Monday 7 September 2015

Farewell New Zealand……. Hello World! (Well America and Australia at least)

Well it’s been about 4 months since we last wrote anything and to be honest it’s not something that I’m particularly motivated to do right now. But being as spare time rich as I am and the fact that I may need to present this blog with accompanying photos and boarding passes to potential future employees as evidence I wasn’t banged up behind bars for 2 years. Here goes.

Selling The Car & Getting Rid of Shit.

The first mission once our New Zealand adventure came to a close was to lighten the load. The heaviest item being a 2000 Toyota Estima V6. Now I hadn’t owned a car in nearly 15 years and have never really been a car person but I actually bonded with this machine. It drove pretty much anywhere and ran like a dream. It was in impeccable condition too, aside from a full length scratch I gave it reversing through some trees.
Now the thing with selling a second hand car is that it’s a buyers market. We picked it up for $3700 when the seller was asking $6000 (the joys of online auctions - no face to face haggling that would otherwise lead to insult) so as a seller we would be happy to get $2500. Especially since we were trying to get rid of it within 2 weeks. A bargain if you ask me. After all I would rather have kept it and shipped to to Australia but you can’t do that unless you’ve owned it for at least a year.
The plan was to list it for $4900 and take the first cheeky offer and be done with it. And after 10 days of being listed with 4 to go until the auction closed we hadn’t had a single enquiry. Then Sherren took a call from someone saying we want to buy the car for $5000. Well they came round, took one look and said we’ll take it!. To which I replied, do you want to look inside? Have a look at the engine? Take it for a test drive? To which he answered while grinning from ear to ear, no! I know this car.

So we’d killed the budget in buying this car but got in all back plus a bit to pay for the tyre, battery and gas we’d put in. Pretty sure we’ll never get this lucky again.

The Silver Bullet

All square with the budget now. Off to have some fun in the good ole USA.

We decided to give Fiji a miss. Was a bit pricey as a stop over and not Vegan food friendly at all. Perhaps we’ll save the whole tropical island getaway for the next retirement.
Flew Qantas and I’d recommend anyone thinking of booking with them give it a miss. They’re average at best. Senior union labour that just don’t give a shit. I had 3 drinks spilled on me by the stewards (none of them were even mine) and struggled to get someone to even bring me a napkin to mop it up.

Landed in LA.
Customs officer says anything to declare and I say yeah! Got some Java Satay sauce for my brother, he can’t get the one he likes here. Man says I know just what you mean. I’m from Texas and you gotta have the right sauce. Welcome to America. Stamp!

Got a pick up from the Bro, headed straight to Huntington Beach and got into a few drinks. Didn’t have too much of a plan for LA. After all it’s just another city. Did the usual Venice Beach and Hollywood thing and then just chilled out at the beach for a week drinking too much, eating too much and getting in the occasional morning yoga. At one point we even went to the local Bikram to sweat out some our excesses.

Go Ahead, Make My Day!
This Made Sherren's Day (Hollywood Boulevard)
Eating out Vegan in The States is never a problem cause if there’s one thing they don’t ignore is a dollar. If there’s money to be made from Vegetarians and Vegans they’ll make it. And they have. We found a Vegan Thai Place, A Vegan Japanese and Even a chain of dirty ass vegan burgers and mexican styled dishes. And they got two supermarket chains called Sprouts and Wholefoods that cater for all you organic vege needs at about a 3rd the price you’d pay in NZ.

Got shouted a trip to Catalina Island. Saw a huge humpback cow with her calf and a pod of about 200 dolphins on the helicopter ride over. The migration had ended about 6 weeks earlier so we were very lucky to have this sighting.
Catalina is a pretty cool place. Privately owned by the Wrigley family (famous for chewing gum), it has a twenty year waiting list for the residents to import cars owing to the maximum number allowable on the island and as a result they all drive around in golf carts.

A Catalina View
Humpback En Route
Girl Racer
My brothers partner took us on a horse trek. There hadn’t been any rain in about 9 months so Cali is pretty dry to say the least but it was fun. My first time on a horse and it probably wouldn’t have mattered what the scenery was like cause I was busy watching the horse. Sherren was in her element and got a much feistier beast than myself.

Next day we drove to Vegas. The drive itself is a little boring given it's just an interstate in the dessert but just after you cross the California/Nevada state line you come over a hill and see an incredible sight of an enormous solar energy plant in the middle of nowhere. Could be one of the Tesla projects methinks.
Just after we arrived at Clint’s place, he got home from his calendar shoot and it was time to have a drink. Now I’ve softened a lot in the last few years of my life and I can’t sit up drinking till 8am anymore. But I gave it a go on a few occasions just to remind myself just how much it hurts. And in between those nights we managed a few outings such as:

Chill by pool - Not to be mistaken with a pool party. Been there, done that but just some good old fashioned relaxing in the heat by the pool.

Lake Mead wake boarding - We rented a ski boat and tried our hand at wake boarding. Sherren was a total natural and got up on her first try. It’s also a great way to see the Hoover Dam too.

Sherren In Her Element
Me In Mine
Lake Las Vegas SUP - This place is about halfway between Lake Mead and The Strip. Awesome if you want to get away from the madness and do some stand up paddle boarding. Nice hotel and resort too.

