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April 28, 2007

The last "Down Under" entry

April 27, 2007
This will be the final entry for the “Down Under” log. We have now been back in the US for over two weeks and I am late getting it done and want to finish it so I can print it out along with the trip photos and make up a photo album scrap book.
We spent two days in Wellington after coming back from the South Island. IN addition to looking at a steel hull trawler (nice boat but having a boat in NZ is just not in the cards now), we also visited the botanical garden and the observatory that are on the hill overlooking Wellington and the harbor. The weather cooperated and we had a pleasant day for this outing. As with all the botanical gardens we have seen, this one was also good but not in the same league with the one in Christchurch or Melbourne. The movie at the observatory was great and took us from the observatory out into space to the edge of the known universe or 400 million light years! They then did a “zoom” in to bring you back to earth and the Wellington observatory. It really gives a good idea of the size and scale of the universe and how small and insignificant we are here on earth in time and distance.
From Wellington, we took the road up the west side of the North Island to New Plymouth and Mount Egmont. It is a dormant volcano that has erupted every few hundred years and stands out against the flat surrounding land. It is also a place that has a lot of mystical power for the Maori. While in New Plymouth, we drove up the side of Mt Egmont to the visitors center but it was overcast so there was no view. They say that this is often the case with the prevailing weather coming in across the Tasman Sea and hitting the mountain causing clouds and rain. It was sunny and warm when we got back to New Plymouth on the seashore. After an overnight stop at our last Top10 Park at Woodlyn, we arrived in Auckland at the Aspen House and turned in our car.
Our last three days doing all the things we missed when we arrived here. We visited the maritime museum where they have a lot about the NZ Americas Cup win and other Kiwi sailing achievements. They also have the reproduction of the large Maori catamaran canoe that reenacted the arrival of the Maoris to New Zealand about 1,000years ago.
I have gotten very interested in the voyaging and exploration accomplishments of the Polynesians and Maoris and went to the Auckland library that has an excellent reference section on the Maori voyaging accomplishments and navigational skills.
We also took the elevator to the top of the Sky Tower – the tallest building in the southern hemisphere and had a nice clear day for the incredible 360-degree views on Auckland and the surrounding area.
After disposing our cooking and “camping” stuff at a backpacker’s hostel, we took off for the airport and our flight back to LAX. The flight was about full but left on time and was smooth with lots of good “airline food” and drinks so it wasn’t too bad considering the 13.5 hours time! In LAX, we cleared customs, picked up our rental car and drove to San Diego for a week’s visit with Neva, Louisa and Chris before flying to Philadelphia where we are camping out at Liz’s as her “peeps” while we sort out what comes next in our lives.
For me, this trip was another lifelong dream come true! For most of my adult life, New Zealand has always been my number one destination and I can now say I have been there and it lived up to my every expectation. Australia was also nice and most enjoyable and I am glad that we were able to spend as much time there as we did because of its size and diversity! I also believe that Sue enjoyed the trip even though she admits that she is not a good traveler. She put up with my driving and forcing her to be the map-reader and navigator, which she doesn’t really like to do.
On the flight across the US, we both admitted that were looking forward to unpacking our suitcases and not having to live out of them for a while at least. We also were glad to be back where we can see and visit with family and friends. Stay tuned for the next chapter of the grand adventures …..

Posted by Dick at 11:37 AM

April 01, 2007

Akaroa, Whalewatching and Picton

We stayed in Akaroa an extra day because it is so beautiful and the cabin is so nice. We spent Monday the 19th driving along the summit road and it is really at the summit of what was the lip of the volcano! The views towards what was the center of the volcano and the harbor were spectacular as were the views towards the Pacific Ocean. We went down several of the side roads to the inlets and harbors on the Pacific side of the peninsula to see the beaches and very small settlements that are there. These places date back to the earliest settlements in NZ by the whalers and the French. The weather had cleared up from the rain the day before and it was beautiful and clear with a nice breeze.
On Tuesday we returned to Christchurch and the Top 10 Park and stayed another two days. We took the punt ride on the Avon River Wednesday morning and enjoyed the relaxing view of the Botanical Garden and had a nice chat with our “punter” who turned out to be a fellow boater.
From Christchurch, we went north and inland to Hanmer Springs. This is a geothermal springs area in the mountains. We had a nice cabin with kitchen and bath and the town is a very nice resort area centered around the hot spring. We spent most of an afternoon there enjoying the various pools that they have constructed downstream from the actual spring itself. These pools go from hottest (about 42 C) near the spring to about 32 C farther away. The pools are connected so you can move from one to the next as you feel the need for more or less heat. Again it was a beautiful clear day with just an occasional fluffy white cloud passing over. The sky here is very blue and the sun is so bright!
We also tried to find the local sky repost and ended up driving way back in the “outback” on a gravel road through sheep and cattle stations without finding it. NO matter, it was another great day and the scenery was spectacular.
From Hanmer Springs we took the back road over to the coast and Kaikora. Along the way we passed a farm with lamas and stopped and talked with the woman and her daughter who were taking their boy lamas over to the pasture to be with the females. She said that this is the best way to be sure that all the females are pregnant! We took pictures and got to pet the lamas who are very friendly and have a funny face like a camel.
In Kaikora we signed up for the whale watch the next day but ended up rescheduling due to bad weather. It worked out great and our day was overcast but calm and we saw two juvenile male sperm whales – about 30 years old and only about 40 feet long! - and a large wandering albatross. There is a submarine canyon just off of Kaikora with water about 3-4,000 feet deep and this is the whale feeding area. They dive for about an hour and then come up and rest on the surface.
We continued up the east coast the next day through the Marlborough wine country to Blenheim but after a stop at the information center we continued on to Picton as there not much to see other than the vineyards and I have done enough wine tasting for now. I have been drinking New Zealand wines exclusively since we got here and believe that they are far superior to the Australian wines. There are a lot of good buys on quality wines at the bottle shops below $10 NZ (about $7 US) and I have found a nice Muller Thurgau white that I particularly like.
We stayed at the same Park we were at when we came south. A nice Swiss couple that were helpful and friendly runs it. I have finally gotten the Australian camper van rental damage resolved and they have refunded $1,470 Aus of the $2,500 bond they charged my credit card when the damage was reported in December. It took almost two months to get settled and I was beginning to think they were trying to stiff me but it turns out that they are just slow.
I went back to the yacht broker I had talked to when we came through Picton and looked at three boats he had at the marina. Buying a yacht in NZ is about the same process as in the US except that banks here do not loan money against a yacht unless you have other collateral to pledge against the loan. It is just a dream to think about coming back and sailing here but there are so many beautiful areas for boating that it is fun to think about. Besides, “there is nothing half so much fun as just messing around boats” – a quote from Wind in the Willows.
On March 31st we crossed the Cook Straight in gale force winds but they were fortunately from the north and in this direction don’t produce bad sea conditions. The Interislander ferry is a very large ocean going ship so the ride was very comfortable. We picked up our new rental car and settled into our Top 10 cabin and then went to the local Woolworths supermarket to provision. We are trying to just buy what we need so there are no leftovers next week when we turn in the car in Auckland and depart. Today we are driving to the south side of Wellington to look at another boat. This one is a steel trawler style powerboat and will be good to see as background to the possibility of the next boat being a trawler style powerboat.

Posted by Dick at 11:08 PM