Friday, December 11, 2009

Home at last

I finally got home about 30 hours after we left the hotel. While I hadn't slept soundly on any of the flights and was quite sleep deprived, I was really wound up with the excitement of the trip. I kept my roommate Miriam up until almost midnight showing her the results of the shopping trips and gabbing about the trip. It was truly wonderful and we were all very pleased to have taken the trip. I know that I'd like to go to Australia again!

Cleveland, at last.

Dec. 1 – Luggage

The last leg of the trip went without any problems until we arrived in Cleveland, but Phyllis and Bill's luggage did not. It turned out that the people in New Zealand had mistyped the final airline code as YA instead of UA. It finally caught up with them a couple of days later, but it was left on a neighbor's porch and not their own home. At least Bill found it when he was outside!

Arrival in LA

Dec. 1 – Customs

While we supposedly had plenty of time (3 hours) to clear Customs and catch our flight to Chicago, Judy, Richard and I almost didn't make it. We waited in line, and waited in line, and waited some more. Our turn was next and all the agents disappeared. Coffee break time? Who knows what was up. Judy and Richard finally were called up and had to pay some fees, but there was no clerk in the office to take the money. I was held up while they decided if kangaroo leather and crocodile teeth were going to be allowed in the country. It was decided that neither kangaroos nor crocodiles were endangered species and I could bring in the stuff I had purchased. At last we were out of customs. After an extremely fast walk (not quite a run) from terminal 4 to terminal 7, we checked in just under the wire and caught up with everyone else who was on the flight to Chicago.

Goodbye to NZ

Dec. 1 - Goodbyes

We left the hotel at 8:00 a.m., went to the Christchurch airport and flew to Auckland. There were problems with ticketing luggage all the way to the end of our trips (Cleveland for us) but the staff finally figured it out. Then, the l – o – n – g trip back to LA. At least it was a shorter flight than flying from LA to Australia because we started farther east. The flight was only 11 ½ hours instead of 15 ½. Trust me, it still seemed like it took a week.

Final Event

Nov. 30 – The end of the day

We ended our visit to the Antarctic with a wonderful dinner and time spent with Gilly, our Antarctic tour guide. As part of her training to be a guide at the Centre, she had been sent to Ross Base for an Antarctic experience. It was fascinating to hear what the experience was like.

Nov. 30 – Science

There were many very interesting displays on the science of Antarctica. Scientists go there to study the plant life (lichens, algae and the like), animals, geology, archaeology and the marine life among other things. Some injured penguins have been taken to the Centre to live. These poor birds have been severely injured (for instance one has lost a wing, and another one only has one foot) and can't survive in the wild. We saw this little guy up close, although we weren't allowed to touch him. He has on blue booties because his feet are being treated for some wear and tear that occurs because of the rocks in the enclosure.

Here is another one swimming in their pool.

It IS cold in Antarctica

Nov. 30 – Cold Room

The Centre has a snow-filled cold room that is used to demonstrate wind-chills.

We put on rubber boots over our street shoes to keep the snow clean and bundled up in heavy parkas to see what it is like. We didn't have to experience the worst the Antarctic can offer, that would require more clothing and warm boots, but with added wind, the temperature of 17.6 F quickly dropped into the negative numbers. Those of us wearing skirts were glad that it didn't go on any longer than it did, but even those people wearing slacks thought it too cold! The highest wind speed ever recorded in Antarctica was 198.8 mph. The coldest temperature anywhere on earth was recorded in Antarctica at a bone-freezing -192.5 F. When I was in junior high and high school I wanted to go to Antarctica. I've changed my mind.

Nov. 30 – Antarctic Center

Our last stop on the tour was the International Antarctic Centre. Christchurch is a major gateway to Antarctica. Many Antarctic expeditions originated from here including Scott's doomed 1911 attempt to be the first to reach the south pole. There is a mock-up of Scott Base which includes this door. Yes, it looks like a big, walk-in refrigerator. The base is built like a fridge to keep the cold OUT instead of in.

There is also a mock-up of Scott's base camp where there is an audio-visual presentation of readings from Scott's diary.

There are also samples of equipment currently used by personnel in the Antarctic including this Swedish Grizzly Aktiv snowmobile and the two-person tent behind it.


