Sunday, February 27, 2011

Day 34: Dunedin

Day 34: Dunedin

Pics: Sunrise, Dr THB operating at Cadbury Hospital, Dunedin railroad station (supposedly the number 2 photographed building in the Southern Hemisphere…#1 has already made it into the blog), red and yellow hot poker plant, DB’s wool benefactor, THB and DB dare the sandflies to bite on their turf and take a picture of a gorgeous beach, dim shots of albatross flying and nesting, and pictures mostly taken in the gents and ladies restrooms at Plato

Department of additions, day 33: Cost of the Balmoral Motel in Invercargill $95 (includes $5 of internet). And, last night as we were walking back from dinner around 9pm, the town is very quiet except for one couple enjoying drinks outside a café. It is the Dutch couple we met at breakfast at the Ribbonwood B&B in Franz Josef exactly a week ago. We share stories, and they have had to find another place later in the week because the B&B in Christchurch was seriously damaged in the earthquake. Their Dutch travel agent has verified that their non-stop (true?) home is still flying later this week, two hours later than originally scheduled.

Arise to a spectacular sunrise (see pics), really the first THB has seen on the trip. Breakfast of warm stewed plums (not prunes, local plums, very good), cereal, toast, coffee with hot milk (included with room). Then we start to wander the streets and end up arriving just in time for the 10am tour of the local Cadbury plant, $15/person. The tour guide is a young woman from Maryland, who is handing out candy right and left.

Lots of chocolate later, including a wee bit of liquid that we slurp up with spoons, we continue our wandering, visiting the local art jewelry spot, Lure, which is pretty decent (no purchases made). Then we cross over the street to visit the Mumbai train station look-alike, minus the 500,000 people and missing all the trains, too.

A visit to the local art museum and a very good show of a Kiwi named John Pule and a combo show of local artists, at least one of which we recognize from other pieces seen here during the trip.

Lunch at the café in the Speight Brewery, very mediocre fish and chips and very good fresh brewskies, $35.

Then a quick rest up and we head out of town for a visit to the albatross rookery. On the way, down an unpaved road, we find some fresh (spun?) wool that DB pronounces a true bargain ($32), see pic of the lamb that provided the skeins! Also a visit to a very pretty viewpoint overlooking Sandfly Beach, where if you walk a lot further you can sit behind a blind and hope that small yellow-eyed penguins show up.

Back to the car and more meandering out to the end of the peninsula to see the albatrosses. We get very lucky: there are 5 or 6 nesting birds, one where we can actually see the chick (you have to stay in a building overlooking the rookery, behind pretty thick glass), four or five teenagers flying around, and several landings and takeoffs (not all that graceful when you have to unfold 9 feet of wings). Fascinating! $70…

Dinner at Plato, of which there are many pics of the restrooms and the wall of kitsch items the owner has collected oh these many years. 100% eclectic antique store give-aways, not even a nice piece of Bakelite in the mass of stuff displayed. A decent collection of Folgers percolator coffee pots (remember that theme of the pop…pop, pop of coffee brewing), and a bunch of junk.

The food was a lot better. Hey, they served bread and olive oil that you didn’t have to pay for!!!!!!!!! Appetizer of feta, olives, tapenade, asian veggies mix, tomato puree, and roasted garlic in oil. Very good when combined on the toast. Two fish dinners with ordered sides of bok choy and chard (we’re getting desperate for greens), a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, and roasted peach on a polenta soft cake with whipped cream. Total $135…and way too much food, we got sucked in by the Bay Area feel of the place, okay, except for the kitsch all over the walls.

Day 33: Invercargill to Dunedin

Day 33: Invercargill to Dunedin

Pics: EAT, mountains next to Queenstown airport, new car at a picnic, giant fruit

Book Review: Freedom, Jonathan Franzen, Kindle edition. Well, okay, only 5% of a book review. The Kindle doesn’t do pages, it does “locations” and tells you what % of the book you have completed. Sometimes, when reading a non-fiction book with a huge index, notes, etc, at the back of the book the % complete is very misleading, as you can finish as early as 75% completed. In fiction, it is usually very accurate because the end notes are minimal: maybe acknowledgements, sometimes a bio of the author. THB has read two of the three prior Franzen books and liked them a lot (Corrections and Twenty-Seventh City – read when nobody had yet heard of the guy). Another truism (thanks, mom!): if the restaurant reviewer spends a major portion (usually at the beginning) of the review discussing the décor of the restaurant, it means the food sucks. Freedom did not go well, THB found himself desperate to start skipping ahead (not easy on a Kindle). DB had finished it already (on her own Kindle) and had refused to say anything. DB was not surprised when THB started complaining/asking: how did DB finish this book? NOT RECOMMENDED, unless you want to explore the 95% THB did not read and thus is totally unqualified to discuss. Oh, and the cover sucks, too.

