Monday, February 28, 2005

I'm so staying behind...

Oh. My. Bloody. Hell.

via freakgirl

Sunday, February 27, 2005

I know I went somewhere and did some stuff.

"And when we do return, it shall not be like other travellers, without being able to give one accurate idea of any thing. We will know where we have gone - we will recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers, shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations; nor, when we attempt to describe any particular scene, will we begin quarrelling about its relative situation. Let our first effusions be less insupportable than those of the generality of travellers."

Quoting Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

One of the hardest things about coming back from travelling has been the rush and confusion of images and impressions and sense memories from the last six weeks, all jostling against each other in a grand gridlock of sights and sounds.

This means that when someone asks me what I enjoyed? what did I see? where was the coolest place? did I have fun? one of the memory cars has to attempt a really cramped three point turn, avoiding other traffic, cutting through lanes, driver leaning out the window shouting incoherent abuse at stunned passengers, to get to the visualisation centre of my brain to allow me to answer. And more often than not, it's two or three random cars that take off, swapping doors and paintjobs and passengers, becoming a complete mishmash, and the answer I rattle off is along the lines of "Turquoise, mountains, mudpools, penguins, friendly, ferry, albatross, fucking huge, Wellington, tattoo, museums, paintings of Canterbury, Fruju mmmm."

I'm hoping that as I get the photos developed (I'm auctioning off my kidneys to finance the printing) my memories will unjumble and I will be able to remember the trip with clarity and not have to waste my time going "In wait a second it might have...was it Wellington? Or that museum in...well, anyway, there was this really cool thing that I saw that was a thing and it was really cool and yeah totally."

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

"But first we need the car. And after that, the cocaine. And then the tape recorder, for special music, and some Acapulco shirts.

The only way to prepare for a trip like this was to dress up like human peacocks and get crazy, then screech off across the desert and cover the story."

In amongst all the excitement of coming home, a really sad piece of news.

Hunter S. Thompson, inventor of gonzo journalism, drug addled lunatic, inspiration, genius, man with a cattle prod and not afraid to use it, died of a self inflicted gunshot wound over the weekend.

Since I first started reading him, his style and anger and general cussedness and unwillingness to put up with the copious amounts of bullshit spewed forth into the world through every form of media has been a huge inspiration to me.

Goodbye Hunter. Let the trip begin.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Things I've learnt in New Zealand

...coaches don't have designated seating
...but cinemas do
...the likelihood of being turned into pedestrian pate is incredibly high
...there are very few marked pedestrian crossings
...most pedestrian crossings are indicated only by a dip in the pavement and groups of tourists huddled and growing old standing on said dips have right of way on zebra crossings
...and if they're turning, when the little green man has lit up
...if you get hit by a car on any of the pedestrian crossings, you are at fault pays to only walk around cities when all the cars have gone to bed order and pay and take a number at the counter at all cafes, none of this order, eat, pay business
...eskies are called chilly bins (which actually makes a lot of sense)
...thongs (flip flops) are called jandals (which...I don't know what to say about this)
...the two dollar coin is larger than the one dollar coin (which, as locals kept reminding me, is the right way around)
...bushwalking is tramping
...there really are sheep everywhere
...and cows
...and red deer
...and, as you might have guessed, ducks
...there are Visitor Information Centres in every town
...if there are only three buildings on the main street of a tiny town, one of them is guarenteed to be a Visitor Information Centre
...whoever built the roads was paid per corner
...Rose Gardens grace every town, city, park
...bees are three times the size of bees in Australia
...I have an accent that confuses people
...I have an American accent (a Pom thought this)
...I have a Kiwi accent (a Kiwi thought this)
...I have the BBC version of the Australian accent (a Kiwi thought this)
...ducks in large groups are quite scary
...goats are the spawn of Satan, and look it
...turkeys are incredibly ugly
...everyone drinks Speights beer (I'm assuming it's like VB)
...everything in New Zealand is the second biggest
...or third longest
...or eightyeighth highest
...or first coldest
...or twelth broadest the world
...Kiwi people are ridiculously friendly, helpful, lovely, open, smiley, all embracing and loveable
...Kiwis (the bird) are very hard to see
...but incredibly cute when you do see them
...Rotorua really does smell like rotten eggs all of the time
...Mt Ruapehu is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen
...public transport in some of the cities leaves something to be desired milk is soya milk
...the honey smells great
...three quarters of backpackers are the most attractive people on earth (it's like a Beneton advert come to life)
...museums are fun in all of its permutations is considered a viable career choice
...there are some ridiculously brilliant painters in the Canterbury region
...Maori culture and language is embedded into everything
...from street signs museum information boards train and coach commentaries
...did I mention the commentaries on coach trips? (Oy vey.)
...but the Waitangi Treaty is still questioned
...and Maori people are still protesting against the status quo
...there is more jade than you can poke a stick at in souvenir stores
...someone here thinks that ashtrays made out of paua shell are a good idea
...internet cafes are always full
...apostrophes are used in a bizarrely haphazard manner
...leading me to suffer from apostrophe fear
...the water tastes funny in Dunedin's like they filtered the water through a pine scent car freshener
...if possible, towns will advertise themselves as "from the mountains to the sea"
...Te Papa museum in Wellington is the bestest museum in the world can't smoke in bars
...but there are little specially set up smoker's areas everywhere
...recycling is still in its infancy
...the national dish is the toasted sandwich
...which explains why panini are so popular
...tourists are always welcome
...and often right
...everyone will ask you to come back is a beautiful game, with poetry in every move
...or so I was told
...Australians are slow, stupid and do strange things with sheep
...but then again, you could say that about Kiwis
...if you can't take a joke, you're not any fun
...Australia is the West Island
...otters are very very small
...dolphins are really really big
...and incredibly playful
...and fearless
...and will turn human beings into whimpering giggling masses
...nowhere on earth is as mindmeltingly wondrous as these islands
...and I don't want to leave

Sunday, February 20, 2005

A vegan's guide to foods in New Zealand.

Having just had a fabulous dinner on my last night in New Zealand, I thought I might compare and contrast my favoured eating spots throughout these islands for your edification. I hope you're paying attention, there will be a pop quiz at some point in the future.

The contenders are:

North Island


Midnight Espresso
Aunt Mena's Vegetarian Restaurant

South Island


Mainstreet Cafe and Bar


Arc Cafe

Okay then. Let's bring on the criteria, shall we?

Is the cafe/restaurant in a city to which I could reasonably write love poems?

That's a tick for Midnight Espresso and Aunt Mena's in Wellington, and also a tick for Arc Cafe in Dunedin (more sort of youthful amore, but not full blown love, poems here), but I'm sorry Mainstreet. I just want to be friends with Christchurch. It's not you, it's me.

What are the prices like?

Midnight Espresso - generally about $15 for a meal and at least two drinks.
Aunt Mena's - $10 to $20 for a meal and tea, depending on if you have an entree.

Mainstreet - about $20 for a meal and one drink.

Arc Cafe - about $15 for a meal and one drink.

