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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Goodbye New Zealand


We had a wonderful time here and learned a few things that may benefit future travelers.

1. Everything here is expensive. Plan to spend $100 to fill up a car, $15 a person to eat a cheap dinner, $30 each for a nice one. Most things are 25% to 50% more than the states.

2. Hertz was perfect. We were able to rent with points. The car was clean and new. everything worked; typical of Hertz.

3. The land is the most beautiful I've seen in the world. Alaska the possible tie.

4. Come when you are young. The tendency is toward adventure sports. White water, Bungee Jumping, parachuting, etc. I'm over the hill for half of what the country offers.

5. The airport Vodafone booth will sell you a SIM card for your smart phone that makes it a great GPS and finder of all things Google. I think it was the best deal we made at $39 NZ for 2 GB of Data, 200 minutes of talking, (international even), lots of text messages, etc. In six days of heavy map use, blogging and email, we only used 30% of the data we bought.

6. If you want some adventure... consider a bungee jump from this bridge. 



 To be continued in Fiji.

Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao or TE PUIA for Short



The TE PUIA Bus picked us up at 4 PM to take us to Te Whakarewarewatangaoteopetauaawahiao which means, "The gathering place for the war parties of Wahiao". I generally find that whenever I'm near a gathering place for war parties of any type, I should really be somewhere else. Especially since I'm no longer employed to keep the peace. However, at this particular gathering place for war parties, they had great quantities of good food, thus proving the exception to the rule. Plus they also had a friendly security guard, making it totally safe...
 
The Maori are the tribes of warriors we see doing the intimidating dances before rugby matches. Some tattoo their faces arms and legs and stick out their tongues and bulge their eyes to instill fear in their enemies.

We did however, meet a beautiful and friendly Maori girl, probably in her 20s, who showed us a picture of her tattoo that went from her right knee over her butt cheek to her waist. She was "permitted" by her tribe to wear this mark of honor and she was obviously very proud of it. I can't imagine going through the pain and itching of a tat covering more than a square foot of skin, although on her, it did look pretty cool.

These are Maori; or at least part Maori. They sure have the songs and dances down pat. They gave us a 45 minute show, taught us how to do the intimidating dance of the rugby players and the ladies sang Maori songs to delight us all. No people were killed, eaten, or even injured during the performance. If I ever play rugby, I've got a very cool dance up my sleeve!

 
 
The place called Te Puia is a Maori culture center, on ancient tribal land, maintained by the Maori and offered as a tourist haven, educational center, and souvenir shop. We were guided by a lady of the tribe, who explained why the Brits failed to wipe out the indigenous peoples of New Zealand as they had done most elsewhere. It seems a crafty scheme to arm the very warlike Maori tribes with muskets, so they could kill each other off, sort of backfired on the British who then had to face angry natives who now had muskets! The British conquest was further compromised when horny sailors bought Maori girls to be their wives; paid for with more guns and ammo! Eventually a treaty was forged and peace descended upon the land, due mostly I think to the Brits and Maori having interbred considerably. In fact, there are hardly any pure blooded Maori left today, and having become mostly Christians, they also stopped killing and eating people.


 
Today in New Zealand, you can see the soft features of the Maori in the faces of many with names like McTavish, Jones and Smith. The people here seem to play well together.
 
The food we sought was to be slow cooked in an buried earth oven called a hangi and the feast it yields is varied and delicious. During the three hour cooking process, we watched the Pohutu Geysers erupt, on and off for the whole evening. No laundry detergent needed!


Waikite Valley Thermal Pools

Soon after leaving the thermal park at Wai-O-Tapu my thoughts turned to how far we had walked and how tired my legs were, and just then, as if by divine intervention, a road sign appeared indicating that relief could be mere minutes away.  
 
 

The Waikite Valley Thermal Pools were just ahead! This largest and hottest natural spring in New Zealand gushes forth a small river of geothermally  boiled and purified water which is cooled and guided to swimming pools and hot tubs for all to enjoy. No bathing suit? No problem. For a mere $25 NZ, per person, you can rent a private tub, with towels and bottled spring water.

Alas, we had reservations for our evening entertainment and dinner and did not have enough time to luxuriate in these steamy waters. Maybe next time.
 
 



The Volcanic Highway

We spent two lovely nights at a Rotorua home stay equipped with a large hot tub. Operators Peter and Mike treated us to a wonderful breakfast and provided needed advice and discount coupons for our adventures. We wish them much success in their small business.

