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Journey to New Zealand

With a son who makes his home in New Zealand, we have wanted to journey there for a long time. Besides the visit we wished to learn about the culture, technologies and history of the islands.

We arrived in Auckland after a 17-hour flight from Los Angeles. Customs/immigration was interesting. We had to declare every bit of food we had or be fine. So we declared the cookies, the processed nuts, etc. We were still thoroughly checked.

After a little searching we found and took the 'Maui' yellow bus from the Auckland airport to camper van centralm a huge complex processing hundreds of campers each day. Camper central has a reception desk, welcome kit and free coffee. We needed it. After quite a wait we were ushered to our camper, a disappointingly dilapidated older sprinter with spots on the cushions (God what were those spots from? Ketchup? Or what?). When we asked about it, our guide gingerly turned the cushion over. We got the tour of how to empty the toilet canister and how to fill the water tank, did the check for bumps and scratches and we were off. We had much to learn as we traveled.

New to Auckland, we missed our first highway sign and had our first argument. A sign of things to come? There seemed to be a distinct lack of street signs on any main road&

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166;highway signs yes, but not street signs. Had it not been for the lack of traffic, and relatively patient traffic, we might have had a more difficult time. It was bit of an adjustment driving back on the left side again but the traffic was not aggressive (only two flip offs and three honks..not bad.) We soon learned that our clunky van had this ungodly Darth Vader sounding laaaaag between first and second gear and required two presses of the "r" button to actually get it into reverse and that you had to press the brake pedal when you turned the key to start it. But all in all, not bad for a van which you had to "tack" rather than steer, in some of the more high cross wind areas.

No surprises, we finally got on the right road to Rotorua (we kept saying rotor rooter &

and learning that if you added a couple of vowels to the end of most words, you were on the right track. i.e. rotoroooroowaaa) It was only a 3hr hour trip and we reached our first TOP TEN camp site of the trip. (Top Tens dot the map of NZ). We were happy to find clean, hot showers, and a comfy place after our air and road journey. As Rotorua is famous for its hot springs, after check in we headed straight to the Polynesian spa for a nice soak in the famous hot tubs only to find the place chock a block full with Japanese tourists. Nothing against Japanese tourists, but sharing a small hot tub with a huge tour group was not exactly our idea of heavenly peace. We were beginning to think that this trip would be one continual ying yang!

This was our first night in the camper. Some revelations: you can pee and wash dishes at the same time, you can bump your head about every — seconds; you can bump into each other as frequently; you can blow the horn of the car with your butt every time you get out on the driver's side, waking up all of the other campers (shutup!!!); you get out of the sliding door on the side slowly and with much hassle because the cabinet and stove are cleverly bolted in place across the side door, to allow about 10 inches space between the back of the passenger seat and said cabinet; you can get a great head rush by trying to sleep, with it parked just slightly down slope. Our first night of eight nights in the camper&

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166;..hmmmmmmm.

After some adjustments, a peaceful night's sleep was achieved.(Richard doesn't mind sleeping with his feet in the sink) &

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166;.but we continue to use the camp site toilet and shower facilities&

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166;.with a strange reticence about sleeping two feet from the canister toilet. (In order to make one feel better they gleefully provided a free set of latex gloves for use when changing the "canister". What they did not tell us was that there was this little lever BEHIND the toilet without the manipulation of which, one could not get the canister out. It is the one thing one should really hesitate to really force apart).

Day TWO:

We left relatively early and headed to Te Whakarewarewa Thermal Area which included geysers, bubbling mud and amazing sulfur pools.. This is a thermal hot springs area with the mother of geysers, induced with the help of a little biodegradable soap, to spout up about — to 5 meters at 10:15, each and every morning&

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166;it was awesome&

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166;we hiked around the park and saw the bubbling mud and greenish yellow sulfur lakes that looked like something out of hell or certainly another planet and time. The smell was sickening at times to a point that it made you feel exhausted and strangely disoriented (similar to drinking the sulfur water at out hometown - Ashland after a long absence !) &

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166;.the sun was also hot&

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166;still it was a welcome reprieve form the claustrophobia of the camper.