And for breakfast we have?

Aunt Mena's is out of the running here, as it is a lunch/dinner place only.

Arc Cafe is also disqualified, as it has a 'brunch' menu, but they don't open until at least 11am, and thus I'm putting them solely in the lunch competition.

Midnight Espresso does a kickarse (and huge) scrambled tofu, with big toast and sweet chilli sauce. You can also get some very very good garlic mushrooms, though don't try that unless you're eating the only meal for the day.

Mainstreet's scrambled tofu was not to my taste, being incredibly, in fact painfully, salty to the point where I couldn't eat it. The toast is garlic topped, and the garlic and herb mushrooms are awfully good.

Now you've made me hungry for lunch...

Okay. Let's see now.

Midnight Espresso's lasagne is absolutely top notch, with not only the creamiest vegan bechemal I've ever had, but also a surprise addition of beetroot - which actually adds a level of sharp sweet flavour to the dish. It doesn't come with a side salad, but it's also only 5 bucks, so...

Mainstreet's "The Burger" is fantabulous. A chickpea pattie on giant pieces of garlic 'butter' soaked bread, with a tangy satay style sauce, tart chutney and a mass of salad.

Arc Cafe's warm pasta salad is great - it comes in a deceptively small bowl, but is very filling. And the combination of sundried tomatoes, penne, crisp greens and whole hazelnuts, with a hazelnut oil dressing, is light and refreshing. The Arc also does a bloody good marinated tofu burger, so huge that it has to be held together with a looooong toothpick.

I'm not sure I can manage dinner, but go on, tell me all about it...

Okay, this is where Aunt Mena's really comes into its own. The entire menu is vegetarian/vegan, with a mix of Asian styles, noodles, soups, stirfries, bizarre I can't believe it's not meats, and an impressive entree list. The servings are huge, the staff are awfully friendly, and the prices are pretty good - especially if you're in a group. They did, however, provide sickly sweet and sour style sauce with their fried dumplings when I was expecting the traditional vinegar, but that didn't stop me from going back!!

The nachos at Midnight Espresso are...interesting. The beans are spicy and wonderfully flavoured with cumin, but the accompaniments leave a little to be desired. There's no salsa, though there are sliced tomatoes, and the kalamata olives I can go with, but the absence of guacamole, and the presence of humous did throw me a little. The humous is a wonderfully creamy addition, and I can see what they're doing, but it was also very cumincentric, and thus there weren't the layers of flavour I expect out of a good nachos.

Tonight I had a damn fine lentil shepherd's pie with two impressive side salads at Mainstreet. The serving was oh dear I have to undo the top button of my trousers huge, the salads adding to that (the vegan options were a pasta and a steamed vegies in spicy tomato dressing salad - so I got both!) With a Monteith's Black...mmmm....good foods....

Arc's dinner menu is, well....I never managed to have dinner there as the kitchen closed before 8pm and the not kitchen options were generally vegetarian, not vegan. But the menu is essentially the same as lunch, if you ever manage to get there when the kitchen is still open...

Anybody got some Antacid? Erp. Tell me about dessert and/or sweet things...though very very quietly...and no jokes about something that's "wafer thin", alright?

Midnight Espresso has desserts that are not only bloody great to look at (decorated with fresh flowers and fruits and made into little pieces of art) but very tasty, and there's usually at least 3 vegan options. I tried a dangerous looking chocolate brownie that took me three seperate occasions to successfully finish. Very very rich, topped with fresh strawberries and with some berries and nuts hidden in the chocolate depths. Do not attempt on your own. Share with someone. Or two someones. Really.

Aunt Mena's has a secret vegan carrot cake/halwa thing that you have to know to ask for, otherwise the desserts have great menu descriptions, and look pretty good, but I didn't give them a bash.

Can I rave about Mainstreet's sweets for a bit? Oh goody. Their chocolate rum ball is great and not as rich as the brownie (also not as ginormous), and their vegan biscuits are a large fruit and oat biscuit topped with a stupidly nummy thick thick layer of lemon icing.

Arc Cafe...sigh. Such good sweets. The chocolate and cointreau ball was sublime, and the ginger bites lovely with just the right hint of fresh ginger in the icing.

I need a coffee.

All the cafes in New Zealand appear to use VitaSoy as their soymilk of choice, and if you're not used to it (as I wasn't), that can come as a bit of a shock - I find VitaSoy very strong tasting. However, coffee in both of the islands is of a high high quality, and most places (and some surprising places) carry soymilk.

Midnight Espresso - very strong, coffee on the run (high demand at the counter)
Mainstreet - fairly strong, takes a while to get, but good when it's there.
Arc - I don't think I had a coffee at Arc, I mostly drank beer...Looked and smelt pretty good (the coffee, not the beer. Well, yeah, the beer was pretty good).

You keep talking about beer. So, can I get a beer with my meal, please? Yes, with breakfast. What's it to ya??

Midnight Espresso doesn't sell alcohol, and neither does Aunt Mena's (I don't think). Both Mainstreet and Arc sell alcohol, as both are cafe/bar/nightspot type deals.

Buy Monteiths. It proves that something good comes out of Greymouth.

New Zealand reds aren't too bad, either. Didn't try any whites.

Ambience (and by that I mean, hotties).

Oh dear. One track mind or what?

Midnight Espresso - dirty, noisy, ripped up party animals recovering the morning after, lots of black clothes, piercings, tattoos, bare feet or big boots, and the staff are all pretty hot (and have great personalities, obviously). I love this place.

Aunt Mena's - doesn't look too impressive from the outside, but the food kicks arse. And most of the staff are either under 18 or over 80, so unless that's your thing, not so much with the hotness. Though some of the regulars are a bit of okay ;)

Mainstreet - the vibe is a little upmarket, not so much with the fucked up societal dropouts. The courtyard is lovely and spacious, the staff are all sweet and friendly (yes, they're pretty also) and there's lots of lovingly polished heavy wood tables and chairs.

Arc Cafe - once again with the morning after recovering black clad pierced youngsters. The space is huge, with the band area out the back, tables in the centre and booths down one wall. The staff are awfully awfully pretty (one boy managed to rock the Irishman's mohawk, which is guarenteed to make most people look bloody stupid), and they play really really good music.

Which one wins?

Erm. No matter who wins, we lose?

Oh. No. Right. That's the tagline from a really crapola movie. Sorry.

They all win. Go to all of them. Lots of times. In fact, go to New Zealand lots of times. I plan on doing so!!

Vegans of the world, unite! And eat really good foods!!

Saturday, February 19, 2005

One glacier, poised and ready to roll.

The Franz Joseph Glacier, along with the Fox Glacier, on the West Coast (or Westland) is one of the few glaciers in the world that can be reached at ground level. The others are in Patagonia. Also, it feels like an anomaly when you are there, because it is a glacier surrounded by mountains and land covered in rainforest.

Now, my assumption about rainforest is that it's, well, hot and steamy and in no way an environment in which a gigantic lump of slowly moving ice would feel at home. But there you are. New Zealand. Land of surprising contrasts.

