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The Mobile Lawyer -- One Lap, No Jetlag: April 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wanaka to Queenstown

Wanaka ended up being my favorite town in New Zealand. Big enough to have plenty of places to eat, shop and stay, but small enough to be completely walkable. It is perched next two one of the two large glacier-formed lakes in the area, and also at the base of some beautiful surrounding mountains. Although I find the place a worthwhile destination in the summer, its claim to fame is as a winter destination, with a number of ski resorts within close proximity. In fact, almost all of the New Zealand Winter Olympic athletes live here.

This was the town that I ran into Nicole, after not seeing or talking to her in the year since we’d originally met in Ecuador (It's a Small World). I liked it so much that I ended up staying here for 3-4 days on two separate occasions, coming back here after doing a brief circuit to Milford and Doubtful Sounds and to Invercargill on the southern edge of the country. It was also the two with the great little local movie theater I wrote about a while back (Movie Time in New Zealand).

Before I left for the first time, I did finally get perfect weather for my first skydive. Good stuff. Surprisingly a completely different feeling than bungee jumping, which is much more frightening. If you are going to do one, go ahead and do both for the comparison. In tandem skydiving, you are so far from the ground, you don’t get that feeling you get bungee jumping off a bridge, where you can see the ground that your mind is telling you that you are soon going to hit. Plus, in bungee, you are on your own – you have to make the commitment to actually jump. It is odd to put your legs out of an open door in an airplane, but once you are there, the pro strapped to your back is getting you out of that plane with no assistance or input from you.

After that excitement – that same afternoon actually – I stuck my thumb out again and ended up quickly getting a ride from Brit living and working back up in the Nelson area I had visited a few days back. He was a paragliding instructor (there is a serious abundance of outdoor activities in this country) driving down to Queenstown for a paragliding competition that weekend. Interesting guy. We talked for a while about getting a work visa here, which was easy for him, since Great Britain and New Zealand are part of the Commonwealth, but his German girlfriend had to relocate to Australia, since she couldn’t get an extended visa from here.

One of my favorite quotes in a while was regarding his girlfriend when I asked how he met her. She was taking paragliding lessons at the same place he worked when they started dating. She had then gotten into a horrible paragliding accident, where she had broken a leg, an arm and had numerous facial fractures. She was hurt badly enough that her family flew her home to Germany for a time, to get some reconstructive work done there. At some point during my questioning him about it, talking about health care in the respective countries and such, he stopped and said, “just to be clear, I wasn’t her instructor.”

He dropped me off slightly outside Queenstown, but it was too far to walk into town, so I quickly got another ride from a local resident. He picked me up and asked where I was staying in town and I told him I didn’t know, so if he could just drop me off somewhere near the town center that would be great. Queenstown for me can be summed up by his reply when I asked him advice about any good places to eat or drink on town: “I’m sorry, I am a local. We don’t ever go into Queenstown for that. It’s all tourists there – all the time.”

And so it was. I’m not sure I met any Kiwis in the two days I stayed there. Queenstown is touted as the activity center of New Zealand, and it certainly is. You can do one of the world’s highest bungee jumps (the original bungee jump is here also), whitewater raft, book day trips to Milford Sound, and party late into the night like a 20-something year old – which in fact describes the tourist population quite accurately.

I think I’ve decided one of my rules is going to be ‘too young to die, to old to party like a 25 year old.’ Well, it’s more a guideline than a rule.

In this case though, I just simply wasn’t in the mood at all. I’m sure Queenstown is a great place to hang out, but it just rubbed me the wrong way completely, so I hopped on a bus down to Te Anu, which is the small town close to Milford and Doubtful Sounds, which were my next destinations.


Monday, April 26, 2010

Photo of the Day: Sunrise near Te Anu, New Zealand

From New Zealand - South Island

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on to Wanaka, via the thumb

The road south first went down the middle of the South Island, over some mountain passes, before turning west to the coast. On the mountainous part of the road, there was some sort of running race going on. Hundreds of people were running, stretched out over a dozen or more miles. I must say that I’ve never understood the supposed thrill of running and my view on the whole topic is reinforced every time I see the expression on the face of someone that has been jogging for a long distance. It is simply not a happy look.

