Saturday, March 31, 2012

Queenstown and Wanaka


Queenstown is a beautiful town in New Zealand though expensive and crowded.  Due to our budget constraints we spent less than 24 hours poking around before deciding that our time and money might be better spent elsewhere.  This is a place I hope to return to when I have the means but for now I am happy to explore the many free areas left to see in New Zealand.

Queenstown is the hip place to be so here is me acting all cool to fit in.

The types of things that go on just over your head in Queenstown.  Ah, if I were rich...

Just a little farther north from Queenstown you find Wanaka, the cheaper and less populated town of outdoor recreation.  Here you can find kayaks to rent, rock walls to climb and planes to jump out of for a more reasonable price.  Or course that price is still bit high for us so we were content to take a day of rest in this most gorgeous of towns.  We arrived on a beautiful day and spent most of it relaxing down by the lake.  Later on in the day we took in a movie at the Cinema Paradiso.  This is a unique theater with couches instead of seating and a mandatory intermission in which they serve food and home made cookies and ice cream.  Not a bad day.

"Ender's Game" down by the lake

An unexpected critter in the grass.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Maori Legend of the Kiwi Bird

One day the king of the forest, Tane-mahuta, was walking through the forest.  He looked at his trees and noticed that they looked sick because they were being eaten by the bugs that lived on the forest floor.  So he called all the birds together for a meeting and asked if one would come down from the forest canopy to live on the forest floor and help save the trees.

Not a single bird spoke, so each one was asked in turn.

Tui refused. He was afraid of the darkness down on the ground away from the sun.
Pukeko refused. He found the forest floor too cold and the earth to damp.
Pipiwharauroa, the shining cuckoo, also refused. He was too busy building a nest.

But Kiwi agreed.  He looked at the sun filtering through the high leaves and the damp cold earth, and he looked around and saw his family and said yes. Tane-mahuta was filled with joy, for this little bird had given him hope, but he felt he should still warn Kiwi of what lay ahead...

"Kiwi do you realize that if you do this, you will have to grow thick strong legs so you can rip logs apart, you will lose your beautiful wings and colorful feathers so you blend in with the color of the forest floor. you will not be able to return to the forest roof and will never see the light of day again?"

Kiwi took one last long look at the sun and whispered a quiet...


Since then Tui has worn two white feathers at his throat, the mark of a coward. Pukeko has lived forever in a swamp, with wet feet.  And Pipiwharauroa has never built another nest, instead the cuckoo always lays her eggs in other birds' nests.

But because of Kiwi's great sacrifice, he has become the most well-known and most loved bird of them all.

The Kiwis of New Zealand (Adriana Weil)

Milford Sound

I have fallen behind in posting pictures and updates of my time in New Zealand.  It can be difficult when I have little access to internet and no true plan for where I will end up each night on the road.  These are some of the pictures we took on the road to and then within the most beautiful and scenic Milford Sound in the southwest of the south island.  The area is also known as the fjordlands.

"Never lose an opportunity to see anything that is beautiful"

~Ralph Waldo Emerson~

This photo is not adjusted.  The water is that clear, that blue, that beautiful.

Just a damn good photo. (Adriana Weil)

The serpentine road to Milford Sound. (Adriana Weil)

New Zealand Fur Seals

Fur Seal (Adriana Weil)

Getting a closer look at one of the waterfalls

After a mist bath from that same waterfall. (Adriana Weil)

The small yellow shapes near the shoreline are kayakers for scale reference.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Are you going to eat that? No, I'm Dunedin.

First off I think I may have been too harsh on the USA in my last post.  Lets get it straight that I love the USA and my life there is very good.  It just frustrates me that I cannot travel in the same way as at Jack Kerouac or Christopher McCandless did in their day.  I have historically been a person to plan and prepare before engaging in anything.  I like to assess what I am getting into before committing to it but after realizing this in myself I became determined to experience the opposite side of life.  I wanted to be spontaneous and impulsive without thinking too hard of where it might lead.  While hitching about in a foreign country I can honestly say that I have been able to embrace the long repressed urge of mine to throw caution to the wind.

Dunedin in the Background

Hitchin a ride to Dunedin
While traveling south from Christchurch and the Akaroa Peninsula towards Dunedin, pronounced done-ee-din (thus the poor joke made in the title of this post), we caught a ride that made our week.  After a few short rides each taking us to the next town down the road we were standing opposite a gas station sporting our Dunedin sign and happily waving at every car that passed, ride or not.  We were in high spirits at our luck with rides the past couple days and would have been happy simply to make it to the next camping area.  Except that just then a car pulls over sharply and out pops a smiley, extremely well dressed man about our age.  He says, "Your not going to stab us right?” and then with a cock-eyed look continues, “I'm only asking so that I can plan around it while we drive."  We laughed along and reassuring him that we are not insane he agrees to take us along with him all the way to Dunedin with him.

(Adriana Weil)
The most important ingredients

(Adriana Weil)
His name is Tim and his friend sitting shotgun is Ben.  We get to chatting, as you do when catching rides with strangers, and we all make fast friends of each other in a short time.  It is a few hours down the road to Dunedin and in that time Tim offers us a place to stay at his friends house.  It is pouring rain outside in Dunedin so we happily agree while hoping that his friends will not be unhappy about his offering up their place to a couple random hitchhikers.

Kaka (Adriana Weil)

Golden Pheasant
(Adriana Weil)
On the contrary, every person in the house is welcoming and happy to meet us from the start.  They are understandably wary in the first few moments but after a nice night hanging out, getting to know each other, playing music and with everyone in a jolly mood we even started making plans to go to the Speight’s Brewery tour the next day.

