the city's interest to educate the public about them. Thoroughly. The neatest part of the exhibit was the simulation of sitting in a private home in the city as a new volcano forms out in the bay.

Near the museum are two greenhouse gardens and a fern garden,which we naturally took a turn through. The tropical garden was quite impressive - there's a banana tree, huge water lilies, and a miracle berry plant. The fern grove was dim and quiet - very lovely.

Outside the gardens we could see the Sky Tower, which looked to be no more than a mile away. We decided to walk back to downtown. Short story shorter, we reached our hotel an hour later.

We found not-very-impressive Thai food for dinner at a food court, where my credit card was apparently rejected twice. This concerned us, so we figured we'd call the company in the morning with our handy Skype application in the morning.

Next: Bus trip through hobbit country and SkypeFail

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Mar. 8th, 2010 11:10 pm
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Monday March 8

Rangitoto is the youngest volcano in the Auckland area, having erupted only about 600 years ago. Today we climbed to its summit! (Don't worry, it's inactive now.) It's a hilly and rocky climb that takes about an hour. There's fields of rocky lava off to the sides of the path that look for all the world like an energetically rototilled lawn... except it's all boulders. There are lava caves near the summit, but we only went through the first of them as they were both exceptionally rocky and rather dark. The view at the top was quite something, but we took those photos with our other camera. We also saw some neat types of moss (see photos). We are both grateful for our hiking boots, and are very tired!

More Auckland observations:
- When the sun is out, it's very warm! We were lucky that today was mostly cloudy, which kept the temperature at "perfect" all day.
- There's a lot of gambling in Auckland. Big casino in Sky City, lots of poker and the like in bars and such.
- Downtown is nice and walkable. We can get anywhere we need to easily.
- It's pretty easy to get wireless Internet at cafes for an hour if you buy stuff. It's still kind of slow using the phone though - I'm typing this offline and will upload it when I get a chance tomorrow.

Leftovers tonight if we can figure out some way to reheat the massive amount of stuff from last night. Auckland Museum tomorrow!

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Latitude and longitude of us now: 37.475,-122.227 (decimals truncated)
Latitude and longitude of Auckland, NZ: -36.847385,174.765735
We'd have to go a fair additional chunk west to get to exactly opposite where we are now, but it's close enough to make a good poetic title.  And I feel a little like things are upside down and topsy-turvy - we set up this whole trip basically ourselves, starting from no more than a whim on my part.  It feels both weirdly grown up, and like something we'd never ever do.  (Not us, not the

We leave tomorrow!  We've spent the past week running around, shopping, doing laundry and cleaning, and tonight we pack.  We have books to read on the plane (I have Gaiman's Stardust, Huz has Neverwhere), snacks, 20 hours or so of audiobooks (not counting the ones I've downloaded for myself), a whole lotta printouts of hotel reservations and flight info and the like.  We pack tonight. 

I'll be updating mostly through our NexusOne whenever we can get onto a wireless network.  Because the NexusOne has the idiotic fault that it can't upload photos to most websites (it's only configured to do so to Picasa, Gmail, twitter, facebook, and maybe one other thing), I'll write text posts here letting people know that there's new photos in my Picasa album.  The address for that album is here:

(The N1 interface seems to be poorly set up for hyperlinking as well, so please just refer back to this post for the album address!)

Those of you following my Buzz will see the pictures as they're uploaded to Picasa, as I've got them linked.  I'll post when I can, but I expect wireless access to be sketchy at best in some parts (particularly Paihia and Te Anau). 

Anyway.  Packing time!


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