Then on to the long stretch to Wellington through many little towns with small cafes, gas stations and little stores. The absence of McDonalds was welcoming, as the presence to McDonalds in the bigger towns was surprising or somehow intrusive. We were on our way from Rotorua to Wellington to catch the Inter-Islander ferry to the South Island. We drove through BEAUTIFUL Lake Taupo, with stretches of little homes and motels along the road. It looked like a lovely place to retire. And then on past Mt. Ruapehu where there were signs warning, that in the winter, the roads could be impassible. Hard to imagine on that balmy day in December. The driver is also warned to please stay on the road because of military exercises in the area. Hmmm, wonder how severe those exercises become? Rockets? Bazookas? Anyway, we stayed on the road.

And speaking of roads, all the main highways are primarily two lane but with the well marked passing lanes and as most folks are quite considerate; it is relatively pleasant-generally. Traffic religiously moves at 100 km per hour ( 60 mph) and then immediately slows down to whichever speed is newly posted. If it says 50 km, folks go 50, or 70 or whatever&

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166;.people here follow the rules, no doubt about it, if the road travel is any indicator. At the same time, if you have a passion for driving faster (Richard?) they will generally pull over to give way. Hand waves of recognition are commonly offered (save the afore-mentioned flip offs). It seems there is a spontaneous communication between drivers that is now only found in small towns in the world.

We reached Wellington after about 6 hours and then proceeded to get quite lost trying to find our next campsite&

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166;.upper Hutt? Lower Hutt? Who cares, we just wanted the Hutt with the campsite! We finally pulled in to the Lower Hutt site at around 6 pm, happy to have a rest. After a wash in the clean facilities, we drove into town and found an Irish Pub with an okey meal. As it was Sunday, the place was pretty empty. The food I think was frozen and then microwaved actually, but the wine and beer were fine! &

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166;in fact the beer was an Irish Brew with almost a Latte foam&

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166;.deceptively smooth, just like lots of our Irish cousins&

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We found our way back to the local Top Ten campsite and hooked up to wireless internet which was a pleasant surprise. That was the good news; the bad news was that you couldn't send email from your own computer, and only through a web based programme (yahoo, mind.net, etc) and no one knew how to change the settings so that you could send mail from your own programme allowing you to retain your own address book and files&

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166;.Oh well, at least we had the internet, but we learned subsequently that many other camp sites do not have this modern facility. Most internet is broadband, but a bit slow. Wireless is just not commonly found anywhere, just yet so we were told.

The next morning we were off to downtown Wellington and Te Papa, the NZ national museum. We wound our way through the streets of Wellington, a lovely city, even in the morning rain which is said to frequent the place much of the year. The museum was great&

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166;two hours was not nearly enough to absorb everything&

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166;especially as many of the displays were interactive. We decided to take the tour, with a Maori tour leader who led us through all of the exhibits and briefly explained the Maori perception of local reality. She went through a lengthy introduction in Maori, like a serious, practiced school teacher. She then went on to explain the various clans and cultural practices. Same story everywhere: Native populations in contrast to the imported western white cultures. (Have not seen a smooth colonial transition anywhere to date). Not quite what the brochures say. The treatment of the Maori population in New Zealand, from what, admittedly little, we saw, more closely approximated the US's treatment of the American Indian. The differences are that the Maori only came to the islands 300 years before the Europeans and they were quite pre - occupied fighting each other at the time. Not that this excuses anything but in the attempt to explain the resurgence of the Maori's regaining their culture, the visitor is left short of an understanding where they are now and where they are heading vis a vis adaptation for the future. It was a question we asked a few times to better understand the past as context to the present. The museum was otherwise rich in exhibits on environment, art, Maori culture, technology, European settler culture,&

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166;.a place to definitely visit again and again.

Then it was on to the Inter-Island ferry: They name truly matches the travel: inter island from North and South and return. The ships are not small units but rather big, three deck level, full on ocean going vessels, with all kinds of food, entertainment and types of seating, from glass enclosed lookouts, to sun decks, to reclining lounges, to bars with live entertainment&

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166; all of which is quite comfortable. As everywhere the operators and managers of the services are friendly articulate and proactively helpful. You are really made to feel right at home. This is rapidly appearing to be one of New Zealand's best features&

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166;.its outgoing and friendly people.

