Monday, December 19
We made it in early in the morning. Unfortunately, my checked suitcase (which also contained the overflow from Rob's packing) did NOT. Fortunately, my mother gave good advice and I took it--I didn't pack anything in my checked luggage that I couldn't bear to lose. So all my medications, my camera, my binoculars, my diary, etc, were packed in my carry-on and made it here with me.
Rob's parents have a very lovely house sitting on the side of a hill ... it has a view down over Dunedin and towards the city's harbor. The yard is simply a marvel; it is one of those jungly gardens with basically no grass at all and instead great drifts of plantings which look almost wild, but are in fact all put there on purpose, all down the vertiginous slice of hillside which is their lot. Rob took me on a tour of it ... there are huge patches of rosemary and lavender, and a profusion of edibles--a pear tree, a row of different apple trees, two different plum trees, elderberry trees, flourishing grape and banana passion fruit vines, raspberry, black currant, and red currant bushes ... the whole garden is veined with tiny, overgrown paths, and is so crowded that there are a hundred secluded little out of the way corners in a lot that is probably only twice the size of our front yard.
Rob has been giving me running lessons in the differences between New Zealand and American mores and vocabulary. For instance, he said that if you ask for the bathroom in a person's home, you'll get directed to the tub ... if you want the place to relieve yourself, you ask for the toilet or loo. And you don't tip in New Zealand; he said that some people, even, will get insulted if you try to tip them because they feel like it implies that they need charity. Another tiny but noticeable difference I noticed on our walk around the neighborhood: all the mailboxes have little pitched roofs on them, like birdhouses. But some things are universal: as we sat eating lunch in a restaurant on the shore, looking out over the chilly south pacific, the sound system was playing "Brown Sugar" by the Stones :)
It was sunny when we flew in, and the countryside is lovely ... green and domesticated in a little valley between two ranks of hills, with a river twisting through it and a great many fields of sheep and cattle. As we came down, I was strongly reminded of "The Land of Counterpane" poem. It isn't terribly warm, though ... we went for a walk in the afternoon, and it was probably 70 or 75 degrees, and Rob says that is about as warm as it gets; it is nearly summer solstice here, so I guess that's to be expected. Late in the afternoon, big wet grey clouds started to roll in from the harbor, and by dinner time it was raining and gusty. I sat in the windowed corner of their living room, looking at the rain blow through the valley and toss the treetops. It was like being in an eyrie.
Tuesday, December 20
This morning was wasted on hold to Air New Zealand trying to figure out (a) if they could tell me anything about my luggage, and (b) since it had been more than 24 hours, when I could start getting money from them to buy interim clothes, etc. After I'd been on hold for an hour, Rob's dad swooped in and took the phone; he called the reservations line (rather than the baggage line) and berated someone until he got a supervisor, who eventually was able to inform us that (a) she didn't know where our luggage was, since she wasn't in that department, but that she DID know that the first flight (since ours) out of San Francisco to NZ didn't leave until the 21st, so if the luggage was misplaced in SFO, the earliest it could arrive here is the 22nd. She also said that (b) she had been informed that the reimbursement limit for interim clothes was 100$.
So we headed out to buy clothes. I won't detail it: clothes shopping is just as unpleasant here as at home. However, by going to a used clothing store and a walmart equivalent, I managed to cover most of the needed clothing bases.
After that, we came home and had for tea (!) a scallop bisque that Rob's dad had made. It was fantastic; I commented that I had never seen scallops that, in addition to the round white part, had a little pink crescent coming off of them. Rob's mother said that this was because often the things that are marketed as scallops are really not, but are created by taking essentially a round cookie cutter to a big piece of sting-ray filet. I don't know, but these were uncommonly good.
We sat around for a while after tea, hoping that maybe the clouds would clear so that we could drive up one of the big hills overlooking Dunedin (they say mountain, but living in Colorado has given me very definite ideas of what a mountain is--tall, pointy, snow-capped--and it is hard to think of a round green swell, even if it is a couple of thousand feet high, as one any more). Eventually it became pretty clear that it WASN'T going to clear, so we went anyway :) We went with Rob's brother Sam and his girlfriend Sally; Sam drove and gave us women a running tour of the notable sites in the town ... the university, the houses where Rob and Sam lived as undergraduates, their high school, etc. These were very interesting to see; many of the school and university buildings are very british looking, dark stone picked out with white stone on the corners and doorways, etc, like some sort of extremely dignified chessboard. The student houses were, surprisingly to me, very nice on the outside--they looked like little victorian bungalows, of which I will say more later. However, Rob assured me that not only were they awful inside from years of student tenants, but that they were on the "cold" side of the valley, and thus freezing in winter.
We also drove *up* and then *down* Baldwin Street, which claims to be the steepest street in the world. It looks like an expert ski run, perfectly straight and steep; it was like being on a rollercoaster's first hill. Part of it is paved in concrete, because on a slope that steep asphalt actually runs down. Rob and Sam said that the street was made as it is because all of Dunedin was laid out in Scotland by people without a topographical map, and that even once the settlers got here and saw how hilly the area was, they carried on with the planned city layout with meticulous bloody-mindedness.
After that we drove up Mt. Cargill, as originally planned, thinking that although we wouldn't have any view of the city because it was overcast, maybe we'd get above the clouds for a while. About three quarters of the way to the top, we hit the cloud layer, which manifested itself as a fog so thick that you couldn't see anything but silhouettes above ten feet away, and nothing at all above twenty. It was the sort of mist that makes a mind that has read too many stories worry about wandering in it--when it cleared, you might find you'd walked through into fairyland.
The top of the mountain *was* above the clouds, like a ship on a billowing white sea. Nothing of Dunedin was visible, although on the opposite side of the mountain was a valley not yet engulfed in clouds; we watched as the mist streamed down over the ridge of the mountain into that valley like water filling a basin. After a couple of minutes poking around the mountaintop, I realized that even though I was looking down on clouds, I still wasn't in the sun myself; I looked up and saw a second layer of clouds above me. I remarked on this to Rob, who said, of course, would the scots have settled somewhere that didn't have emergency back-up cloud cover? I also remarked on the lush, bushy vegetation covering the slopes, and he said that most of it had no relatives in the Americas, having been evolving separately since the cretaceous.
We headed home and had thai or cambodian take out (called satay takeaway here) for dinner around 9; then Rob's best friend Paul, who had come by, hung out for a while to talk. I excused myself to bed around 11.
