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A Different South Island Experience

March 31, 2019

Once a year we try to get away for a few days to explore a new part of New Zealand and this year we decided to mix it up and visit some places we’ve seen before as well as some that we’d never heard of before, much less seen.

The plan was to fly in and out of Christchurch, pick up a car and head west.  This was our route:

The plan was to spend most of the time on the west coast but we wanted to warm up by first visiting Oamaru, one of our favorite towns.  In the late 1800s, Oamaru was one of the busiest ports in NZ but changing economic conditions have changed all that.  Even so, today Oamaru is a thriving town of about 14,000 and they have preserved the old Victorian town on the waterfront.  There are lots of interesting buildings and shops to explore.

But one of the main reasons we wanted to stop in Oamaru was to visit a museum called Steampunk.  Some very creative people looked around at all the rusty old equipment laying around from Oamaru’s boom days and decided to do something creative with it.  A local artist did a lot of sculptures with old machine parts and some other creative types used old junk to create a museum that is truly unique and to some a little bit bizarre.

In addition to some sculptures that range from amusing to scary, there are interesting exhibits such as a dentist’s office with spanners and screwdrivers and power tools instead of dental instruments, an old pipe organ that makes unexpected sounds when you press the keys and a mirrored room that makes you think you are floating in space.

Oamaru also has a nice waterfront park with some interesting carvings.

The next day we headed west, driving through Otago farm land.

All along the way there are some tiny old towns with interesting sights and quaint buildings.

We stopped in Duntroon, population 100.  In the 1800s, Duntroon thrived because it was a stop on the main railway.  Today it is the home to the Vanished World Heritage Centre, a museum dedicated to the fossils and geography of the area.  It is also a stop on the Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail, one of the tracks on the NZ National Cycle Trail, a network of bicycle tracks around the country.

Here is the Duntroon Information Centre:

They also have some old restored buildings:

And some sculptures made from old industrial and farming equipment:

And a cool church!

Another attractive small town is Kurow, with some interesting old buildings.

Most of the electricity in NZ is produced by hydro power and a lot comes from two dams, Aviemore and Benmore, which have built on the Waitaki River.  You can drive across the top of both dams and enjoy views of the lakes created by them.  On the drive up, you pass the houses that were built for the workers who built the dams in the 1950s and 60s.

There are also semi-permanent vacation sites for people who come up to fish and boat on the lakes.

On the way back to the main road we saw some truly free range sheep!

We continued west to the foothills of the Southern Alps and crossed over through the Haast Pass.

There isn’t a lot of traffic outside of the main towns of NZ, so a lot of the bridges are one way.  Signs tell you who has the right of way.

Our next destination was Lake Wanaka.  The lake was formed by glaciers from the Southern Alps and it’s long and narrow—42 km by 10 km.  It is a beautiful and peaceful place, outside of the town and Lake Wanaka which was become a booming tourist town.  We spent a night at Glendhu Bay enjoying lake views.

The next day we drove up along the west side of the lake and generally felt that we had the place to ourselves.

As you go farther north you can start to see the peaks of the Southern Alps and enter what is called Glacier Country.  There are several glaciers that come down from the Alps and two of them, Fox and Franz Joseph Glaciers are the only glaciers in the world that terminate in temperate rain forests and you can walk up to the face of the glacier.  It’s getting harder to do all the time as the glaciers are receding but you still get a lot of nice views.

There are also a number of interesting geological features caused by the glaciers and lots of streams coming down from the mountains.  One area is called the Blue Pools which are two deep pools, blue, of course, formed by glaciers on the Makarora River.

You have to cross two scary bridges to see the pools.

But it’s worth it.

If you are very brave, you can also swim in the icy cold river.

We crossed over another one lane bridge as we headed to our first destination on the west coast—Haast.

You get some nice views of the Alps and alpine streams on the drive.

We were staying at Haast Beach and just down the road is Jackson Bay, which is basically as far as the road goes.   Needless to say, it is very quiet and peaceful.  This is the Jackson Bay pier.

In addition to scenic views and interesting people, one of the goals of the trip was to enjoy native New Zealand forests and wetlands and we went for lots of walks.  This is the Hapuka Wetland walk in Haast Beach.

This is the Ship Creek wetland and ocean walk as we headed north along the coast.

We continued up the coast toward the glaciers.  This is Lake Parenga, which was formed by a glacier.

In order to camp at Lake Parenga you don’t need a reservation.  You just show up and put your money in the envelope.

We continued on to Fox Glacier.  The best views are from far away because a washout in early March this year destroyed the road leading up to the glacier.

