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Month: May 2006



Yes, that’s the name of a real place!

After Wellington, I arrived the the university town of Palmerston North. It is a smaller, but very university-like town. Think a rural Kansas town gets a big university dropped in it. The city square was covered with little shops that nostalgically reminded me of Ben Franklin’s and other dime stores you run into in mid-century rural America.  Yet the city was clearly trying to embrace a nouveau bourgeois bohemian style of the local university. An old 50’s theater had been turned into a art play house. It was an interesting blend. Overall a nice place, but nothing of tremendous note – other than it had the biggest town square I’d ever seen. Almost 2x-4x the size of a normal city block. I stopped in the university library and picked up a few computer science journals to see what the Kiwi’s were up to. Ahhhh, analysis of different dynamic memory allocation strategies – fun.

In the morning, I started my drive early to get out to a place I’d longed to go – the location of the worlds longest place name: Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu. Yes, it’s a real place name, and yes, it beats Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch in North Wales. It was about a 3 hour drive east all the way to the coast. There was little along the way and the road turned quite windy and narrow for at least an hour. Surprisingly, it is well marked and easy to find. The place is a hill named by the indigenous Maori people. The name means:“The place where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, who slid, climbed and swallowed mountains, known as ‘landeater,’ played his flute to his beloved one.” It refers to Tamatea, a famous Maori explorer, had to fight his way past a hostile tribe in his journeys. At the battle, his brother died, and Tamatea climbed the mountain each morning and played his flute for his lost brother each morning. I got a couple pictures in front of the monstrous sign and the hill, and then headed back north. I stopped and talked with some other farmers on the way, as the directions in my guide book pointed out there was another sign somewhere else. I found a farmer who said the old sign had been torn down and the one I saw erected instead since the old sign was on private land (and I’m guessing the farmer got tired of everyone trespassing).

On my way back to Palmerston North, I passed through a range of very high hills. At the top was a wind farm. I stopped by and watched two workers working on one of the 50-75 foot towers. While I was watching and enjoying the spectacular view, two really cranky old farmers came by. They were super friendly; but just think of the two guys on the movie Grumpy Old Men. They were real cordial, but cussed like sailors. I helped them move their cows, which was fun, and by that time the two wind farm guys climbed down and came over to chat. They were really friendly and they talked about the control shack just down the road. I drove a few kilometers to the wind farm control shack and there was an even friendlier guy there. It seemed these guys didn’t get too many visitors (it took 20 minutes up a really treacherous road to get there) and were happy to talk with you – or anyone. He took me into the tiny control room and he showed me the whole operation. How fast the mills were running, how much power each mill generated (one I watched was putting out a steady 400-500kW [instantaneous output] (500kW = the max) ), how the computer was controlling the pitch of each fans blades to maximize output, etc. I was amazed he took this total stranger from another country right into the primary control room, all alone, with the one little rack-mount machine that ran it all. I was wondering how completely unlikely that was to ever happened in the states considering how gun-shy we’ve gotten. I was kind of laughing to myself at one point that one or two well-placed kicks might just take down 5% of the New Zealand power grid. It was cool that New Zealand, being an island, really is an isolated power grid. They generate 5% of the countries total power from that one station of about 40 mills. It was one of the best wind farms in the world, and the wind was so good and so constant that they were slated to install mills 3 times the size of the ones they had starting next year.

It was getting late and my host bid me safe travels. I thanked him for the tour, excellent info, and the sights. I also got a good appreciation of how small New Zealand really was. I was standing on a 500m peak or so, but could almost see both east and west coasts. Mind boggling.

Onward north I drove until I hit the town of Ohakune late at night. I wandered into town and noticed a pub full of locals. I strolled in and they were watching a big national rivalry rugby tournament. It was cool because it was a bar but there were a number of 10-15 year old boys there watching with there dads and grandfathers. I just loved the homey feel and the fact the society could be so safe as to do that and not worry about drunken stupidity. It was a great game to watch, even though I didn’t understand all the rules. Still, a good game is a good game – and good people are wonderful to chat with anywhere.