Wednesday, December 21
When I woke up this morning, it was raining seriously. The second story of Rob's parents' house is a recent addition, more of a half-story--all the three little rooms have sloped ceilings, right up against the roof. I could hear the rain pattering determinedly on the corrugated metal, which is the most common roofing surface here; it is often painted a patina-copper green or a brick red, and/or molded to look like terra cotta tiles, but the disguise is imperfect--when the (rare) sunshine hits it, it shines like a mirror. Many of the houses are made of brick, or (incongruously, to me) brick and stucco, although the oldest ones are wood. A very large proportion of the houses are one-story, and most are tiny by American standards--we'd call them bungalows, just a single level with a total of four or five rooms, including kitchen. The most characteristic ones seem to be tiny one-level victorians, with a little porch whose eves are laced in painted wrought-iron gingerbread sitting between two bay windows on the front of the house. They're so carefully made and so miniature that they look like petit fours--but I bet they'd be crowded to live in. Attached garages are unknown here.
Most of the day was spent shopping for christmas presents around Dunedin, wandering the streets in the drizzle and looking for parking. I was surprised by the high level of exhaust fumes in the air; Rob says that there are emissions controls for cars but not for commercial vehicles. Since we were out shopping anyway, we went into a grocery store so I could look around (I like grocery stores in other countries). It was interesting to see what was different and what wasn't ... there were several kinds of meat for sale that I'd never seen in a grocery store, like venison and something called "hoggart", which is apparently adult male sheep. The produce was much the same, while the bakery offerings were very different--mince pies, griddle scones, anzac cookies, pavlovas (a sort of merengue cake), etc. The candies were all different (mostly cadbury) but the liquors were all the same. Fascinating!
After our long day of shopping, we went on the Cadbury tour. There's a Cadbury's factory in Dunedin, and their brochures said that they had a "2-story chocolate waterfall". Well, hearing that, I figured we had to take the tour. It did have some interesting bits, for instance watching the unwrapped chocolate bars moving down the conveyor belts in stately lines, then being automatically wrapped and packed (the boxes are loaded by suction-tipped arms that suck a chocolate bar onto the end of them, move over to the box, and then release the suction), and seeing the boxes rolling along the roller belts that run all over the factory to the warehouse. The whole factory also smelled deliciously of chocolate. However, the "chocolate waterfall" turned out to be more like a chocolate dump; it was a big hopper of chocolate that was opened up to drop a whole lot of chocolate into a tub about 20 feet below, lasting all of about 30 seconds. Then they pumped the chocolate back into the hopper for the next tour group.
That evening we had venison cooked in pastry for dinner, a dish which Rob remembers fondly from his childhood and has been telling me about for years. I enjoyed it, but privately will admit that I couldn't really tell the venison apart from beef.
Thursday, December 22
We woke up to another grey morning. Sam and Sally were interested in going to the Otago museum, which is a sort of natural history/anthropology museum in Dunedin, but had plans for lunch first, so they dropped Rob and me off at the Botanic Gardens. The gardens are extensive, covering one long, sloping hill from top to bottom. We began at the top, at the bird aviaries; there were a couple of talking sulfur-crested cockatoos ... one of them had mastered saying "hello" in a very human, practically female voice--and with a distinct New Zealand accent. The other had a raspier, more bird-like voice, but was keener to talk that day; it came up right next to the cage wire and we exchanged phrases for a while. I found it fascinating, because although it seems unlikely that the bird knew the content of the phrases it was speaking, it clearly knew that they were a way to interact with people--and it wanted to interact with people. It recognized us as interesting beings who needed to be lured over to its cage and kept there for observation as long as possible (to which end, the plaque on its cage informed us, it had got into the practice of saying "hello!" just as visitors started to walk away from the aviary, thus keeping them around a while longer).
The weather was unpredictable, with the rain sometimes coming down in sheets for five or ten minutes at a time and other times stopping altogether for a few minutes. We walked down the hill, sheltering under a big tree during one of the rainier intervals, and then on through the large and lovely rock garden. At the base of the hill was a little close-cropped lawn covered with ducks, which we fed with the free duck food available in the garden shop. I've never had a duck eat out of my hand before, and was struck by the fact that it seemed like it ought to hurt but didn't--the ducks were pecking up the seeds with great intensity, but their beaks are dull, so it was just a steady percussion.
We walked through the large formal rose garden on the way out, smelling the flowers, and then had lunch before walking over to the museum. Sam and Sally arrived but said that a friend of theirs was unexpectedly free for the afternoon, so they headed out again, and Rob and I went into the exhibits. There is (not unexpectedly) a large exhibit of Maori (pronounced "mow-ree") artifacts, many of which are covered with fantastically detailed, sort of celtic-knot-like carving. The same sorts of designs show up in tattoos depicted on the people, with full-face tattoos for some men and chin and between-the-eyebrows tattoos for some women. I mused that a good child souvenir would be temporary face tattoos, and Rob howled with scandalized laughter--apparently the designs are (a) tribe-specific, and (b) earned symbols of respect and accomplishment, so putting them on a kid for play would be very insulting. Oh, well :)
The museum also has a large exhibit on fauna specific to New Zealand, such as the fabled moa: a flightless bird about as tall as an ostrich, but with a longer neck and shorter, thicker legs. There were a whole variety of them, apparently, but they were hunted to extinction by the Maori a hundred years or so before white settlers arrived. (So much for all the horse pucky about native peoples instinctively living in harmony with nature). We also saw stuffed kiwi birds and penguins and tuataras (lizardy things), but the live ones are much more interesting.
That evening we had dinner with Sam and Sally, and Rob's brother Ben and his girlfriend, and a couple of their friends at a chinese restaurant in town, and then went to a couple of bars with them. The beer and the company were good, but apparently bars are the same everywhere--crowded and loud. After two of them, Rob and I caught a taxi for home.
Friday, December 23
We slept in late and, once we were up and about, headed out for the Dunedin visitor's center where we planned out and booked lodging and activities for our after-christmas trip over to the west coast of the island. After that we were planning to drive out to the aquarium, but were thwarted by gasoline: it turns out that the lone gas station that existed on the peninsula has closed down, and we were low on fuel, so we had to turn back to town to get some. By the time we had replenished the tank, it was too late for the aquarium, so we headed back to Rob's parents' house.