A few hours later, I was dropped off at the town around the corner from Fox Glacier, which is one of the two glaciers, the other being Franz Joseph, in this area. Both are famous in the glacier world, since they are the only two glaciers in the world that exist in a temperate climate.

The glacier was interesting, especially considering the temperate surroundings. I had previously decided to skydive here in New Zealand, adding to my ‘done’ list of things I hadn’t tried before, and had heard that skydiving over the glaciers was one of the best spots in world. I didn’t doubt it, but the weather wasn’t complying for me, so I stuck the thumb out and got a ride south.

Getting a hitch in this part of the country was tougher than the other places I tried to, I think because this area is very under populated and most of the drivers that passed me by seemed to be tourists. Although two American travelers finally picked me up, a brother and sister in New Zealand for a long stay, I have to say that I ended up getting pretty annoyed with most tourists as I stood on the side of the road with my thumb out. How difficult would it have been for someone in one of the many camper vans rolling around to pick up a fellow traveler? Apparently very difficult, since I never got a sniff from any of them.

Victoria and Logan were the brother and sister from Oregon that picked me up. She was studying for a semester at one of the universities in Dunedin and he had been wandering around for a few months, before he headed off to Southeast Asia. Logan was one of those travelers that had bought a cheap car after he got here and picked me up because he had hitched before and wanted to “make sure his karma” was good for the future. I hope his karma is a hell of a lot better than the dozen or so putzes in campers that passed me by. They were on their way from Frank Joseph to Wanaka and Logan said that he’d been there before and liked it a lot. Good enough for me.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Picton to Nelson and Abel Tasman

After my weekend in Wellington, I took an early morning ferry across to the South Island, which drops you off in the small town of Picton. The typical way to do the South Island is in a basic loop around the outside (with a stop in the middle at Queenstown and/or Wanaka as you cross over from one side to the other), but I hadn’t decided whether I wanted to go clockwise or counterclockwise. Since I was going to hit everything at some point, there was no practical difference, so I left it up to random choice and asked the desk clerk for the Intercity bus line to decide for me. She said counterclockwise and so I bought a ticket to Nelson.

The bus was more than half empty and I was a bit low energy, so I pulled out my brother’s iPod (he sent it over to replace my dead one), pulled up some music I recognized and decided to chill out for the couple hour bus ride. About fifteen minutes later, just outside of town, I could hear the driver making some announcement over the loudspeakers and paused my music so I could listen, figuring he was going to say something about our schedule or some construction issue on the upcoming road.

‘O no, it was nothing that mundane. He was giving us a history of the settlement of this particular area. The name and date of the original exploration (Dutch, ergo the Dutch name “New Zealand” and later the British). A little bit about the timber farmers that were the first settlers in these valleys, but “more about that later, when we get closer to Nelson. . .” I actually pulled out my ticket to make sure that I hasn’t inadvertently gotten on the wrong bus and was on some sort of guided tour.

Nope. Intercity public bus. NZ$26 ticket to Nelson. Just a regular old bus, with the unpaid for, but added, bonus of a knowledgeable tour guide/driver. I am not sure I can say this often enough – these people may be the nicest and friendliest I have ever met. By the way, this ended up not being a one time occurrence; more often than not, the bus drivers played this informative role on the buses I took.

At Nelson, I walked through the middle of town to the end of the main road, then up a hill to the nicest hostel I stayed at one the entire trip, the Golden Lodge. The hostel was the second floor of a historical mansion on top of a small hill with a great view over the town and the harbor. Inside, everything was quite plush: big living room with a big screen TV, nice rooms, expansive kitchen, and nice furniture everywhere. And an oddity for New Zealand – free wifi. I stayed there a couple days, then wandered a bit further west to Motueka, which is right next to Abel Tasman National Park.