The first day, we struck out to Wai-O-Tapu, about 20 minutes South of this geologically active town.
Think Yellowstone Park and you get the idea. Our first stop was the Lady Knox Geyser, which is set to go off at 10:15 AM every day. How, you may ask do they get a geyser to go off at 10:15? They cheat. When convicts developed the park way back in the old days, they used a hot puddle to wash their stinky clothes. The soap broke the water's surface tension in a nearby fissure sending lots of water down the hole which soon came back as a jet of hot water, blasting their clothes some 20 to 30 meters into the air! The convicts, being short on entertainment, soon learned how to maximize the effect of the soap and a tourist attraction was born!

Today, a park ranger prompts the eruption with a more modern, "ecologically friendly", surfactant, (probably something like Tide), which today, failed on it's first attempt. He had use a second bag.

While waiting, I was very pleased to note that a particular style of lady's garment which we were delighted to see all over the Baltic Countries last year, is apparently going global. As a guy, I'm not sure what they call these skin tight, err... modesty protectors. Maybe yoga pants, tights, hose, paint? I just don't know. I do know, that on the right lady, they look great, and I hope they become as popular in my Naples Florida area as they are in these better dressed parts of the world. I can't say that she had anything to do with the timing of the eruption, but when she came in wearing those pants...
 




Boiling mud squirts three feet when bubbles pop!
Later we walked several miles through this thermal wonderland to see, (and smell), fuming mud pools, lakes of brilliantly colored hot water, and craters fit to house the devil himself. If you ever find yourself on the North Island of New Zealand, we highly recommend this park as a highly entertaining and educational way to get some exercise.
 
 
 
 
 
 
On the way out of the park, we found a roadside "swimming hole" where a cool stream intersects a nearly boiling outflow of one of the hot pools. People maneuver to just the right spot to soak in this "natural hot tub". I talked to a local who has been soaking here for years. Ahhh, the gifts of mother nature...
 
 
 


Friday, May 23, 2014

New Zealand Glowworms



Why would these intrepid travelers be in a cave, at night, 150' below a New Zealand farm? To see glowworms of course! These matchstick sized creatures can't be found everywhere so here we are, crossing worms off the bucket list. Ok, worms weren't actually on the bucket list, but we loved the tour anyway. We are in the glowworm capitol of the world, Waitomo, on the Footwhistle Glowworm Cave Tour. An event we were happy to discover while shopping for a B&B. It will get high marks in Trip Advisor.

Theresa, who is a bit claustrophobic, overcame a mild panic attack as we went into the cave. To her credit, she has faced many challenges and somehow gathers the courage to go on in spite of the 4,000 beat a minute heart rate. Not fearless, but carries on in spite of her fears. This ability has allowed us to explore mummy tombs in Egypt, the inner bowels of the Hover Dam, and zip-line in Hawaii. A friend once said she is about as helpless as a Green Beret! I love this woman!


Ross Knows His Ferns Too!
Ross Barnes, owner and tour guide, developed the cave over 8 months of long days with two others. What they have created from an otherwise uncomfortable and scary cave, is a delightful, safe and well narrated tourist attraction for worm enthusiasts around the world. Seriously, this town of 26, hosts a half a million people annually, to see worms! He and Ann, his wife of 40 years, also run a nice, inexpensive, BnB called Big Bird. The reason for the name became obvious when an ostrich, taller then me, walked by!

Here, Ross holds a sea shell fossil found in this cave, which is way above sea level. This hints of an interesting geologic past where New Zealand, this cave included, was thrust skyward, creating these islands from the sea floor. Tectonic plate movements happen at roughly the speed of fingernail growth. It probably took hundreds of millions of years to push this mountain of limestone, out of the ocean but hey, what's a hundred million years to a planet that's had more than 4 billion birthdays?


Bear Bones!
Ross, who was a park ranger for 14 years and very knowledgeable about such things, told us that these bones were old bear bones, I don't know what kind of bear, but I was happy that none have been seen in the cave lately. Big furry things that growl, run faster than humans, and eat meat could make our 150' depth work against us. I'm pleased to report that no human bones have been found... yet.