My British co-travelers headed north this morning to catch some skydiving. Well, I shouldn’t say early. They sleep in till 10am while I was up and out the door before 8 most mornings. Daylight is getting short (8am-5pm) since it’s getting later and later in fall. I just couldn’t let daylight waste.

My first stop was a park on the hills south of Wellington where they filmed one of the first shots for LOTR. Yes, the first few shots were done in a normal city park.  Wellington is surrounded by hills which have forests and parks in them – much like Portland. I went up and followed the instructions in my film guide book.  A short walk later I found the spot where the hobbits hide under an overhanging tree from the Nazgul while fleeing from the Shire.

It’s fun to find the exact spot where something happened and sit in the very spot the actors and characters did.

After that, I headed down the bay to Miramax.  That city name sound familiar?  Yup, the Miramax film studio is named after the sleepy little town it’s from. Miramax the city is not big at all, about the size of Lincoln city or larger beach community. It was a beautiful drive along the beach – sunny, warm and clear skies.

After soaking in the beautiful rays, I turned back inland to stop at the New Zealand Film Archives.  They had an amazing library of movies, films, commercials, etc.  You could browse through them all. The film archive was an amazing concept. Just like libraries of books, this was a library of video. I saw terrible coke commercials from the 70’s, old auto commercials (hilarious), nuclear test films, any movie that was filmed in New Zealand, sporting events, etc. You name it – if it was on film then they had it. They’d converted a lot of it to DVD, which made it even better. There were also tons of books that had all the press and public clippings surrounding each event and film. It got my mind thinking that this really was something missing in America. So much of our media is video.  Is it really being collected or saved – or is it just literally fading from the negatives into nothingness on each companies’ storage shelves?

From Wellington, I drove north along the west coast and turned inland to Palmerson North. The coast was beautiful and full of lots of little places you could escape into. Beautiful forests and the like abounded. This whole area was pretty well developed as a refuge for people wanting to escape Wellington for some beach fun. I could easily have spent a few days exploring; but time was ticking…

Wellington – Te Papa

Wellington – Te Papa

I’m spent the first day of my north island adventures in New Zealand’s national capital – Wellington.  We start by wandering over to the Te Papa museum – which is only 3 blocks from the hostel. We stop at a bagel shop which had some really cool lounge/ambient techno playing on it. Very strange music selection for a bagel shop early on a weekday morning; but was cool.

I’ve noticed that music in New Zealand is a strangely mixed bag. There are New Zealand artists, which without much loss of love – are not all that great. Think folk-guitar updated with modern back-rhythms. But the lyrics are decidedly …well… uninspired and simplistic. But the majority of the radio stations you turn on are a mix of 80’s and pre-grunge 90’s music. Personally, I liked this a lot; but I was from that era. There was no Britney/Emenen/or newer stuff, but there was lots of Queen, 80’s pop, even the odd Backstreet Boys. Most other travelers I ran into had stopped going out to local live bar musicians since most of the music was pretty badly done covers of above said tunes. I attended one or two shows, and that was plenty. I hate to say it, but New Zealand is just not a mecca for live music.

The only thing they did have, and had well, was ambient/lounge/downbeat electronica – and they did it well.  It’s and odd mix of late 80’s and early 90’s modern electronica?  There was also a strange variety of Jamaican/ambient music was really big at the time.

Anyway, we went to Te Papa and went to the Lord of the Rings exhibit. Te Papa is one of the better museums that I’ve been to anywhere. It would give any museum a good run for its money – modern displays, beautiful architecture, rich exhibits. The Rings exhibit had just returned to Wellington from traveling around the world. There is little else to say than this exhibit rocked. They had every major character’s costume, swords, jewelry, props, etc on display. Each character’s props also had several 3-5 minute movies that interviewed the character, told about the costuming, how they prepped, etc. It was amazing to be right next to Aragorn’s sword, to see Elendir’s broken sword, Legolas bow and arrows, the dresses worn by Arwen, the robes of Theoden, Sauran’s outfit, etc. They also had outfits used by all extras as well. The saddles and armor of the riders of Rohan, elvin boats, etc.

