Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Heading Out


We returned to the airport on the ‘wonderful’ airport shuttle, packed like sardines in to a van; wouldn’t you know it, the American family in the back seat decided to eat their lunch and the entire bus reeked of olives, garlic, and feta cheese. Tacky!!

Lovely traveling with Ray--we got to go in to the New Zealand Airlines lounge. They sure do it in style--food galore--fresh creamy soup, sandwiches, hot dogs, take out boxes of chinese, thai, indian foods, little desserts... We filled up on so much junk, and we still had our pastries that we bought in anticipation of a long airport wait without food. We were lucky to have bulk head seats with an empty aisle seat and I quickly took possession of it. The United flight was uneventful and an hour shorter than anticipated. We ate our food and theirs, watched parts of movies, and napped. Our arrival was announced and the pilot reported it was 90 degrees in SF. No....couldn’t be. We felt like we had left in the winter and returned in the summer.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Farewell to Oz


We returned to the airport on the ‘wonderful’ airport shuttle, packed like sardines in to a van; wouldn’t you know it, the American family in the back seat decided to eat their lunch and the entire bus reeked of olives, garlic, and feta cheese. Tacky!!

Lovely traveling with Ray--we got to go in to the New Zealand Airlines lounge. They sure do it in style--food galore--fresh creamy soup, sandwiches, hot dogs, take out boxes of chinese, thai, indian foods, little desserts... We filled up on so much junk, and we still had our pastries that we bought in anticipation of a long airport wait without food. We were lucky to have bulk head seats with an empty aisle seat and I quickly took possession of it. The United flight was uneventful and an hour shorter than anticipated. We ate our food and theirs, watched parts of movies, and napped. Our arrival was announced and the pilot reported it was 90 degrees in SF. No....couldn’t be. We felt like we had left in the winter and returned in the summer.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bats and More Bats


So much to see and so little time! We didn’t linger over breakfast - Ray’s pancakes were a tad too dry, so tough you couldn’t cut them with a knife! When in doubt, stick with the standard 2 eggs and bacon. We had big plans for the day, starting by walking through the central part of the historic area toward the Sydney Tower, where a 360 degree view goes from coast to mts. and covers many bays. It was a bit drizzly, leaving raindrops on the windows, but still the view was spectacular. Further into the city, we crossed the footbridge across Darling Harbor. Not far from there was the big Sydney Fishmarket.

Now this was exciting. So much fresh fish and shellfish for sale, and even cooked seafood to go. We couldn’t get enough of the lobster, scallops on a half shell, battered fish, and the best fried squid I have ever had. It is pick what you want, and find a table to eat it. We took so many pictures of fish, it was ridiculous! Reminded me of the meat market in Athens. We practically rolled out of there and walked 5-6 miles back toward the B&B. Passing the cathedral, we ducked inside and were surprised to find that mass was being held, the glorious sounds of the choir and the huge organ echoed up through the tall ceiling, taking my breath away. Can you imagine going to mass every week in a place like this?

By now, the streets were deserted. The rains had also come but were intermittent. At one point, we took shelter under the eaves of a tv studio and watched as 2 anchorwomen were preparing to go on. They seemed to spent a lot of time sitting, fixing their hair and their collars. We talked about going back for more fish possibly tomorrow.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Towering Heights and Fresh Fruit


So much to see and so little time! We didn’t linger over breakfast - Ray’s pancakes were a tad too dry, so tough you couldn’t cut them with a knife! When in doubt, stick with the standard 2 eggs and bacon. We had big plans for the day, starting by walking through the central part of the historic area toward the Sydney Tower, where a 360 degree view goes from coast to mts. and covers many bays. It was a bit drizzly, leaving raindrops on the windows, but still the view was spectacular. Further into the city, we crossed the footbridge across Darling Harbor. Not far from there was the big Sydney Fishmarket.