Grand Canyon -  Splashed out on the Mavericks helicopter tour. You fly up the strip, over Hoover Dam, then off to the Canyon, land, have a drink of bubbles, then head back. About 3 hours I think. We’re both used to helicopters so that in itself is not so amazing but it’s cool to see these sights from the air. My favourite bit was actually taxiing up the runway of Las Vegas Airport in a chopper only inches off the runway.
The Maverick (Even Comes with Cheesy Top Gun Music)
El cañón Grande
SkyWalk (Looking at You, Looking at Me)
The Baron Scaped Hoover Dam
Vegas - Dessert Oasis
Fantasy Girls - Strip show with singing and comedy routine. The silk routine and pole routine are pretty amazing. But what really makes this show is Sean E Cooper the comedian. He is pure evil genius and quite easily the funniest man in Vegas.

Carrot Top - To be totally honest. Just looking at this dude freaks me the hell out. There’s something about gingers that frightens the life out of me and this one is the scariest I’ve ever encountered.

Thunder From Downunder - Without the acrobatics and breaking of Clint, Leigh and Dave this show ain’t what it used to be. Yeah the old boys gotta make way for the new young talent. Trouble is that new talent just don’t cut the mustard. But hey! The drunk chicks probably don’t give a hoot. It’s their very own Vegas meat market for 75 minutes.

Steel Panther - These guys are a Mock ’n’ Roll bands take on Motley Lee Roth. They do original numbers themed around 1980’s glam rock complete with spandex and misogyny . And they do it quite well. They’re bloody funny, really good musicians and if they actually did some serious music, I think they would kick ass.

Spandex Heaven
Le Reve at The Wynn - I’ve seen 3 Cirque du Soleil shows now. This show although not a Cirque, was written by the guy who created Cirque after he left the company. And it is by far the best of the bunch. Doing the math regarding the small arena, number of staff in the show and the low price of the tickets. It’s plain to see Vegas doesn’t make money from shows like this. It’s all sponsored by gambling.

'O’ Cirque du Soleil - These shows are what they are and will always impress.

Roller Coaster - Sherren went on at New York New York. Not me I’m chicken.
Gambling - Between dinner and a show, Sherren put $20 bucks in a slot, pressed the button and won $2.50. Cashed it in and said “I’ve won, lets go”.

Las Vegas strip - Lights, fountains, drunk people, extroverts and their penis extensions (cars) and superheroes!

Sherren went shopping. Got a manicure, pedicure and a pair of heals. Got dressed up like a ‘slut’ (commonly used term in vegas for someone playing dress ups) and we hit the town. Woo Ha!

Just Seeing What All The Fuss Is About
We have not done a lot of yoga and I think my hips have ceased. Heels will do that to a man!

I’ve been to Vegas 3 times now and spent about 2 and a half months there and am yet to see someone actually win some money (real money). Yet any time someone tells you about their trip, they won big. Bit like fishing really.

So all in all. America made us fat. I gained 6kg and Sherren gained 3kg. And although I reckon we wear it well enough that we don’t look it. It’s time to head back, put all this excess behind and hit the mat once again. Still, it was fun.

The Ridiculousness of Flights These Days.

The route back to London from NZ goes like this:
Auckland - Sydney - LA - Brisbane - Auckland - Sydney - Dubai - London. Why? It was cheaper than:
Auckland - Sydney - LA - London.
And we wonder why airlines aren’t making any money.

‘Straya Mate.

We enter Australia and almost Immediately apply for a partner on New Zealander visa for Sherren. This will allow her to stay and work for 5 years. Although not the plan now, it means we can hit the ground running when we come back and will be earning some money to fund the $6000 to $10,000 it costs to get a permanent visa. Yes it is that desirable to be an Australian.

Here’s a little take on how it went.

Apply for Visa providing everything required including post office bank draft as payment.
2 weeks later, no news, call and find out application not received even though it was recorded delivery. Between post office and immigration our shit has been lost.
Cancel post office bank draft.
Pay for new bank draft and resend new application recorded delivery.
Receive confirmation application and payment received.
Then receive confirmation they found and received first application and bank draft.
They bank and clear both payments even though the first was cancelled. Post Office says not our problem anymore, apply for refund from immigration.
Apply for refund from immigration.
Advised by immigration despite proving all necessary documents they now want proof of our ongoing relationship and future plans together.
A medical and chest x-ray request when previously advised it was not required.
Requested to send original documents for previously requested certified copies.
Despite having travel insurance and being from a country with reciprocal health agreement asked to prove this.
Apply for Medicare Card that states Reciprocal Medicare treatment.
Sent all that shit in…..
2 and a half months and a small fortune in recorded deliveries.
….. and Wallah!

Visa Granted. However they’ve still not refunded us for the double charge. Time for Holiday to commence.

So while this was going on we managed to pick up a car. Now buying a car in Australia is not as a rewarding experience as it is in New Zealand. Probably the only thing other than Rugby New Zealand wins at. Now I knew we could rent a car with unlimited kms and zero excess for about $900/month so for the 5 max months we are here we wanted to pick up something pretty cheap so as to save on that sum. Trouble was every thing we looked at was in terrible shape. Until we finally found a Subaru Liberty we were willing to part with some cash for. Now the thing is an old bomb. Sherren says I shouldn’t insult it while we still have it but I see no point in lying to it. After all we purchased breakdown cover.