There were all the creatures and miniatures used in shooting there as well. Models of just about every major scene: Minas Tirith, Mordor, the tower at Isengard, etc. There were amazing concept paintings used by for color and mood studies. They also had full-scale models of the rock troll, Gollum, and every conceivable creature used in the movie. The displays on how they 3D scanned the models (handheld 3D scanners!), animated, then populated the film with thousands of these computer characters was interesting. While I understood the concepts, the best part was that the simulated characters would actually fight each other – using real fighting techniques.  Nothing was scripted, the computer would pit them against each other one on one.

There were sections of the display on how live swordplaying was done. There were 3 swords made for each ‘real’ one. There was the heavy, fully detailed/ornate metal swords for close-up shots, a duplicate aluminum version for medium shots or when riding horses, and finally fully hard plastic/very light versions for actual fighting so nobody would get hurt or worn out after 30 takes. They also had tons of prosthetics used on orcs, goblins, elvin ears, hobbit feet and every other creature part you care to see. It was a great display.

After that, we walked the length of the city and saw the shops, museums and government buildings. It amazed me again just how small the city was. It only took about 1 hour to walk the whole length (well, a bit longer as we stopped to see stuff).  New Zealand is just not a hugely populated country – and you still get a great homey/farm-like feel everywhere you go. There was also a college graduation going on, so there were tons of folks walking around in graduation outfits. At night, my British friends went to a comedy show that they’d previously bought tickets for, but found it a little less than up to par. We all went out for a bite to eat, and called it a night.

Nelson/Picton and to the north island

Nelson/Picton and to the north island

Finishing up my time in the south island. It is really surreal to drive away from a place and think that you might never come back – but then again you might. 🙂  Anyway, I got up early so that I could catch my afternoon ferry. Stayed overnight at the ‘Shortbread’ hostel. It was a delightful little house converted into a hostel. Met a couple neat people there – and the first 2 Americans of the trip. I think I enjoy the smaller/converted house type hostels because you can get to know others there much easier and sitting around the living rooms feel very family-style. Interestingly enough, everywhere I go, whenever people from many different countries try to pick a channel on tv – this same course of events keeps occurring.  It doesn’t seem to matter where the folks are from. If there are any number of females, they will inevitably want to see Desperate Housewives. If there is a majority of females, they will win and about half the guys will simply get up and go do something else (read book/internet/laundry). If the guys win, they will usually want to see a movie (since not much else is usually on). I’m surprised at the wide-spread appeal of the Desperate Housewives show – and that it’s this popular with women from many different countries (Aust/Europe/SE Asia/etc).

But on to things that matter. I got up early and went to Jens Hansen – the gold/jewelry shop of the fella who designed the One Ring for the Lord of the Rings movie. It’s a small shop, but he actually has replicas for sale for about $700-1200usd depending on the karats of gold it has. I stopped and talked with the designer’s son (the father passed away before the movie was even finished) and looked through their really cool photo book that told the story of how the rings were chosen/etc. I kept the stop short because of my limited time and the salesperson said that literally thousands of people come all the time to the place. You could tell she’d given that speech at least a hundred times herself.  I got a move-on because I had a two hour drive to Picton where the inter-island ferry was waiting to take me across to the north island – and I didn’t dare miss it.

Picton is a beautiful little port town in a narrow fjord-like channel. It had some wonderful little shops and the weather was perfect and sunny. It was hard to believe that the seas were so bad yesterday that they couldn’t even have ferry crossings. I had to drop my rental car off at the ferry pick-up spot – and found out how I was to get the new car on the north island.  As a testament to laid-back, relaxed nature of the average New Zealander, I was instructed to call a woman’s home cel number when I went to drop off the rental car at the ferry stop.  She walking over, read the mileage, and went “Yep”.  Wow.  After having the car for several weeks, there was no serious going overs with a comb for dents/etc. Eased my mind since some places get ridiculously over-protective of their rentals.