We arrived at Picton harbor on the south Island around 5 pm and promptly drove on to the Marlborough wine country, acres and acres and acres of grapes, sauvingnon blanc being the featured grape of the region. We found our next designated "Top Ten" camper spot near to the highway and railroad tracks in Blenheim, and lo and behold, thought we had found another wireless site&

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166;yippee,&

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166;.we had to camp near the office to get a signal, and then discovered that we were joyous too early&

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166;.the system simply didn't work&

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166;..oh well, emails tomorrow&

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166;.we went on a trek in search of a restaurant recommended by one of our guide books.

Without much trouble and in a slight drizzle, we found a lovely winery restaurant and because we were 'casual' no, not in our dress, ( the dress code outside their main cities is about as casual as it is in the states) but in NZ Casual means 'without reservations', we were shunted to an upper room of the restaurant, with only one window&

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166;.odd location and disappointing but pricey food. Richard had the lamb and found it 'tasted like cardboard!'. My soup was nice, but for the prices here, the gourment-sounding descriptions of the food belie the more mediocre tastes. Beautiful presentations, with ordinary tasting foods. Seems there was fear of spicing things up and all too much like the lingering illusions of classic poor British fare, frankly). We walked back to our campsite and snuggled in again to our cozy facilities!!!!: Next morning, we pulled away from the campsite with a twang, realizing that we were still plugged into our electrical connection! We were again reminded of the recent movie starring Robin williams . RV where some of the adventures we laughed at were becoming dangerously close to our own! The interesting cultural phenomena here though is that instead of trying to make you feel stupid, the few observers to our electric cord YANK simply shrugged with a smile and "oh I've done that a few times". This kind of ready accommodation was to be repeated throughout the trip (but luckily not due to continued cord popping). Generous folk again.!

DAY 3:

We then drove to the high spot of the trip (for Joyce anyway)&

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166;..Kaikoura and the whale watching&

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166;.we joined the only tour in town , took a bus from the whale center to the ferry and were scooted around on an amazing jet boat, trucking at about 26 knots in 8 ft seas in a roughly 40 ft catamaran - half the time in the air or diving into a head wall sea level. Think the craft was being piloted by a frustrated ex SEAL. But we found the whales! We had, unusually, four sightings, two each of Big Nick and Little Nick. We then shot over to catch some playful dusky dolphins. Their claim to fame is that they are the most happy of dolphins, the eat, play and 'mate' six times a day&

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166;.as our tour guide said: ' if I were ever reincarnated, I would want to be a dusky dolphin"&

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166;..On that subject said guide went on to describe the origin of the Sperm whale (seems that 2.5 tons of milky fluid (what came to be called sperm oil) is stored in its frontal lobe; The substance is used as a ballast. evacuating the many veins throughout that frontal chamber, the oil cools and solidifies in the process. This by definition reduces the volume and causes the whale to loose buoyancy and sink. Similarly they pump blood back through said veins to re-liquify the oil, expanding the volume and causing the whale to float. Amazing to see such a massive creature diving WHOOSH into the air and then WHOOSH down into the sea&

to 3000 ft for the next 45 minutes. Seeing that distinctive tail floating in the air is awesome.

Neither of us got sea sick, though there were many around who did. We simply enjoyed the boating, the whales and the open seas. As before, the outing was made all the more enjoyable by courteous, knowledgeable proactive staff throughout.

Kaikoura to Christchurch

With Christ church as the planned next stop several hours further down the east coast, we had just enough time to see a seal nesting point and a sheep shearing show a few km south of Kaikoura. The former was a disappointment as only one very tired seal was seen resting up on the rocks bordering the parking lot. The latter event was far more interesting. It was a one person show. We learned about the different kinds of sheep in New Zealand, some of the dynamics of the sheep industry and its technologies, sampled their oily lanolin and learned abit about basic sheep anatomy. Did you know that for example, sheep have no upper front teeth? Richard felt a certain camaradre, but was glad to have his upper front caps still glued in place.

Christchurch is another 4 hrs south of Kaikoura. The highway between Blenheim and Chirstchurch passes through some of the most beautiful scenery full of forests, mountains, sea scapes, a railroad running along the coast. It was a breathtakingly beautiful drive. It seems every time you turn a corner in New Zealand you see beauty, majesty, serenity.

Christchurch offered us another Top Ten campsite with the same email shortcomings but again the same clean surroundings and courteous service. now we were gradually learning how to actually sleep, eat, change clothes and stow our belongings in our tiny abode. We agree this would not be the way to start married life. It can even be a test after 40 years on !!