I had the wonderful experience of walking to the terminal face of the Franz Joseph Glacier a couple of days ago. It's a very popular destination for tourists staying in Franz Joseph. One could say the only destination - the town appears to be in existence only as a place for tourists to stay while they visit the glacier. It is exceptionally small, and the short but busy main street has alternating restaurants and centres for booking various exciting glacier adventure options. The streets that run parallel to the main street are all covered in motels and hostels and hotels. At one side of the main street is a helipad (which, on clear days, gives the town lots of sound and movement, as helicopter after helicopter takes off and lands). And surrounding this tiny grid are majestic green covered mountains, and occasional snow capped peaks, solid white and scattered snow across the top.

There are many ways to experience the glacier - the bog standard (not really, though) glacier terminal walk, half or full day glacier climbs, and of course, helicopter rides over the glacier, with the option of landing on the top and throwing snow at other passengers. Under sound advice from a friend who did the glacier climb last year, I avoided that due to not having the fitness levels of Superman nor the nimbleness of a mountain goat. And due to it being my last week, I am suffering from lack of resources, thus had to give away the idea of a helicopter ride. So glacier terminal walk it was.

To get to the glacier, you can either walk to the glacier carpark, or you can get a return shuttle bus. I am extremely lazy and got the shuttle bus - which is a good way to meet people to do the walk with, as I did: a lovely woman from Switzerland, who was a little blase about glaciers, and couldn't believe that a glacier could exist surrounded by the excessive greenery.

From the carpark, we went to the closest lookout, an elevated hillock where you can observe the glacier and surrounds. The glacier is nestled between two mountains (really, I guess, one mountain in the slow process of being cleaved in two - though not that slow, as Franz Joseph is currently moving forward at rate of a metre a day, which is astonishingly fast for a glacier), and starts off about half their height, but its peak is almost equal to the mountains on either side. The lower face is white and blue with dirt streaked and scattered on it, but at the peak, it seems pure white and the icy blue that you expect from a glacier. The land between the lookout point and the face is flat and rocky, a giant trail of destruction from the glacier's progress. As there had not been a huge amount of rain recently, the river that runs from the glacier was fairly low - but still fast moving and grey white. The colour is due to the glacier grinding down rocks, and creating silt that is carried in the meltoff to the river.

As we descended through lush overhanging vegetation, the ground went from hard packed dirt to soft rounded grey and white striped rocks. We had reached the flat land, and were seriously on our way to the glacier in the distance. The surrounding mountainsides had multiple waterfalls running down them, so there were many little fast running creeks and minirivers to traverse. There were also huge numbers of people toing and froing, from young children to older folks with walking sticks. Not a hard walk, really ;)

There were rocks of all shapes and sizes, ground and worn and softened by the progress of Franz Joseph. Hikers had created precarious stacks of rocks as they had passed, and these were to all appearances sculptures showing passing time. As we got much closer to the face, there was a wall on our right, with incongruous curves where all else about had eroded into more jagged shapes. The rock was red and covered in soft spots of emerald moss.

Up we went, leaping across stronger running streams, causing miniature avalanches of stones, hurriedly donning our parkas as the sun disappeared and an ice cold squall hit us square in the face. We came to the final ropes, beyond which were blue and red parka donned climbing groups, recovering from the descent and waiting to ascend. Franz Joseph itself loomed, the ice at the base a clearer blue than it had appeared at a distance. The ground sloping down from where we stood was littered with pieces of ice, and intricate shapes and hollows, both sharp and rounded, towered above us. As we stood and stared and tried to reconcile the blue and the white and peered upwards into tiny caves and envied those atop the ice, a sudden cracking sound came from our left.

A metre square piece of ice broke from the glacier, slowly tumbling down, hitting and bouncing off the surface, breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces until a scatter of fist sized ice stones joined the rest at the bottom of Franz Joseph. Ready to melt down and join the rushing river.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

"But no, I can't have fiords, they're not 'equatorial' enough!"

You'll be glad to know that I have not placed myself in the hands of mystics to explore the meaning of the universe as expressed by the scenery in and around Fiordland and Westland...but I'm bloody close.

Milford Sound, eh? Not actually a sound, by the way, it is a Fiord. But the word Fiord hadn't entered the English language when Milford was named, so Sound it is.

Having a small Slartibartfast moment - "I happen to like fiords, I think they give a continent a lovely baroque feel." Mostly I'm procrastinating because I'm not sure I can put Milford Sound into words - well, words that will convey the sheer scale and majesty and magic of it.

I'll just start and see where I end up, eh?

I was on a bus-cruise-bus trip, going from Queenstown to Milford Sound and back, by way of mindnumbingly beautiful mountains and beech forests. From Queenstown we followed The Remarkables, freshly dusted with snow at the very peaks, on the left, and Lake Wakatipu on the right. Definitely a trip where I didn't know where to look, because all of it is so absorbing and changes with every kilometre and shifting cloud mass above.

The Remarkables...towering and sheer and craggy and folded and bare and...gosh. Draped with cloud, torn shreds of mist clinging to their sides, crevasses and crags jostling together, with boulders and occasional pieces of greenery clinging to their sides.

Lake Wakatipu...dark dark green and blue water, soft and powerful, the longest lake in the South Island (I think in New Zealand), populated with islets and spits of land thrust forward from the shore.

After Te Anau (which, gosh also), we started making "Photo Stops" on the way to the Sound. And, thank goodness we did. We had entered the Southern Alps, and my good gracious. We stopped, after coming along a very windy pass, at a tussock covered plain, surrounded by green beech covered mountains, and one massive black craggy snow capped mountain dominating the surroundings. From the bus, it seemed very pretty, but when I stepped out onto the plain, the scale of the landscape hit me like a ton of...well, mountainside, I guess. It's like the mountains changed from flat 2D to surround sound 3D by taking that one step onto the land.

Mirror Lake was just that - a lake bordered and in some places covered by lush forest, but with glassy waters that reflected the mountains that are behind it with absolute clarity. Ducks floating on the water appeared to be scaling the peaks of the mountains. And there were moss covered branches leaning out over the water, slowly dripping condensation.

When we got to Milford Sound, I was gobsmacked initially by the sheer mass of people there. It's a damned popular destination, what? The boats that were waiting at the dock were massive, all closed in except for the top deck. Thankfully, as I was on the Nature Tour (as opposed to the Scenic Tour - got to spend 2 and a half hours out there!!), we were on a smaller boat (shaped like a ye olde craft, with sails and everything), and there were open air viewing places on every deck.

After getting on the boat, I dared to look up, and good golly Miss Molly (I'm trying to find a way to expostulate on the wonders of the world without saying "Fuck". Do you know how hard that is?) Behind me (I was sitting facing out into the Sound), behind the dock, were the peaks through which I had just travelled. On my right was a sheer wall of stone, the rock split and sundered and covered in moss and ferns. To my left was another range of mountains, and in front of me was what would be two valleys if they weren't, you know, covered in water.