So I board the boat with all my stuff, go up to the top deck (this thing had 6 floors and a roof deck).  I then wait to leave – hoping all the while I won’t get desperately ill or that we’ll run into terrible swells. While up there, I run into the 3 English travelers that I had been playing tag with all along. We have a surprised and happy reunion and start catching up. Before I know it, we’re leaving dock and heading out into the bay of islands that leads out to the north island. The trip is about 3 hours and the weather and seas are perfect. The sun is setting and I get a couple of great sunset shots from the boat.

The ferry is just like riding one in Seattle, but bigger. There are trucks here hauling livestock, so if you go to the back of the boat and look down, you see trucks with pigs and sheep who look up at you with anticipatory glaces (got food?). One of the English girls wasn’t doing well with the rocking boat, so we all hang out at the back of the boat where it’s the least rocky and we passed the voyage without mishap.  We got into Wellington and one of the Sobering beer bottles had broken in my bag during transit; which meant my clothes were now soaked in beer.  We get to the hostel in downtown Wellington and I started a couple loads of laundry to get non-beer smelling shirts and pants. We all went out to eat at an Italian place and call it a night. Tomorrow I am really excited about going to the Lord of the Rings display at Te Papa – the national museum of New Zealand.

Abel Tasman

Abel Tasman

First off, the earthquake that happened across the sound wasn’t felt here in Nelson. It rocked Wellington at 5am, and I know we didn’t feel anything, because I was awake. I stayed at a hostel and one of the guys there was snoring like a log truck. Didn’t even feel a tremor.

After a huge day of driving I arrived in Nelson in the northeast corner of the south island after having been hailed on no less than 3 times on the way after another day of storms. But if you’re going to have storms, might as well have them while you’re stuck in the car.  What a difference a day makes though.  I headed out to Abel Tasman national park for some sea kayaking – the best way to see the park since there are no roads in the park proper. It was an absolutely gorgeous day. It started out pretty cold, so we delayed the start an hour.  Everything turned rosy once the sun got up.  Think a tropical paradise – what a difference from the west coast (and no sand flies). We paired up and took to our 2 person sea kayaks. After some instruction, we all hopped in and headed out along the beautiful coastline. The water was beautiful blue-green and tremendously translucent. It was like a tropical paradise. We pulled into a few beaches which were just wonderful golden colored sands. The wind had picked up and it was pushing us right along without needing to really paddle. Half of us were only doing a half-day trip while the rest continued on. You can do kayaking out and hikes back in all kinds of combinations – trips up to 3 days in length. I chose the half-day option with a return on the water taxi that run up and down the coastline.

The abbreviated kayaking tour freed me up for the rest of the day to catch a small site where a scene from LOTR was shot.  I then went down to Harrington’s Brewery outside Nelson that brewed all the beer used in the filming of the LOTR trilogy.

I picked up a six-pack and it is quite good. Wonder how I’ll get it all back into the states?

Finally, I went to the museum of wearable art and classic cars. How does that work? Don’t ask – but it was certainly funky. Tomorrow I’m going to stop by the shop of the guy that made all the rings for the LOTR trilogy and then head to Pickton to catch the ferry to the north island. I hope it goes ok because they had a rare stoppage to the ferry service today because of 30 foot swells that capsized and killed several people in a small fishing boat. I won’t have to worry about capsizing, but apparently these ferries can turn into barf-fests in high seas. I’m going to rest up just in case and keep my fingers crossed.

Heli-hiking at Franz Josef glacier

Heli-hiking at Franz Josef glacier

There was a lot of worries about the weather before our flight. I arrived at the heli-hike at 11am, and we all awaited the go/no-go decision.  The clouds were rolling in and rain/deteriorating weather was scheduled for the afternoon.  Still, we got outfitted in our gear in anticipation. We used their socks, leather boots with special ice crampons, jackets and gloves.  This turned out to be fortuitous because the glacier is a ‘warm’ glacier and we got pretty wet.