Car goes a little like this: Bearing in mind this car has passed it’s road worthy test:

Fill it with gas, engine light comes on.
Take to mechanic, he say don’t use 91 use 98 Octane.
Drive north 1000kms, muffler falls off.
Call breakdown cover “we don’t fix mufflers we can tow you up to 100kms”. (we need to go 120kms)
I jack car up and cable tie on muffler and we drive 20km to mechanic and he bolts back on for $50 bucks.
Oil is low so I top up and engine light comes on.
Sherren syphons out some oil.
Drive back to Sydney.
Decide car may be reliable after 2000kms so fit new set of tyres and get a service.
Drive to Melbourne. Car is sluggish and doing about 150kms less per tank.
Melbourne - Tis Cold
If You Look Hard There's Giant Bats In The Trees
Check oil and mechanic had over filled and oil is at the top of the dip stick spout and has been spraying out all over the engine while we’re driving.
Sherren and I syphon out some oil.
Drive back to Sydney. Mileage has improved.
Drive to Byron Bay. Engine light is almost a permanent fixture now but after 5000km who gives a toss. We’ve decided to stay in Byron for the remainder of our Australia trip. I may take it for a drive to the Red Centre for a look but Sherren won’t come with me. if it dies now, we’ll scrap it.

I think we should have rented but Sherren thinks we’re still in the black. We agree to disagree!

And while all this was going on, I quietly turned 40. Do I need a midlife crisis? Am I already in the midst of one? It doesn’t feel like a crisis. It’s much too liberating. I’ve had a few dreams I was back at work. Can I invoice for dreamtime spent at work?

Travelling to new unfamiliar territories is fun and adventurous but exploring the unfamiliar and new found yogic territory within is now much more preferable.

Practicing yoga at The Centre of Balance in Byron Bay now with Christian Graham. An Authorised KPJAYI teacher and soon Dena Kinsburg and Jack will return for an intensive. 12 weeks of stretching, sweating and balancing before getting on that plane back to what was once called home.

Of the last four months, Sherren says we slept a lot and used a lot of cuss words.

As for me, I feel rested, yet sufficiently worn out enough each evening to get back to sleep. Life is wonderful!

The Suffolk Park Posse
The Thing With Spiders Is They Hide
This Fella Was Too Big To Hide at about 2 meters
Wasn't About to Lay Beside Him For Perspective Though

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Glen's back in the blog drivers seat!

Thing is it was always Sherren's blog. Her idea, she set it up but when I came to the writing bit, not a lot was happening, so I jumped in. Now I stand accused of a blog mutiny, well sometimes. And it's therapeutic. Some say the devil makes work for idle hands but for me it's an idle mind. So best keep that devil at bay.

We bid farewell to Stewart Island with Vlad in the pilot seat again. It was a pretty calm flight over the Foveaux Strait. Unfortunately the only thing we could see were fishing vessels dragging nets as far as the eye could see.

We Took Stewart Islands Jumbo Back to The Mainland

I Took The Supervisors Seat Next to Vlad The Pilot Again

Did all our chores (shopping, washing, petrol, stock up on cash, bought Sherren a hot water bottle) then made half a plan to head for the Fiords.

Observations - Invercargill has the worlds largest liquor stores. Riverton had a granny rolling down the footpath on a scooter (not the motorised kind).

Iphone is brown bread. Takes about 6 hours to charge and lasts anywhere from 10 minutes to half a day (in flight mode). Won't go into it as I could rant all day but am seriously put off by Apple's failings. Hardware, software and incompatibilities with just about everything. Not to mention the fact that when I transfer my iTunes account to another country (required to make a purchase here) they delete everything I've purchased in the UK. Didn't realise you had to purchase a licence to listen to your music etc in another country.

Camped beside Lake Monowai now. We've not done any yoga for a while as it's just too cold. Just a few passive stretches in the car. Top temp today was about 11° with an overnight of 3°. Bonus is the fire ban seems to have been lifted so we had a camp fire tonight. I'm The Twisted Firestarter and Sherren is Smokey Sherrenson.

Our Resident Pyromaniac

2° today. Is it even autumn yet? Just passed Lake Manapouri. Couldn't see it, white out. 2 red deer hinds ran in front of of the car earlier. They're like cats at night and go for the far side. No emergency action needed though.
(Sherren - it was so cold this morning we just shuffled from the back of the car to the front, no coffee or breakfast, with the promise of stopping when it warmed up.)

We headed up the Kepler Track and instantly saw where all the money goes. The track is superbly maintained. So much so you could get a wheelchair up further than we walked (24km return). And the hut we passed, well I've never seen anything like it ever. Multi-storey, flushing toilets, generators, showers and a team of 4 rat/pest catchers on daily return shifts (5 caught on the first shift). More like a chalet in the Alps than a hut. Such a contrast from the other great walks we've completed. Some beautiful views too but that comes with most the mountainous  
terrain around.
Passed through Te Anau to get info, gas and groceries and wow this place is posh. Millionaires paradise. Nicer hotels than you get in Auckland and super wide roads like they're planning for something big.
Tonight we camp beside Lake Te Anau with a sunset view over the lake. Sherren just spotted a cute little kitten. Unfortunately it's a ferrel one and probably ate a Kiwi for dinner.

Most the forest around here is beech with fern undergrowth. It looks a lot like The Moon of Endor and I'm half expecting a bunch of Ewoks to jump me.

Lake Something (So Many We Lost Count) By The Kepler Track
Both of us have lost the urge for hiking as much. It's a bit like getting castle/art gallery/church fatigue in Europe. And especially since it undoes so much of the hard work in yoga. I'd just got my knees down in baddha konasana (for non yogis, that's several months of physical discomfort and mental hurdles overcome) and Sherren's supta konasana was looking fantastic. Now those hips are tight as anything. Guruji said "practice and all is coming", well don't practice and it starts going.
We're still thinking about doing one more great walk and will decide as we head north again.