After dinner, his parents kindly volunteered to take us out to Sandfly bay, on the peninsula that separates the (very long, skinny) Otago harbor (which Dunedin sits at one end of) from the south pacific. The road out is narrow and twisty, with the hills dropping precipitously away from its edges. At first I couldn't understand why the authorities had chosen to erect such useless, lightweight guardrails--and then I realized they were in fact just fences, designed to keep the sheep browsing on the near-vertical slopes from wandering onto the road. The cars have to take care of themselves.
Sandfly bay is a nesting area for the yellow-eyed penguin, which is apparently the rarest penguin in the world (only 3000 breeding adults). It is also just a fantastic location, rolling hills that end in a long, long (maybe 1/4 mile?) slope of sand down to the beach ... Rob tells me that when the weather is dry, you can sled down the sand slope. At evening, the penguins swim in from the ocean and make their way across the beach and up the hills to their nests. We saw several, including two who were running (waddling swiftly, anyway) in a vaguely circular manner in and out of the tussocks of grass at the edge of the sand ... we didn't know what they were doing, but it was very cute. We also saw a few sitting around on the hills, apparently spending a quiet evening with their mates. All of these were quite far away (at least a hundred of yards--good thing we had binoculars), as the penguins are shy of people and since they are so rare visitors are exhorted not to try to get close. (In addition, we saw some sea lions on the rocks along the shoreline, just sitting and letting the waves smack into them).
However, as we were starting back across the beach from the viewing blind, a latecomer came up out of the ocean about thirty feet from us. I didn't see him come ashore, but I saw him (or her?) make his slow, waddling way across the beach and start up one of the sandy little paths onto the hill. He moved deliberately, in no apparent hurry; given that all the nests were pretty high on the hill, maybe he was saving his energy for the long climb.
As it was getting dark, we made our way back up the trail in rain that was now serious, flopping into the car with sighs of sodden relief. We drove back slowly through the rain and the dark, headed for a welcome bed.
Saturday, December 24
Christmas eve morning was leisurely, with many of us rising late. We gathered in the living room for the present exchange, and Rob's mom elfed. Afterwards was a flurry of activity as everyone prepared for the trip to Rob's family's hut out in the backcountry (or "down the bush", as I kept hearing it referred to ... to American ears, it sounds like there's a preposition missing from that phrase).
We finally got off, forming a caravan of his parent's three silver-grey subaru station wagons. On the highway (a one lane each way, mostly no passing affair), we whizzed along between hilly green fields, and I finally began to understand all the jokes about sheep ... outside the cities, they're everywhere! Pasture after pasture after innumerable pasture was filled with those phlegmatic white faces (or, more frequently, those woolly rumps, the faces being devoted to the heads-down task of constant eating). At first they were a novelty, as one doesn't see a whole lot of livestock in our part of Colorado; after an hour, they were a source of wonder--how could there ever BE so many?
As we got away from the coast, the sky cleared and soon it was a sunny day under blue skies. We wound our way up a twisty canyon, passed through a tiny town, and then turned off the highway onto an unmarked gravel road that climbed the ridge line. We finally came to a stop at the edge of another high pasture, where we parked the cars and shouldered our packs for the couple of mile walk to the hut. The first leg of this is across fields, some grazed by sheep and cattle, some planted with swedes (vegetables which are apparently something like turnips), all commanding views that in the US would have long ago earned them a colony of hotels or McMansions. As we tromped over them, Rob pointed out across the nearest valley: "See those pine trees over there? Those are ours." He indicated an entire slope, running down to the floor of the river valley.
After we crossed the paddocks, we walked down into the Knight's pines where the hut trail proper starts. Rob's dad had moved the coolers containing three days' worth of food and drink for eight to the start of the trail on their ATV, but most of the track is too steep and narrow for vehicles. We picked up a couple of soft-sided cooler bags and one of the full sized coolers (referred to as "chilly bins" in New Zealand) and headed down the trail. The pines quickly give way to indigenous forest, full of tall, thin, moss-covered trees. Rob and I, loaded down with our packs, the two cooler bags, and carrying the full sized cooler between us, slithered and puffed down the steep, narrow, muddy trail (each of us taking a spill at various points). At about the point when I was ready to mutiny and throw our cargo down the slope, we arrived in a tiny clearing.
The clearing was mostly taken up by the hut, renowned of song and story. I would guess it to be about 12 feet by 15 feet, made of the thin, streamer-barked native logs, with a peaked corrugated metal roof pierced by a stovepipe chimney and a skylight. Inside is a fireplace, a little kitchen-type counter, some built in shelves and benches, and two large bunk beds, each big enough to sleep two. Nearly everything is made of the native wood, rough and unfinished. Around the back of the hut, down a little path, is the latrine; around one side is a large water tank which feeds a spigot ... Rob and I dumped our burdens on the ground and drank deeply of the cool water from it.
I'd just been introduced to all the amenities and begun to catch my breath when the rest of the clan was heard approaching through the woods. Soon all were assembled and we began to discuss how to amuse ourselves next. An excursion to the river was proposed, and the motion carried ... we headed off down the steep, switch-backed trail, and then across the marshy flats at the bottom of the slope, coming at length to a little glade at the edge of the river. Tall wild foxgloves grew there alongside the New Zealand "flax" and a hearty crop of thistles. We plucked out the latter to make a little clear spot in the grass and sat watching the river flow by for a while. Then someone pointed out that the far bank wasn't really, but was in fact an island, and we set off again along the shore to find a place where we could see all the way across.
After some trampling through the forest and a scramble down the bank, we found ourselves on a tiny fringe of riverbank just big enough to hold everyone in our party, from which we could see across the full width of the river to the shale-flats on the other side. Just off our little perch, the river spawned an unstable but constantly-regenerating whirlpool, and we amused ourselves for a while by feeding it sticks and branches. When the sandflies got too invasive, we undertook the tiring hike/clamber back up to the hut for more water, followed by well-deserved dinner and bed.
Sunday, December 25
The morning was cloudy; Rob's parents made a fire in the outdoor fire pit and, using only some pots nestled in the coals, cooked a magnificent, traditional christmas dinner of venison and pork and plum pudding. By midday, when the food was ready, the rain had started, and all eight of us crowded into the hut to eat and drink ... the wine and champagne flowed freely, and I wondered at how many bottles we had apparently carried out into the woods with us as part of the supplies. When we pulled crackers, everyone received paper hats and balloons; we donned the hats, and batted the balloons around until they had all burst.
