Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Meditations, Part 3

Meditations, Part 3

Are there any native NZ’ers?
Very, very hard to tell. We meet very few that are working for a living (i.e., they work for others). We meet some that own the places we stay in. We’ve heard a stat that 4 million live in NZ and 1-2 million live elsewhere because of the low wage scales here and the nature of the seasonality of many service sector jobs. They move away to find work and a better standard of living. Most of this is just the nature of what a tourist runs into, and much of it is pretty damn unusual. It is hard to imagine foreigners (though English speakers) in many of the tourist level jobs we have run into in our US travels (or India, or Japan, other than guides to help translate). On top of that, this is basically a white country, very few people of color: numerous Maori in some spots like Rotorua, then non-existent many other places as best we could tell; Asians near universities in Auckland and Dunedin, then almost none anywhere else. Almost no blacks.

Is NZ pretty?
Sort of challenging the obvious, no? It is green, that’s for sure, even nearing the end of their summer. NZ gets plenty of rain, there aren’t a lot of people gumming up the vistas, the vistas are long, the air is pristine (even in Auckland, the only real city by US standards, with a bit over a million people), there is a ton of beautiful water everywhere, the sky at night (when clear) gives great to over the top star viewing. Several of the long drives were nothing short of spectacular, from near the beginning right up to near the end. And, we took our time and did a lot of looking.

Sounds pretty special…yet somehow THB feels stuck in the 50s a portion of the time. The architecture is pretty tame to downright drab and shabby (and semi-legislated that way with the overhangs required on top of the sidewalks, thus breaking up the view of the buildings and along the streets). The country is pretty much green farmlands (not bad, just same same). On the hikes you can mostly hear the birds and not see them. We’re late in the season and the wildflowers we see are very similar to much of what we’d see in the US growing as weeds on the side of the road, nothing too exotic. Glowworms are pretty nifty, and if you’ve seen 100 glowworms you’ve seen them all (and there are a number of tourist attractions built around them). It is semi-tropical without the benefits of places like Hawaii with huge diversity of plant life. The rows in the vineyards are covered in mesh as the grapes near maturity to protect from the birds, which creates sort of a dumbed down grey mush as you look at the vineyards up close or from a distance.

And, there is such a range of natural beauty, from pristine beaches with clear aquamarine water and white crashing waves to tall alp and granite mountains dusted in snow, tons of gorgeous lakes, gorges, rivers, places that remind THB of Tilden Park, Sonoma in spring, Pacific Coast Highway from Carmel to Cambria, Patagonia (not the glaciers, the glaciers in Patagonia, if still there, are still tops), and that leaves out the unique formations we haven’t seen elsewhere.

Finally, maybe it is the expensive tourism that seems to undercut what you can do on your own. Walk to the front of the glaciers: free. Walk on the glaciers, $125 for a half day. See it up close and personal: take a helicopter for $320 for 2 hours worth. And at almost every attractive spot, that’s what’s on offer. Pay, pay, pay and get to see it up close or really close. Do it from your car, just the cost of the rental and the gas. It made for quite a contrast to the national parks visits. Not sure, it probably is not apples and apples.

Two views of $$:
plan ahead and stop complaining, don’t plan and complain. Did THB really bring this up? This was a trip of reasonable costs in a large sense: cheap flights and relatively inexpensive upgrades if available, reasonably cheap rental cars, ten of the 35 (or was it 36? 37?) nights in home exchange or home stays. Many nights in touristy areas in above average accommodations at decent prices (e.g., 4 nights in a one bedroom apartment in The Rocks in Sydney for $240/night, inclusive of taxes and fees…a bargain for that much space!). Most breakfasts included in the room rates or purchased to eat in (weet-bixies anyone?). Many places with free wifi…another aside: THB watched almost no TV outside of the Aussie Open at the very start of the trip, and bought zero newspapers and magazines. Paying for wifi or internet usage seems like the olden days when at some hotels you had to pay for cable TV, and every place just includes the TV/cable in the room rates now…hopefully we are not that far from when wi-fi is also considered a price of entry. So at the places that didn’t provide free wifi, THB found himself resenting it.

And, then two nights at Blanket Bay Lodge and one night on the Doubtful Sound. Big (really big!) ticket items and, while pricey and maybe too pricey, very special events in spectacular settings.

And, except for the Doubtful Sound (unplanned when we left oh those many weeks ago) a great tip over Milford Sound), what is THB complaining about. Well, THB does have a trait of always trying to see if something is worth the cost and, if the cost hasn’t been spent yet, mulling over whether to spend the money or not. And, here in NZ, it seemed like there were plenty of opportunities to spend extra dollars. That led to a few moments where DB tried to get THB past the cost to see the value of the experience. DB’s advice: budget the trip ahead of time and use that as a guide and measure against the guide as you go or don’t complain. Hmmmmmmm…..don’t complain?

DB has the final word: hey, this isn’t an expensive trip, we didn’t buy a big piece of art!

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