Glowworms live stuck to the ceiling of the cave by a mucus glue, and fish in the air for passing insects. One mosquito will keep a worm well fed for about 6 months. We didn't see any flying bugs, which makes me think most food is near microscopic. Acidic silk threads capture the tiny flying insects which are devoured by the worms to fuel their chemically luminescent tails, which draw in more insects... and so on. The Great Worm Mandela at work.

Poisonous, Acidic, Worm Threads Dangle to Catch Prey.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Rodeo!

We are city folk. Theresa and I were both born and raised in Washington, D.C. and worked there for our police department careers. We hardly know which end of a horse to pet, so when Chris suggested the rodeo we were very excited. Cloverdale had a great rodeo, maybe 2nd only to the Calgary Stampede and it's only25 minutes away! Hey, horses, bulls, corn dogs... we're in!
 

As you know, I'm not a real cowboy but a borrowed hat and thirty two Canadian dollars was enough to get into the fairgrounds for some genuine, Western style entertainment. They had lumberjacks log rolling and climbing and sawing. They had a lady lumberjack that could log roll at what seemed impossible speed, until she slipped and landed hard on her... um, lady parts. Note the facial expression...
 
 
 
Lady Parts Will Be Sore!


 
Fast Climbers!
 
All this lumberjack stuff was fun to watch but we were see to see a rodeo, so off to the bleachers where we were treated to greats feats of daring, speed and skill.
 
This horse jumped so high, twisting, turning, bucking and diving, I thought the rider must be glued to the saddle! This cowboy would not be ejected until the full 8 seconds had expired. Then he simply let go and laid back on the horse to let it do the work of gently depositing him on the ground. It was beautiful! 



 


 

I'll attach some of the better shots below:



 
 
Towards the end of the day, these two lovely ladies spotted me and said, "Isn't that Harry Hanbury, the famous blog photographer? Take our picture please!"
 
I'm such a soft touch, I had to oblige.
 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Vancouver

This week we are staying with Chris and Bud in beautiful White Rock, near Vancouver.


Chris and Bud

The pier in White Rock
We met them on a cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale, two years ago and became good friends. Since then we've also traveled the British Virgin Islands and the French West Indies with them on the Tere Moana... another great cruise. Next week, we all head for the South Pacific to cruise on the Paul Gauguin. How smart of us to become friends with an event planner who knows about everything in British Columbia! Chris is a genius at filling our days with the coolest things to do, while we tool around mountain roads in Bud's M Series BMW Convertible!

The town of White Rock is near the US and we often see a Coast Guard boat patrolling the boarder which is about a half mile off shore.

We overlook the row of restaurants on the waterfront street and have our choice of some 40 eateries within walking distance. This is a great place to live. Last night we had a fantastic meal at Cielo's, a top notch Italian Tapas place. The bruschetta was by far, the best I've ever had.

To start the visit we went to the grand opening of the new Sea to Sky Gondola where we climbed Squamish area mountain the easy way.


View from the Top!
We watched three bald eagles soaring at our mountaintop level when two of them started fighting. They locked talons and fell like a rock until they thought better of it and decided the fight better end quickly or they would both lose. Would you say they were playing chicken? Not very dignified for eagles says I. They were still very interesting to watch and we were relieved they lived to soar again. I'm guessing they were fighting over a lady eagle. You know how they can provoke and boys will be boys...

Tease...
I found myself a bit frustrated having to carry two lenses up the gondola when Tamron had just invented the nearly all purpose lens of my dreams. My problem was leaving Florida on May 14th and the lens becoming available on the 15th. Bad timing. No matter; it will be available somewhere in North America and Fed Ex was conveniently created to solve this problem. It will be mine! The lens covers the range of 16 to 300 mm and is compact and light. One lens will cover most circumstances... I'm going shopping.

Here are a few pictures of our first day of sightseeing.



Girls Hiking the Mountain
 
 


Bud's Toy



Bud, Chris and Theresa in Gondola

 



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

South Pacific, Here We Come!

I know the blog has been dormant for a while, but now I have a new ultrabook to create your sleeping pill substitutes. Therefore, I will try to regularly inform our family and friends that we are alive, having fun, and probably someplace interesting. In short we plan to zig-zag our way to Australia via Canada, New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. We have plans to count the kangaroos from Cairns to Sydney, dive on the Great Barrier Reef, eat exotic foods. Anyone have a good platypus recipe?