Now this was exciting. So much fresh fish and shellfish for sale, and even cooked seafood to go. We couldn’t get enough of the lobster, scallops on a half shell, battered fish, and the best fried squid I have ever had. It is pick what you want, and find a table to eat it. We took so many pictures of fish, it was ridiculous! Reminded me of the meat market in Athens. We practically rolled out of there and walked 5-6 miles back toward the B&B. Passing the cathedral, we ducked inside and were surprised to find that mass was being held, the glorious sounds of the choir and the huge organ echoed up through the tall ceiling, taking my breath away. Can you imagine going to mass every week in a place like this?

By now, the streets were deserted. The rains had also come but were intermittent. At one point, we took shelter under the eaves of a tv studio and watched as 2 anchorwomen were preparing to go on. They seemed to spent a lot of time sitting, fixing their hair and their collars. We talked about going back for more fish possibly tomorrow.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cockatoos


I am now an early rising photographer and look who came to pose for me! On my walk from the B&B to the lookout point of the Blue Mts., I met a local resident who pointed out the cawing birds in the trees. “Crows?” I thought. “No, Cockatoos”, she replied and I saw an entire flock of them on the grass--like overgrown cockatiels.

The viewpoint was quiet and peaceful. The masses of yesterdays tourists had been replaced by tripods and a few photographers, who looked like they knew more about what they were doing than me. All I cared about was the cockatoo. I got some decent shots before the sun washed out the mountains and it was time for coffee and breakfast. The hosts at Lureline House really do it right--Peter was a former manager of Sheraton and taught Hotel Management. He reminded me of a maitre d’ at a fine hotel. On the counter was fresh fruit, juices and cereals; cooked breakfast was made to order. My omelet was as good as the Awahnee and Ray’s pancakes were heavenly. This place is a keeper and I was sorry to have to leave.

We took a leisurely drive in to Sydney, returned the car and then went in search of Qantas’ lost and found to reclaim my phone. That is a story in itself--the “thunk” we had heard when landing in Cairns was not the luggage compartment below, but was, yes, my phone falling out of Ray’s pocket. I thought maybe I would get an iphone out of it, but they found it and me, thanks to my foresight in taping my contact info. on the back of it.

By then, we were anxious to get to the city since the book we were looking at yesterday showed so much to see in Sydney. Thus we were a bit annoyed to have to wait an hour for the shuttle bus, and then wound through some not so respectable neighborhoods while the bus driver dropped off his friend. Meanwhile, we heard our luggage knocking around in the little trailer he was towing. Obviously, Sydney’s airport transportation system needs some friendly competition. Finally, we arrived at the B&B On the Rocks and were greeted by Jeff and his fox terrier. It is an old historic house, more old than historic but clean and well situated. We strolled along the wharf--a pretty young contortionist was putting herself into a 16”x16” plexiglass box that stood 5 ft. above the ground. On the other side of the harbor was the famous Sydney Opera House, prettier in the evening sunset than in daylight, I thought.

Feeling adventurous, we decided to walk to Haymarket (Chinatown), about 3 miles away for seafood. The walk there and back was fun, the food was ok and quite expensive. Is this nightlife what we miss by not living in the city? The streets were full of young people, dressed up for a night on the town. “Mini skirts and tall spiked heels must be the fad, because they can’t all be hookers”, said Ray. How do they manage to walk so far like that? Music billowed out from the nightclubs, some of which had long lines waiting to get in. This must be Sydney at its best.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Blue Mountains


Our Easter special at the hotel comes with a huge breakfast buffet which we enjoy. We decide that we probably should not travel during Easter any more as all the school kids are out and families are everywhere. We can do without the wailing babies on the planes and the huge crowds. Who would have known that they take 2 weeks off during these holidays. We drive out toward the Blue Mts. and stop along the way to see the waterfalls and the sights. At Katoomba, we find the Lureline House B&B, which is simply beautiful. The room is so well appointed and there is a lovely breakfast room in front. This is what a B&B should be and we are so pleased to be here. After settling in, we take a long hike down to Leura Cascades and the Blue Mt. range. Great photo ops here and the scenery is splendid. I have some great photos of the layers of falls and the bubbling creek. We walk until dark and stop for pizza at an small local pizzeria. It is the perfect ending to a great day.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Departure from the Rainforest