As we moved forward, to go into the 'valley' on the left, passing on our right was a triangular, massive, carved out mountainous mass, covered in trees and sporting a magnificent waterfall. On my left, and much closer, another mountainous mass with less greenery, but with shattered stone ledges edging out above us.

The scale of the scenery is really hard to get across, was really hard to get into perspective when we were there. I guess this is how I managed to fit the concept into my head. We were cruising right next to the walls on our left. Across the water, cruising underneath the waterfall, next to the first massive piece of mountain, was a three or four deck high craft, probably holding over a hundred people, and it was like a very small toy boat next to your knee in the bath.

Spent an awful lot of time staring upwards. And took, including the trip there, about 120 photographs. And I don't think any one of them is going to do the experience justice.

As we moved along the sheer wall to our left, and looked up, mountains behind the sound began to loom above the walls around us. Their peaks covered in cloud, the lines of waterfalls all down their sides, their golden sheen contrasting with the dark and mossy and occasionally tree covered bulk below them and next to us.

We got to see the results of tree avalanches - the beeches have very shallow root systems to allow them to grow on these sheer rocky surfaces, and so they tangle together with the trees around them. This helps them cling to the mountainsides, but when there has been particularly heavy rainfall or snowfall, the roots loosen and hundreds of trees are pulled down in an avalanche, leaving a great scar in the midst of green. This scar eventually becomes mossy, and then ferns start to grow there, and the ferns will break down and trees can begin to grow on the sparse soil afforded by the ferns and moss breaking down. There were a number of tree avalanche scars on the peaks around us. Constantly changing scenery...

Looking behind us, as we travelled out towards the Tasman Sea, the peaks and walls that we had gone past rose up and towered in the distance. Perspective changed, and they were softer and capped in light snow and thick white cloud, with a dark mossy green colouring the steep slopes down to the dark and calm waters around them.

Did I mention the music of Milford Sound? As we made our way out into the Sound proper, the "day wind" was enthusiastically whipping hats off heads and causing a number of people to abandon their outside viewpoints. But not me, gentle reader. Are you kidding?? The wind, rushing through the tunnels made by the peaks caused a mournful, echoing keening, which was our constant companion. The lack of it was the first thing I noticed when we made our way out into the Tasman Sea. And when we went back, along the other side of the Sound, the wind was behind us, being caught in our sails, and the music was no longer.

But it was not needed, as joyous laughter and shouts of sheer happiness accompanied us as we came back into the Sound. This was because we were joined by a pod of bottle nosed dolphins, racing the boat, playing in the wake and leaping alongside us. I was lucky enough to have moved down to the lower deck by this time, so I hung over the railing and cooed and called encouragement to these huge beautiful joyful frolicking lovelies.

After they left us, there was a contemplative silence, and then we all started to look upwards again - I had missed an awful lot of the scenery around me due to concentrating on the dolphins. But it was bloody worth it, they brought another level of happy to the experience.

We went past Seal Rock, which, strangely enough, had seals hanging out on it. Who would have thunk it, eh?

The side of the Sound that we were now on had a number of waterfalls coming off it, the first one being 50 storeys high. These waterfalls are made up of the melting snow on the top of the peaks, and rain. They carve the rock, bouncing off crags and flattening greenery. I was standing in the prow (that's the front, right?) of the boat, and the captain took us into just metres of the base of a waterfall (I keep thinking it's the Spencer Waterfall, but I'm pretty sure I've got the name wrong). The spray off the waterfall was light and refreshing and constant. As the waterfall hits the water, it causes the surface to change from pounamu (jade) green to a milky dark turquoise, with white concentric ripples coming from the meeting of rushing waterfall and still water. I stood, eyes closed, hands outspread palm upwards, as close to the front as possible, whilst other people backed away from the spray. My heart was open, and laughter spilled out from me, as I held myself in that one moment. Standing in the spray of a subalpine waterfall in the middle of Milford Sound, the most heart stoppingly beautiful place in a country of inexpressible beauty.

The rest of the journey was the calmness that comes after a tremendously moving experience. I sat on the top deck again, watching the scenery slide by, a huge smile on my face, hugging myself with sheer joy. We passed mountains that made me want to paint, and waterfalls that made me want to sing, and craggy peaks that made me want to stop and photograph them forever.

We sat, watching the distant peaks come closer, the perspective sliding and changing, landscape undulating and folding and shifting, green and black and embraced by cloud, mist rising off faroff waters, magic in every breath.

The trip home was silent and exhausted. There is no way to fit Milford Sound into your heart and head and world view in the couple of hours that you are there. There is every possibility that you never fully appreciate it. I wanted to be on the cruise forever, just going around and around and around, and seeing something new and tremendous and moving with every moment. I hope that I never lose the memory and the feeling of my time in Milford Sound, and that I have been able to describe even a little of the experience in these meagre words.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Addendum to "...naming"

Erm. I think I have this post from Uncle Bob on the brain.

It's Roxburgh, Otago, not Roxbury.

I knew there something a bit off...

"Bad break up?" "Believe me when I say 'Uh Huh'"

I had hoped to avoid remembering the manufactured holiday that is going on today. Thus, I was doing my utmost today to avoid people. Because, as we know, there's nothing more likely to establish you as a social leper than wandering around by yourself, not clutching a rose and a stupid soppy look on your face, or gossiping to your friends about the lovely jewellery or dinner or dress or lingerie or car or picnic or whatever dim witted present your dim witted partner has deigned to give to you today to prove that they love you more on this particular day than on any other day.

Yes, I am single. Why do you ask?

To all of my friends who are lucky enough to have a partner, I say: Happy Valentine's Day. Snuggle with your honey and love them with all of your heart. Today and every day.

Wonderful restraint in the naming...

Queenstown. Adventure capital of New Zealand, if not the world. And I have successfully avoided anything even vaguely likely to induce adrenalin rushes.

Unless you count, you know, the fucking scenery!!

The mountains start to really come into their own as you cross Central Otago, as I did when I got the coach from Dunedin to Queenstown yesterday. There are some tell tale signs in the distance, about an hour into the four hour journey, that something tremendous is there, just at the edge of your vision. But it's not until you come out of Roxbury that the mountains really hit their stride. Suddenly, you are surrounded by the bones of the earth, boulders appearing in the sides of hills around you, a ring of darker blue mountains behind those hills, patches of white in the upper reaches that you just now are patches of unmelted snow. Then, there are no hills anymore, but gradually growing mountains ranges all around you, above you, in front of you, towering and magnificent. The valley through which you are travelling is split down the centre by a rushing, dangerous, river - rich, deep, bright green glacial waters. And then, just when you think that the mountains cannot make you heart sing any more than it already is, that your soul could not be elevated any higher, that the tears streaming down your face and the laughter bubbling out of your throat will finally wind down, The Remarkables hove into view.

I don't see how the residents (and visitors) of Queenstown ever get anything mundane done, let alone the adventure sports that everyone comes here to do. I kept tripping over my own feet and swallowing flies today because I was, open mouthed, staring up at the surrounding mountains, mindful only of their overwhelming beauty and grandeur.