We headed into downtown Christchurch the next morning on the local bus (but not before having to go to a nearby garage to ask the location of the bus stop. He saw Richard coming with Lonely Planer in hand and offered; "looking for the bus eh ?") This kind of familiarity is found everywhere with a smile and sincerity. While this could be a bit disarming to the city person suspicious of another's behavior, it quickly became a welcoming feature of the culture here, and not unlike that of our own island of Ashland Oregon.

We went to the Christ Church city plaza for a flat white coffee (small latte). Joyce took a walk through the Christchurch Cathedral built in the 1800's. They are obviously having trying times because everywhere you looked there were requests for donations. And they cleverly made you exit only through the gift shop which had replicas of the church and copies of the latest sermons for sale. Then it was back to Top Ten to collect the car and on to the aerial gondola at Mt. Cavendish to gain a greater visual perspective of the city and its origins. The gondola ride was great, reminiscent of Table Mountain in Cape Town South Africa. To left at the top were several paragliders and a hang gliders catching thermals, to the right Brighton beach, the city and a curvy narrow road which was built in 1903 to access the hills for the booming flax trade and then on weekends for family entertainment excursions. To the right was Lytlleton Harbour. It was a beautiful place and well worth the gondola ride up and down. Interesting technology system; the gondola doesn't stop, but keeps moving along and you must 'jump on'&

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166;.now granted it isn't moving fast, but it is interesting that in most places it would stop and start; in NZ, it is a smooth running roundabout system. The mechanism for this of course detained Richard for the next fifteen minutes while Joyce went on to learn about the actual history of the place.

Diesel comes in Black hoses:

Intent upon getting across the country and on up to Greymouth on the West Coast by dark, we headed directly west out of Christchurch towards Arthurs Pass. A warning posted on rather ominously permanent signs through the flat country preceeding the entry into Arthur's Pass told us that the pass is "open" but that the subsequent Otaiga gorge is not good for campervans and towed vehicles? Did they mean camper vans like ours? This proved to be an ominous understatement, not so much for the danger of the road conditions but for the events that followed.

In eagerness to fuel up for the venture (no petrol for next 120 miles odd), I grabbed the green hose at the diesel pump sign and happily filled the tank. Unfortunately: Green in New Zealand indicates a kind of petrol. Black is for Diesel!

The interesting thing about mixing petrol with diesel is that petrol actually floats on diesel so that you can happily ride along for as many miles as you have remaining of diesel before the problems begin but I get ahead of myself&

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166;.

Venturing up over Arthur's Pass is something akiin to driving up the distance of Greensprings Hwy in Oregon on a grade more or less consistent to that of Ashland's Strawberry lane with less than 1/4th the protection. Add in the steady flow of fully loaded semis in both directions and you get the idea. It is definitely not the place for underpowered camper vans. But even with a "normal vehicle" the identification of "challenging spots along the rural highways in New Zealand is a bit understated.&

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Our van had an automatic transmission. It shifts on a vacuum, meaning that only when the engine is showing real signs of strain, with increased vacuum, will it shift to a lower gear. Running unknowlingly on Petrol by now, the engine was showing no power&

nor any sign of strain. It had effectively become like a stoned asmatic and the lack of a vacuum meant that it could not down shift as we got further into the hill. Finally as we entered a particularly steep section of the climb, the engine ground to a kind of happy exasperated halt. We were at about 20% grade with a 1000 ft drop off one side and off the rather sharp and totally unprotected curve about 500 ft behind. The engine would turn over but not start at all after the stop. We stuffed rocks under the wheels and crabbed the front to steer the vehicle into the wall if it got away. At that momemnt, I thought it was an air lock and proceeded to try to prime the pump but it did no good. Having no tools didn't help . Joyce then, on only what I can call an uncanny instinct, (for surely as a female she could not have any pre-disposition to mechanical insight now could she? !!) asked to see my fuel receipt from the last purchase. We found that, lo and behold, the payment was for 28 litres of petrol, not diesel.