Book Review: Life, Keith Richards, Audio book. THB can taste the new dawning of audio books, where text and music/videos are combined and the “reader” choosing to move away from the text as appropriate. Oh damn, it’s already been invented, it’s called a “blog”… Well, it’s tough to blog from an i-pod, especially when playing one through a usb or cigarette lighter through the car radio. It would’ve been unbelievable to have a few Stones riffs to click on as Keith meanders through drugs, sex, rock and roll, and infighting with Mick, for right around 25 hours. Fortunately, THB has another i-pod along and we can catch up later! You can’t always get what you want….Johnny Depp does most of the reading, the first 4 hours and the last 3 or so in his own voice, and in the middle 17 hours he does a Keith imitation, how bizarre! And, the last hour is read by Keith himself (or maybe someone doing Keith differently than Johnny) and he’s not near as good as Johnny. At one point, Johnny was doing Keith doing a Texas drawl, somewhat credibly. And, what can THB say about a true life caricature: Keith’s version of his life lives up to the billing. And, through it all, he’s true to his mates, most of whom have done serious jail time. Mick turns into a control freak (gosh, how did that happen while Keith was lost to heroin for years….) and Keith struggles to regain his stature as alpha male of the band. They go through many years of not really talking but, hey, they are brothers and that’s how brothers are. And, it appears Keith “wrote” Satisfaction in his sleep. Recommended if you want to soak up long hours on the road and have figured out how to bounce back and forth between the book and every Stones song mentioned. Hey, hey, you, you, get off of my cloud….

We strike gold in Invercargill: the motel recommends a place because it is Sunday morning and it is the only one open, EAT. We’re first in at 9am, and while deciding on the scones and muffins, start perusing the deli stuff, and can tell we’re in a slightly different spot. DB finds the Thomas Keller cookbook over on a shelf. This is the place! Pastries are great (passing BB Lodge for number one on SI), and we buy asian noodles and a semi-smoked salmon fillet for a picnic lunch, total for two meals: $28. If only we had figured it out and been here for dinner last night…

Today is a driving day, just a bit longer than originally planned. To avoid Christchurch and fly from Dunedin (a town of 120k) to Sydney via Wellington, we have to drop off the Apex car (no facilities in Dunedin) in Queenstown (a gorgeous drive) and pick up a Europcar. After switching cars, we picnic at lakeside, in the usual unbelievably beautiful setting, then drive through very unusual gorges full of fruit orchards and sheep to Dunedin. Probably 6 hours of driving, 5+ of it in spectacular settings.

In Dunedin, we’re staying at the Brothers, a converted monastery. Rooms a wee bit small! At least they have loosened up some of the rules as the cheerful proprietor (clearly not a former monk) offers us something to drink after we arrive and get settled in.

Mr Bubbly recommends The Reef, a good suggestion: half a dozen local oysters, a dozen steamed mussels, and chili-crabs. Really not spicy, two smaller than Dungeness crabs in a smoky, thick and chunky tomato concoction (someone’s esoteric version of cioppino?). Hard to get to the meat and worth the effort; with three glasses of above average Sauvignon Blanc, $65 (a bargain by US standards).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Day 32: Doubtful Sound to Invercargill

Day 32: Doubtful Sound to Invercargill

Pics: The first few are from the Doubtful Sound, then on the road to Invercargill (including a 3D surfer), then in Invercargill (lots of buildings, American flags, the colorful is where we ate dinner, the southernmost Starbucks), the crowd for Hamlet, and a cute utility box

Book Review: The Unnamed, Joshua Ferris, Kindle edition. A tremendous novel (his first book, Then We Came to the End, is also excellent, and much different). The story is of a man with an unknown syndrome akin to sleepwalking except he is awake and can’t stop himself from walking. His wife and daughter, needless to say, are perplexed, especially since his taking off is intermittent and unpredictable and he can’t help himself nor let them know where he is until the episodes wear off. The explanation of Tim’s descent into what is really mental illness and the impact on his family is emotionally draining, and we’re only reading, not walking in his shoes. THB Top Rating (whatever that is or means)

Medical News: Somewhere near the Dart River we picked up a number of sand fly bites, much worse for sweetblooded DB than THB. Even a small amount of exercise seems to inflame the bites as blood flows. Much worse for DB on her feet, THB has a few on his hands and the back of his legs. Deet is now being applied (not often enough, THB guesses), salve is being applied, and Benadryl taken on occasion.