The weather held and we got the ok for the flight. The flight up was amazing.  It was the first time I’d ridden in a helicopter and after we got into the canyon, the weather cleared up and we had beautiful clear skies. We flew up and around the top of the mountains to see where the glacier formed. Franz Josef is a rare advancing glacier – actually growing. The glacier moves at an average of 1 meter *a day*. It moves up to 5 meters a day some days. Amazing speed for a glacier.

The glacier top was also cool because that is where they filmed the mountaintops that were used in the Return of the King for the lighting of the beacons. We circled the top of the glacier and set down about halfway up on a flatter section. We spent the next two hours hiking through the glacier – climbing through ice caves and squeezing through crevasse barely wide enough to slip through. The ice is brilliantly deep blue in color and the hike was great; but it felt pretty short. There were two very slow people in the group, so we didn’t get as far as the might usually go. It started clouding over just as we got back around to the helicopter landing site and we flew down through the incoming rainclouds to get back to town.

Overall, it was amazing and I was really glad I got to go since it is rainy there more often than not.  I even got a shirt to mark the occasion of my glacier hike.  Another interesting thing about the west coast is how amazingly like Oregon’s coast it is. The same fern plants, evergreens, beautiful rocky coastlines, the same abundance of rain (though they seem to get more of it all year long – not just in winter). It was almost like deja-vu at times driving through it all the last few days.  Tomorrow should be a big day.  I’m driving all the way up the west coast and over to Abel Tasman National Park.

Franz Josef Glacier

Franz Josef Glacier

After a wonderful time at Queenstown, I drove up to the Fox and Able Tasman glaciers on the west coast of the south island. I first headed up through Mount Aspiring National Park. I was hoping to do a spectacular hike through the Matukituki Valley, but the weather had turned bad – really bad – raining buckets and the freezing level dropped to 500 meters. In fact, I had to rush through the coastal pass in case it snowed shut. I made it out to Haast in near blinding rain; which was an extremely tiny town on the coast. I was really bummed out because the next day it was quite clear and I saw all the beautiful mountains I missed being able to hike in. But considering how amazingly lucky I’ve been with the weather so far, I don’t mind missing a minor point.  After meet a couple of nice British folks, we found we had the same schedule heading north and have been catching up with each other as we reach stops together. One other guest I was introduced to was the sandfly. Small black flies that bite like nobody’s business. They leave welts that stick around for days and positively infest the west coast. Now I know why people don’t live there.

I headed on up to the Fox and the Franz Josef glaciers and skipped all the infested beach hikes (even though it was quite beautiful). I took a short walk up to Fox glacier, which was pretty cool. By the time I got to Franz Josef glacier it was dark so I confirmed the heli-hike I scheduled and got checked into the hostel. The fun British folks were there by then, so we decided to head out to the small brewpub.

After dinner and a few rounds of pool on a smaller than usual table, the brewpub had a little drawing so we threw our names in the bucket. Turns out it was a contest. I got chosen with one of the guys I was with and it was a team event. One person had to eat 2 Wheetbix bars (think dry shredded wheat breakfast bars) without using their hands, and after the first person got done – the second person had to pound a pint of beer. Well, I got stuck with the wheetbix.

Long story short – we won. So we won a $50 bar tab – so we ended up buying a whole bunch of people beers and turned into the stars of the bar for the night. Go figure. Well, tomorrow is the heli-hike, so best get some sleep in.