We spent a lazy day in Cairns waiting for out flight to leave at 7pm. I was unsuccessful in getting us on an earlier flight and we had pretty much seen all there was to see here. At breakfast, we met a couple from Ohio whose daughter and son in law were from Durham, NC. Their daughter Julie was a fellow Trip Advisor-Fodorite and we had a lively conversations about traveling. The parents have been to 42 countries; we counted and discovered we have only been to 25! I got Julie's email address and we will share travel info. They had been to Egypt last year and are going to Peru next month. Sharing stories was a lot of fun and the best part of about b&b's. Not much to do, so we walked in the heat and humidity in to town. Pat warned us about the river where there are crocodiles and we were a bit hesitant to go there. She said it is not safe to walk or wade on the beach along the shores as there are jellyfish and box jellyfish can kill you. So we didn't want to go there either! We ended up going to the tiny public library, where it was cool and dry, and safe from predators! What an odd selection of books they have, and a very limited selection consisting of 3 rows of fiction and 3 rows of nonfiction. I was astounded to see that in this sparce collection, they had very few books about the US and one of them was about the killing of Lacy Peterson! Ray and I poured over a thick book on Australia and planned out our visit to Sydney.

We then wandered out to a cafe for aussie meat pies and then back to the b&b to get a cab to the airport. Our flight was uneventful and after picking up a car, we found our airport hotel, and dropped off to sleep.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Great Barrier Reef


Today is the day! We are fortunate that the water is calm and the sun is shining. Pat helps us book a day on Ocean Spirit and we will be at Michaelmas Cay, a 2 hour cruise on a catamaran away. I am prepared with my dramamine. It is a beautiful boat and we meet a family from SJ. There are sure a lot of Californians out here on vacation! There is a youth group on board and they occupy pretty much the entire front deck out in the sun. By the end of the voyage, many of those kids will be bright red, some on one side of their body only! We are given directions as to the activities of the day; it is a bit confusing as there are a lot of choices and we try to maximize the amount of time snorkeling, not really interested in the submersible. At the last minute we thought we might try a scuba dive lesson but it is all filled up. We opt for a snorkel tour instead. I select a prescription mask as I did not wear my contacts. Finally we arrive. The cay is not big but the sand is white and the water bright blue. The reef consists of segments that are separated. We take our gear and get into the water buggy, which is anchored out at sea and brought over to the boat. Our tour is 6 people and a guide who shows us some fascinating facts about the corals and fish. We see a huge potato cod, which he said he has never seen there before. Giant clams have green irresescent edges and thing that look like big eyes inside. We are shown spaghetti coral and fire coral and get to hold a sea cucumber. it doesn't look like the sea cucumbers we eat in chinese restaurants! There is a variety of brightly colored fish, and many parrotfish. Did you know that the sand on the beach is actually the poop of parrotfish?

Ray and I continue to snorkel and I find that it is not as scary or intimidating as I thought it would be, primarily because the sights are so fascinating, you forget where you are. The sea floor does not look that far down and the life jackets and fins keep you afloat quite well. The only problem I had was my mask getting water seepage in it which caused me to get anxious. I later figured out how to turn and lie on my back. The day made me want to learn to swim better so that I can enjoy such activities more. I think scuba diving might actually be easier because you don't have to worry about the tube filling with water.
Back to the boat for a huge buffet lunch. We opted to not go on the submersible and went out snorkeling on our own in the afternoon. Ray saw a stingray and a lobster. It was such fun to be out there; it was an incredible day. We were all tired and sticky by departure time. Cake, coffee, then a glass of Australian wine left us all happy and relaxed. I sat on the side of the boat in the wind and just spaced out.