Theresa and I enjoy skinny-dipping, and this trip will incorporate the ultimate in tanning venues. We will be sailing with our friends from Bare Necessities for two sun drenched weeks from Fiji on the Paul Gauguin. See https://www.cruisenude.com/index.php/fiji-itinerary for details.

fijiheader.jpg

Have you ever heard the cliché, that something is, "the most fun you can have with your clothes on"? Well... this is more fun. Ninety of us went on a smaller Paul Gaugin ship, the Tere Moana, for New Year's trip around the Eastern Caribbean and had a blast. This ship is larger, 332 passengers and boasts a crew to guest ratio of 1 to 1.5! We even have a retractable water sports marina for the zodiac, wind surfers and kayaks!

I'll fill you in as I get Internet service, assuming I'm not too worn out from the activities. We must try to stay out of the soup pot on the smaller islands. It hasn't been so long ago when an invitation to dinner meant something different from what we usually think. Many tasty missionaries got the invitation and became what the islanders called, "long pig"!

cermony2.162223

We fly to Vancouver in the morning and I'm still packing, and re-packing, and tossing things out of the suitcase and re-packing again. Only 50 pounds per suitcase... oh the humanity!


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

More about Ireland...

Today is the first chance I've had to catch up on the blog so here is a data dump of the last week or so.
Ireland is a wonderful place to visit; beautiful, friendly, and very entertaining. The Irish know how to enjoy life, maybe not quite as much as the French, but close. Our days have been filed with sightseeing, good food and every evening a pint at the local pub where we enjoy some traditional music and maybe some step dancing. Things are a little more expensive than in the U.S.A. but heck, we're on vacation and I expect to be dead a long time, so let's have another pint and please strike up the fiddle!

We loved Dublin and stayed an extra day to see the Book of Kells and get a full 8 hours of sleep. Then we pointed our rented Ford towards the beautiful crystal factory and tour at Waterford. We watched skilled craftsmen melt and blow glass into wooden or cast iron forms to make the shape of a vase, trophy, or some other thing. There is a wood craftsman who makes the molds that shape the soon to be object of art for which Waterford is famous. After the object is formed by blowing into a molten lump of glass inside the mold, another artist grinds, and cuts the intricate designs into the surface. They have machines, into which they mount the object, turning and stopping at index points that are exactly the right number of degrees of rotation for marking with a felt tip marker. Off to the next station where another artisan grinds the pattern into the glass with a spinning wheel coated with an abrasive carborundum slurry. Many stages later another work of art emerges, gets the Waterford name etched on the base and a price tag is applied. The price reflects the huge number of hours by highly skilled people and if you can afford it, you may find it reasonable to buy.
I must warn you however, that in one part of the factory there was a computer guided machine, grinding patterns into the glass, just like the skilled craftsmen. Call me a cynic, but I suspect the fancy handmade stuff will soon be replaced by fancy computer machine made stuff and the only way to tell them apart will be the human made piece won't be as perfect. How then will a price be set?  Is the buyer paying for the craftsmanship of an artist, or the perfection of the finished piece? Which should be perceived as having higher worth? I won't have to worry much about an answer until I win the lottery... and then I won't worry much, but it does beg the question about how we assign value to objects. Should a perfect, machine made, mass produced thing be worth less than a pretty good similar thing that gains value because it is considered art? I'll answer my own question with the observation that there is art in the engineering and computer design and programming that allows a machine to make a perfect Waterford Class thing at a tiny fraction of the labor cost. I am more interested in the function of the finished product and don't need the bragging rights that it took x hundred man-hours to make it. I guess I'm just a tough sell when it comes to art.
I'll add to this instalment and insert the pictures when I have more time... it's midnight now and we are going to the races again in the morning. I seem to be having too much fun to write, but I will try to catch up soon.
More later...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Blogging is tough when you are having fun!

It's only May 28th and now, for the first time on the vacation, I have a little time to write. I'll try to catch up as quickly as possible.

In the early morning of May 23 we drive to Miami airport to board our flight to Newark, then Dublin. All went well until we were ready to board; then the United Gate Agent said there was a "ground stop" due to bad weather in Newark. We might as well sit and read for a couple of hours. No problem, thinks I, we will have a three hour wait after we land for our connection to Dublin. Wait in Miami vs. wait in Newark... I'll take Miami. We board the plane a couple of hours later, settle in, open our magazines, buckle up, prepare to nap, when the gate agent comes on the plane and gives us the news that Newark is stopped again and it will be hours before we leave. We must de-plane.   :-(   OK, I was sad we might miss our connection to Dublin, but we would at least not be landing in a storm. I prefer being late to crashing and being dead. Now we have to wait for several hours to finally get to the agent who re-defines our flight plan. We will spend the night in the very comfortable Double Tree Inn at United's expense, dine as lavishly as the two $10 meal vouchers allow, and try again on the 24th. Actually, our travel insurance kicked in with an extra $150 per day each of additional funding of our pastime of eating and drinking. Yeah insurance!