You take another one way bridge to get to Fox Glacier Village.

Although you can’t get to the glacier on foot, you can walk up to where the road washed out and it’s a nice walk through the bush.

One of the best places to see Fox Glacier now is from Lake Matheson—when it isn’t cloudy!  The still water of the lake reflects the mountains and provides some amazing views.

You can walk all the way around the lake on a nice walking track.  We saw this tree that looks like a lion!

We spent two relaxing nights in Fox Glacier village and the second morning the clouds were gone and we got some nice views of the glacier and the surrounding mountains.

We then headed to Franz Joseph Glacier.  It only took us about half an hour then, but today it is taking about 12 hours.  That’s because after we left a serious storm came through and washed out the bridge between Fox and Franz Joseph.  As the glacier melts it feeds the Waiho River and they got approximately 500 ml of rain (about 30 inches) in 24 hours.  Apparently the volume of water coming down the river brought down big rocks and chunks of ice from the glacier which damaged the bridge supports.

When we were there, there were several walks that provided nice views.  This is Peter’s Pool:

You can walk up to the face to the glacier via the Waiho valley and ten years ago we actually did that.  However the glacier has receded so far that we didn’t feel like the walk and instead did a few other walks in the area.

Everywhere there are signs showing where the glacier ended in previous years and you can see how much it’s gone back:

And this is a shot of the Waiho valley—you can see how far the glacier has receded.  It’s hard to imagine enough water coming down to wash out a concrete and steel bridge.

But there was a lot of room for water to collect from.

This is a church in Franz Joseph Village and a view from the window behind the altar.  The bridge in the photo is the one that was washed away.  No comment on what people in church might have been thinking at that moment.

Here is the bridge after the storm from a TVNZ picture:

We headed out of Franz Joseph, blissfully unaware of what was coming.  We stopped at Lake Mapourika to enjoy the view.

We then continued on up to the place we would spend the next two days—a beach settlement named Okarito, population 25.

Okarito is indescribably beautiful and peaceful.  It is a sandspit on a big estuary which is home to lots of bird life.  It is the only spot in NZ where white cranes nest and although we were too late to see the huge breeding population, there were still a few around.  We spent the time in Okarito going for walks and also taking a boat tour on the estuary.

We got some nice views of the Southern Alps and Aoraki Mt Cook  from the estuary.

And saw some cranes.

And even got a snack of tea and home made biscuits by our guide.

We went for a few walks and saw friendly New Zealand robins and tomtits.

We also explored the beach which we had to ourselves.

When we left Okarito the next morning, the rain was already starting.

We had planned some walks around Ross, where we would be spending the night but because of the wet weather drove a little further to Hokitika, a really nice town on the coast famous for its jade stone and the Wild Foods Festival.

We spent most of the day exploring Hokitika and then headed back to Ross.  It was a little worrisome because there was already a sign up saying that there was flooding farther south, which is where the storm was coming from.

In Ross we stayed at a beautiful place right on the beach.  It was an old shipping container which had been converted into a self-contained studio unit. The wind and the rain made it very noisy and a little scary!

We went for a very wet walk on the beach and the only other thing we saw was a seal.

We woke up the next morning and heard the news and it wasn’t good.  The road south of us to the glaciers was closed by several slips and there were warnings that the mountain pass road we planned to take back to Christchurch was getting heavy rain and might close.   We decided to make an early start out of Ross, gassed up in Hokitika and talked to a truck driver who told us he’d just come up that way and the road was fine so we decided to head that way.  The alternate route would have added two hours to our drive.

It was a fairly wild trip from Hokitika to the pass with lots of wind and rain.

This is at the pass, you can see the amount of water coming off the rain guttering over the road.

Once we got through the pass the weather cleared and we had a leisurely drive back to Christchurch.

Because we’d given ourselves extra time in case of problems, we scouted around for things to do in Christchurch and found the NZ Air Force Museum.  The high point of the NZ Air Force was during WWII and most of the exhibits relate to that period.  NZ airmen were involved in the Dam Buster raid and also the Great Escape and they have interesting exhibits about those events.   There are also lots of other historical planes and exhibits.

The most fun thing for me was doing two combat missions in a Mosquito simulator.  The Mosquito was a British bomber/reconnaissance plane.  On one mission you have to blow up a prison and on the other you have to sink enemy ships.

Check this out! High score!

The next morning we flew back to Auckland after a fun, relaxing and exciting trip!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Short Story

June 12, 2018

I’ve been working on a few short stories and will be adding them as I polish them up.  Here is the latest–hope you enjoy!