New Zealand – Fjordlands

New Zealand – Fjordlands

Greetings from the opposite hemisphere again. I kind of adopted Queenstown as my resting camp for a day or two. Queenstown started as a gold-mining area (they were the richest rivers per kilometer in the world) and is the launching point of every extreme sport you can imagine. It grew again as the birthplace of bungee jumping; so I went out to watch some of the crazy folk throw themselves off bridges. They have canyoning, climbing, jetboating, paragliding, 4WD tours, and all kinds of stuff. The weather is almost exactly the same as Oregon, and there are lots of wineries down here. It is fall down here and the whole area is beautiful. I just missed the peak colors, but there are still lots of gold, yellow and red leaves around so I took a drive out to the old mining town of Arrowtown to see the old settlements and trees.

After that, I went out to Te Anau, which is right on the edge of the fjordlands. The fjordland area in the southwest corner of the south island is amazing. It’s a strange place full of glacially formed fjords. It was formed by the Australian plate forcing up the Pacific plate at a rate of 1cm/year – which is absolutely lightning speed in geological terms. There are tons of multi-day hikes out there. Easily enough to spend a whole summer.  This includes the Milford hike which is considered one of the best in the world. However, right now the huts along the track are shut down and pickups to and from most of the bigger tracks are shut down so I won’t be doing any of them. Cruises are the next best way to see the fjords, so I took a cruise out in Milford Sound – all I can say is that it was spectacular. The drive out was equally amazing with near vertical 3000ft granite walls. It was freezing cold in the morning, a fact some backpackers learned the hard way when their car hit a wet, icy patch and they rolled their car. They were fine, but it took them most of the day to get their car towed out.

On my way back to Queenstown I caught a few Lord of the Rings filming sites – the edge of Fangorn forest where the orcs were killed in movie 2, the beach where Frodo takes off across when the Fellowship breaks up, the attack on the fleeing Rohans, and a few others. I’m now back in Queenstown and plan on doing some horseback riding tomorrow in Glenorchy. After tomorrow, I’ll be heading up the west coastline thru Mt Aspiring National Park.  Looking forward to seeing Franz Joseph glacier and maybe do some heli-hiking.  That’s where they fly you up and drop you on the glacier to climb through the crevasses – if the weather is good.

New Zealand – Edoras

New Zealand – Edoras

Well, hello all again, First off, there were no problems with the earthquake that happened down here. Nobody in New Zealand felt it, and the tsunami wave was only like 2 feet tall. I was at Mt Cook, which is the highest and one of the most central points on the south island. I didn’t even hear about it until I was driving out and coastal folks on the radio were complaining that they were forced to evacuate when nothing really happened.

I got to Edoras/Rohan. Oh man, it was extremely cool. We got to ride up the mountain itself and sit on the spots where the buildings were. The tour guides brought along some of the authentic sword replicas and we got to have ‘mock battles’. I got a picture fighting with this crazy French guy. Also on that site is the canyon of Helms Deep. I managed to get over close to it, lined up with the aerial shots from the movie and took a few shots. Extremely cool. I spent a day and a half at Mt Cook – the highest point in New Zealand – and it was absolutely stunning. The weather was perfect and I got a few great sunrise pictures of the mountains. Mornings were freezing cold in the high elevation camp – perfect. I did a great hike to the glaciers – which crossed over the glacial-melt rivers via these cool walking suspension bridges. We kept hearing landslides and avalanches all day. I heard at least 7 of them. It’s part of a whole range of mountains, so they were happening in places we couldn’t see (thankfully). Saw a bunch of other little towns in between and a few movie sites.

The land of New Zealand is very diverse, green, and gorgeous. It reminds me very much of Oregon. Right now I’m in Queenstown – the birthplace of bungee jumping. The town is very small in size, but full of every extreme sport you can imagine. The whole town is one big jumping off point for with hippie touristy adventure: bungee jumping, jetboats, steamers, taking 4wd’s out for a spin, mountainbiking, canyoning, paragliding, skydiving, skiing/boarding, and stuff I’ve never even heard of.  I’m trying to get on a huge Lord of the Rings tour. Queenstown is where they filmed a great majority of the scenes, and it turns out that taking this one tour gets you to most of the most beautiful spots around here and is cheaper than going on individual ones. After this I’m heading down to Te Anau and then Milford Sound – some of the most remote and most beautiful parts of the south island. I’ll probably spend 2-3 days there before returning to Queenstown. Both those locations are really out in the middle of nowhere, so I might not have email contact. Internet access is sometimes hard to come by and often very slow; so I probably won’t be putting more than a picture or two up on my site until I get back.