What to do but syphon out the 12 gallons of petrol we had just added using the water hose and a handy bright red plastic pail that came with the camper. The trick was to siphon the fuel into the bucket and slip across the road to dump the petrol onto a steep gravel incline as there was no other place to put it, when no one was coming down or going up. Pulling this off in New Zealand turned out to be a real problem&

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166; Not because of the traffic: that was normal. Rather because of the fact that everyone who did pass, stopped to offer help! So there we were hiding this bright red petrol&

filled bucket on one side of the car when passers by stopped , then waving them on, slipping off to dump it and refill it when all was clear.

This went on for several minutes about 8 trips in all, when another well intended guy stops off with his stop sign (he worked for the roads department) to volunteer traffic management for us with his big stop and go sign.

He knew everyone ! New Zealanders are incredibly close to each other. Where in the States would you find a bread delivery truck tossing a traffic signaller a loaf of bread with a warm wave? It went like that for the next hour. We were finally towed up to the crest of the hill (which it turned out was a lousy 200 ft beyond where we were stuck !!) and got the refill of diesel that we needed. But it took two trips of the tow truck!!!

This was the more typical US city-style assistance. In other words they saw us coming and reacted accordingly. We had asked for diesel from one of the first offerers of assistance and thought that the tow truck would come with diesel, but he didn't on his first visit and had to return for it. About an hour later he turns up and pours the diesel in. The engine came to life immediately. For this little detour, we paid about US 150.

The trip then proceeded with a drive through, once again, some of the most fantastic scenery we have ever seen. It is true that many who have seen the New Zealand based Lord of the Rings movies. In the films, the background almost seems computer generated, but we kept seeing the same beauty in reality&

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166;..to say it was amazing continues to be an understatement. This is the magic of southern New Zealand. Incredible contrasts of raw prehistoric rock formations, tree filled hills, unusual plant life, stark expanses of desert like emptiness. We were mesmerized&

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166;until the drive DOWN the mountains through what is known as the Oraiga gorge&

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166;This is another place where even the New Zealand guides recommended that one treads carefully with a camper or towed vehicle&

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As we glided into the gorge dropping down as steeply as we climbed up Arthurs pass, we passed a medium single axled truck with its brakes emitting that dreaded stench of BURN. We thought, thank god its not us..but the smell lingered on well after passing the truck! In fact it increased.. Hmmm. Time for a pit stop again this time to just let our own brakes cool off! Travelling down the Oraiga gorge road is like coming down the same 20% grade but this time with hairpin curves all above and crossing several hundred feet over a raging river with the scantiest of rail guards. This fun was to be repeated later on in the North Island on the return trip and we hadn't even really ventured into the wild country of New Zealand in the deep south.

After that, the run was relatively flat and boring on to Greymouth which situated on the West Coast of the South Island. The name of the town seemed appropriate; we arrived to grey sky, grey surroundings and simply a grey place. The campsite advertised wireless - it didn't work and it was cold and rainy, but we were at least on the coast now.

The days diesel events had us tired and ready for a good rest. now we were well on our way to mastering the fine art of cooking our food, assembling the dinner plate, eating dinner, then washing the dishes, all without leaving the luxury of our bed!

Sleep was just about as natural by now as well. Joyce handed the curtain duty while Richard did the sliding door, the curtains for both which were too short, necessitating a shift to balance privacy with the need for fresh air. We rarely achieved either but no one complained any longer it seemed. We were enured to our gypsy existence!

After a good night's sleep listening to the surf, we left Greymouth as fast as we could heading for the beach town of Nelson. The high point of the ride Northeast was the fabulously beautiful coast, with high mountains climbing up the side of the beach. We drove and drove and drove on a relatively empty highway and saw few signs of any life at all along the way&

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166;then we found Punakaiki&

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166;.this is a place that has something called pancake rocks and blow holes. It is Karst topography, sink holes through layered dolomite mudstone. These rocks that are layered like a huge pile of pancakes&

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166;.one after the other and then there are 'blowholes' formed by the massive seas wearing away at the limestone rock. Huge caverns formed by the seas. We were there early so there weren't many people and we were able to take our first picture with the computer, photo shop programme. This was a redeeming moment for Richard who had been in the dog house for leaving the camera in Auckland.

We stopped at a caf&

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169; and met Fiona a youngish woman (45 or so) who had been to the USA for — months travel on a bike. She told us a story about her being hit by a car/hit and run and then being left on the roadside with not an offer of help from a single person. We couldn't believe it as we are from a town where that would be less likely to happen. And we told her about our opposite experience over Arthur's pass, where we got more help than we actually needed! It was nice to chat with her about politics, the environment and other things not in the tourist brochures&

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166;.to get a feel for the dynamics of the culture.