Now there's no way I'm complaining but being on holiday for several years is almost like having a job (the unpaid kind). You have to be motivated, use time (fairly) wisely, work to a budget and take breaks (from perpetual travelling) to avoid burnout. But most importantly you have to enjoy it.

Heard a great quote from Jim Carey of all people recently. Most people experience failure in careers they don't enjoy so why not take the chance and do something you do enjoy. Just something to ponder till we eventually do go back to work. 

Rainy day today which set a fitting mood for the Milford Sounds. Stunning views of glacial carved mountains and valleys with cascading waterfalls. The rivers and sea here are crystal clear and pollution free. With the clouds, mountains and mist, the multiple shades of grey make these look like shadow mountains.

Tunnel To The Sounds

A Bit Like Coming Out The Tunnel in Monaco - Drive Like You Stoled It!

The Shadow Mountains

 [Sherren - it was warm enough this morning for breakfast and a slow start to Milford Sounds, it was a slog of a drive (for the car), with one massive tunnel which looked hand carved, it is single carriageway and if you are at a stop light you are given a countdown down from 5 minutes!  The mountains are amazing, they are so shear and dark, truly looks untouched.  I was disappointed with the visitor centre hoping to be given lots of info on the geology only to find a posh building full of tour operators trying to get you on a ferry.  The area seams to have its own weather pattern with an annual rainfall of 6.7 meters (only bit of useful info I found), and true to form it was raining and cloudy.  Rather than drive straight on to Queenstown we are taking another night at a doc camp near Te Anau.]

Camping beside the Eglington River tonight. Some Chinese just pulled in, got out and proceeded to photograph the grass and inspect the stones on the gravel road before using the loo. Then they posed for photos beside the loo. Pure fascination. This made me think of Canary Wharf as they come there and take photos of bare concrete walls and steps instead of looking up at the more impressive skyline. Must be a cultural thing I don't understand.

Looky Looky

Conspiracy theory: DOC place signs up that say 'Kiwi Spotting Area' then you meet trappers that are catching 5 rats a day or you see rats, cats and stoats with your own eyes. Point is, you see these, you ain't gonna see those! Good luck looking.

My turn in the drivers seat again today. Sherren doesn't like me driving cause I crank the tunes, play drum solos on the staring wheel, shout along with riffs and scream along to guitar solos. All with the stance of a one handed rally driver. My behaviour is pretty much the same in the passenger seat only with a lower risk to life or injury.

Today's plan was Queenstown and surrounds but after an hour in town realised this town is full of nothing but adrenaline junkies and perpetual partiers who drink petrol for a laugh. Not really my scene anymore. Like a cross between Magaloof and an all you can drink Andorra.
Pulled into the Camping ground and it was literally a gravel car park. We both looked at each other and said eff that we're not paying to stay here and drove on to Wanaka.

Hello Wanaka. Not been to town yet but we're camped beside the lake with more fantastic views. Drove past some pretty impressive real estate on the way to the camp too. Ranch style multi acre blocks you might expect to find in the Hamptons.

Land Corp. not sure who or what this company is but they seem at a guess to own at least 50% of South Island farms (the big industrialised ones) and proudly display their company logo as far as our eyes can see. The people have been removed from the farming equation along with ethics and replaced by multi national conglomerates, owned by hedge funds and managed by investment banks whose funds come from so many sources you'd have to say we all have a piece of this pie. Even farmers are becoming redundant on these estates with stock being monitored by software driven drones to increase profits for their unknowing stockholders. Even dead cattle have been left to decompose as they lay. Removal is just an added expense.

If you want to throw a conspiracy theory out there. Check out some Arnold Swarzenegger films like The Terminator and Total Recall. For those of you who don't have a huge Arnold man crush and have not seen the films (shame on you). In The Terminator, software driven machines become self aware and take over the world and in Total Recall the world and planets are owned and run by multi national corporations that control all commodities including air. Now let's take a jump back to reality. Recently even Bill Gates has warned us about A.I becoming self aware as evolution in this field moves at an alarming rate. And when it comes to commodities, corporations control land, forests and oil where previously only our own governments had power (at least we know who's ceding control of our commodities even if there's nothing we can do about it). And now that dick who runs Nestle come out and publicly states water is a commodity to which we should have no right (lest we pay) and it won't take long until air is next.  Then there's Monsanto genetically modifying the food chain so no one but they can grow crops but I'll save that rant for another day.
Art imitating life or life imitating art? You choose. Just remember without Star Trek, we may not even have cell phones or automatic doors at the supermarket yet.

(Sherren - Land Corp could also be a ethical business helping small farmers to stay on their farms and work the land .... Hmmmm... Well maybe.... Albeit I don't think Animal farming is either ethical or necessary. Somehow to see herds of dear caged in a paddock either waiting to have their antlers removed for velvet or to be slaughtered to tickle our tastebuds really brings it home for me, if seeing the hopeless cows, sheep and alpaca wasn't enough. The scenery today has been fab, huge lakes carved by glacier ice. And the road to Wanaka was paved with orchards and extremely cheap fruit, tummy ache here we come with a ton of apricots and nectarines, hopefully we will find a cherry stall on the way out)

Wanaka part 2. Bring your platinum card.