After good sleep and much food we repeat the process, this time through Newark, London Heathrow, then Dublin. we arrived in the late afternoon of the 25th. One and a half days late, but OK.

We had reserved a car from EuropeCar and when we tried to pick it up, our $172 price quote had grown by another $270 for insurance! I politely told the lovely rental agent that we had insurance through our regular car policy and the Collision Damage Waiver by way of our exalted status in the credit card world. Not so fast says she. Many cards don't offer CDW in Ireland and we must have a letter from our credit card bank saying we do. Slightly irritated, but not defeated, I walked over to my favorite rental counter, Hertz, where a helpful agent said he only knows of one card that worked for sure in Ireland and it was the rare, Bank of America "World Card". Well, being worldly travelers, and with a slightly smug smile on my face, I quickly produced said plastic from a dark recess of my wallet. Oh joy! How much will your car be Mr. Hertz man? The reply; only a little more than double what the first car would have been! Drat! Curses! Foiled, like other mice and men's best laid plans. I checked with Alamo too; no Joy.   :-(

Then I saw Darren Byrne smiling behind the Budget counter. For the sake of completeness, I might as well be tortured by him too; but no! Darren had a heart of gold! He appreciated my predicament and offered help. Not only did he call my bank and allowed them to send the requested letter to his fax machine, he even suggested I take it back to EuropeCar as he was afraid I would lose my deposit with them. All charity! The letter came and I learned after a second call to my Capital One Visa Bank, that not all cards work, Band of America did, Capital One's Spark Card did not. I asked if any money had indeed been charged by EuropeCar and it had not. I had only reserved. So I went back to Budget where a still smiling Darren not only rented me a car, he beat the price of EuropeCar! I will sing his praises for a long time. Darren, if you are reading this blog, thanks, I really mean it.

Next stop, the Leeson Bridge Guest House, http://leesonbridgehouse.ie/ where Emma and Mary delivered superb service. If you want a nice place to stay in Dublin, with a great location, breakfast, and service that rates 5 stars, this place won't dissapoint. They even had secure parking, the better to protect our coveted Budget rental car! I'm looking forward to writing a glowing review in Trip Advisor. When we didn't have any euros for bus fare, Emma even dug into her pocket to help us get to some proper Irish Pubs for dinner and drinks. We love Emma!

Dublin has a very cool bike rental system.
For a 150 euro deposit, on your credit card, you can rent a bike for almost free. OK, the three day contract is 2 euros or only 10 for a whole year and when you use the bikes for more than 30 minutes, there is a modest hourly fee, but it is cheap. I thought this would be a great way to get around so I put my American credit car into the machine only to find that our cards don't have the little chip embedded in the plastic that the European cards have. My cards would work in the ATMs and restaurants, but not the bike machine. Oh well... we walked; burning enough calories to justify a pizza, several beers, an ice cream and a bottle of wine. Pretty good deal if I did my caloric math right.

Short list of what we have done so far:

Hop on Hop off tour of city for two days
Visited Trinity College and the Book of Kells http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Kells
Ate and drank in many Temple Bar area bars... big fun
Had a good dinner and saw a great song and step dance show at the Arlington Hotel
More eating and drinking and singing and pub crawling... great fun, walking off the calories between pubs!
Did the factory tour for Waterford Crystal. Very cool and a great place to take pictures!
Now we are in Kinsale for an evening of dining, singing and drinking... we walked so it's OK.

I should warn you of some deceptive marketing we encountered. Yes, I fell for the free beer trick. Always read the fine print. You know what the lawyers say..., "The large print giveth and the fine print taketh away".

I could go for hours writing about Ireland and the nice people we met, however, it's almost 1 AM and I have to drive to Blarney tomorrow to kiss some rock or something so I'll try to improve these musings at the next opportunity, add some photos, and tell more tales of our adventure. For now, goodnight.