I'm going to Milford Sound tomorrow. You may not hear from me again, because if the experience is any more spiritual than that which I had on the approach to, and walking around, Queenstown, I'm booking myself into the next monastic establishment I can find.

You quacking at me? You quacking at me? You must be quacking at me, I don't see anyone else here!!

Wandering around the Queenstown Botanic Gardens this afternoon, I was forcefully struck by the way to ensure world peace.


Yup, you heard me. Get all the world leaders to hang out around a duck pond, where ducks are going about their awesomely cute business (fluffing their feathers, scritching their heads, snoozing woozily on the surface of the water, waddling in search of food, flapping their wings and thus revealing the deep blue feathers - the list just goes on and on!!) and everyone will be so chilled out and transfixed by this extremely calming experience that they will immediately sign the papers that will ensure peace, not only in our time, but for all time.

And one of the subclauses of that contract will be that there are fully populated duck ponds placed at strategic points along borders and throughout troubled countries and neighbourhoods.

Ducks = World Peace.

Trust me.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Good things come to those who wait, they say.

Okay, I'm way behind the times here, but I just wanted to quickly note that Mr Wil Wheaton has gotten a gig on CSI, which is probably the best thing that could happen to him right now. He seems like a nice guy, he's an excellent writer, and he doesn't get them acting breaks as often as he should.

Plus, one of his cats is not very well, so take a couple of minutes to send some good thoughts to Sketch.

Also, give his blog a big ole read if you haven't already - you'll find it deeply addictive...

What fucker said "Och ay the noo"?! I'm surprised you can see me, you fucking wanker!

Every day in an unknown city or town can bring a surprise, a joyous experience, and a sense of the truly ridiculous yet fascinating and wonderful nature of being human.

I had undertaken to wander the streets of Dunedin today, since it's overcast but not bucketing down, and I'm ably protected by my giant red shiny anorak (I'm in love with my anorak. It's such a silly looking yet functional object. How could you not love it? Plus, warm. And, as I mentioned, bright red). It's my last full day in Dunedin, and I want to take one last full look around.

As I came down the hill from my favoured noshing spot, the Arc Cafe, I caught a gust of bagpipe music on the wind. But then it quieted down, so I thought it was just a store playing up the Scottishness of Dunedin (I'm sure you all know that Dunedin was settled by protestant Scots, is the gaelic name for Edinburgh, has a statue of Robbie Burns in the centre of the Octagon [with his back to the cathedral, I might add], and in one of the back streets, there is a Rob Roy Dairy store. Well, if you didn't know that before, now you do).

I turned a corner, and in front of me, the resultant music echoing down the street, was a full pipe band, practising their little tartan clad hearts out. And, just at the edge of my vision, was another band. Oh, and look over there! Several scattered musicians wandering disconsolately around the park, clutching their instruments to their fronts, buffeted by the sudden strong wind.

There was a cacophany of noise, different tunes played in different sections of the Octagon, all melding together as the wind whipped one way and then another. Sitting on benches, holding balloons, eating hot dogs, looking at the other bands - everywhere were men and women in kilts and long socks, covered by a variety of wet weather gear.

I found my way down to the sound shell, where a pipe band were in full swing. I actually quite like bagpipes when they're played well, and there's nothing quite like a full pipe band to get your foot tapping.

No, seriously.

I found someone to tell me what on earth was going on - I had abandoned my original idea that there was some sort of clan war going on, and the bagpipes were being used as offensive weapons (because, like any instrument, in the wrong hands they are deeply deeply offensive). My informant was a fully attired (though in tartan trousers, not a kilt) drum major, but I think the main reason I talked to him was because he was also a very tattooed and pierced, fully attired drum major. You can bet your sweet bippy that I got a photo of him!!

Anyway, today, Dunedin is hosting the annual Pipe Bands Competition. So there were always at least two bands playing and being judged, plus a number of other bands winding down or warming up. They play in a circle, facing each other, with the bass drum standing in the circle, slightly off centre. Then, when finished, they very smartly march off. I guess the judging takes into account not only the music and musical prowess, but also the presentation.

I watched until the last band played, and the placings were announced. After the last two bands had finished and everyone had drifted away, there was silence, broken only by the mournful sound of multiple bagpipes being deflated.

Friday, February 11, 2005

"What are those round things on the ground?" Erm. They're sheep shit. Don't play with them.

Yesterday afternoon and evening were spend wandering over farmland and along and above a beach, on a truly fantastic ecotour.

The ecotour has a limit of ten people per party (though there are three tours going at once), and takes you through a variety of wildlife habitats and viewing.

We started off with birdwatching (which, given that I appear to be turning into a bird geek) was awfully fun. We saw a Royal Spoonbill and Pied Oystercatchers and a Kingfisher and...well, lots of native and introduced birds. Very cool.

Then we went to see juvenile Royal Albatrosses doing their gliding and circling and flying for days and days and not landing thing. The area where they nest is unusual, as it is on the mainland - usually albatrosses nest on islands. However, it is a small spit of land jutting out into the sea, so it does have the feel of an island. Watching an albatross while it's showing off is truly amazing, they are catching the wind currents and gliding through the air with absolute stillness.

The major part of the ecotour is the penguin reserve, which is on a beach adjacent to farmland. So we had to walk down a couple of 'hills' (which, as anyone who has been to New Zealand knows, are not what normal human beings would call hills. They are...well, not mountains, but they're too intensely craggy and steep to warrant the fluffy epithet of hills), that are often the home to many sheep. Sheep shit dodging time. I'm fairly good at that, but some of my tour companions were not (after we got back to the hostel, a couple of girls spent the better part of an hour trying to clean the soles of their shoes).

Down on the beach, the first thing we saw was a tiny hole in a rock at the base of the hill, and inside, peeking shyly out, were a pair of Blue Penguins. Above the, on the hill, were a couple of cool as a cucumber Yellow Eyed Penguins. These were displaying unusual behaviour for penguins, what with the not running away in the face of a group of big non penguin things (especially as Yellow Eyed Penguins are incredibly antisocial, and hide from one another, let alone not-penguins).

I had never realised that penguins nested in grasses or scrub. I guess I've always just had the image of the Antarctic penguin habitat, and completely forgotten that they're, well, birds.

We made our way down the beach, to where there were several little groups of snoozing juvenile sea lions. And then we stood next to them. And the guide told us all about them, whilst they lazily flapped their flippers and occasionally opened their eyes and looked at us in a disinterested manner. It was really intense. And then we walked between two groups of them (given what the guide had said about sea lions - they moved faster on sand than we could,; if they got aggressive, he'd stand between us and them to take on their aggression; that, generally, they were not worried about us, but we shouldn't get cocky - I was surprised that we wandering so close to them. But amazing to do). We were only ever around 5 or 6 metres away from them.