Abel Tasman is the most visited park in all of New Zealand. You can do all or part of a 25 mile, three to five-day hike through the park, sleeping at huts maintained by the Department of Conservation. The park borders the ocean and has some of the nicest water views in the entire country. Unfortunately, I managed to bring some torrential rainfall with me to “the sunniest place in New Zealand,” so I didn’t partake in any of the hiking, though I wanted to originally. My knee is a bit jacked up, after getting dinged back in Sudan, but the hiking in this park was fairly level, unlike most of the rest of the opportunities coming up, so I was a bit disappointed in my bad luck on the weather front. Instead, I took a water taxi up and down the coast, to catch some of the rain sodden views and then set off south for the long bus ride to Fox Glacier.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

Photo of the Day: Uganda mountain gorillas

From Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest

it is amazing how close you can get to the mountain gorillas -- amazing creatures. And not many of them left, alas.

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Napier to More Wine Country

After quaffing a few of the local shiraz in Napier, I was faced with a decision on how I wanted to proceed to see New Zealand. AC/DC was playing a big stadium concert over in Auckland and I had some friends I wanted to see there. But the weather report wasn’t that great and I figured some good, quality nature sightseeing on the spectacular South Island would be good for my soul, and my liver, so I decided to head down to Wellington and across to the south via the ferry.

With one intermediate stop, of course. During my various tastings in Hawke’s Bay, I had heard (OK, I asked, but same same) that there was a small village named Martinsbourgh in the southeast of the North Island that I should stop by to sample the excellent pinot noir. Since that is one of my current favorites, I thought it would be rude to just rush by and ignore the place.

I took a bus most of the way down from Napier, and then had my first hitchhiking experience here. Hitchhiking and Niceness in New Zealand The next day, I rented a bike and pedaled around in a slow, lazy square around Martinsbrough and tasted, and ate, at seven or eight wineries. It was the first time that I’d biked around to taste wine and I have to say it was a simply lovely day. Sunny, but not too warm. The tasting rooms were almost empty. The people pouring were very informative about their wines, and perhaps most importantly, the wines were great. Plus, not that I have the greatest palate to start with, the slow pace of riding a bike around helped keep my tasting ability up to whatever I possess in my unaltered state. And I had the false sense of satisfaction that I was burning off whatever calories I was consuming, though I must admit that calorific guilt isn’t one of the ones that has much of a grip on my conscience.

The day after my full tasting day was the opening of a two-day fair in town. People came from all over the island to set up booths on and about the town square, selling all sorts of handicrafts and such, and it was such a big deal that all of the hotel rooms for miles around were booked completely. Not that I would have entertained the thought of sticking around a place where there wasn’t anything to do, save for to drink good wine, for another few days, it was time to move along.

To Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, in order to randomly stumble upon the Wellington Seven’s international rugby tournament – one of the oddest unplanned treats on my long way around this planet. Wellington Sevens

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Photo of the Day: Angkor Wat

From Angkor Wat

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Napier, New Zealand

Time for a quick series of blogs on New Zealand, in a belated effort to sum up the two months I spent there – the longest time I got to spend on any country in this trip.

I ended up spending about a month on each island. My freighter from Australia dropped me off in a town on the east coast of the North Island, called Napier. Ironically, the only way I could have made it all the way around the world without flying was discovering freighter travel and the travel agent that set up all four of my ship legs lives and works there, so I finally got to meet him in person, after exchanging a few hundred emails with him during the last year.

I have a nice picture of Hamish, but alas, it is on my other computer. Will try to post later.

Napier was a place I had never heard of before in my life, and for the most part, there isn’t any reason I should have, but that didn’t make it any less interesting. Right up my alley, it is the main city in the Hawke’s Bay area, which is one of the better wine producing areas of New Zealand – a country with a hell of a lot of wineries in a relatively small area. The other point of interest for Napier is that it was almost completely destroyed by a huge earthquake on February 3, 1931. New Zealand has quite a volcanic and seismic history, as it is part of the “Ring of Fire” that circles the Pacific Ocean on both sides.