Nov. 30 - Botanic Gardens

Christchurch's Botanic Gardens are beautiful, even in the rain. These gardens have native and exotic species from all over the world. , lovely fountains and interesting green houses There were lovely displays of all kinds, but I liked the rose garden the best. I surely do appreciate a rose garden when someone else takes care of it!


Nov. 30 – Blue pearls

And it was time to go shopping, again! We learned about blue pearls, which are cultured in a type of abalone that only lives in the cold waters around New Zealand. The Maoris call it Paua. While the pearls are very beautiful, they are also very expensive because there are only 10,000 abalone harvested each year. Then each one has to be handled individually to seed the pearl. They are then bundled into big drums, fed seaweed for several years and then the pearls are harvested. Out of the original 10,000, perhaps 1,000 are of gem quality. And harvesting kills the abalone, so more must be harvested from the wild. The least expensive pearls are $250.00 and more for a one pearl pendant. The highest grade pearls are called Eyris pearls and are set in gold or platinum. Guess how much those are? Most are $2,000-$3,000 range. Needless to say, I didn't buy any blue pearls, but did buy some lovely jewelry made from abalone shell.

Common species

This picture is of the fairly prevalent touristi americanus. This species can be found in many places around the world. In this case, they are seen in a wooden nest, looking in all directions for interesting flora, fauna and beautiful landscapes.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Nov. 29 – Firefighters' Memorial

On the way back into Christchurch, we stopped to see the Firefighters' Memorial. The steel for this sculpture was a gift from the city of New York and came from World Trade Tower II. Many firefighters from New Zealand went to New York to assist in the search/clean up after 9/11. This monument honors firefighters the world over.


Nov. 29 – Akaroa

The town of Akaroa (it's hard to type that instead of Akron) was originally a French colony. The British got wind of the fact that the French were going to place a settlement on the Banks Peninsula so they rushed to the area and planted the British flag. When the French arrived, the British let them lease a certain number of acres per family. So the French got to stay and many of the streets have names in French. The lighthouse is the original one, but it was moved to it's present site when the modern, automated one was built. The town also has a great fish & chips shop. June and I shared a lunch and each had plenty to eat.


Nov. 29 – Akaroa Harbor cruise

The nature cruise of Akroa Harbor was great. We saw all kinds of birds, a seal and Hectors dolphins. They were in a playful mood and various pods of them decided to visit us. Believe me when I say it is much easier to get a picture of water than it is to get a picture of a dolphin. We all kept trying and mostly ended up with water and shadows of dolphins. I did manage to get one fairly decent shot. These dolphins are the smallest in the world and have a rounded top fin instead of an angular fin. The weather turned during our two hour trip, so we had to head back to port a little early. For the most part the weather was great, though!

Sure looks like a castle

Nov. 29 – Christchurch

We've left the slightly populated west and the sheep country for the big city of Christchurch. This is our last stop in New Zealand and we are all sad to know that the end of the trip is near. But there are still a couple of days of touring to do, so there isn't time to be sad. On the way to Akaroa we stopped to see some lovely views of Christchurch and interesting buildings along the way. This building is called The Sign of the Takahe (a type of bird) and was built by a gentleman who thought that rest stops were needed by both people and animals on the way up this steep hill. (Switchback roads type of hill.) There were three stops built, but this was the grandest one. It is now a restaurant and hall available for booking.

More movie news

Nov. 28 – On the road again

We went past another movie site. This one is where some scenes of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and it's sequel were filmed.

Only half a set of choppers!

Nov. 28 – The really GOOD wool

This ram is a merino sheep. They have very long, fine fibers that are very dense. The outside of the sheep may be filthy, but deeper in it is a nice white. Sheep only have lower teeth, which was news to me. Lambs don't have any teeth and as soon as the first two center teeth come in, they can no longer be called lambs. Every year after that two more teeth grow in for a maximum of 8 teeth. This guy is full grown with all 8 teeth.

Aw, isn't it cute?

Nov. 28 – Little lamb

Here are Judy and Phyllis holding a lamb that is only a couple of weeks old. Isn't it just adorable? And I just missed the picture of Richard petting the pet sheep. He really did, though!