After our midday dinner, the rain had slacked off and Rob's parents and his two brothers decided to go out for a walk. His brothers' girlfriends decided to go back to their tent and read, and Rob and I pled sleepiness. We crawled into one of the oversized bunk beds and drowsed ... after an hour or so, I awoke to the sound of renewed rain pounding heavily against the skylights, and still no sign of the family returned. Another hour or so later they appeared, all soaked to the skin and muddy but inexplicably professing enjoyment of their walk. We built up the fire in the hut's fireplace and dried their clothes in front of it, and spent the evening playing a game called "Pass the Pigs" while the rain determinedly carried on outside.
Monday, December 26
We got some sun again, and took the opportunity to excurse around the property a bit, led by Rob's parents. They took us down to a stream that runs near the hut, a chilly, clear little flow overarched by mossy trees, like some place out of Tolkien's Ithilien. We also walked through their planted pines a bit, following an old miller's road that has long since been given over to bracken and sinkholes.
After returning to the hut, we gathered our things, accepted the food graciously pressed on us by Rob's mother, and then followed his father back up the trail to the paddocks. We were less heavily weighted down on the return trip, but this was balanced by the almost uniformly uphill nature of the trail. At the edge of the paddocks, Rob's dad convinced us to hang on to the back of his one-person ATV, and we took a jolting, nerve-wracking, but fairly speedy ride back to the spot where the cars were parked.
We said our goodbyes and piled into the car, heading off toward the west coast. The rain came back a few times along the trip, and we had to avoid the odd errant sheep that had somehow escaped its pasture and wandered into the road, but we made good time and were at Te Anau (the last noticeable town south of Milford Sound) before dark. On arriving, we discovered that the Dunedin information center had in fact booked us into a hotel that wasn't in Te Anau at all, but rather Te Anau Downs, a flyspeck of a place half an hour north of Te Anau. We decided to stop for dinner where we were, having some passable chinese, before heading up the twisty road to Te Anau Downs. We found our backpackers', aptly named "Grumpy's", to be clean and well provided ... after making ecstatic use of the shower, we poured ourselves a drink and settled in for a quiet night, enjoying the luxury of being warm, clean, and dry after our days in the woods.
Tuesday, December 27
We woke early, packed all our luggage into the car and locked it up, and then went out to wait by the road for the bus that was to take us to Milford Sound. The (single) road that runs to Milford is narrow and twisty, and we had been advised that the bus was a more scenic and restful way to make the trip, since (a) someone else had to do the driving, and (b) the buses have glass ceilings for better viewing of the scenery. While both these facts are true, the first thing we noticed when the bus picked us up was that it was *crowded*--there were only two seats left, and they weren't together.
Disgruntled by this irritation, we settled in; the driver kept up a constant, relatively uninformative patter as we drove into the Fiordland national park. The group travel experience was grating ... they would shoo all 47 of us off the bus at some lovely lookout or tiny trail, we'd have 5 or 10 minutes to see it, craning our heads around each other, and then we'd be herded back on. It seemed that roping and branding couldn't be far behind. Rob and I decided quickly that bus tours weren't for us.
However, the scenery was unarguably fantastic. There were long flat fields of golden grass, with the mountains rising on either side reflected in tiny clear lakes. Further in, the road twisted through valleys between remarkably steep mountain walls whose craggy tops were visible through the glass roof of the bus as we drove under them. I was struck by the contrast with Colorado mountains, which rise quite a bit higher but do so more gradually, with long slopes and little foothills ... these glacier-carved mountains seem to start up straight out of the valley floor and rise nearly vertically toward their peaks.
We wound our way up to the Homer Tunnel, a mile-long, nearly single-lane passage hewn through the rock of one of the mountains that is the only way to get to Milford Sound. Interior lights have just recently been installed, which must have changed the experience of driving the tunnel significantly. The tunnel is up at nearly 3000 feet; after passing through it, we began the long, switchbacked descent to sea level and the sound.
On reaching Milford, we were disgorged from the bus and routed to our various tourist destinations. Rob and I were headed for a two-hour nature cruise on the sound, and made it to the boat ahead of the rest of our herd. We installed ourselves on the deck just forward of the wheel box, where we were up high and had good views around. Rob pointed out the impressive view of Mitre Peak, a tall mountain that rises out of the fiord; he said that most days there it is in cloud, and that we were lucky to be able to see to the top. I began snapping pictures, at which point my camera, showing an uncanny sense of timing for an inanimate object, announced its battery was low.
Our tour boat had no sooner gotten underway than the commentator pointed out a small group of dolphins playing around one of the other boats on the sound, their grey fins cutting the water's surface. We headed out past Mitre Peak, where he informed us that the large bare streaks down the side of the heavily-forested slope are caused by "tree slides": apparently, the first heavy snow after a long dry spell can tear mountain trees from their precarious roots and send them plummeting down, taking out the trees below them along the way. Today, however, the walls of the sound were alive with thread-thin silver waterfalls created by the previous night's rain. We saw one rivulet that flowed down to the edge of a steep rock face; as it tumbled over, its entire volume was being blown away as spray by the wind.
The scenery, unfolding as we sailed slowly down the length of the fiord, was simply marvelous--so grand and fantastic that it seemed that it must be a scene painting rather than reality. We passed a hanging valley, where in an earlier age a secondary glacier carved out a vale that opens onto the main sound high above the water level; from its mouth streams Stirling Falls, dropping in sparkling abandon over five hundred feet to the sound below. The sun was shining out of the valley, and into my mind came C.S. Lewis's description of the mountains of Aslan's country, towering beyond comprehension but green and full of waterfalls ... I still find it hard to believe that this amazing place belongs to the same world as do strip malls and office parks.
We eventually reached the entrance to the sound, where we looked out over the flat blue emptiness of the Tasman sea. Our boat essayed a slow turn, buffeted by the ocean waves coming around the headland, and when we faced back toward the shore, the sound was gone! The commentator explained that Milford was discovered late, having been overlooked by many passing ships because, seen from the sea, two of its outcroppings seem to overlap and it just looks like a wide bay. We headed back in, and as we did so the sound reopened before us like Ali Baba's treasure cave.