As If We Needed To Be Reminded

April 1, 2018

Do you ever wonder what the people who are constantly looking at their smartphones are doing?  Because I’m old enough to remember when only important people had portable phones, I still have this atavistic tendency to think they are doing something productive.  But let’s face it, everyone is playing games or watching cat videos.  While I’m doing important work. 😀

Well, if you think you are spending too much time on your phone instead of things like talking to people, doing real work, exercising, reading, thinking or enjoying beauty . . .

Guess what?  There’s an app for that.

When the radio host announced the topic of the next interview, I rolled my eyes and said, typical, we need technology to help us to stop wasting time with technology.  So I was highly skeptical and I prepared to hear about another dumb app.

But I quickly changed my mind when the young inventor started talking about how he felt that he had been spending too much time on his phone and realized that time spent playing Candy Crush and looking at Facebook videos was taking away time from his real life.  And not only that, he realized that on his deathbed he was probably going to wish he had spent more time living life than reading about it.

So he came up with this app wonderfully named “We Croak.”

For a buck fifty, five times a day you will get a philosophical quote about death delivered to your phone.  The idea is that it will made you stop and contemplate your mortality long enough to ask yourself whether what you’re doing is really all that important—whether you are immersed in social media, binging an old TV series or maybe even doing something productive.

The more I think about it, the more I think we need a “We Croak” app for life in general.  I think it would generally chill everyone out. Imagine if your boss had a We Croak governor on their behavior.  Instead of making you work Easter weekend to update some report that even if anyone reads no one will take action on, he or she would say, “is anyone going to care on their death bed?” If the answer is no, you get the weekend off.  (If the answer is yes, either you’re not getting paid enough or you need a new job).

The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of applying this concept at home.  After all, I’m pretty sure that on my death bed I won’t regret not painting the house!

But seriously, I do like the idea of the app.  We need to be reminded that there are more important things than social media and seeing pictures of what our friends had for dinner last night.  And if it takes thinking about being dead to refocus, I’m all for it.

A Welcome Pop Up

February 15, 2018

The Pop-Up Globe has returned to Auckland for another summer season!

The Pop-Up Globe is a temporary replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.  It’s called “pop up” because they can take it down and it can pop up anywhere there’s room.  For the third year in a row, they are doing a short summer season of four plays.  Once you figure out how to get in . . .

 . . . You can check out the theatre.  It’s made of scaffolding, plywood and corrugated iron and it’s an amazingly good copy.

They have a nice outdoor area where you can relax before the show and during the intermission.

Everything is very informal and once you get inside, you can wander around and check things out.

Here are the (very brave) groundlings:

Stage set for the Merchant of Venice

Stage set for Macbeth

What the actors see if they look up:

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s not the best place to see a play because of acoustic and visual issues, but the atmosphere is great and the performances are always very good and a lot of fun.

A couple of weeks ago we saw The Merchant of Venice and last night we saw Macbeth.

One of the things we like about the performances is that they are always unique.  Sometimes they take creative liberties with the plays, like setting them in the contemporary South Pacific.  Others are relatively traditional.  The Merchant of Venice had an all-male cast, harking back to Elizabethan times when women couldn’t appear on stage.

Last night’s Macbeth was great.  The setting was medieval Scotland with armor and shields and swords, and there were no major departures from the script.  And they made the show very interesting.

Unlike most theatres where they tell you to turn off your cell phones, here they tell you to turn off your phone unless you want to take pictures.  And I did.

There was a trap door in the stage that became a convenient place for unceremoniously dumping bodies, such as Banquo’s.

It’s also where the fantastically weird witches emerged from.

And the cauldron scene was great.

But this was Shakespeare in Auckland in summer, so you just knew that it wasn’t going to be totally traditional and predictable.  For example, there was this sign at the groundlings’ entrance.

And believe me, they weren’t kidding!  After all, the play was Macbeth.  There was a lot of blood, and it was as if the actors took a particular glee in using the entire stage for a fight and then moving over to the edge of the stage to deliver the death blow, complete with spatter into the audience.    They regularly had extras crawling around on the stage with rags wiping up pools of fake blood.

But Tom, I hear you asking, what do they mean by “other fluids?”  I’ll tell you.

At the end of the scene in which Macbeth kills Duncan, the king, he is having a meltdown and as Lady Macbeth leads him to bed, someone knocks at the gates.  Macbeth yells, “Wake Duncan with thy knocking.  I would that thou could.”