Napier was leveled in the midst of the Art Deco era, which wasn’t the longest lasting architectural era, and was rebuilt predominately in that style. It claims to be the “only entirely Art Deco” city in the world. I can’t say that I have any grounds to contest that bold, and unusual, boast. Regardless, it is a nice little town to wander around in, though the weather was rather poor when I was there (one of the many times that I apparently brought rain clouds to the supposedly sunniest place in New Zealand). They have an annual Art Deco weekend celebration in town on the third weekend of February, to celebrate the town’s overcoming the earthquake.

Unfortunately, I feel fairly confident that I ended up staying in town for more time than I originally anticipated because of the proximity of the wineries, and not the unique architectural stylings, but the buildings sure were mighty purdy.


Friday, April 16, 2010

Train from Christchurch to Kaikoura

I would like to introduce everyone to Caleb. If you want to be given some reasons to come visit New Zealand (which frankly, everyone should do at least one time in their life), there is no better ambassador than this particular 12-year-old Kiwi.

As much as I love trains, during the two months I staying in New Zealand, I was only able to take one train trip, which just gives me more reason to come back and visit another time in the future. The one short train jaunt I was able to take was an early morning departure from Christchurch up to Kaikoura, where I intended to try to do a little whale watching.

Some tangentia: I’m listening to Nina Simone’s song ‘Sinner Man’ right now, which reminds me of two entirely unrelated movies every time I hear it. First and most obviously, it is the song that is used during the incredibly well choreographed theft scene in The Thomas Crown Affair. Tangentia piled upon tangentia; very, very few remakes are as good as the original, but that remake is much better than the rather boring original, which can also be said for The Italian Job in recent years. Not many more examples of ‘better than the original’ come to mind for me, though as always, I’m open for comments/input.

The second thing that this particular song reminds me of is so obscure that I’m not even sure I am right, but I’ll go with it anyway, in the form of a question to ya’ll. No fair googling it – I’m in the middle of the Pacific and didn’t do so myself. I am pretty sure that Nina Simone is the musical reference made during a pretty fantastic breakup scene in a classic Bill Murray movie. Curious if I’m right about that. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Caleb’s birthday was the day after our shared train ride. His mother, Jenni, was taking him up to Kaikoura to meet the rest of their family, who were all driving up from Christchurch to save money. As a huge train fan, his birthday present from his mother was the train ride. Through the luck of random seating, they sat opposite me over the table we shared for the ride up. His level of enthusiasm was inspiring. I wish I had that level of enthusiasm for. . . well, anything. Not that I remotely want to go back to that age, but being able to look upon it and remember was a nice belated, non-prime number birthday present for me. It was an exceptional few hours.

Caleb wants to work for the Department of Conservation (DOC) in New Zealand, which to my eyes, he seems already well qualified to do. He told me about the only native mammal of New Zealand, a small bat, whose name he knew, but I could not jot down quickly enough as he raced to the next highlight of “the greatest country in the world.” I was told of many things and places I needed to see: Stewart Island, the original steam train at Waipura, Doubtful Sound, Lake Taupo, and Mount Hut for skiing in the winter. He could have been a tour guide – hell, I’ve had far less informed tour guides plenty of times on my journey. His mother was concerned that he was rambling on, and he was, and tried to hush him a few times, but frankly, I wanted to hear everything he could throw out there.

There was an open-air car on the train that you could go to in order to get a better view of the passing scenery. As the train got close to our final destination, to a part of the track where it ran right next to the ocean, Caleb and Jenni invited me to join them up there to look for seals. As the fresh air whipped through the open cabin and the morning sun reflected off the Pacific Ocean, Caleb turned to me and said with the absolute certainty that only a twelve year old can muster, “New Zealand is the best place ever.”

Can’t argue with you there, Caleb. Can’t argue at all.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pacific by freighter

OK, the verdict is in -- the Pacific Ocean is big. Really big. Took 17 days to cross it in the CAP Cleveland. Yesterday, I went through the Panama Canal. Today, I have a couple hours in the horribly ugly port town of Colon. Tomorrow, I hopefully have time to. . . edit and post the 10 or so blogs I wrote on the boat. Basically, a ton of stuff about New Zealand.

So. . . I haven't forgotten the blog. Hopefully, the new blogs will start up tomorrow. And then one a day for a good bit of time.

Thanks ya'll, for you patience.