On our return passage, we made a detour into Harrison Cove, beneath the surface of which lies the sound's underwater observatory. We'd shelled out extra for a chance to go in, but weren't sure it would be worth it; we needn't have worried. After filing off the boat, we gathered in the lobby (swaying gently as the waves jostled the floating building) while a staff member discussed the unusual conditions making the observatory possible. In the sound, fresh water that has come down off the mountains in the region's frequent rains layers on top of salt water from the ocean. The fresh water carries a lot of tannins leeched from the trees, which filter out a great deal of light before it reaches the salt water layer. This allows deep-water species of marine life to thrive at a much shallower depth than usual--only thirty feet down rather than 120.
Trooping down a spiral staircase that is the core of the cylindrical observatory, we came into the viewing room. It is ringed by thick windows looking out over, basically, large undersea window boxes. These are filled with all sorts of fascinating creatures--black coral (which is actually *white* when alive--only its skeleton is black), myriad sponges of a wide variety of shapes and colors, anemonies, starfish, huge horse mussels, and occasional fish ... the guide pointed out that almost everything we were seeing was an animal, even the things (like coral) that look like vegetation. I found myself humming, "I'd like to be/ under the sea/ in an octopus's garden/ 'neath the waves" as I moved from window to window, and was tickled when the guide also noted that the window boxes around the observatory are so thriving that many other creatures come there to feed--including octopuses.
The window boxes, though not more than a foot or so wide and a few long, were crowded with all sorts of life going about its business. We saw a snakestar (which looks for all the world like a tangle of thick black yarn) curled in the branches of a black coral, waving one end of its long threadlike body along the coral polyps to steal some of their nutrients ... it was a shock to see something that looked so inanimate clearly moving of its own volition. The guide also pointed out some other strange creatures--a pair of starfish, each of which only had a few legs, because not too long before they had been the same starfish which had decided to reproduce by fission, and a fish that had once been the alpha female of its school but had changed sex in order to challenge the alpha male for leadership.
After gawping at the underwater world for a while, we made our way back up the staircase and onto a little boat that carried us back across the sound to the main dock, where we finally located our bus only to discover that--once again--we were the last people on and thus couldn't sit together. The trip back to our hostel was hot (the bus claimed to have air conditioning, but never seemed to actually get it going) and herd-bound; we were happy to get back into our own car.
We struck out for Queenstown, on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, and made it there before dark. Our hostel was just up the hill from the main pedestrian mall, so we walked down and looked around, taking in the sunset along the lakeshore. We stopped for dinner at a Korean restaurant and ate on its second floor balcony, overlooking the bustle of the mall below. I've never had Korean before, and was pleasantly surprised by the variety of little dishes full of interesting tastes (representative conversation fragment: "What do you think this is?" "I don't know ... potato, or fruit, or maybe turnip?" "Dunno; good, isn't it?") Afterwards we did some souvenir shopping and then headed back to our room to plan tomorrow's adventures over a drink. Late in the evening, we stepped outside to look at the stars; it was one of the few nights in our trip which was clear enough to view the sky, and I looked up thoughtfully at the unfamiliar patterns. Then, as I stared, one of them resolved itself: it was Orion, standing on his head!
Wednesday, December 28
We woke up late, around 10:30, at which point I discovered, in a routine clean-out of the receipts in my wallet, that one of my credit cards was gone. I had used it just before we went back to the hotel room the night before, and remembered the shopkeeper handing it back to me ... but it was nowhere to be found. After searching everything twice, I used the internet at the hostel to find a toll-free New Zealand number for USAA, and phoned them up to cancel the card. They confirmed there had been no additional charges since the last I made, and I had another card to fall back on, so everything was handled very swiftly. Then we headed out for the day.
On the walk down the hill into town from the hostel, we saw paragliders sailing around the top of the hill behind Queenstown, some of them doing acrobatic turns which put them almost on their sides. We had breakfast at a bakery, me getting my first introduction to the meat pies which are ubiquitous fast food in New Zealand; I had a steak and mushroom pie, which cost about $2.20 US and was very tasty and filling ... about the size of a pot-pie, although much better. I began to understand why Rob laments the lack of pie-shops in the US; bakeries serving pies fill a food niche that is apparently vacant in the US--hot, cheap, easy to eat on the move, but not primarily grease-based.
After breakfast we made our way to the Kiwi Birdlife Park near the foot of the mountain. We paid our admission and went in to gawk at the native birds, especially the kiwis. Kiwis are (a) now very rare (in spite once having been extremely common), since 95% of their offspring are killed before breeding age by introduced pests like rats and stoats, and (b) nocturnal; these factors mean that unless you go to a zoo or wildlife park, you're unlikely to see this emblematic New Zealand bird anywhere but on merchandise.
We arrived in time to see them feed the kiwis, which was very cool. We went into the kiwi house, which is kept in near total darkness with just a few red lights to illuminate the glass kiwi enclosure, and managed to find a spot right in front of the feeding. The keeper put out a tube filled with meat (cut into the shape of worms :) and fruit bits in a hole in the ground, and the kiwis stuck their long pointy beaks into the tube to get at them. They looked like they were using long yellow chopsticks. We also watched them for a while before the feeding, and saw them moving very slowly around their cage, carefully poking their beaks into every square inch of leaf mould to make sure it didn't have anything tasty in it. This made it clear to my why kiwis are almost always depicted leaning over, beak on the ground.
We also saw the tuataras, which are a kind of reptile (not a lizard, although they look like one) that is found only in New Zealand. It is apparently the closest living relative of the dinosaurs. They live a ridiculously long time--so long that no one is sure, but currently guess between 200 and 300 years. They don't even reach breeding age until they're 20, and don't stop growing larger until they're at least 80. Until they're a few months old, they have a third eye, a little black photosensitive spot, right on top of their heads, although it is later covered over with scales. Like the kiwis, they've been absolutely devastated by introduced predators, and now live in the wild only on a few islands off the coast where no rats, etc, have so far reached.
After seeing the bird park, we rode the gondola up to the top of the mountain. The gondola ride, as Rob pointed out, really brought home how tall the trees on the mountain were ... it took thirty seconds or so from when the gondola passed by the base of a tree to when you drew level with the top. The cleared slope under the gondola towers was dotted with wild foxgloves. As we got higher, we saw Queenstown spread out below us, ringed by mountains and facing the lake.