Richard had a curiosity about the apparent 'greenness' of the nation and her response was that it only appears green because of the small population relative to land and resource use. If the population increased, the behaviors would not reflect any substantial environmental consciouness at all she and others told us. In fact everywhere we refueld, Richard asked about bio diesel (with the exception of the Sprinfield station before our demise at Arthur's pass). Noone knew anything about it&

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166;.it seemed to be equivalent to asking George Bush about 'the google'!!!

On to Nelson &

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166;.the road took us along the coast to Westport and then we drove through the mountains, lots of mountains, curvy roads and uninhabited scenery, with the exception of logged out hillsides. Weyhauser is ever present on both islands planting mono species pine 'forests that are there only to be clear cut. This leaves horrible vacant moonlike scenes on hills all around you. Depressing. BUT they are replanting new species, mono true, but at least they are replanting. We saw different ages of tress refilling the emptiness, everywhere we went. This does not excuse the damage they are doing in the long run, by destroying bio diversity and natural immunity of a balanced and diverse eco system. We saw a few native forests along the roads in the inhabited areas. The less inhabited areas, thankfully, maintain a natural beauty, hopefully for a long time to come. The other trick of the logging companies that was so annoying, was that they would leave a few rows of big trees along the roadside, similar to what is done in the US, hiding the barren hills and destruction behind the false hedge of green.

We arrived in Nelson in the late AM, found a campsite in town and proceeded to walk the few miles into the downtown area for lunch. It was our vision to sit at a sidewalk caf&

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169;, have a glass of wine and just people watch. We walked about a mile and found just the place at the Victoria Hotel and Restaurant. Richard had fish and chips; Joyce had a calamari salad and all was well. We walked around the town ; saw another old church, a wonderful planted tree garden which included a California redwood planted in the 1800s. What a difference trees can make. After lunch/shopping we walked back to the campsite and had a rest. Nelson was not as wonderful as described in brochures or at least we didn't have the energy to experience it all. We did not have time to visit Golden Bay further to the north/west and it would be a good area to further explore for water sports especially, as there are water taxis there and many apparently beautiful islands in the Bay. We had the most expensive dinner to date at a place called the Bait Shop. &

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166;.gourmet salmon and red snapper, gazpacho, strawberries and brie. Our waiter was American, a nice young man who told us that skiing in NZ isn't actually so great, very icy and not much powder. We will pass the message to Peter our youngest son who loves to ski in Ashland.

The next morning it was back north through the Malbourough wine country to Picton to catch our ferry back across the waters to the North Island, on a vessel that would remind us of the huge ocean cruise ship&

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166;huge, full of wide staircases, restaurants, elegant! That was the good part. The bad part was the 100's of kids who were on holiday and who seemed to take up every nook and cranny of the boat, leaving not a peaceful place to be found. We bickered with each other about where to sit, what to eat and decided we simply needed peace and quiet and the ability to watch the water and sites go by. (old age setting in?) We finally found a secluded spot and suddenly the trip was finished. Down the stairs, to our car and wouldn't you know it the queque we were in, out of the 5 lanes of traffic, was delayed because of a car with a dead battery. Usually you could pull around the car in front of you, but we were packed in like sardines, bumper to bumper, so had to wait until the car was finally pushed. We had the unwelcome distinction of being the last ones off the ferry&

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and then we made the decision to take a new route north back to Auckland, &

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166;.not the more crowded Highway 1, but rather, Highway 2 through Carterton and Masterton, Mount Bruce, Pahaitua, Woodville and on to Waipawa and finally, Hastings. This ended up being a wrong decision&

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166;.it was raining off and on and we ended up on theeeee most curvy road we have ever been on, with unprotected sides along DEEP caverns&

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166;.truly scary, truly endless, truly not a road to be ever recommended while driving a camper, especially one with a propensity for smoking brakes. For Ashlanders this is another equivalent of driving down the greensprings at a grade of Strawberry lane, with few guardrails. To add to it all, traffic was often bumper to bumper causing the hot shots in the BMWs to actually try and PASS you on curves pushing you to the edge of the rift!!!! Never again on highway 2. (the exclamations are Joyce's, Richard thought the road was a piece of cake, or at least he SAYS that!!)