Haast Pass is pretty vast with more of those views I'm starting to take for granted. A view of some London brick work would do right about now. 

A Haast Local

West Coast. Finally the wild. If not for the odd road you may be forgiven for thinking people never made it here. Shame we're in a car. I'd like to be lost in the middle of this with nothin but my thoughts.

Grumpy Glen is out today. We're camped at Gillespie's Beach near the base of Fox Glacier and even stayed up for the sunset on the beach. It's an 8 site camp and about 24 have popped up (not surprising as it's one of the few free ones). Scene on the beach is constant movement and encroachment on each other's space. Seems being 3 foot closer to the sun when it's 20 million kilometres away makes a world of difference with a 20mm lens. Like fuck you dickheads! Sit down and enjoy it in 3D (with your eyes) and if you turn 180° every now and then you just may see Aoraki pop it's head out the clouds to bid the sun good night.

(Sherren - today's drive was pretty nice, there were a couple of wow moments, when following the lake and realising how vast it is, to a tree lined road opening up to views of the ocean with crashing waves and the smell of sea spray. The forecast was promising and it got warm about 3pm, so I had a go at yoga, getting through opening sun salutations, wearing long trousers, long sleeved jumper, and still getting bitten by the West Coast sand flies. Their stories hold up, the are tenacious, trying to get up my nose and in my ears! I had to run away, after applause from a bunch of fishermen who were making the most of the end of the fishing season. Just wish I could have entertained them for longer.
We watched the sun go down on the beach, well I mostly watched the clouds of 'photographers' trying to get perfectly lined up with the sun, tricky business.
We camp tonight in the busiest little car park I have seen, it's a doc camp with water and loos, and about 30 cars squished in, I hope no one snores!)

Left Gillespie's bright and early at 09:00. Sun isn't really rising till 08:00 now so it's as early as we manage. On the bridge out we ran into Peter again. We'd first met Peter and Rose on the TA trail near Ruapehu, then again on Stewart Island. They've been the only people we met doing the TA that have not only not missed any sections out but also walked every single kilometre. Hats off to them and good luck in reintegrating back to a normal working life. After a wee chat and scaring off the Kea Peter was photographing, we set off to see the Glaciers. 

Now they are what they are. Big lumps of rapidly shrinking ice. Half a meter a day in fact. And that's about all you can really say about them. They're worth a look and the tourist traffic on the walks was remarkably light.

Fox From Gillespies

A Shrinking Lump of Ice

Another Shrinking Lump of Ice

Budget Cuts See Staff Replaced with Cardboard Cutouts

I usually check the price of real estate every town we pass. Just out of morbid curiosity if anything.
Now I've had some conversations about how over inflated NZ real estate is of late. 
(average house price in NZ in more than the UK now at $500k yet average salaries are nearly half at $50k. That's a 10 to 1 ratio which is ridiculous given the 1 to 14 population difference competing for roughly the same amount of land). 
And I have been challenged in my view, with suggestions it's Auckland pushing up the price. Well The going rate in Wanaka is 1.25 million, Queenstown 500k to 1 million, Franz Josef 750k, Murchison 500k. Even in Haast, which has nothing and is in the middle of nowhere is selling empty sections for 200k. Think I've been priced out of this country.

(Sherren - we did both Fox Glacier and Frans Joseph today, hurrying from one to the next in fear of the impending cloud and rain (which never arrived). FJ is definitely bigger, that said the view from the otherside near Mount Cook of a small one is equally impressive. I wish that someone would brush all the dirt/slag off them as they would be even better.  I heard Glen do a little 'wow' today and demand "pull over", I waited whilst he rushed to explore a beautiful blue glacial stream. We are now at a campsite at Lake Mahinapua, and there aren't any Sandflies..... The cheeky Weka bird tried to leg it with our washing up bowl, but alas it was just a bit too big for it, maybe Weka eat Sandflies)

The loss of interest in hiking has pushed us north quicker than we had planned. Hokatika was a nice town, Greymouth not so and on to Westport. Some nice old buildings in town with a population that seems to be stuck in an 80's time warp, with the high street shops to suit. From what I recall this was a mining town, only now there can't be too much work on as there's a fair few down and outers sitting around the streets with their boxes of beers.

Stopped at Punakaiki (The Pancake Rocks) on the way and was pleasantly surprised how cool they look. DOC has made a great little walk among Flax and Nikau palms from the highway.

We left the west coast through the Buller Gorge, emerging near Murchison to what looked like the British Empire's scorched earth campaign. Anyone that's read up on the Boer wars in South Africa will know that the British Empire laid waste to everything including farmhouses and crops, whilst detaining all civilians in concentration camps so as to prevent Boer South African civilians from aiding their soldiers. Only here it's the farming and logging industries that have laid waste to the land. A real shame that is what eventually becomes of these ancient forests. 

The Interesting Roads Before Scorched Earth

Heading to Motueka thinking it would be a nice place to stay as it's the gateway to the Abel Tasman national park. We were wrong on that one. Checked a couple of camping grounds out only to drive straight out in disappointment. Then while in town figuring out what to do an opportunistic thief with his 5 mates thought he'd check the contents of our car out while Sherren was in the back (glovebox was open with camera and iPad on display), only to look through the passenger window to see me sitting in the drivers seat looking at him. He was pretty cool about it too, strolling off without so much as flinching. 