Back on land, we picked up sandwich fixings and took a cab back to the b&b. It was a relaxing ending to a lovely day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rainforest


Hot and humid! Pat at the B&B helps us book a train and skyrail ride up north in Kuranda, the site of the rainforests. At breakfast, we meet a mom and her 2 daughters from Bloomington Indiana. Her daughter is studying in Canberra for the semester. She tells us that her husband died of cancer last year; he had always wanted to travel to NZ and never made it. We chat about the midwest and NZ, where they will be going after Cairns. Breakfast is a choice of eggs and I try the kangaroo sausage, a very lean and meaty sausage that is quite tasty.

We take the train on a narrow gauge rail, going through the dense forest. Our seat mates is a family from Australia; the mother grew up in Milpitas, where she said her mom was afraid they would get beat up, and so they moved away from there. She said Milpitas has changed since then. In Kuranda, it begins to rain. We visit the small zoo where kangaroos, reptiles and koalas live. It is a fun place and we take lots of pictures of the cute animals. It never really clears up and we find ourselves walking through the market stalls and along the muddy river before taking the skyrail back. Rising high above the rainforest is a breathtaking sight with misty clouds floating rapidly across the skies. The tall trees, ferns and palms rise straight up forming a dense canopy below. Humid, humid, humid! We are happy to arrive back at the b&b and are quite ready for showers. The b&b is quite a ways outside of town so we wander down the street to a Thai place for dinner.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ferry Crossing


Our ferry reservation is for 8am and we leave early to return our car and catch the shuttle bus to the ferry terminal. The sea is very calm this morning and though the boat is much smaller, the ride is so much more pleasant. Today is going to be a long travel day with "planes, ferries, and automobiles". A taxi takes us to the Wellington airport where we board a Qantas flight for Sydney. We actually are served a meal and are given an ice cream bar later; later we are to learn that Qantas is losing buckets of money. My seat mate is a woman from Queenstown, going to Japan for her son's wedding. She is a nurse in an assistive care facility and has sons in France and England also. We chat about traveling, kids, nonprofits, insurance, and everything under the sun. I learn a lot about life in NZ--they take care of their own as all care facilities provide the same level of care and there are quite good social services for those with no income. There are no homeless people, only those who chose to be so. She is amazed to learn that some in the US cannot afford health insurance.

We arrive in Sydney and it looks like it has been pouring outside. I hope it clears by the time we return. The next leg of the flight is to Cairns on Qantas, Boy, it is a long way from Wellington to Cairns! We get fed another meal and arrive at a small tropical airport--it is sure humid here! The taxi takes us to Lilybend B&B where we are greeted warmly and shown to a comfortable and air conditioned room in the plantation house with huge verandas. Lizards peek out at us from various places. It is 12 hours since we left Wellington. Again, we change our watches.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Running and Returning

I start the morning with a wonderful run on the country roads, going down a quiet orchard road until it hits the forest, then returning and running down the paved road past pastures and fields. The air is fresh and clean and there is very little traffic. I feel safe though perhaps naive, who knows? Running feels good and I cover 3 miles on rolling hills. Back to the room for fresh bread (I think the woman who runs the place needs to develop an alternate recipe for though the bread is good, it was better the first and second time. She has gone for Easter service and we pack up and leave, driving along the coast toward Picton. We stop for the scenery and photos. Ray buys mussels at the grocery store and we check in to the Beachcomber Inn.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Nelson lakes


This morning I rise early and go out with Ray to the river. Our first stop though is orchard down the road where bags of pears and apples are for sale. We choose a small bag of assorted fruit, and a very ripe honeydew melon. The mist is rising above the water and the riffles dazzle like diamonds in the bright dawn sunlight. I am eager to try my new skills and experiment with different shutter speeds on the river. Our next stop is Nelson Lakes, an alpine lake far in the forested wilderness. We take a steep trail that leads quickly high above the lake and the view is stupendous- the rich green agricultural valley sitting between the mountain ranges and the bright emerald lake below. We spend the rest of the day exploring the area's rivers and winding roads. It is unbelievable how much untouched and pastureland there is, with fields of sheep. On some fields there are tall poles with wire strung across the top, which we later find out was for hops, which have just been harvested. The apple trees are all espaliered, some have sheets of netting over the entire orchard. Grapevines are also covered with netting. We are not sure what they are keeping out, since there is not much in NZ that one would consider pests.