We wound up in a holiday park camper site in the town of Hastings for the evening, well tucked under their beautiful Sycamore trees. Same frustration with the internet which was not quite there yet, but as elsewhere in New Zealand, the good will, general upkeep and accommodating staff more than made up for lack of broadband ! One from the USA nation often forgets what good service, without pretext, at affordable prices is really like &

where conversation is real, proffered and genuine&

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166; And one would as well hope that New Zealand retains this energy and sincerity, with or without wireless broadband!

It was raining and colder tonight and we discovered that the camper leaks cold air like a sieve, but by now we have mastered the art of sleeping with our feet on a bed (as opposed to the sink) and being actually able to find our clothes the next morning. (that is if you correctly unlayer the glasses, your wallet, bra, socks and maps and tourist brochures beneath a wet towel). The van boasts the possibly the worst ergonomic design ever seen. No hooks, the sink and fridge and stove unit spanning across 80% of the one main access point, the side sliding door&

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166;, bench seats and overhead cabinets which are guaranteed to lacerate your head as you attempt to sit up to eat on the bench seats, a bed which requires removing large chunks of plywood to get at the lower storage area, rendering it functionally useless; a shower that your pet (name of a mouse like pet?) would get claustrophobia in and on and on. Sleeping however is a bit more complicated now---ever since Arthurs pass, because the diesel /petrol syphoning exercise has left the hosepipe and bucket with the petrol odor which seems to linger and waft up through the bench compartment where it is stowed, and on up through the bedding where we are sleeping!

But enough about the damned camper!!!!

Up and out in the morning through Hastings with its slightly maze like exit to the main road for Napier&

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166;.Hastings is a place to revisit amongst several others in this magic land. It is not quite as Carmelized as Ashland , but more like Ashland in the 70's but with its location next to more touristy and upmarket Napier and its already growing art colony; it appears poised to grow.

Napier is about 25 Km up the road. This is Ashland or Caramel today&

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166;and the real estate prices suggest the same&

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166; Right on the Pacific, seaboard art deco styling, walking streets, lots of potted plants in same&

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166;well done throughout, but still no broadband. We searched and searched for an internet place to just check on things at home, with no luck. There were large shopping centers and a McDonalds but no open internet caf&

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169;. So we moved on north and found fruit markets instead! The landscape is clean well managed and pleasant to look at as we climbed up and out of the coast toward Lake Tapuo and on to the Rotorua environs for a more detailed participation in Maori Culture - the mystery that has thus far eluded us on this trip.

We stopped in Taupo for the needed internet / email fix and then drove on to Te Puia a Maori center just outside of Rotorua. The place has a Magae / Mauri meeting house, gysers and a traditional Maori dance show which was very entertaining, though it rang a bit of a Hawaiin luau show for tourists. What was most interesting was the interactive room which only allowed 2 people at a time for a special fee. The exclusiveness felt strange, but we were anxious to learn more. There were two Maori guides to walk us through the tour. We learned about history, architecture, warfare, music, art, technology and cultural practices through a very advanced computerized display system that allowed you to play instruments, draw pictures and listen to the ancestors through various pool table sized touch screens, linked to overhead projectors. What eluded us was more about the culture of today for the Maoris. The Maoris we met focused on the past and the traditions, but we learned nothing about the present and the changes caused by inevitable moderisation. We asked questions to delve into these areas, but weren't able draw our guides out of their historical shells. We should really know better than to think one can learn about a culture in an afternoon&

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166;it would take much more time and interaction and we hope to do that someday.

On to freezing Rotaura at a campsite that was NOT a Top Ten; the advertised Spa turned out be a dirty, rundown, 8X10 feet room and unpleasant. We should have checked out when we saw the warning not to dunk your head in the spa because of dangerous amoeba meningitis&

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166;..not a place to stay too long! But hey they had broadband wireless even though it barely worked. As the night bore on, doing emails became more welcome as it was raining hard and we had no choice but to stay 'home' anyway! Then the storm got worse; it got windier and windier and colder and colder, until we were layering clothes, looking for wind leaks in the camper and planning for an early departure which we managed at around 7:30 am, our earlist departure of the trip&

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166;.obviously we were happy to leave that eerie place.