In the distance, we'd been able to see some penguins making their way out of the surf at the other end of the beach, and preparing to go up to their nests up on the sheer hill next to the beach. We went to a hide at that end of the beach, and watched more and more penguins pop out of the ocean and cool themselves down from their intensive swims, by standing with their wings stuck straight out and their heads back (what I call the "Darling I'm home and I'm faaaabulous" stance).

Then we went up to the upper hide, which is above and opposite the nesting area. Those poor little short legged penguins, making their way up this cruel hill to their nests, only to be followed around by penguin chicks (often not their own!!) demanding food. It's a hard life to be a penguin.

I had a moment walking to the hide, where I was behind a big green cloth which should help hide us from the penguins, but was wearing a bright red parka (it was fecking cold and windy) that really couldn't be hidden, and on the other side of the cloth was a cooling down penguin, staring straight at me. It was very very cool.

We made our way back down to the beach, where the sea lions were getting warmed up to go out fishing. They do this by barking at each other and mock fighting. Mock it might be, but something about the barking went straight to the "Danger, danger!!" section of my brain. We stood, 6 metres away, chatting and looking at this big fucking sea lions having fights and getting their blood ready for killing. Really quite intense and scary, but tremendously exhilirating.

And then we walked between the now very noisy groups again!!! There was so much adrenalin pumping around my body that I was shaking. It was amazing.

We went back to the blue penguins, who were preparing to venture out (there was almost a full beak peeking out of the nest!!) and said goodbye, and then went across to the fur seal colony.

Which was up about three more 'hills', and then down another one. Stupid walking.

We were in a hide above the fur seal colony, watching the reunions between mothers and cubs. The cubs make the most heart rending calls, it was really hard to listen to them. You're aware that all they're doing is going "Hungry!! Feed me!! Feed me now!!", but the call is so pathetic, it brought tears to my eyes.

Because I'm a complete sop.

On the way home (note how I gloss over the walk back up all of the 'hills' to the tour bus?) we saw a Morepork.

The beach is part of a massive conservation effort, the ecotour is small and incredibly informative, the experience is something I am unlikely ever to repeat, and, if nothing else, I have heard the call of the Yellow Eyed penguin. Which is bloody loud.

Why is it always young men in record stores?

Today I went to Records Records, a music shop that has been open in the same place in Dunedin for the last 30 years. When it was established, it was only supposed to run for a month.

It's a small converted terrace house, just off the Octagon. There's Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones playing on the stereo, and posters papered all over the hallway, advertising gigs and retrospectives and art exhibitions. There are local indie papers mixed with glossy rags full of adverts for international artists. Today is grey and cool and drizzly, and the light coming through the overhanging tree in the tiny front garden was soft, augmenting the golden glow of the lightbulbs overhead.

The shop started because the resident of the house, a music reviewer, had hundreds of records that he wanted to get rid of. So he offered them up for sale, and the shop, which was initially unnamed, has been going ever since.

The collection is small, but comprehensive. There are two rooms, with high ceilings and Victoria terrace fireplace frontispiece intact. There is barely enough room to stand two people between the racks of cds and records. The collection is evenly split between vinyl and cd, and there are even some tapes for sale!!

There were a couple of young men wandering around, talking enthusiastically about the jazz influences apparent in Hendrix's music, and telling each other with absolute authority that "Yeah, that's a really good Iggy album. Did you know that Bowie played keyboards on that tour?" It's wonderful that each new generation of music lovers find out the same snippets, same secrets, and passes them on with the seriousness they deserve. It did, I have to admit, make me think of High Fidelity - more the book than the movie.

I ended up getting 4 cds, including a best of Split Enz, the soundtrack to Velvet Goldmine and two compilation of New Zealand indie music. One from the Flying Nun label, which has been going since the early 80s, and the other from a more recent label, Powertool Records. So that should be a good explore of the history of NZ music...

A step behind the rest of time

Groovy and very cool vibe that it has, Dunedin has come close to being stuck in my mind as the place of annoyances, mishaps and general fuck ups. Which is sad, because it is an extremely cool place, and I'm totally prepared to adore it, and I don't want it coloured by the crapness of the last couple of days.

It's also been annoying because thus far everything on this trip has gone really smoothly, with no major hiccoughs.

And the things that went wrong haven't been major (even in Dunedin), but there were so many of them over the last couple of days that it just got to the point of me going "ARRRGH!! What are you trying to do to me, Dunedin??"

On the other hand, I don't want you to think that Dunedin has only provided me with crap experiences. As I've said, very very cool place, and have had some really extraordinary times already.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Christchurch log - Additional.

I forgot to mention that there is an absolutely kickass vegan/vegetarian cafe/bar here in Christchurch as well. That's been great, and whilst it's not got my heart like Midnight Espresso in Wellington, the food's made a good bid for it!!

"The architectural style is Early Maniac"

I was completely prepared to find Christchurch insipid, especially after the last week of Nature - Wow!

And, in a lot of ways, and much like Auckland, Christchurch is rather unprepossessing. Unlike Wellington, there is very little natural beauty to alleviate the 'city' feel - occasional glimpses of distant hills between buildings is about it. But it does have a certain naive charm - if a rather selfconciously inherited charm. It advertises itself as the "most English city in New Zealand", and it really does have that feel. The city itself is dominated by a Cathedral, there's a river running through the city, there's the Christchurch College, full of private school boys, a lot of the buildings are faux gothic and you've got Oxford and Cambridge Streets.

But, and this is the wonderful thing about most places, there are surprises and little bits of joy scattered throughout the city.

For a start, the river is, wait for it, the river Avon. Now, I don't know about you, but that just brings this to mind. And so every time someone says "The River Avon" I giggle to myself and get the theme tune in my head and start having naughty thoughts about an overacting 40 plus year old in bad seventies sf leather clothing.

So that's a bonus. Plus it gives the phrase "punting on the Avon" a whole new meaning.

*chirp chirp of crickets*

Well, no, it doesn't, but if you really stretch yourself you can force a little snort of laughter about it. Just for me, okay?

The Botanic Gardens are full of soooooo many ducks. I took some bread to feed them today, and there's something altogether cute, but also a little daunting, about being surrounded by 30 madly quaking ducks. Especially when they start having territorial battles and you realise one of them has sneaked behind you and is about to take the whole slice of bread out of your hand and there's another one under the seat who's trying to do the same thing and...But mostly, stupidly cute. Oh yeah, and there are some nice trees and flowers and stuff. And people punting on the Avon.


Speaking of people punting on the Avon (*snerk*), there's also endless enjoyment to be had watching people who have no idea how to paddle a boat, trying to paddle a boat. Generally on a romantic date. It is a standard rule of thumb that the following does not a romantic date make:

You're struggling to pilot the vessel, and your date has given up and is staring off into the distance with her arms crossed, thinking "What did I ever ever see in this doink?" and you've gotten wedged into the banks, and ducks are slowing down around you and you just know that in amongst the quaking is some serious sniggering and then a punt full of people who paid someone who knows what they're doing to take them punting on the Avon (*giggle*) goes by and once again, though they're slightly more polite than the ducks, there's some pointing and muttering and general dissing of your punting style going on. And then there's me, on the bank, howling with laughter, wiping the tears out of my eyes, kicking my little legs in the air and generally being a right cow.