Having given up on Motueka's fine dining, we head for the local grocery store and buy Dory fish and vegetables, which I manage to cook in the microwave. Not much is open as we discover they celebrate Easter in a big way with Friday and Monday as holidays. Stores are actually fined if they open!!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Abel Tasman


Continental breakfast is provided and we enjoy some fresh homemade whole grain bread. i vow to go home and use my breadmaker for really healthy whole grain bread. Ray fishes early in the morning and then we set out for Abel Tasman National Park, in the far northwest corner of the south island. The easy dirt trail runs above the ocean, turquoise blue water and golden sandy beach coves. We walk under a canopy of tree ferns, palm trees, and dense underbrush, winding along coves. Paths run down to the beaches and we find a beautiful one for lunch. A kayak group is beached on the sand and the waters look inviting,
Our hike is a total of 10 miles and we feel refreshed and fit. It is Easter weekend and not much is open, so Ray fulfills his craving for KFC, after which he decides that was good enough for the next 5 years. I opt for a McDonald's hamburger. Fine dining in Motueka indeed.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Ocean Crossing

The ferry is scheduled to depart at 10:30. It is huge but the ocean is “bouncy” as they say. The vehicle deck is below, and 2 floors of passenger decks are above. As we make our way out of the sheltered bay, I am thankful that I took my Dramamine. I choose to spend 2 of the 3 hour voyage on the side deck, despite the heavy wind and intermittent mist. I am out there with the smokers and some pale sea sick travelers. The rolling waves are like folds of heavy fabric, forming bunches and piles of foam; beautiful but foreboding. Ray looks at the lifeboats which have a capacity of 60 each and I think to myself that we wouldn’t even survive on a lifeboat in those waters! It reinforces the reason why I will never go on a cruise. Finally, back in the channel again, the waters are calm as we slide through the narrow passages of Marlborough Sound between islands and peninsulas with green grassy cliff coastlines that drop precipitously down to the turquoise and emerald water. It is very sparsely inhabited with only an occasional house on the hillside. Picton Harbor is a busy place and at the Europcar desk, we meet a young couple from Walnut Creek—they remind us of our younger days.

The seaside towns are tiny and Havelick is known as the green lipped mussel capital of the world! Our plate of mussels with a variety of toppings is fresh and delicious. They are meatier than manila clams or any of the mussels we get in CA. The chowder is soupy and I think I prefer Monterery Bay clam chowder. The coastside is breathtaking with all its inlets and cliffs of the peninsula across the water. Apparently the Queen Victoria trail runs up the peninsula, sometimes only wide enough for a walking path. We watch the sunset over the mountains which turns the puffy clouds pink and orange. Our most challenging task of the day is finding this b&b in the dark. They are a new b&b and have some things to modify—they have not begun to take credit cards and asked me to send a check written in NZ dollars only to find their bank would not take it. So armed with 450NZ dollars in cash, we attempt "Follow the road around the bend to the left past the 50mph sign, where you will see an orchard sign. At the big tree, turn at the lane and go until you see the gold mailbox on the right……" Ray is exasperated as we discover that in the dark, there are a lot of BIG trees along the road, and after the 50 mph sign, there is an 80 mph sign she didn’t mention. Does that mean we have gone too far? We stop again at the tavern and I get additional directions which turn out to be just as confusing. Back we go again to the tavern where Ray goes in for directions. Males should just get their own directions from other males!! He is happy because the male gave him directions to the # km, and he is impressed because the bridge is truly and exactly 2 km away! At the big tree, we turn down the lane and by now are convinced we are really in the middle of no where. The place is not a true b&b, but a well appointed cottage-like, apartment-like lodging in the middle of the forested countryside, only a few steps to several rivers and at the foothills of Abel Tasman. Tomorrow is forecasted to be beautiful and we are looking forward to a nice day of exploring and hiking.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Wellington

