Saturday, November 16, 2013
New Zealand, Part 1
11/12/13 Fox Glacier
Woke up this morning to a mediocre breakfast, but the rest of the day was anything but mediocre.
We took the train from Christchurch to Arthur's Pass, enjoying the mountain scenery along the way. There was even a special open air train car for photographers. Note that next time I get on this train, I should make sure to stand on the right-hand side of the car, where the views are superior. Alighting at Arthur's Pass and meeting our tour bus(which beat us there), we went on to have lunch in the little town of Hokitika, followed by a quick walk on the beach. I picked up what I think to be a large piece of unpolished jade. Apparently, the town is rolling in the stuff.
Leaving all that behind, we made our way to the town of Fox Glacier, but not before stopping at the Bushman's Lodge, definitely the most redneck structure I've seen outside of the deep South. Watched a short video about the history and development of the venison industry in New Zealand, accompanied by exhibits such as a giant eel, an albino possum, and a whole bunch of redneck paraphernalia. An interesting experience, to be sure.
Arriving in Fox Glacier, we dropped our stuff at our hotel before walking to the nearby helipads. A good dozen helipads were actively taking tourists up for a look-about of both Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers. Though it was an optional activity, I happily shelled out the $250USD for the 30minute ride + glacier landing/walkabout and boarded a whirlybird posthaste. Took lots of pictures. The weather was really cooperating, giving us blue skies and clear views of damn near everything.
Returning to town, we ate dinner and went off on a night time nature hike, this time to see New Zealand's famous glowworms. They're pretty hard to describe, but they basically attach themselves to the underside of things, then drop down lines of sticky mucous before emitting a glow from their backsides to attract insects. Said insects get caught in the lines and are consumed.
They glow blue, and are all kinds of amazing. Really.
Returned to the hotel, had some drinks, then went to bed.
Ain't much happened today. We visited the Agrodome in the morning, feeding sheep and alpaca, petting both. We also watched a sheep shearing and a herd dog demonstration. After that, it was all driving and flying, with a quick stop at a alpaca wool duvet factory. I also got to check out some alpaca rugs. I really wanted one, but for $4000USD(not NZD), it's more or less a pipe dream. Got on the plane from Auckland to Christchurch. Christchurch airport, incidentally, is the staging base for the US Antarctica mission, and had a C-130 Galaxy sitting on the tarmac outside the storage hanger for said Antarctic mission.
Dinner, drinks at the hotel bar, and sleep(slightly tipsy).
Had a pretty traditional breakfast this morning. Eggs, bacon, the lot. Left the Marmite alone.
We got on the tour bus and made out way out of Auckland. Seeing as Auckland is a pretty modern city, it wasn't really in our interest to stay and sight-see all that much. Arrived in Hobbiton, but didn't have a tour of the movie set scheduled, which was a shame. I'll be sure to come back and do that next time I come to New Zealand. After a quick stop, we made our way to Rotorua Skyline, a gondola accessible luge park located in the heights above Rotorua proper. We went up, went on a quick luge ride, and had lunch. A few photos later, we descended the heights, got on the bus, and made our way to some boat docks on the edge of Lake Rotorua. Our boat captain and first mate were both ethnic Maori, who greeted us traditionally with nose touches. The boat took up to the island in the middle of the lake, Mokoia, which looks remarkably like the snake that swallowed an elephant in the illustrated “Le Petite Prince.” We had ourselves an hour long nature walk on the island, ending at the Hinemoa's Pool, the scene of one of New Zealand's great love stories(Google it).
After leaving the island, we made our way to Te Puia, a Maori cultural park built around some steam geysers and hot springs. Took a glance at a Maori carving school and a Maori weaving school, but the most impressive attraction of the park has got to be the geyser terraces. White ashy terrain, full of cracks and vents gushing hot steam. It's not really a landscape I've seen before, and really wins in novelty.
The highlight of the day, however, was the kiwi bird exhibit. Visited the domed building multiple times hoping to see the thing, but it just didn't want to come out and say hi until I was just about to leave the park. Frankly speaking, it looks like a fluffy brown bowling ball, much larger than I had thought it would be. I got to watch the thing poke it's long beak into the ground looking for bugs to eat. Really unique experience.
Hotel for the night is a Holiday Inn. Dinner was at the same. Ate, then made my way to the bar, skipping the Maori Dinner show. Had a few drinks before making my way to bed.
I'm sitting on my bed in Sky City Hotel. My tour guide claims it's the best hotel in town. I'm inclined to believe him, if his idea of best hotel is the one with a casino. I had spent most of the day on the plane and am not currently in an argumentative state. Taipei to Brisbane to Auckland isn't as annoying as LAX to Taipei, but it's not far off. Have since determined I'm the best seatmate you can have on an airplane, because I don't ever get up to use the bathroom, I won't be fighting for the armrest, and I'm not fat. As usual, caught up on my movies on the planes. Notably, I watched “Pacific Rim” and “Red 2.” Both were movies that I've been meaning to watch for some time. Enjoyed both of them very much.
My new tour group is 34+1 tour guide. In the 34, there are 4 sets of honeymooners, with nearly all the remainder being 40+ years of age, with the exception of one 5 year old boy and one 29 year old woman accompanying her mother. Prospects of making friends is not good, as are prospects of finding someone to converse with.
(My penmanship is terrible, especially when not writing at a desk.)
Good news! I got myself a prepaid Vodafone simcard. It cost me $35NZD, including $5 for the card itself. It comes with 500MB worth of 'Net, but I can always buy more with the $30 credit. Not bad at all.
We only had one activity on our first day(night) in New Zealand: We went up Sky City's tower and took some pictures. I suppose it's as convenient and interesting an activity for a bunch of tired travelers as anything could be.