It would put a bit of a dent in the whole "romantic date" concept, dontcha think?

And then, in Cathedral Square, there is The Wizard. This guy is fucking fabulous. Every weekday during summer, he's there, orating away, with a good crowd around him, bringing down the status quo through fun. (The website's not working, by the way, but it should be up again soon). Here's a couple of quotes from the brochure he's had made up (because he's nothing if not a self promoter):

"Since being declared a living work of art by the New Zealand Art Gallery Directors Assocation almost 20 years ago, the Wizard has had the special freedom of a fictional character. Since 1968 he has had no wife, children, property or job, pays no taxes and has no state welfare assistance. He really has got nothing to lose and is arguably the freest individual in New Zealand."

"Another favourite topic use relativity theory to show that there is no proof that the Earth is a sphere that orbits the Sun. He recommends voting to change the traditional frame of reference so that the Earth is turned inside out, becoming a relatively huge hole in matter with the rest of the universe inside it. He is also well known for printing and promoting maps of the world that are south up, showing New Zealand at the top." (I didn't manage to get one of those, darn it).

And much more, in a fantastically over the top, ironic, friendly and funny style. I highly recommend, if you find yourself in Christchurch between November and March, to take yourself to Cathedral Square between 1 and 2pm and give him a listen. Vastly entertaining and engaging and I'm kind of peeved that I'm going to miss his lectures, as I leave Christchurch tomorrow.

Finally, and this can't be stressed enough, there is a pub under the hostel I'm staying at that serves pints of Monteith's Black.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

"I want the one without the gannet!"

"Without the gannet?! You can't have it without the gannet! It's a standard British bird!!"

I've had a very birdlifecentric day today, in lovely downtown Christchurch. The Botanic Gardens are full of ducks of many stripes (but mostly spots), and also the museum has a huge bird exhibition.

Which is actually kind of icky, because they're all stuffed dead birds. Which means that when you see that they have 15 stuffed kiwis, you feel like shouting "And that's why they're fucking endangered!!" at the top of your lungs.

But I resisted. Only just.

The bird gallery did provide a couple of really really cool things.

One - There was a stuffed kakapo (another in the shouting to the gods cohort). This bird fascinates me, wholly due to Douglas Adams' fabulous tome Last Chance to See, and there hadn't been any examples of it in any of the other museums I've been to.

Okay, quick notes about the kakapo (for more info, I've linked to the wikipedia entry) - it is (to quote the much missed DNA) the world's biggest, fattest and least able to fly parrot. It doesn't form pairbonds for breeding - instead, what it does, in it's alpine or subalpine habitat, is dig out hollows that are acoustically perfect, and then sit in the middle of them and produce a booming noise. This is the male's "Come and get it, baby!!" call. The problem (one of many) is that the booming is not directional. So the male will be shouting "Come and get it, baby!!" and the female will be going "Yes, but where??" Also, females are only ready to mate once every three years (or something close) and thus the male will be shouting "Come and get it, baby!!" and the females will be studiously ignoring him. Is it any wonder Douglas Adams loved this bird?

Two - There was a bird call interactive display, and the kakapo's booming was there, so got to hear that.

Three - Due to the Bush Birds display, I realised I had seen a Weka when I was walking the Snout track in Picton (or more precisely, when I was convincing myself that I was not going to have a heart attack during one of my numerous rest stops whilst walking the Snout track in Picton). This is very very cool, because they are only just coming back into general habitation in those areas.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

You should have seen the one that got away...

For some reason, one of the things that has stuck with me from childhood is part of the Maori creation myth. I think I had a picture book when I was a kid that had Maori myths in it (not that the Parental Unit wanted me to become enthused about New Zealand or anything), and I remembered the story of the creation of the North Island because, frankly, I thought it was kind of gross.

And here's what I remember:

Maui's brothers were going fishing, but did not invite him. Maui found out about it and invited himself along. But he didn't have a hook or bait. So when they were in the middle of the ocean, he made a hook from the jawbone of his grandmother, and he bloodied his own nose and smeared the blood from it onto the jawbone, and that was the bait. This hook and bait worked out far better than anyone could have expected, for Maui caught a great fish, and heaved and heaved and heaved, and pulled the fish, which became the North Island, out of the sea. The South Island is the boat that Maui was in when he was fishing.

So the other really cool thing about Kaikoura, apart from the seal colonies and marine life and colours of the sea and mountains (which I haven't seen because of fog, but look darned impressive in photos, let me tell you), is this:

There is a point around Kaikoura which, in Maori legend, is where Maui placed his foot for balance and leverage, when he was pulling the North Island out of the sea with his fishing line.

Cool or what?

Don't call me Flipper!!

Yesterday I saw two sperm whales do their breathing on the top of the water thing, and then dive to the very very deep depths around Kaikoura. I saw them from a boat from what felt like far too close, and yet not close enough.


That was an experience that's going to be with me for a very long time. With additional wow and good gracious bits attached.

I almost didn't get to see this most impressive of sights, as the sea was covered in a thick fog for most of yesterday, and the boat I went out in was the first boat to go out that day - and there was the possibility that it was going to have to go back in early, if the fog came back again.

But luckily, the fog burned off and the sea was as clear as clear could be, though a little choppy. Which concerned me, as my distant memories of going on a small boat did involve being deeply deeply seasick. But I had my ginger table and wrist bands and managed the entire trip without sickness.

You do tend to forget stupid things like seasickness when you're watching a whale do it's whale thing.

We saw two sperm whales. The Whale Watch team have given the whales identification names - the first one we saw was Big Nick (so named because he had a, erm, big nick in his dorsal fin). Big Nick has been spotted over the last 8 or 9 years in Kaikoura. The second one we saw was named Te Oki (I think), which means something like The Protector - so named because he had white scars on his head. Te Oki has been coming to Kaikoura for the last 12 or so years.

We also ended up being surrounded by a very enthusiastic pod of Dusky dolphins, who are often called the acrobats of the sea - and it was way easy to see why. They were leaping and flipping and diving was just marvellous. They kept diving under the boat (the water is so clear that you could still see them after they'd dived) and then would leap out the other side, flipping and occasionally beating their tails on the surface of the water (which I think is either a territorial or sex thing). There were calves in the pod, and they were very happily leaping about and having what looked like a great time.

It was funny to see the difference in reaction between when we were viewing the whales and when we were viewing the dolphins.

There was a reverential silence when we watched the whales - there was a feeling of the group holding their collective breath, waiting for the dive. And then when the whale dove, a sigh rippled through everyone, and that was it.

The dolphins brought out quite a different reaction - everyone was laughing and cooing and oohing and aahing and pointing and joyful and it was all smiles everywhere. There is something all embracing about the playfulness of the dolphins, that engages you immediately - they seem to be having such a good time that they bring out the joy in your soul.