We stopped for breakfast in a small town that boasted corrugated 30 fee tall metal sculptures of a sheep, sheepdog and shephard&

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166;it was soooooo NZ. It was to us the epitome of NZ, large, parochial (in a good way) and totally genuine, totally genuine.

We drove on into for the final night in NZ in Aukland and visited the town doing the tourist spots and meeting Amalia Fawcett, a friend of Peter's and her parents. The tourist stops included the sky tower (Richard's favorite (not) ) with 360 degree views around Auckland. It showed the many volcanoes in the area &

the typography and tectonic activity, makes the seven hills of Rome seem boring . We viewed the maritime museum which focuses on the history of Auckland and its discovery and shipping / sailing / technology past. It was fascinating to learn what people endured to reach NZ and it brings into perspective the maritime/island nature of the country and culture whether Polynesian or European. The tour ended with a discussion of the America's cup and NZs heated row with the USA over the design class of the yacht to which NZ lost in 1995 to Dennis Conner. We walked along the windy and cold quay (pronounced key) , viewing boats, people having coffee and other tourists enjoying a sunny but very cold afternoon. Richard looked for a hot buttered rum to take away the chill but this was not heard of in the places we stopped. Maybe it was because it was summer? We had dinner with the Fawcetts at the Cuba Caf&

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166;..and of course ate fish!

We rushed from dinner trying to catch the last 470 bus back to our Top Ten camping site which was scheduled to depart at 11 pm. We ended up being early because we found our way so easily through the streets of Auckland and people were once again so helpful in giving directions. So, while waiting for the bus outside of a stripper club and falafel restaurant, we were constantly offered assistance by a man who couldn't understand that we no longer needed assistance. The situation was both comical and sad&

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166;he was obviously not well mentally and kept directing us to various buses incorrectly, while trying to help everyone who walked by and generally keeping the various bus drivers at this central bus area, very busy. When our bus finally arrived at exactly 11 pm, 'the 'commander' as we now lovingly were calling him, got on our bus, much to our chagrin, but it turned into an interesting event. The older Maori woman bus driver obviously knew Kevin (now we knew his name) and after a bit of shouting and commanding on Kevin's part, the bus driver kindly said to him&

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166;.'Now Kevin, why don't you just go to sleep and I'll call you when it is your stop' and Kevin promptly nodded off! She was magical with him! And indeed called him gently when it was time for his stop, like a mother calling to her youngest child to get up for school. Interesting phenomena&

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166;wonder what this event would translate to in NYC?!!!!

Another passenger was happy to tell us about NZ/Auckland and we welcomed this Cook Islander's view of the country. He loved NZ and couldn't imagine a nicer country!

Back to campsite for our last night in NZ and in the now dreaded camper! Early morning cleanup of us and the camper and we were back through the twisting roads heading to the Auckland Airport and Camper Central. That whole check out event went quite smoothly and we waved good bye to the our little home with glee and were back at the Auckland airport to catch our plane to Australia!

Unfortunately, the smooth part of the day, ended there. Our flight was cancelled and we were shuttled to a later flght two hours later&

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166;..bummer, but the processs was fairly efficient and we had no hassles&

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166;til our arrival in Sydney.

Terrorist alert ! Joyce and I had long forgotten foodstuffs we had in our baggage: a zip lock bag of salted nuts, some packaged cookies for the kids and, oh no, an orange ! This prompted the thick-necked gun toting crew-cut semi-literate guard to shout "didn't you read the brochure?" He then waddles over to his mate whose back is turned to us , and whispers something, then with a shrug, lets us go and waddles off to harass more orange carrying people like us.

We had definitely left New Zealand and arrived in Australia. And wonder if these new agricultural rules in countries are a concern for health safety or just another reflection of the paranoia that pervades world travel today.

Next chapter: Australia with the family for Christmas.

we were met by Jeff and Denise during in a huge thunderstorm&

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Then to our home at the Yahlit and Renuka Ratnavibushena, our home for the next month while we are in Sydney&

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166;.we have a nice room at the front of the house, share the kitchen and bath with an older couple who are visiting from Sri Lanka &

Malinka and Tissa ... it feels like 40 years ago as we reminisce with the families about Sri Lanka and 'those days'