We had bought tickets to take the luge as well, so when we got off the gondola we got on a smaller chairlift that took us up a little higher, carrying beneath it two little luge carts (which look like low scooters, wide enough to sit on). At the top we donned our helmets, had a quick lesson in luge piloting (steer like a bicycle, pull back to stop), and headed off down what looked like a sloping, curvy go-cart track. Rob got up a good head of speed and enjoyed the course; I got stuck behind a slow-poke and found it a bit ho-hum.
On finishing the luge run, we walked up to where the paragliding outfit had a stand. The price was high (about $130 US per person) but Rob had been entranced by the sight of the spiralling paragliders on our walk down the hill in the morning. The receptionist looked him over and pow-wowed with one of the pilots about whether they could take someone weighing as much as he; eventually they acquiesced.
We hiked up to a high glade on the mountain and our two pilots laid out their paragliders on the ground, straightening the lines and then belting us into our harnesses. Once we were all hooked up, my pilot and I walked slowly toward the edge of the slope, pulling the paraglider behind us. The wind caught the sail and, before I was even properly aware of it, we were up in the air!
We sped up and away from the hillside, with the pine tops flying by under our feet. There was a bit of an updraft that we were able to catch, pushing me back into my harness-seat as we gained some altitude; after a few gentle spirals, we headed away from the mountain and out over the town. The wind was strong; I was glad of my glasses. The harness-seat was quite comfortable, and I thought that this felt a lot like sitting in an airplane, looking out at the landscape below--except that there was no plane around me, and nothing but air between me and the landscape hundreds of feet below my shoes.
We made a few leisurely turns over Queenstown, looking down at the wharf where Rob and I had walked the night before, and at the buildings and roads, with me trying to pick out landmarks. From so high up, I could see the gradations of color near the shore of the lake that indicated different depths, like a true-to-life map.
My pilot observed that we had a fair amount of lift, and could stay up for a while just gliding, or we could try a few turns, which would bring us down faster. Since Rob and I had seen the turns while walking, I figured I had to try them. He pulled on the guide cables, swinging us into a turn. I was shoved down into my seat; it was like taking a hill on a roller coaster.
Then we used the momentum from the first to swing into a second, and finally a third ... by the last one, we had canted over so far sideways as we turned that I could see the paraglider sail almost horizontal with us above my head.
By now, we'd used up most of our altitude, and it was time to come down. We spiralled in over an elementary school's playing fields and came down. The pilot told me just to be prepared to put my feet down as we touched the ground. I did, and we came to a gentle stop--no shock, no running required. After he un-harnessed me, I watched Rob and his pilot come down next to us.
Afterwards, we walked over to a bar that gave a free beer to anyone who'd been paragliding. We were giddy with excitement about what fun the paragliding had been. As we sipped our free beers, we also pondered how much better the beer is in New Zealand than in the US; I usually avoid beer, but I found myself actually seeking it out here--pleasant, light amber beers without any bitter aftertaste.
We then wandered over to the underwater observatory off the main pier. "Observatory" is a bit of an exaggeration: it is really two underwater windows and a coin-operated feeding machine. I paid two dollars to have the feeding machine drop fish food into the water, and large (2-2.5 foot long) rainbow trout swam up to scarf it down. One especially came right by the window, and I could see into its gills--full of layers of purple, crinolated membranes like some sort of expensive ruffle.
After we'd stared at the trout for a few minutes, Rob started to remark about how they made him hungry, and we grabbed a snack at a convenience store. Then we headed over to make our booking at the Minus 5 bar. This is a bit of a tourist trap and a gimick, but some fun all the same. It is billed as a whole bar made out of ice; when you get inside, you discover you're in a sort of walk-in freezer, walled with ice blocks, peopled with ice sculptures and a bar made of ice, and furnished with ice benches covered in deer skins. It has a very Norse ice palace sort of feel to it.
Even the glasses are made of ice, and the drink menu is limited to (a) things made with Absolut vodka, which sponsored the bar, and (b) things whose mixers won't freeze. I had an orange concoction of peach schnapps and guava juice; Rob had a vile green stew made of some sort of bitter kiwi juice. We wandered around for fifteen or twenty minutes, wearing our bar-provided parkas and gloves, running our hands over the ice sculptures, and drinking from our self-chilling glasses. Then we handed in our borrowed clothing and headed back out into the sunshine.
By now it was time for our turn on the Shotover Jet, a jetboat that runs up and down a section of the Shotover river. The jetboat company's shuttle took us out to their launch site, and after a few minutes of waiting we were loaded into a jetboat. It held about 20 people, but we managed to snag the two front seats, next to the driver. To prepare for the other boat to be launched, he shifted our boat out of the way, and I was amazed at the maneuverability--it seemed able to turn on a dime, and to move in any direction, even sideways.
We started off, zipping down the river into the rocky canyon, where the driver delighted the passengers (well, most of them, not so much me) by pointing the boat at various stone outcroppings and then, at the last minute, heeling the wheel over to avoid them. There was a constant bumping and banging against the hull, which I mistook (much to my discomfort) for rocks in the (very) shallow river thumping into us.
When the driver stopped us for a minute farther down the river, I asked him about this, and he said it was in fact the waves on the river, which we were hitting at such speed. He also pointed out that the jet boat needs only about 6 inches of water in which to function. This allows it to navigate shallow rivers like the Shotover.
The Shotover Jet's big trick is that it does spins: the driver gets the boat going fast, then cranks the wheel over and, it appears, throws the jet into reverse. This causes the boat to execute a 360 degree turn around its center in about 5 seconds, splashing up a great wave. Our driver even managed, in one instance, a 520, which was quite impressive. After I got over my fear that we were scraping the bottom, I quite enjoyed the immense speed.
Jetboats use a huge amount of fuel, something like 2 gallons per minute, and thus have to be refueled after every run. Distressingly, about a week after we rode the Shotover Jet, one of their boats caught fire as it was being refueled and sank (no doubt much to the horror of the busload of tourists who were standing in line waiting to board that self-same boat). Further Shotover Jet runs have been suspended until they figure out what caused the fire.
After we were shuttled back to town, we went in search of dinner and wound up in a Speights Ale House. Speights is a New Zealand beer, and their ale houses appear to be a small chain. We had a truly delicious meal (lamb for me and cherry chicken for Rob) and then made our exhausted way back up the hill to our hostel for an early night.