There were two very different reactions from the women on either side of me - as we pulled away from the pod of dolphins (though a couple followed us for a while, playing in our wake) the woman on my right looked at me, tears running down her face, and a huge smile, and said "That was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen." The woman on my left, pointing at the pod now performing for the next boat, said "They're just a bunch of tarts, aren't they?"

How many words are there for turquoise?

The sea water in and around Kaikoura is a colour - or actually, several colours - that makes me angry.

There is no way that a naturally occuring phenomenon should contain colours that would not be out of place in a kid's paintbox.

In fact, the ocean in the bays around Kaikoura looks like the sort of painting a kid does of the way the ocean should look, and generally leads to this conversation:

"That's very pretty honey, but I really don't think that the sea is bright aqua. With edgings of office carpeting blue and occasional hints of hospital wall bright green."

But, if the kid was in Kaikoura doing the painting, they'd totally be painting from life!!


It's so annoying!!!

Well, actually, no ,it's not annoying, it's actually stupidly, beautifully heart rending and moving and gorgeous. I'm just...You know that scene in So Long and Thanks For All The Fish? It goes something like this (from memory, because I can't be arsed to look it up):

Arthur is eating a swordfish steak at a seaside resort, and grabs the waiter and angrily demands "Why is this bloody swordfish so bloody good??" Fenchurch tells the startled waiter "Don't worry about my friend. He's suddenly very happy and he's still in shock."

Well, that's kind of how I feel about the sea here. "Why is the bloody sea so bloody beautiful??!"

Just had to get that off my chest.

Friday, February 04, 2005

10 Things I Hate About My Brain

There are some stupid things that my brain has been doing during my trip around New Zealand, and I would like to enumerate them for you kind people.

1. Every time I see or hear "Ao Tea Roa", I start getting this running through my head: "Ao Tea Roa, I wanted to sail around the world. Living on the sea. That's the life for me. I just spent six months in a leaky boat..." And I don't know all of the words, so that just goes on and on in a loop. I love the song, but it's getting quite annoying.

2. Every time I see a poi, I get exactly the same reaction as in Point 1. This is because in the video clip for the song, there are Maori women doing poi dances.

3. Every time I wander around a Botanic or Rose Garden (and I've done that quite a bit), I find myself thinking in Austen language. And actions. It's quite disconcerting. Thank goodness no one has asked me a question whilst I was in that state, one is sure that one would be unable to reply without blushing. Oh gods, it's happening again.

4. Every time I went through the Wellington Gardens I kept looking around to see bits of where things from Peter Jackson's early movies could have been filmed.

5. Every time I went through cemeteries in Wellington I kept looking around to see where scenes from Braindead or The Frighteners could have been filmed.

6. At Wellington guys know where this is going, right? At Wellington Zoo, I kept looking around to see where scenes from Braindead could have been filmed.

7. In Wellington suburbs, I kept looking for the streets that Braindead or The Frighteners or Heavenly Creatures were filmed in. (Am I the only person who thinks that there should be a guidebook for the locations of other Peter Jackson films, not just Lord of the Rings?)

8. I've become something of an ornithologist, and actually think seagulls are kind of cute now. Pigeons, however, will always be rats of the air.

9. I go "Awwwww" every time I see sheep, or cows, or deer, or horses, or ducks on the hills that the coach I'm on is zooming through. I will occasionally go "Awwww" at the untenanted hills also.

10. I don't have a tenth, but I would like to reiterate the ridiculousness of the ongoing situation of Point 1.

I feel so much better for that. At least I am not continuously referencing Footrot Flats, eh?

Big boats mean that ZuckerBaby doesn't get seasick

The ferry trip from Wellington to Picton is one of the most astounding experiences anyone could ever have. Just gorgeous and mindblowing and exhilirating and, above all, windy.

My mind is so blown away and expanded by the last few days of scenery that I'm worried I'm going to have to remove the top of my head to get the rest of the South Island scenery to fit in.

First of all, the ferry was fucking huge. And I mean "oh my god this thing is the fucking biggest thing I have ever seen, there are 9 decks and people are driving buses onto the lower decks" huge.

And as we moved away from Wellington, there was a great moment of warped perspective. I was looking back at the outskirts of Wellington, with the houses all the way up the mountain, and all of a sudden a new mountain began to appear from behind the existing mountain. And grow and begin to loom. It was amazing - from a distance out into the harbour, the background mountain was always there, but from up close I had never seen it. And if I'm not describing it well, that's because the scenery has now gone beyond rational use of superlatives, and into mind bending, religion inducing, wibbling beauty.

We passed outlets of the North Island, craggy and green and lush, with clouds nestling between the peaks, fog drifting down the sides of the mountains. The sea was deep deep dark blue-green, with bands of lighter turquoise, and wavelets appearing and disappearing all the way to the horizon.

And then we were out on the sea proper. No birds, no little islands, just sea and the horizon. The sudden sense of what it must have even vaguely been like for tiny craft on a giant ocean overcame me. Gosh. That's some scary shit.

A band of thick cloud in the distance slowly revealed itself as a wondrous optical illusion - it was in fact the first craggy outcroppings of the entrance to the South Island.

Land of the Long White Cloud, indeed.

Conversations with locals and other tales of terror

Ah. An entire shop full of happy internet connected computers. No lines. No 3 bucks for 30 seconds. This is contentment in its purest form.

Okay, that's pushing it a bit, but after a few days of lack-of-decent-cheap(ish)-internet, I'm sooooo happy to be here!!

I'd never do travelling around the third world, would I?

I had a very odd conversation yesterday. I'm currently in Kaikoura, a tiny seaside town, with deeply deeply impressively terrifyingly huge mountains around it (or so I have sussed out through the incredibly thick fog and conversations with locals). The seashelf dips out as impressively under water as the mountains climb up around us, so the fishing is really really good here, and that seems to be the main source of employment for most people here. Alas, if you don't want to eat seafood, there's no eating out for you here ;)

The other form of collecting monies here is sea life tours. I'm supposed to be going on a whale watching expedition later on today, but I don't know if that's going to happen, due to said thick sea fog. I may have to be satisfied with my wandering around near a fur seal colony yesterday (and when I say 'near' I mean about 10 metres away, close enough to see their whiskers and be blown away by being so near to seals!)

And on the wander back from the seal colony is when I had the odd conversation. I always knew I'd get back to this point. Trust me, I'm your Narrator.

There was a woman selling seafood meals by the side of the road. I stopped to get a juice, and we got chatting. She eventually asked me what I did for a living, and I gave her my usual pat answer, which is "I work in IT". She said "What's IT?"

And you know what - for the life of me, I could not remember what "IT" stands for. Complete blank. It's something I haven't had to think about for so long - everyone knows what "IT" is, which is why I give that pat answer. Don't they? I hummed and hawed and awkward silenced it for a bit, then mumbled something about "software, sit in front of a computer all day, actually not working now" and fled. And about 30 seconds later, I remembered that it's "Information Technology".

Stupid stupid brain.

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