Today was a long driving day. These 2 lane winding roads force patience and reflection on the beauty of the countryside. Unfortunately, it was gale force winds, rain and threats of snowstorms on Tongariro which eliminated our plans for a long hike toward some of the crater peaks and volcanic lakes. Appears to be interesting terrain to hike and I mark it as “someplace to come back” and hike some day. We make our way down to Cuba street, a dingy part of the city, gray and old. Our hotel is in the heart of busy restaurants and cafes filled with very young people. Out in groups and couples, we are amazed at how clean cut and conservative the young people are, and that the next block has been designated an alcohol free zone. The room—much like a dungeon with its only window 8 ft. above ground is not a pleasant place to be. Fortunately, we are only sleeping here. At the local café, we chat with a young waiter who tells us how expensive internet is in NZ and only big places like Starbucks can afford wireless, “You must be from the US”, he states. The hotel charges by the gb of information transmitted and not by time.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Taupo


Ray had a very successful day fishing with his guide. It didn’t rain and the rivers were not washed out; the winds didn’t even pick up until late afternoon. 10 fish total and he was a happy camper. I followed the path alongside Lake Taupo for about 4 miles, walking a fast clip. It was a peaceful and beautiful parklike setting. Thought I had walked about half the lake only to find that I had only done a small bay of it, and barely out of the town of Taupo. In the afternoon, I meandered my way around the city centre and all of its shops. Found a butchery where I bought some lamb chops marinated in chili sauce and mint, which we cooked in the little kitchenette. Turned out to be one of our better meals.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Thermal Valley


We were up before sunrise--much earlier than I usually get up but the mist rising over the ocean and river in Whangamata presented some interesting photo ops. We wind our way down to Taupo on a 2 lane highway (4 lanes are nonexistent), and make a stop in Rotorua, a town of sulphur hot springs and thermal vents. First things first, and our Fodor guide took us to the city centre. Relish, a small cafe that serves a twice cooked, roasted then braised lamb shanks in gravy with shitake mushrooms over a bed of kamura mash. It was so delicious I was ready to lick the plate clean. Coffee choices - Long dark coffee (a bit diluted) vs short dark (expresso) vs American coffee vs white (full of evaporated milk). The waitress was incredulous that Ray could eat a full order of 2 huge shanks and kept looking at him and laughing, and wondering where he was putting it all. I told her he hadn't eaten in days! At the Watupoa Thermal Area, hot springs of various colors delighted this photographer. There are beautiful turquoise and copper colored pools and waterfalls of bright lime green deposits. We were practically chased out of the place at 5pm as I was definitely not ready to leave. Ray is excited about meeting the fly fishing guide tomorrow and being locked in at the thermal park overnight would be a definite disappointment! Oh no, rain is forecasted for tomorrow--he better not get rained out!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Coromandel Peninsula


Today is the end of daylight savings time in NZ and we awoke early, early. The breakfast room at the Chalet Chevron looks over the Auckland harbor in the distance and we chatted with the other guests. A Brit told us about the terrible economic condition in England where young people had purchased homes at overinflated prices and were now in trouble; sound familiar? A woman from Scotland told us about the festivals in the southwestern villages throughout August that features Scottish Highland dances; this sounds like a great place to visit. Another family from France had 3 very well behaved young children and I was impressed. The homemade yogurt with fresh boysenberries is wonderful and I am inspired to make my own. It is creamy, not sour and has no sugar-so much better than Dannon. There is a variety of packaged loaves of whole grain seeded breads, some of which I would love to bring home.

We are off to the Coromandel Peninsula, east of Auckland. Jutting out into the ocean, this area is heavily forested with ferns, and a variety of trees. It is a bit jungle-like and we set out on a hike along the river. A bit leery, I slowly, without looking down, crossed a suspension bridge hanging over the river with a wire mesh and steel bar open floor that is no more than 6" wide. The rocks were a bit slippery but we walked over an hour over steep terrain.