We get up when the boat engines start purring at 6:30am, get dressed and hustle out on the deck to see the sunrise. Silly us! First, it is in the low 40’s on deck (some of the mountains around have a dusting of snow), even without much of a breeze. Secondly, since we are in a canyon (i.e., fjord), the sun isn’t going to rise for many hours. We hide inside and then breakfast on cereal and yogurt, included. There is a small group of dolphins off the bow about 100 yards away (not quite the same thing as kayaking with them off Monterey Dunes). After a slow sail back, as the temperature rises to the lows 60s and a cloudless sky, we are at the bus at 10am, then the bus back to the Lake Manapouri power station dock, and finally another hour boat ride to Manapouri to get back on the road. Total for the day to the Sound: $1200

Lunch in Manapouri: sandwiches and a drink, $12. A gorgeous ride from Manapouri to Invercargill, along a scenic route. Scenic route here means something above a great drive, along the coast, views of the mountains, even surfing beaches!

Arrive in Invercargill and spend the late afternoon re-arranging our final day in NZ to fly out of Dunedin instead of Christchurch. For another couple of hundred dollars, it is all set. Then, oops, we check on our rental car and Apex does not have a location in Dunedin. BIG OOPS!! So, after studying the various options, we decide to drop the Apex car back in Queenstown tomorrow, pick up a Eurocar (that does service Dunedin) and then head to Dunedin. This option means the least amount of extra driving (a few hours) and the forfeiting of a few hundred dollars to Apex for early drop off. In any case, this keeps us quite a ways from Christchurch, even though it is possible the airport will be operating just fine in a few days. With our flight to Sydney depending on us getting to Australia in time, it isn’t worth the risk or anxiety to wait and see how things work out in Christchurch.

We walk to dinner, around 6 long blocks (long blocks are sort of unusual in this part of the world), maybe 20 minutes. Just long enough for DB’s bites to start acting up. Pizza (specials on mediums, $10 on Saturday nights), two dinner salads, a beer, two glasses of wine, $32.

As we are walking back, we find Hamlet!! We saw that there was a Shakespeare in the Park tonight, and it is right on our way back (okay, one long block off our route). We stop to take in the first part of the second of two acts. This is the cliff notes version: we make it through the intermission and about 20 minutes of the last 45 minutes. THB is pretty sure he knows how this one ends, though Hamlet shoots Polonius with a gun rather than stabs him, so maybe there are going to be poisoned darts or bullets in the finale.

Day 31: Te Anau to Doubtful Sound

Day 31: Te Anau to Doubtful Sound

Pics: The first boat, views of Doubtful Sound (some remarkably like we snuck home and took pictures of Pt Lobos), our “stateroom”

Breakfast of the usual mediocre (actually, poor) pastry and large flat whites, $15. Check out of the Distinction Te Anau Hotel (or was it the Distinctive); doesn’t matter, neither adequately describes the place, it was a tourist spot built like a two story businessman’s place: spartan, $160.

Drive down the side of Lake Manapouri for 12 miles and board the first of our two boats (the pic is of the first boat). This gets us across the lake, takes about an hour. We then transfer to a bus that takes us about 10 miles (45 minutes) on a gravel road built in the 60s for a power plant construction project. Finally, we board the Navigator, a 60 person boat that floats us west down Doubtful Sound.

We catch a huge break: the weather is perfect, clear and moderate (high 60s), with almost no wind. We can see the mountain tops, we can see for 30 miles when we get any altitude at all. We hardly see any other boats/tours, it turns out they are all up at the more famous Milford Sound, so we have the place pretty much to ourselves.

After maybe an hour and a half, the boat pulls into an inlet and parks, we get into kayaks and explore the nearby cove for over an hour with about 20 -25 others. They also offer tours on giant zodiacs (they hold about 15 people each) and there might be 25-30 or so on those zodiacs. There appears to be an age split: the kayakers are all 35-40 and under (well, except for THB and DB and the guy leading a tour of 23 Brits), and the zodiac’ers are for the most part over 55.

After the kayaking is done and the zodiac folks are back on board, anyone that wants to can take a swim off the back of the boat. THB is the first one in. Many dive off the lower deck, 10 feet up! The water is just about perfect, and even though it is approaching 5pm it is still warm and sunny. Repeat: we are the only boat around!

Soup is served around 6pm, you go out and do some viewing of the Sound (see pic of us at the turnaround point at the Tasman Sea), then dinner at 7:30 or so. We share a table for both courses with a married couple living in Sydney and her sister (they are all under 40, maybe under 35!). They are all ex-NY’ers, the couple work for investment banks and the sister teaches second graders on Long Island. Lots of good conversation, much of it crossing generational lines. Dinner is buffet of salads, lots of veggie stuff, smoked salmon (a whole salmon served cold that has been slightly smoked and served rare…very good!), roast beef and lamb, and a selection of desserts (the berry crumble the best thing after the salmon), included in the overall price. Drinks: $25