Moving on again, we're now camped at Totaranui Campsite on the Abel Tasman great walk. Got more cheeky Weka here who seem to get a rough time from the Pukeko. We actually decided not to do this 5 day walk but will stroll up the tracks for a day just to give it a glance.

Flexing My Mussels
Looky Looky

Drivers: foreign drivers have a bad rep in the NZ press at the moment. Apparently 1 in 12 road fatalities is caused by a foreigner. Thing is, in the South Island foreign drivers outnumber local drivers. So statistically they are safer drivers. IMO. 
Here's our experience. On the Otago Peninsula we came round a blind corner to a Chinese man doing a 3 point turn. Off all places. He waved at us "so solly". But on the west coast 2 days ago a local farmer in his ute crossed the centre line coming directly at us. In the same breath he swerved back but had he not, there was nowhere to go in the 1 second of reaction time available. Just hope like hell the airbags deploy on impact.

Definition - Natural: I have b grade movie plot running through my head. Global marketing executives converge on Las Vegas to bang heads ( Las Vegas cheese of course). It's not who you sell to or what you sell to them. That's irrelevant as they'd sell your own turds back to you at a premium if they could and believe me they sometimes do. It's the terms by which they sell. And by that I mean the language.
The point of this conference is to agree which term or terms they can bastardise on their euphemistic treadmill to achieve maximum efficacy. And boom! 'Natural' rolls right off the shelf and fills their bottomless coffers.
Feel free to check the definition of 'Natural' in the dictionary. I haven't but reckon it may go something like this. 'Occurring in nature' or 'unprocessed state'. Now as soon as you squeeze the juice from an orange, remove its fibre, pasteurise it and serve it in it's new high fructose concentrated form it's no longer natural. And that's just orange juice FFS.
Point? Everything on earth was once in a natural state as nature intended but is not as harmless as orange juice. Would you wash with enriched uranium? You might if marketing execs could sell it to you. Natural Irradiation to stem the ageing process. Sounds like a dream come true. And now the marketing folks have applied their neuro linguistic programming and hypnotic affirmation to this term, every time we hear it, we instantly assume it's not only as nature intended but that it is actually healthy and will do us a world of good. Another example of this would be Omega Fish Oil. Whereby you get all the off cuts of fish the supermarkets and stock makers don't want, put it in a huge vat with industrial solvents, heat well beyond 200°c to extract the oil, then reduce down and encapsulate in a pig skin wrapper (gelatine). Package and market as naturalhealthy and even essential and wallah another marketing triumph. If you do feel you need more omega in your life, why not just eat some fish or sprinkle some flax seed on your cereal?
Not sure how to end this film yet but that's the whole point of a b grade movie, you don't have to. But maybe the point would be to define human civilisation as the need to turn profit without ethics or moral. Rambling rant over for now. 

Just read in the DOC centre, Weka were declared extinct from this area in 2001 and are only here due to ongoing human intervention.

Abel Tasman track is another extremely well maintained track suitable for wheelchairs. Even saw a few folk who were just about ready for them or their deathbed. They have a defibrillator at the camp office too! To help keeps death at bay for the bucket listers on trail.

This is How Posh Folk Do A Great Walk - WTF

The Pukeko at this camp act up just like the Weka (stealing things and running off with them). I've not seen them interact so closely with humans before. Weka must be giving them lessons.
They have a rep in NZ as being common, stupid swamp dwelling birds but they're actually remarkably coordinated. Selecting and pulling up grass root with their beaks, clasping the stem with their claw and peeling back the layers of grass to get to the soft stem. Yummy!

(Sherren, the last couple of nights here at the Tasman have been nice, it's a huge campsite, the weather yesterday was fab, Glen even went for a dip, not a swim, just a dip, I watched, it looked cold.  The Sandflies and mossies are plaguing us a bit, during the day it's not so bad but at night you are woken by their feeding calls, then wake in the morning bumpy and itching. Last night I had to pee and heard the sound of what I think was deer roaring, a low guttural moan, quite distant, but it definitely made me get a wiggle on. Glen is not sure they roar at night, if it wasn't deer it must have been the boogie monster. Today we head off for 'Shambala' in Golden Bay where we have the luxury of staying in a double room, hot showers and a yoga studio so we can get back on track :-) it's a long windy hilly drive out of here, about an hour to drive 20km, we might stop at a gallery and coffee shop I saw on the way up, I'm getting a taste for Chai Latte, soy milk of course.)

Fricken Cold

We've slowed the pace now and have stopped moving. Staying at an Eco backpackers in golden bay. They have solar electric and all the other zipity doo dahs that go with it. They even have a yoga shala atop the hill. Had a couple morning practices and wasn't feeling too far off the money till I pinched a nerve in my thoracic during closing sequence (rolling down to matsiasana). Thought I was going to throw up from the pain and broke out in a cold shaky sweat instantly. It's officially my first real yoga injury. Was hoping to never get one as I take so much care these days but it came out of nowhere. Pretty depressed about it as last time I pinched a nerve in my cervical (4 years ago) it never healed and I've had to live with it since. MRI and the NHS said degenerative disk disorder which is a posh way to say your shit is wearing out ahead of schedule you old goat. Warren Zevon would say "ya shit's fucked up"

So skipped breakfast crawled under the car to do some reattaching of a cowling that needed some attention then we headed up to Farewell Spit. Checked out the seal pups playing in the pools at Wharariki Beach first. They're pretty cute to watch flipping over each other and racing in and out the water. Couldn't  get many decent pics with our point and shoot camera. Need one of those Canon 7Doodacky jobs set to Girls on Film mode to get that kind of action.
Wind was howling and we were getting sand blasted so made for the car then headed for the spit.
Only wondered round for a few minutes before deciding against a 12km walk in this wind. Sightseeing fatigue's still strong as ever and back to our haunts for a chill.