The next scene features a hung over old man answering the door.  When you studied Macbeth in school (I know you did) your teacher told you that the scene is purposely light to give the audience some relief from the emotional strain of the murder scene.

The actual dialogue in the play is light enough, but last night they took it up a few notches.  When the old guy comes out, he’s talking about someone knocking at the door and starts telling the audience these horrid knock knock jokes.  For example:

Knock knock (he says).

Who’s there? (the audience yells).

Shelly.

Shelly who?

Shelly compare thee to a summer’s day?

And:

Knock knock

Who’s there?

Toby.

Toby who?

Toby or not Toby.

You get the idea.

So the old guy finally answers the door and is talking to the men who have come.  They ask what took him so long and he tells them they had a big party because the King is there and everyone drank too much.  They tell him they can tell he had a few and he starts explaining the effect drinking has on him, from sexual performance to making him have to pee.

He then goes up to one of the pillars supporting the stage roof  and reaches into his robes and starts to pee.  He says “Ahh, was afraid I’d get stage fright.”  He then turns around and walks to the edge of the stage.  He reached into his robes again and says, “Oh, I’m not done.”  And that’s when we knew what they meant by “other fluids.”  It was hilarious to watch the groundlings running backwards to get out of the way.  And if you thought they moved fast then, you should have seen what happened when he made it look like he was about to get sick.

Definitely lightened things up.

But back to the play, most of what flew off the stage was blood.  The acting was great and the people playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth did a great job of showing their emotional disintegration as the weight of their actions started to get to them.

They also did something really cool during the intermission.  When the play started, it was still light outside, but by the intermission it had gotten dark.  In keeping with the Macbeth motif, they used this lighting effect to cover the outside of the theatre in blood!

It was an interesting and entertaining evening and one of the most surprising things is how timely the play seemed to be.   Although you (generally) don’t have heads of state whacking people left, right and center, the way the witches altered the course of history with their suggestions was a scary reminder of how modern governments are affected by outside influences.  Double, double, toil and trouble!

A Test For You

February 7, 2018
tags:

In a world of fake news and sponsored content, it has become really difficult to tell what you can believe and what you can’t.  Check out this video and ask yourself if you have the acuity of judgement to determine whether you can believe it!

Emptying A Room

December 24, 2017

Our friend’s daughter recently got married, and we were invited.  It was one of those modern weddings where everyone lives all over the place and people had come from all over the world for the Big Day.  This is important—people came from all over the world to be together—presumably at the request of the bride and groom.

Initially, the wedding didn’t disappoint.  It was in a really fancy place and the entire event was contained on a single floor—the ceremony in one room, cocktails in another and dinner in a third.  There were ocean views.

The ceremony was dignified and short.  After the wedding, instead of making the guests stand around while the party got pictures taken, they had a really nice cocktail hour with drinks and nice snacks.  It was a great way to meet people and mingle.

Then we went to dinner.  If I hadn’t already known it was an expensive wedding, the dining room would have been all the evidence I needed.  Tables were tastefully decorated.  In fact the whole room was beautifully decorated.  Seating was assigned and each guest had a name card and menu.  Not only that, there was a bottle of Scotch whiskey on each table, so guests could help themselves.  And I’m not talking airplane sized bottles.  They were the real thing.

The wedding table was on a raised platform and stretched across half the room. In the center of the room was a modest dance floor and band set up.

We settled into our seats and were introducing ourselves to our table mates when things started to hint at going horribly wrong.

There was a thunderclap of drums and brass that would have put a twenty-one gun salute to shame and a young man in a suit twirled into the middle of the dance floor like a televangelist.  He held a microphone and introduced himself as our MC for the night.  He promised that he would personally ensure that “everyone” would dance their feet off before the night was over.

I was confused.  He wasn’t the best man.  In fact, he had been hired to make sure we all had a good time.  We had been up till he showed up.  He behaved like the most over-enthusiastic cruise director or camp counsellor.  He was just too, too happy about the whole thing.  And he stubbornly mispronounced the names of the bride and groom.

Before we go any further, let me interrupt with some commentary.  A lot of our friend’s kids are getting married these days and we go to a lot of weddings.  I don’t want to sound like too much of an old fart, but I enjoy meeting and talking to people at weddings and at several of the weddings we’ve been to lately that hasn’t been possible because the music has been too loud.  Once I put a teaspoon on a tea cup and the seismic vibrations of the bass from the DJs kit vibrated it right off because the noise was so loud.

So I had come prepared.  With industrial earplugs that I picked up in a factory I’d visited.  How dorky is that?