Thursday, December 29
This was mostly a travel day. We woke up in Queenstown, had meat pies for breakfast at a bakery, and hit the road. Our drive took us past lakes Hawea and Wanaka, two more glacier-carved lakes similar to Lake Wakatipu at Queenstown. We then headed into the southern alps, steep country cut by wide, shale-bedded rivers.
We hit some sunshine and made good time in spite of the roads, which were very twisty and constantly interrupted by one-lane bridges where one lane of the highway has to stop and give way to the other. All the highways we have travelled on, all over the south island, are 1-lane-each-way, and passing lanes are few and far between; Rob says he doesn't think there are any interstate-type multilane highways on the south island. As though to make up for this deficiency, though, the highway department has painted dotted center lines ("ok to pass") along almost every mile of the highways--around blind corners, up twisty hills, right before one-lane bridges, you name it. Most drivers are too bright to take them up on it.
About one in the afternoon we hit the west coast again and took a short detour south to Jackson Bay. This cove has all sorts of interesting rocks and boulders--big craggy grey ones, smaller polished orangish and greenish ones, even a car-sized one with trees growing on it. The tide must come way up the beach, because little barnacles encrust all the rocks. There are little tidepools holding mussels and limpets and the occasional tiny crab or fish. Watching Rob splash around it them, wet to the shins and exclaiming over each new rock or shellfish, made me think strongly of Daddy.
Sandflys (like gnats that bite) finally drove us away from the tide pools and back to our car, which we had just parked along the berm of the road. Next to it was a weed-overgrown, wrought-iron fenced grave; when I sat down in the grass and puzzled out the marker, I found it to be for a fellow who had died on a schooner anchored in the bay in 1862.
We got back in the car and pressed on up the coast to our hotel and then, after a quick nap, to the glacier, First we drove up an access road and took a little walk to a spot where you can see the glacier, like a gigantic snow slug, twisting its way down between the peaks into the valley it has made. It isn't beautiful-- it looks a bit dingy and dirty--but it is rather awesome.
We then drove over to a spot where you can park your car and walk to the foot of the glacier, up along the valley it has cut next to its river. This was a fantastic walk; as we got closer, we could see that the river we were following, although fed by tributaries streaming down the steep mountainsides in little waterfalls, was primarily born out of the glacier itself. At the very foot of the glacier was a huge cave in the ice, and the river ran out of it as from a mouth. The river wandered back and forth across the wide, barren valley floor coated with glacier-born rock beds, and was a milky color because of all the ground-up rock it was carrying.
There were signs along the track which informed us that as recently as 1750 the entire valley had been filled to the top of the cliffs with ice, and that much of what we were walking over had been glacier-covered even in the '30s. We got hot walking and picking our way across one of the tributary streams that came down across our path, but when we got close to the glacier the wind turned cold.
We were able to walk up to within about 50 feet of it, at which point signs warned us strenuously in several languages not to attempt to go further due to the risk of falling ice and flash flooding. (We saw a couple of little bits fall off while we were there, so we were inclined to believe it.) The ice was so blue! Rob says this is due to the compression exerted by the glacier, which forces the ice into a slightly different crystal structure. The blue color made the glacier face look like a giant, pale, slightly dirty aquamarine. We stood around for a few minutes, feeling the icy wind and staring at the insensible giant that had carved the landscape around us and the ground under our feet. As we made our way back to our car, we heard the keas (large mountain parrots) calling to each other. We put the glacier behind us and went in search of dinner.
Friday, December 30
Today we woke up to find that our fine spell had ended, and it was raining earnestly. We drove the 1/2 hour into Fox Glacier, where we were told that the helicopter-hike to the glacier wouldn't go if the weather didn't clear. The less said about the subsequent 5 hours of hanging about the town of Fox Glacier, probably the better, after which we put ourselves on the waiting list for the morning trip and scurried back to our warm, dry hotel to nap and read books.
Saturday, December 31
The sun was shining in a partially cloudy sky when we woke up in the morning, and we drove into Fox Glacier with high hopes. However, when we got there, we were told that the 9:30 flight wasn't going because the weather still wasn't clear enough; we waited around until the 10:45 flight, which was also cancelled. Apparently there was a cloud just sitting on top of the glacier, making it impossible to see where to land the helicopter. At this point, we decided to cut our losses; we headed south, and within a half hour or so were out from under the cloud.
We worked our way back south and east, stopping in Wanaka for lunch. For the first time in our trip, it was truly hot and summery, and the town was crammed with students there to celebrate the new year. As we pushed on toward Dunedin, we stopped at a couple of fruit stands; central Otago province is dry and somewhat rocky, and has a great many orchards. We bought cherries, apricots, raspberries, boysenberries, and tiny bite-sized plums that were no bigger than large grapes.
We made it back into Dunedin about 7pm and had dinner at a turkish restaurant, and then went back to Rob's parents' house. His friend Paul came over, and we played scrabble with him and Rob's parents until midnight. The house is up high enough that we could see the fireworks put off in the center of town from the windows of their living room. After midnight, his parents headed to bed, but we and Paul stayed up talking till dawn was in the sky.
Sunday, January 1
We rose late, having been up till first light. After a brief excursion into town to get a refund for our cancelled heli-hike, Rob got in touch with his friend Paul, and we picked him up around 4:15. We then headed up the coast, stopping at the marine reserve at Shag Point (Rob explained that the birds living around the point are known as shags, hence the entertaining name). This headland is apparently a favorite spot for fur seals, twenty or so of whom were arrayed on the shore, napping or scrapping with each other or just hopping around, their conjoined back flippers making them move like person crawling while zipped up in a sleeping bag. We admired them for a while, eating some of our packed snacks, and then headed onwards.
The next stop was the Moeraki boulders, a scattered string of 10 or 15 great egg-shapped boulders (most 4 or 5 feet across) that are lodged in the beach near the town of Moeraki. They are apparently some sort of odd mudstone accretions; the slope behind the beach still holds a couple that haven't yet been eroded free. Still, looking at them, it is hard to imagine that they just happened and weren't *made*--one of them has even cracked open like a great egg, bringing to mind images of dragons or sea monsters.
After scrambling around the boulders for half an hour or so, we pushed on to Omaru, home of the little blue penguin colony. Paul, who had worked in Omaru a few years ago, directed us to a fish and chips shop crowded with locals. A few minutes of waiting yielded butcher's paper packages containing large, crispy battered cod filets, a generous scoop of hot, well-salted fries, a fried pineapple ring (really very good), and a startlingly tasty fried squid ring. The rain that had been threatening for a few hours decided to start up at that point, so we ate our dinner sitting in the car in the parking lot of the penguin colony.