Speight's tasting room: Gabii, Susan, Sam, Ben, me, Adriana, and Tim
Adriana and I couldn’t believe our luck at meeting such great people through hitchhiking and though this would not be the last time, it certainly was an excellent example of pure good-hearted human nature.  We ended up staying for three nights longer than the one night we had planned to be in Dunedin.  These wonderful young adults were all around our age from 19-25 and more than happy to share the little they had with us. They even made a point of bringing us to the sights of Dunedin including the botanical gardens, an aviary and the steepest street in the southern hemisphere, maybe even the world?  There is debate about that.

The name we gave to our host's house.
Our most sincere and heartfelt thanks go out to our new and forever friends Tim, Ben, Meeral, Claire, Susan, Gabii, Ravi and Sam.  We cannot wait to see you all again and hope that soon you may come to the US where we can repay the good-natured hospitality that you showed us.

A couple more memories from our time in Dunedin...

Red Tailed Cockatoo

Crested Pigeon (Adriana Weil)

DO NOT EAT the Fly Amanita (Adriana Weil)

The University of Otago

The steepest street from the top looking down

Our ride out of town and our sign bearing our next stop (Adriana Weil)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Hold On To Your Towel

On our way to Akaroa

After our time at Antill Estate's Vineyard we decided to get moving while we still had time to see the rest of the South Island. We started with nothing but a loose plan to hitch hike clockwise around the island stopping from place to place when we found cool things to do and the expectation that it would evolve as we moved along.  The more we travel the more people we meet, the more people we meet the more we learn, and the more we learn the more this traveling philosophy is reaffirmed as a sure way to see what you wanted, while still allowing yourself the chance to get caught up in the adventures that find you.

Our hosts at Antill Estate are only too helpful and dropped us at just the right place to catch a ride towards Akaroa.  We were picked up in the first ten minutes by a young girl who is studying to be a veterinary nurse.  Then the second ride came from a practicing medical nurse.  Notice the trend starting here? Anyways, we made it to Akaroa with no difficulty, in fairly good time and most importantly for us, with no money.

From here we moved on southwards towards Dunedin but I will get to that whole adventure on the next post.  First I want to talk a little longer about hitch hiking and the type of freedom it represents.


In the United States it is nearly inconceivable to imagine hitchhiking real distances with confidence and security in our modern society.  Perhaps in the 60’s and 70’s this was still possible but now most of the country has outlawed it and we have taken up the perception that strangers are not to be trusted.  They are dangerous because we know nothing about them.  This can be true enough and there certainly are more than enough examples to support that theory.  However, “What do we lose by making this assumption?”

Adriana and I in Akaroa.  It was a nice view from camp.

I'm not sure what this painter was thinking
I believe that we have lost some sense of our solidarity as a nation.  We are in the midst of a silent civil war waged with secret whispers and the rolling of eyes.  Liberal vs Republican, Capitalist vs Conservationist,  North vs South.  Any way you cut it we stick to this dichotomous view of our own nation and miss out on the fact that we are a single great nation.  We rarely find support from our own and tend to gravitate towards pointing out each others faults.  The smear campaigns wrought by politicians are proof enough of that.  Is it because our nation is so large, so spread apart that we attack each other?  After all a man from Alaska could never understand the needs of one from Florida could he?  Could he?

Nonsense.  It is inevitable that we will argue amongst ourselves about the specifics but the heart of the issue lies in us allowing the argument to define our nationality, constantly looking for ways to continue the fight without considering the possible advantages of just seceding the point for once. Every man and woman needs a few of the same things including trust, love, empathy, compassion, and freedom.  Instead we choose to become a nation of sarcastic, distrusting, apathetic, and vengeful prisoners to our unopened minds.  That may sound strong, and it may sound harsh but it is the course in which we are moving.  It is the path we have chosen as a nation… but it is also a choice that we will have to make as individuals.  Which way do you want to live?

A well deserved Beer (Adriana Weil)
In New Zealand the people have held on to the tenuous belief in good-natured humanity.  They support common sense and hospitality as a way of life, not a thing of the past.  The people I have met are educated and living well without feeling as though they are being taken advantage of.  There are still examples of the bad apples destroying what could be a good time had for all.  For instance “freedom camping”,  the allowance for travelers to pitch a tent wherever they might get stuck at the end of the day, has recently been outlawed due to some rotten people littering and taking advantage of this beautiful country.  The Kiwis hold strong to their beliefs but the government isn’t so sure.  They have passed these laws to ban freedom camping against the will of the common people.  The Kiwis want others to come and see their country.  They know how rich in beauty and grandeur it is and they are willing to share if only we will be respectful.

We spent this night in Balfour camping at a park next to a public bus stop.

Can you spot the oddity?  It is quite common in New Zealand

The Fly Amanita grows weed-like in New Zealand, Amanita muscaria
We have this discussion time and time again with each new person who gives us a ride whether it is one kilometer down the road or a hundred.  And each time the people that pick us up express their regret at the slide of the New Zealand government towards the direction of our own nation, the USA. In fact, they do not even see the reality as it is for us but they do feel their own loss of soul as a country. 

I shudder to think of a time when there is no longer anywhere on our planet where you can throw just a few essentials in your pack and then head out to explore the land around you without breaking some law.  Yet with increasing inertia we move that way without consideration of how much we lose in the process. This loss of freedom will be a slippery slope and 50 years down the line I do not want to look back and hear, “Where did we go wrong?”

"You’ve got to know where your towel is… because a man who can travel the galaxy and still hold onto his towel is a man to be reckoned with."
~Douglas Adams~