Saw a pitch coal black Fantail yesterday. Never seen one of those before. I'll note it in my bird watching diary. Then out of the shear mental boredom of not having a job or any real purpose other than self satisfaction, decided to weave a flax basket. Not having any know how in this area and no resources available to learn as we are even without Internet, I winged it and produced a pretty damn good little man bag. It would have been bigger but I also got bored collecting and preparing the flax.
If you're out there Kurt? I need a swift kick to the head and a cold beer to reset whatever's gone awry in my head.

7 days at Shambhala. 10 hours sleep and yoga each day. Feeling pretty good. Back is starting to come right, although taking it pretty easy.

We're in Nelson now, visiting some family. Good to see these folk again and everyone's doing well. This was always my favourite place to visit as a kid. Think we got spoilt rotten back then. And to be fair, we still get spoilt rotten. Aunt Vicky has been doing a fantastic job catering for our kooky dietary needs.
We've also been chaperoned around some of the vineyards for a bit of tasting and had a grand tour of the area complete with Uncle Murray's history (almost like a London bus tour).

Caught Sherren scoffing her peanut butter out of the jar with her fingers today (Pics peanut butter - made in Nelson). Completely lost for words. Think she may be addicted!

The weather was promising a rough ride back over the Cook Straight today with some 90kph gusts and a 2 meter swell but it's actually pretty flat. We started this adventure with a bad run of the weather but the last 3 months has been flawless.

We land back in Wellington and instantly the lay and feel of the land around is a little more processed. Maybe that's the difference between the North and South or nature and the developed world. A few more layers of change. Each has its own charm and there's no way of comparing the untouched landscapes of the west coast to the cities of Europe or the emerging cities of New Zealand but seeing the stages in between does make me feel something's being lost. And with that thought, 1500km hiked, 8000km driven, we pretty much conclude our NZ adventure and head north to sell the car and make plans for our next stage of this adventure.
We have left a few things out on this trip, as I invariably always do on most my trips. But in a way, that’s a something for next time policy. Maybe when we write a bucket list.

North Bound

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Catlins to Stewart Island, the third Isle of New Zealand

Yipee, I get a go at the blog!

(Glen, about time!)

So we are on our second night in the Catlins, last night we stayed at Tawanui and tonight at Purakaunui Bay campsites. Both in great locations, we had a walk this morning along the Catlins River Track where we encountered a nice swingbridge, lots of fantails, one walking with me for a good 10 minutes. And so many different mushrooms, none of which were edible .... Great place for a fun guy ... Get it?

We took a short walk to Purakaunui Falls

Purakaunui Bay is a beautiful light sandy beach with some great waves, complete with a tagged fur seal splashing itself with sand (K789).

There are signs something may be going into the dunes and we wait for this evening to see if there are penguins, it's raining now though.

Tomorrow we plan on heading to Invercargil, via Papatowai, McLean Falls and Curio Bay.

The something into the dunes ended up being the seals.

McLean falls were quite spectacular, lots of water coming down, easy access to get in amongst the rocks, Curio bay had a Petrified Forest (so scared because it couldn't swim), there were also yellow eyed penguins, but we didn't see any.

Tomorrow we fly to Stewart Island.

The flight was awesome, Glen had the co-pilots seat, and I chose the back (safest place to be! They never reverse into mountains) it was a little plane with 6 seats but we were the only passengers.  Flight was nice and smooth and the pilot had a little fun when coming into land pulling 2G's banking and dropping down to the beach landing which was nice and gentle.  It was the pilots 1000th flying hour, he was a mere 23 years old!  (Thank you for the advice Ralph).

Masons Bay Hut is just a short distance behind the dunes, we left our bags there and went up the big Sandhill where we saw the footprints of a Kiwi. We are going to head out when it gets dark see if we can spot one.

No luck Kiwi spotting last night but keep reading ...
We had a slow start this morning (it's my birthday!), leaving at 1030 for the walk to Freshwater Hut, this we were warned would be a muddy walk and it was, but nothing too bad. It was rainy but we arrived at the hut about 4 hrs later to light the fire, pending the arrival of our tramping buddies also coming from Masons Bay hut.  
The walk was mostly on a track between two man made canals, the track being the mound of earth taken out of each.  
After about 2 hours of walking I spotted a Brown Kiwi, about 15 metres from us, I quickly took a photo approaching slowly and taking photos in fear of it running away.  Eventually we were only 5 meters from it, whilst it was aware of us it wasn't bothered and was feeding and walking around, we stood still as it walked a couple of feet around us, sniffed Glens shoe and then pottered off down the track.  You can see why it was known as a Weka with a walking stick, I think without its long beak it would fall on its face!

Hard to photograph as it doesn't stay still!

The hut is fairly full now and most of us get the water taxi in the morning to Oban, I've had a few lumps of coconut ice as a birthday treat.

Glen - Sherren disturbed a deer when she went to the toilet last night. It must have been a red deer as it crashed off into the bush without the grace that the white tail have.