Working dogs

Nov. 28 – Baa, baa, baa

We visited a sheep farm/station (Take your pick, although I think farm is the right one based on the size of the place. A station is measured in square miles rather than in acres.) today and learned a lot about sheep. We watched two dogs work in tandem to separate a bunch of sheep from a herd of cows and then move them to a different paddock. One dog barks and gets the sheep to bunch together. (They are protecting themselves from a predator.) and a second dog that doesn't make any noise at all herds them in the direction desired.

Wait, where'd that water come from?

Nov. 27 – Thar she blows!

Well, it isn't whales that are blowing, but blowholes in the rocks. Even though it was low tide, we got to see some very nice splashes! This one is the Putai Blowhole.

Crunchy pancakes

Nov. 27 – Pancakes for afternoon tea

Only these pancakes can't be eaten. These “pancake rocks” are a bit puzzling to geologists. The best guess is that they were built with alternating layers of a thick hard stone and a thin soft stone that weathered more quickly. Whatever caused it, they are really interesting to look at.

Birds of a feather

Nov. 27 – Birds

On a nature walk to see some seals, we came across these birds, called Weka, and their chick. They were right by the walk and were not happy about us being so close. The one bird kept displaying, I think in order to get our attention away from the chick. After just a minute or so the chick went into the brush and didn't come back out. I won't bother with the seal pictures as they aren't very close and the seals are difficult to see. Just like all the other seal pictures!

The elusive possum

Nov. 27 – Here is what they look like!

Finally, a picture of a real (stuffed, dead) possum. This is what they look like. Aren't they cute? Too bad they are so destructive.

Odd neighbors

Nov. 27 – Reefton Library

I've never seen this before. The Post Office shares space with the Library. You walk in and at one end of the counter is the postal clerk, and the librarian is at the other end. I had a nice chat with both ladies, and there is no job sharing. The postal clerk doesn't check out books and the librarian doesn't sell stamps. The librarian was telling me that the District Council bought computers and internet connections for the library. I said that many small libraries in the US also received government computers and internet connections but that the funding didn't always keep the computers connected. She told me that they have the same problem, but that their funding was at least secure for the next three years. It's the same everywhere...

Made the old-fashioned way

Nov. 27 – Tea with the miners

We had “billy tea” with some miners, made the old-fashioned way, in a billy over a coal fire. (That's coal out of the ground, not charcoal made from wood.)

A billy is a pot.

It is filled with water, then 3 heaping teaspoons of tea are added plus one more. Then some manuka leaves are added for a touch of sweetness. It steeps for a while, then it is strained as it is poured into cups. Need more tea? Just add more water.

These gentlemen and one lady were very interesting and served a really nice cup of tea with hot buttered scones and maluka honey.

Nov 27 – 1860's Gold Rush

We visited the Blacks Point Museum in Reefton and learned about how gold was mined – with great difficulty. One ton of rock yielded a few grams of gold. That's grams, not ounces. The Golden Fleece Mine was in this area and we saw a model of what the mining operation was like and then saw the actual battery. In this instance, a battery is a big machine that mashes the rock into little bitty pieces so that the gold could be extracted from it. It runs (yes, the equipment still works) on water power provided by a small stream. The pulverizing rods would start out looking like the first picture and wore down to a mere nub of itself. A worker at the battery worked a 12 hour shift, 6 days a week. It's no surprise that they went deaf very quickly.

And it's the truth, too!

Nov 26 – Price of Gas

Western New Zealanders tell it like it is. Here is what gas costs here. (Don't ask me the real price, I have no idea!)

Who goes first?

Nov. 26 – Bridges of western New Zealand

The western NZ population is very low and as a result, the government saved money by making all bridges one lane. Whoever is on the bridge first gets to go first, then the car in the other direction gets to go. In this case, the bridge is shared by trains and cars. Guess who gets the right-of-way?

Nephrite Jade

Nov. 26 – Shopping

Yes, here we are shopping again. Actually, we never stop shopping. In this case we are shopping for jade. The Maori used nephrite jade for weapons, tools and ornaments. They knew about gold but had no use for it because it was too soft and thus had no value to them. Jade, on the other hand, is very hard and makes an excellent war club. Today we use diamond saws and power tools to fashion the jade into the desired shapes. The Maori did it very painstakingly with other rocks, as demonstrated here. I didn't buy any war clubs, but was quite satisfied with a necklace and earrings.

