Sunday, March 26, 2006

Return to Urbanity!

Maria and I arrived in Sydney yesterday, and wow, what a change! We'd gotten used to sleepy New Zealand towns, where the sidewalks get rolled up at 5:30 and you can't eat supper until 6 (they literally will not serve you until 6... what's up with that?).

We're staying right downtown in Darling Harbour, and while our hotel isn't the fanciest, we are only steps away from sizzling nightlife. We walked down to the waterfront last night after checking in, and just soaked in the hustle and bustle of crowds of people enjoying the harbour.

This morning we visited the Sydney Aquarium, which we both agreed was amazing; me because of the fantastic displays of coral and tropical fish, and Maria because of the fantastic displays of sharks. And for a bonus, we got to see platypi (sp?), crocodiles, and penguins, along with other fascinating marine animals. Only three more days until our holiday is over: I think we'll be packing these next few days full of touristy activity :-)

Saturday, March 25, 2006

At the zoo!

Spent the afternoon at the Orana Wildlife Park. Very cool, though perhaps I should have remembered the fact that New Zealand had basically no mammals prior to European colonisation when setting my expectations.

Fed a giraffe, watched cheetah cubs fight each other over skinned rabbits (and in the process just about tear the feeding chute out of the cage), got almost close enough to a rhino that if he had wanted to, he could have seriously damaged me, watched lions pound against a truck in their enthusiasm for food.

On a less food oriented note, watched baby ring-tailed lemurs bathe each other, watched birds tease me for photos (oh, you want to get a picture? I'll hold still until your camera is just about - buhbye!), and walked until I was very footsore.

The Orana park is built on an open-range concept, with mostly natural barriers between the people and the animals. If my memory of the Singapore zoo is correct, I've seen it done better, but maybe that's just because Singapore had the lush tropical greenery prettying it up.

That's one thing I've been continually surprised at; just how dry a New Zealand summer seems to be. When you drive the countryside of New Zealand, they have regular installations of fire warning boards, that are updated to tell you whether the danger is mild, moderate, high, very high, etc. And they are updated in something close to real time - we had opportunity to verify that after a rainfall.

Now, off for my own supper!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Rainy Christchurch!

We've arrived in the beautiful city of Christchurch - at least I think it would be beautiful if it wasn't doing such a fabulous impression of a water mister. Our hotel is only a few minutes walk from downtown, and many of the buildings are constructed of beautiful old stone. The centre of the city also has lots of garden spaces, though we managed to walk right through the city centre and out into suburbia (with big box stores) in a mere half hour on our first tour through.

Yesterday I made the mistake of agreeing when Maria suggested we go up the Sky City Tower in Auckland. It is built along the same lines as the CN Tower; and this should have been my first hint that I would have trouble with the height. Foolishly, I thought I'd be okay since I wouldn't actually have to go to the edge of the observatory. Unfortunately, the glass in the floor and walls of the elevator gave me my first chance to freak out, and while the observatory deck was better, it was not good. Poor Maria; I think she could have spent hours up there enjoying the view; but I dragged her back down within 15 minutes.

Tomorrow we are off for our second full-day horse trek. Maria and I are both looking forward to it, but I hope it isn't raining!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Northland and Dolphins

We've spent the days since Jenna's wedding driving around Northland seeing the sights. New Zealand is home to some extremely gorgeous scenery; the view as you drive down the mountain towards the ocean at Opononi is breathtaking. It is also home to some exceedingly tricky roads to drive; apparently one should never build a road straight if one can build it with endless amounts of curves and loops; I can't think why Canada hasn't realized this yet. In the mountains the roads are narrow and unpredictable, switchbacking the way up and down, making your ears pop every few minutes. In the lowlands the roads have curves that are usually more gentle, following rivers or coastlines.

Two days ago we visited Paihia in the Bay of Islands; an extremely touristy place but well worth visiting. The highlight of our visit to Paihia was a half-day cruise out to Cape Brett and the Hole in the Rock (there is an island at the outside edge of the Bay of Islands where the Pacific ocean pounds endlessly; at this point the ocean has worn a hole in the rock that is big enough to take a boat through. However, we were denied the thrill of making our way through the hole in the rock as the seas were too rough (and seeing the ocean heave and toss and crash against the rocks, I wasn't a bit sorry!). For me the highlight of the trip was finding a pod of dolphins which we paused to watch; they seemed to enjoy showing off for us, jumping through the waves and swimming under the boat. Very cool!