The 2 lane road to Whangamata, our final destination along the coast, winds treacherously and I think kiwis have no fear, as they drive way to fast. I'm clutching my seat most of the way and breathe a sigh of relief upon arriving. I give a lot of credit to Ray's driving. Not much is open at this hour in this tiny harbor town but we stop at the local fish and chips place and dine on fried snapper and grilled tahiyaki and kamura (sweet potato) fries wrapped in newsprint and newspaper--so fresh and juicy. It is a "takeaway" place but the owner clears a corner for us to eat there. My cheap hotel reservation was hostel like; our bare room consisted of a queen size bed and a chair, with shared bath down the hall and shared kitchen downstairs. All for US$29 a night! Spartan but immaculate.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Retraining the Brain

It takes 2 to retrain the brain. One to make the motor acts of driving, the other to loudly announce every right and left turn, and visibly gesture which lane to point the car, and which way the driver should turn his head. This works quite well and we managed to get out of Auckland and up the coast with relatively little distress to either party. The only minor slip up occurred when the shouting and pointing person zoned out for a few seconds. This cute little Nissan took us up the "Northland" toward Whangmea. Quirky weather they have up north--clear sunny skies with intermittent mists and showers that last no more than a minute, a bit like the misters that come on in Safeway when you are about to reach for the broccoli. It must be what keeps the grass so green and the ferns growing among the pampas grass, which line the hillsides. Ray was a bit anxiety ridden in trying to find a store that sold fishing licenses, when we realized that tomorrow is Sunday and the stores would be closed. Wouldn't you know it- you don't need a license to fish in the ocean therefore they are hard to find up here, and geez, we would happen to pick the wrong stores, provoking even greater anxiety, only to find the 3rd store out of 3 sold them! I did buy a smoked mullet which we ate with our fingers in the car, in the parking lot of the fishing store. Yum. Toll road up the Northland without tollbooths; what a concept. You buy toll passes at the "petrol station" or at a roadside machine ahead of time or call the toll free number to give them a credit card number. You have 3 days to pay. Cameras are mounted above the road and if you don't pay, you are fined!

After last night's lavish dinner, we opted for simple tonight. Checking out the local Safeway-like grocery store, we were so excited about the quality and prices of produce, we ended up with a huge bag of fruit. We didn't find oversized fruit like in the US, but normal sized apples and pears, not unlike the organic produce we are used to. The prices,oh so cheap. Apples for NZZ$1.50/lb, equivalent to around $1 a pound. Can you believe they have 5 varieties of wheet bix? 5 grain, barley, etc.! I am amazed at the healthy choices in food. There are a lot fewer choices here-one variety of paper towels, 3 types of mustard and not an entire shelf-ful. We decided on fresh bread, deli meats, and local mussels garlic or bbq sauced (which were delicious, by the way).

Friday, April 03, 2009

The Land Down Under



Blue skies, clean air, and very handsome young men. Air New Zealand's service to Auckland is quite a step up from United. Cute young male flight attendants treat you so kindly with big friendly smiles, the food is actually quite good, and they offer an amazing selection of movies on personal screens. We landed before 6am, an hour that rarely finds me up--still dark and cold, but as the morning wore on, the skies were a beautiful blue, the air crisp and clean. Matter of fact, this whole place feels clean and healthful. As I strolled through a small food store, I saw a myriad of muesli, whole grain breads, and nuts/seeds in the snack section. Not much in the way of junk food. People look healthier - slim and fit. The fruits and vegetables taste naturally sweet and fresh, Furthermore, it feels like there is just less waste overall. People eat less, consume less, throw away less, and are in general more frugal; I like it. Definitely much less of a wasteful way of life. We took a ferry ride over to Davenport, and spent time browsing through several small used book store. This is surely an independent used book store lovers' dream-the musty smell of old paper, rickety old shelves with books of every genre lining floor to ceiling, and long, white bearded bespectalcled men manning the counter. We must have walked at least 5-6 miles around the city centre and ended with dinner at Cibos, delicious and fresh grouper over a bed of risotto. Yum!