Glaciers are BIG

ov. 26 – At the bottom of the Glacier.

There is only one other place in the world that a glacier ends in a rain forest and that is in South America. The face of the glacier is very high (you can see the little dots that are people) and is constantly depositing more rubble. The pile of rocks we were standing on is 150 feet higher than the floor of the valley was 100 years ago. (I hope I have those numbers right. Its a lot of extra rocks, regardless.)


Nov. 26 – Excitement!

Carl says that I was “vibrating” today. Well, I suppose he is right. We were going on a helicopter ride to the top of the Franz Joseph Glacier and flying around the Southern Alps. I was just bouncing on my toes in excitement. I'm the only one of the Ohio group to decide to take this trip, so here I am at the top of the Glacier. And I'd really like to do it again!!!!

More about imported animals

Nov. 25 – Bushmans Centre

The next stop was at the Bushmans Centre where we learned about the non-indigenous animals that are destroying native plants and animals and what lengths people have gone to in order to eradicate these nasty creatures such as the brush-tailed possum, stoats, feral dogs, cats, pigs, goats, sheep and other animals. The saying in New Zealand is, “kill a possom, save a tree.” I did my part by purchasing a possum fur neckpiece. The extremes that some of these people went to in order to hunt down deer were impressive. Some of the terrain was so rough and the conditions so poor that many of them lost their lives. I guess you could call them die-hard hunters... In any case, they had some possums caged up including an albino one. I tried to take pictures, but the light was too dim and we couldn't use flash, as it blinds the animals. I had to satisfy myself with getting a picture of the white one which was all curled up, asleep. (To the grammarians out there, no, there isn't an apostrophe in Bushmans even though there should be. That's the way it is on the road sign.)

First flight ends with a crash

Nov. 25 – Traveling day

We had to get from one place to another via a “long and winding road” but there were some pretty neat sights and interesting information gained along the way. For instance, Guy Menzies was the first man to fly across the Tasman Sea. Unfortunately he crashed at the end of the flight, but he was okay. There is a replica of his plane on view, but it was behind glass and the lighting was not conducive to taking pictures. So here are a couple of shots of the information board.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Let's go again!

Nov. 24 – Jet boat ride

Oh, this was so cool!!!!! We dressed up in black raincoats and put on life preservers and got to ride around in the jet boat. We looked crazy, but we certainly had a great time. The jet boat was designed by a New Zealander to be used on the shallow rivers. Well, we raced up river stopping a couple of times to look at scenery or hear about some of the geology, history and general information about the area, and did a couple of 360 degree turns just for the fun of it. Then we raced down the river doing more of the same. At one stop, one of the guys in the group said, “I've gotta get me one of these things!” Someone else asked Shayle, our boat driver, if he paid the company to let him play with the boats. He said no, that someone had to do the job so he might as well be the one to do it. Let's do this again tomorrow!

Trees and shallow soil

Nov. 24 – Walk in the woods

We reached the river and went for a walk through the woods. The bottom of this tree that has blown over shows how shallow the root systems are on the trees. Most of the soil is only a few inches deep, so when a big storm blows though the trees don't have anything to hold on to. On steep slopes the tree roots intertwine and when one tree goes, a whole bunch of them can go in a tree avalanche. Because I was on the wrong side of the bus I couldn't get a picture of the best example of a tree avalanche, but here are a couple from a distance. You can see how all the trees just slid down the hill, clearing a large swath down the mountain.

Movie sets

Nov. 24 – Safari ride to the River

The overland portion of this adventure took us past an area that has been used in many movies and commercials. The farm house from the Wolverine movie was built near the three trees on the hill in this picture. The guide said that everyone in town (there are only a couple hundred people living there) showed up to watch the filming of the house burning down. This same area was used during the filming of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.

The lake breathes

Nov. 24 – On the way to Dart River

We drove past Lake Wakatipu which has the unusual habit of rising and falling 12 cm several times an hour. There is only one other lake in the world that is known to do that and that is Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The Maori believe the lake is a sleeping giant that is breathing as it rises and falls. The lake is roughly the shape of a person laying down. The 3 islands in the center are approximately where the heart would be, and the islands themselves are sacred.