Taxi to town was pretty cool. Weaving up the channel of the river out into the harbour. I even saw a blue penguin on the way. Guess it proof wildlife does exist, even if it is in dwindling numbers. 

As the water taxi turned each corner we saw another beautiful bay, I was half expecting to see a Hilton International perched on a hill, but thankfully not. Oban (the town) is tiny and all about the walkers, you can even get a foot rub! We said goodbye to our intrepid friends and began the Rakiura Great walk straight away.  The sun really warmed up and it was a relaxing walk to the first hut where we now sit basking in the sunshine, batting away bumble bees with a stick and splatting sand flies which sadly you don't feel until they are biting!

Tomorrow's forecast is warm again, and we have a 6h walk to the next hut. Every day my pack gets lighter as we eat more food, Glens got heavier today as we bought 6 apples and a bag of liquorice.

Glen - We stopped at Maori Bay campsite to use the toilets only to find people have been shitting on the lawn outside and throwing their toilet paper in the bush. If I catch one of these filthy fuckers I'll get out my machete and make them eat it! The only inherently filthy animals on this planet are people. Reported it to the DOC ranger at Port William Hut and she didn't seem too bothered either. Not really the attitude you'd like to see on the great walks.

So we woke to a sunny but cold morning, we shared the hut with schoolies from Dunedin, 14 kids in total, international students, all very well behaved, from good class families who can afford NZD 7500 tuition fees per term.  To miss them on the trail we left early and with lots of rest stops and a lunch stop we still made it to the hut by 2pm.  It was a good trail, but quite boring, through young forrest which was a bit samey, we saw very little bird life quite disappointing but given they were extensively logging the area I figure it will take time for the trees and birds to come back.  Glen's beady eyes spotted a White Tail Deer which I caught a glimpse of as it bounded away, far too quick for a photo!

Tomorrow we walk the short track back to Oban and maybe treat ourselves to chips for lunch ....

Glen - Got up to use the facilities in the night (it's a sign of old age) and saw a possum and a ferrel cat. We've seen possums on the 3 great walks we've done now. Just not acceptable. Of all places these should be pest free. As for the ferrel cat, they will eat Kiwi chicks and although they probably won't go for an adult, I doubt they'll share the same space. Rumour has it, that although there are good numbers of kiwi around, their population is rapidly ageing as a result of such incidents. 

All bird or egg eating pests. Cats, rats, ferrets, stoats, weasels, possums, pigs, although not inherently evil creatures (they only live by the laws of nature), wreak havoc on the wildlife here and need to be eradicated. And national parks should be on the top of the list. I know they're not to blame. People put them there but if they don't remove them we'll see the extinction of almost all New Zealand bird life. Then on top of those we have pests that destroy the flora too.

(Sherren - a weed is just a flower in the wrong place, I'm not convinced on the pest control measures, aren't they just animals in the wrong place ... Perhaps repatriation is the answer.)

More possums last night, caught them eating the new shoots off young Rimu tree. Then awoke to a deer on the lawn. Another white tail hind again. I sat and watched it at the window for nearly 10 minutes. It new I was there and walked up to the glass and kept peeking in. Too dark for photos. I know they are also a pest but numbers a kept low by recreational hunting and thus minimises the impact on the environment.

I may always sound like the cynic on this trip. It's not all that bad but the state of New Zealand's environment has deteriorated so much it's hard to not say anything. I think I notice more so due to my absence as apposed to someone living here witnessing a much slower rate of change.

On the up  side. The people we've met in the huts are mostly amazing and interesting folk you can talk to for hours. Not the sort you find crapping all over great walk trails I hope. And the environment is still beautiful even if some of it is in a state of decline or regeneration.

Sherren - Our walk out to Oban was quick, only 4 hours later we were sitting down for some hot chips in town. Didn't see much wildlife on the way out, and I am hoping that Ulva Island tomorrow will be the sanctuary it promises to be. 
We bought some fresh veg in the local shop and prices aren't too bad. It's a small town of just over 300 people, almost the entire population of the Island is in this town, and everyone knows each other by name.  It's industry is built around tourists and the tramping, everyone is super friendly.  We have been so lucky with the weather and other than the rain overnight last night it has been sunny and warm out of the wind, hopefully more of the same for the next few days.
We are staying at a backpackers tonight and tomorrow night, it's actually one of the nicest we've been in, and has awesome hot showers.
Oh! I nearly forgot, I was stung by a wasp today, right behind the knee, boy did that hurt, it's okay now though, just another red lump to add to the mosquito and sandfly bites.

Glen - St Patrick's day today. A real hoot for a tee totaler. It's freezing cold and the locals are out in t-shirt and jandals (that's flip flops or thongs for you skippies and pomes). Seen an abundance of bird life on Ulva Island today. Albatross (little ones, 2.2M wingspan. They get to 3.6M), Kaka, Wood Pigeon, Tui, Rifleman, Parakeet, Saddleback, Weka, Bellbird and Stewart Island Robin.
Now there's no danger of me becoming a bird watcher by any stretch of the imagination. I'll forget most those names in a week or so but it is great to see them flourish somewhere.
For anyone intending to visit Ulva Island, this is not an avery. Life only exists in proportion with what the nature of the land will allow. I hear some folk come away disappointed. Perhaps they need to visit the zoo!

Only saw 2 types of pests on Ulva, people (hand feeding robins bread and seeds which don't form part of their natural diet) and wasps.
Sherren - ditto, it was fab! Freezing cold though.  Back to Invercargil tomorrow.