The day before that we spent on horseback, trekking through the hills of New Zealand. We stopped four times, once to climb to the top of a hill for a gorgeous view, once for lunch, once to visit a cave with glowworms, and once to swim our horses through a swimming hole. Let me just say that I was glad to be on a horse for our journey; it involved so much up and down that my back is still sore from all of the side to side heaving that is entailed when a horse walks down a really steep hill. The first stop where we climbed a bit really drove home for me how hard my poor horse was working!

I was very proud of myself for actually going in to see the glowworms in the cave (I think I have a touch of claustrophobia). I don't know what I'd been expecting, but climbing down a precarious ladder with the aid of a knotted rope, into a very tight space where we had to scramble over boulders one by one, was not it.

Swimming my horse Mekito was a lot of fun; though I didn't quite grasp the necessity of hanging on to the top of his mane on the first time through; only sheer determination kept me on when he got out of the water. The second time around he fixated on a point on the far bank where he would have had to climb up three and a half feet of a sheer boulder; fortunately I was able to dissuade him and get him to try again a few feet further down where is was actually possible to get out of the river. I'd never done anything like that before; it was fun!

Now we're staying in Kaikohe, visiting with Jenna and her husband Stephen. In theory we're going to a beach later today, but they are seizing the opportunity of having her mother out of the house to unpack the wedding gifts, so we'll have to see if we still have time.

Happy St. Patrick's day everybody!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Beautiful Wedding!

By all appearances, Jenna has found herself a wonderful man to call her own. The wedding was outdoors in a garden setting at a place called the Country Yard, and the weather cooperated beautifully, right to the minute that the last picture was taken (shortly after which the skies opened and the heavens poured down). The theme of the wedding was Canada and New Zealand, so the bridesmaids were stunning in red, and the balloons were white and red and blue. I'll be posting pictures, but not until I get back to Canada.

Since then Maria and I have driven ourselves up the west coast, through a couple of forest reserves, past a truly breathtaking ocean view at Opononi, on roads that were at times so narrow and twisy that I, the driver, was getting carsick. We've been enjoying a very relaxed approach to vacationing; seeing one or two things a day, and sleeping at least 12 hours (some of that is in naps however, so it isn't as decadent as it sounds). I think we both need the chance to recharge our batteries.

Tomorrow we've got our first full-day horse trek. Can't wait!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Stingrays - gloump!

So far, Maria and I have been enjoying our stay in the City of Sails. Yesterday we went to Kelly Tarleton's underwater adventure world, which was lots of fun. They have a stingray tank with ~10 stingrays, and when the handler got in the tank to feed them, they were all over her. Given that some of these beasties were as heavy as 250 kilos, it was quite the site to behold. Fortunately they don't have any teeth, and were just showing their affection - and hunger; they were easily fobbed off with a few pieces of herring.

In the past couple of days, we have also spent quite a bit of time walking the downtown area, visited the Victoria Park market, gone to see the Auckland museum, watched a play, and gone shopping for shoes.

"Wheeler's Luck" (the play) was fantastic, despite the fact that we were both exhausted after a long day of tramping through various city streets and parks. It consisted of just two men, playing all of the parts in a very tiny Northland town. It started, most gruesomely, in complete darkness, where you hear a little old lady conversing with her cat, doing a couple of things, and then pleading in rising panic for the cat to get away from that! after which you hear the boom of a shotgun. The rest of the play consists of the wrangling in the town as to what is going to become of the the late Nora Cox's land, since the Mayor has unilaterally brought in a rich developer to turn Cox Point into a resort lodge replete with Casino and 18 hole golf course. Of course everybody in the town is possessed of an opinion. The two actors not only acted out all of the character parts, switching midscene if there were more than two characters (and sometimes both of them would end up playing the same character, at different times in the play), but also made all of the requisite sound effects. It was hilarious, and that was even with the handful of New Zealand specific jokes that I recognized I wasn't getting (and who knows how many more that just sailed over my head).

Today we're renting a car and heading up to Whangarei for Jenna's stagette. It's going to be mind-bending driving on the wrong side of the road. We have been having enough trouble as pedestrians! But I'm sure I'll muddle through if I take it slowly enough. I'm also hoping that sitting in the right side of the car will help me make the mental shift.

More adventures in New Zealand later!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

See you later!

I'm off for my month's vacation; three weeks in New Zealand and one in Sydney. I'll be keeping my eye out for internet cafe's, so expect to see the occasional post from down under :)