It was too early to deploy the ear plugs, but I wanted to, as a band of at least 10 people with drums and brass and electric guitars exploded while the MC introduced the wedding party and other VIPs.  There was then an extended period of frenzied dancing and the noise and chaos cannot be described.  When I say extended I mean long.  Unnecessarily long.  And the “dancing.” It was as if the crowd on the dance floor were possessed.  Slam dancing I understood.  I thought Black Flag were great.  But this was in a different league. I started to think we were going to have to recall the priest to do some exorcisms.

At one point, the guitars and brass faded away only to be replaced by mind (and ear) numbing drumming that sounded more like a blacksmith pounding on an anvil.  Is that a new thing?  Metal drums?  You both heard and felt them.

Our prayers of “please make it stop,” were finally answered.

We then had a fantastic dinner, with nice speeches by various parties.  But as the tables were being cleared the band came back.

With a vengeance.

My earplugs only made it less painful.  People were literally sitting at the tables with their hands over their ears.  Others vainly appealed to the parents of the B&G.  It only got worse.  It was a live band with at least three guitarists, four brass and two drummers plus a male and female singer.  It wasn’t a wedding, it was a concert.  And we were unwilling participants in the mosh pit.

A few stalwarts stuck it out for dessert, but most fled to the (relative—you couldn’t really escape) calm of the other rooms.   Even young people walked out holding their heads.

In the meantime, the Bacchanal continued in the wedding hall.

Outside, we were able to converse with long lost friends and lots of pictures were taken.  When we got home we downloaded them with the intention of sharing them.  But we can’t because everyone has this wide eyed, Village of the Damned look.

Time for a Boycott!

December 12, 2017

Company B is a big houseware products retailer in New Zealand.  Up till now, I avoided going there was because the stores are always understaffed.  You can never find any salespeople to answer questions and there are always big lines at the checkouts because there are usually only two or three checkouts open.

Plus, they have really, really irritating advertising.

But things have changed.  Even if you don’t mind bad service and obnoxious ads and really need a set of sheets, you may want to rethink shopping there.

The managing director is a gentleman who we’ll call MD.  His stated mission is to make Company B profitable.

For his effort, he earns $1 million a year and also has a net worth of about $600 million because he’s owns most of Company B.

Nothing new here, I’m sure you’re thinking.  But wait.  Earlier this year, The Listener, a NZ news magazine did an article about executive compensation and sent a questionnaire to twelve NZ companies to find out about their executive compensation practices and how they compared to pay rates for line employees.  Only three companies responded and Company B wasn’t one of them.

Further research revealed that line workers at Company B earn a little more than minimum wage (but that’s not what is considered a living wage).  The article includes the interesting statistic that the average employee’s annual earnings are about what Mr. MD earns in two weeks.  For seven years, the employees have been trying to negotiate a collective pay agreement with management, but management’s not talking.

I know what you’re saying.  “But, Tom, if we boycotted every company that acted like that, we’d never buy anything.”

True, but get this.

Yesterday’s top news headline in the Auckland papers was that Mr. MD is taking the Auckland Council to court.  Why?  Because they will only let him have three helicopter flights a week from his suburban Auckland home and he wants six.  Wah!

He is building a $12 million house in a very fancy inner city Auckland suburb (median home value is $3 million plus) on a beach front lot.  The house, of course, needs a helipad and the approach will be directly over a popular public beach.

Mr. MD is no life-saving doctor who needs to rush to emergencies.  He is quoted in the paper as saying that he doesn’t own a helicopter but hires one to fly up north to his golf club.  He would have to drive 16 kilometers, (about ten miles) to get to the heliport, but is quoted as saying “I don’t want to have to drive . . .” and that Auckland Council is being “manifestly unfair.”

I can assure you that most of Mr. MD’s employees drive more than 16 kilometers to get to their just above minimum wage jobs.  And they do it every day, twice a day, not just when they are playing golf up north.  And by the way, it sounds like he wants to play golf six times a week.  How is he going to provide $1 million worth of service and make Company B profitable on the golf course?

In case you haven’t figured it out, Mr. MD thinks he is better than his employees.  And he thinks he’s better than you, his customers and just about everyone else.  He is too busy and too important to drive for half an hour.  Normal rules don’t apply to him. It’s “manifestly unfair” if people think they do apply to him. Plus, he clearly thinks that there’s nothing wrong with not sharing the profits that Company B makes with its employees.

The reason Auckland Council wants to restrict helicopter flights in leafy suburbs is because they make a lot of noise and kick up a lot of dust. It bothers people who are using the public beach.  Sort of like kicking sand in their faces.

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