I’ve been extremely lucky with the weather, and it has been nothing short of miraculous. At 3 different places folks were saying, “It’s been terrible weather around here the last week, but it just got clear today”. So lucky – so I guess I’ll keep the prayers up. The north island is getting pounded with rain this whole last week – what a difference a change in latitude makes. Best get to bed – have an early day tomorrow and a lot of driving.

New Zealand

New Zealand

I made it to New Zealand with ‘no worries’. It was a very awesome flight. I managed to score a row in the plane which had nobody else in it. 3 seats all to myself. I folded up the armrests and slept for 7 of the 12 hour flight (11 hours and 55 minutes was the final tally). Flying overnight in an empty row to stretch out gets my 100% seal of approval.

I got into Auckland at 7am, caught the connector, and then arrived at Christchurch at 10am. It was raining buckets – not a hopeful sign. Took a while to get the rental car and everything sorted out; but it came off without a hitch and I checked into the hostel I’m staying at. Wonderful place.

Christchurch is wonderful city – not very big – has the feel of a college town to it. It was sunny and warm today – did a lot of walking around. Got to see Rutherford’s Den – the tiny lab where Ernest Rutherford did all his grad research (he split the atom with the famous gold foil test). Saw lots of galleries, botanical gardens, museums, etc. Went to the cathedral for mass today (it was in town and a 5 minute walk) and they said it was the local bishop – but he didn’t move diagonally even once while I was watching. 😉

Driving in New Zealand?  Ok – what do you say but wild.  You drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. The steering wheel is on the ‘wrong’ side of the car, the shifter is on the ‘wrong’ side of where you’re used to.  Everything is in km and km/h. But I checked, and they still have a quarter-pounder at McDonald’s (not a Royale with cheese).  Right of way rules are different; but logical.  I went out to Akoara today on a 100km drive and it was a blast. I think I’m getting used to it, but I’m taking it real slow and careful. Once you get out of town (think the size of a little smaller Lafayette, or maybe smaller Salem) you get out into farm country. Tons of cows and sheep grazing on these wild hills. Very rural, felt a bit like home.  Many farms do have programs where you can volunteer to work for a day for free place to stay/food – but I won’t have time in the itinerary. Maybe I’ll just stop by and talk with some folks.

Tomorrow I’m headed out to the filming location of Helms Deep and Rohan/City of Edoras in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The only way out there is a day’s trip by 4wd and knowing where it is. So, I got a guide to take me for the whole day. Should be great. Outside of the filming location for the Shire (which is up by Auckland) this is *the* place I wanted to see.

I bought a book that shows you where and how to get to most of the major filming sites for the Lord of the Rings.

Hopefully I’ll catch as many of them as I can as I go.

Tuesday will see me on my way to Mt Cook which promises spectacular scenery if the weather is good. Weather turned for the better after a scary first day of torrential downpour. Thank goodness for that. I’m really hoping for good weather tomorrow.

I’m working on fixing up my webpage and I’ll be adding this content. Found an internet joint that allows you to bring in your own laptop and plug it in – which is cool. It looks like I’ll only be getting internet access every couple days or so. Other than that – it’s an awesome trip so far.

New Zealand accents are awesome. The folks are super friendly. I’m doing really well and it’s nice that the time difference is only about 4 hours (+1 day) so the jet-lag was minimal. Though it did still take a day for me to shrug off the airplane compression/decompression  thing. Seems 12 hours of that got to me after a while. Well, that was a bit rambly, but that will suffice for today since my time’s almost up. I’m headed home to get a good nights sleep for tomorrows activities!