Suitably fortified, we headed out to the penguin viewing area, a set of covered bleachers facing out over the rocky beach where the little blue penguins like to come ashore. We hadn't been sitting there more than five minutes when a contingent of 20 or 30 of them were spotted swimming towards us, a speckle of little dark heads on the surface of the waves. As they got near the beach, we could see them skimming along, sometimes under the water, their chubby cruciform silhouettes moving surprisingly fast for such rolly polly little creatures.
They left the water and waddled up onto shore where they congregated in a little cluster, standing around like a group of exhausted hikers who have just reached the end of a long trail. There was a constant motion of preening beaks and shaking wings; the commentator said that they were probably redistributing the oil that coats their feathers to ensure they would be waterproof for tomorrow's outing, or just waiting for their mates to come in.
Among other tidbits he provided was the information that the little blue penguins are the smallest in the world, standing about a foot high and weighing about 2.5 pounds (of course, I'm converting ... these measurements were given in metric). Most amazingly to me, they really ARE blue--over their backs and heads, where most penguins are black, these are a shade of deep but saturated stormy-sea blue, with a white chest. Every morning, a couple of hours before dawn, these little birds swim out to sea and spend the day diving for fish--they can go as deep as 120 feet. Every evening, around dusk, they come in again to return to their nests.
As the light faded, one or two penguins started to climb the rest of the way up the slope. Eventually most of the group followed them, making a small, dense pack of waddling birds that ran, with a determined but rolling gait, across a little gravel road at the top of the beach. On the other side of the road was a wire fence around a green field; the penguins slipped under the wires and then suddenly scattered into the field, each headed to his own nesting box buried in a grassy mound. We could hear them chirping to each other, maybe the penguin equivalent of "honey, I'm home".
We watched for another half hour or so, seeing an even larger group of 80 or so come in and repeat the same performance. The commentator suggested that there would probably be yet another group, but by this time the rain was coming down fiercely, blowing into the stands; we decided to call it a night. The path back to the parking lot took us along the side of the nesting field, where we could see the little blue penguins darting among the bushes or congregating in small groups in front of their nests. They really were unspeakably cute.
Monday, January 2
We woke up to a lovely blue sky, which was notable in itself given the rainy weather I'd come to expect from Dunedin. We decided to take advantage of it and head out to a beach; Rob, me, and his mom and dad piled into a car and drove out to a place called "Murdering Beach", apparently for very straightforward (although antiquated) reasons.
There was some discussion about whether the road to the beach would be passable after the previous evening's downpour. We drove out along one side of the harbor, eventually turning off the paved road onto a gravel one that we followed for a number of miles across rolling paddocks. This no longer surprised me; apparently, a fair proportion of the roads at least in the southern part of the south island are unpaved (or "unsealed")--real roads with destinations, not just park access roads or long driveways. Everyone seems to take this in stride, almost completely without the aid of SUVs :)
When we reached the final stretch of road down to the beach, we found that at some point recently it had been graveled. This was the cause of much rejoicing and remarks on how good the road had become as we wended our way down a steep grade, narrowly squeezing past another car coming the other direction along the single lane.
We reached the beach at the same time as a large grey rain cloud; within moments after we had gotten out of the car, we were sent running back to it by raindrops and strong winds that scoured us with sand. However, within minutes the squall passed over and we hopped out again, making our way across the beach into the teeth of the still-wild wind to gain the shelter of a cliff lined with tide pools.
The tide was near low, although coming in, and we wandered along happily peering at the basins full of mussels, the limpets and barnacles, the anemones either with tentacles extended in the filled pools or closed up, looking like moulded red jellos, in the crevices that the tide had not yet reached. We hopped and clambered along the shore and over a hump of rock to look at a patch of sea tulips (actually little animals, like anemones, but which look quite a lot like closed pink tulip flowers) swaying under waves crested with masses of kelp like giant green fettucine noodles. Afterwards we sat on the rocks and ate our picnic lunch until the incoming tide drove us back to the car; the short walk back was just as blustery, but the wind was behind us, so that we could see the pale dry sand speeding like low mist across the dark wet sand, snaking and eddying out toward the sea. It looked a bit like that scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark where all the ark's essence flows back into it ... I wanted to take a picture of this fantastic natural special effect, but feared sand in my camera.
Since we still had some day left, we headed to another beach, which has both a sea side and a harbor side. The road to it runs right along the shore between the steep slope and the water, twisting along the contours of every cove and point; the views are great, although I'll bet the driver quickly tires of all the work. We walked along the sea side of the beach, combing for shells; Rob's mother has a good eye for them, and found one of nearly every kind living in the area, while Rob found a bit of concrete or mud rock embedded with loads of tiny spiral ones. We then made an attempt to cross over to the harbor side, but were driven back by the strong wind blowing sand off the dunes into our faces--and then the rain returned, causing us to scurry for the car again.
That evening we ate lamb roast, roast potatoes, and mashed kumara that his parents prepared; it was wonderful, and so like the meals that Rob makes that I know where he learned it. For dessert was a dish called pear ginger, a sort of ginger cake baked layered over pear halves, and served with cream. It was so good that we had to take it off the table so there would be some left for Rob's brother when he got home.
Tuesday, January 3
This was our last day in New Zealand; we woke up around 9:30, packed our bulging suitcases, and were on our way to the airport by 10:30. We had coffee in the airport cafe, with me getting increasingly edgy as our flight time drew near and we still hadn't headed to the gate. Rob assured me that they'd call our flight, but also answered affirmatively when I asked whether we had to go through security. Finally, mostly to calm me down, we decamped ... it turned out that the gate was literally 100 feet away, down a flight of stairs, and that the "security" in question consisted of the airport ticket taker collecting your boarding pass as you walked out onto the tarmac to board the little propeller plane. When I asked Rob why he had said we had to go through security, he pointed to the door onto the runway, which was blazoned with the words "Security Area".
We flew to Christchurch, where we had a nearly 9 hour layover. Fortunately, Rob has an aunt and uncle who live 20 minutes from the airport, and were kind enough to come pick us up and show us around. We walked around the Christchurch botanic gardens, which are apparently 12 kilometers in circumference and sited in the center of town. They are lovely English-style gardens, threaded by a little turf-banked river called the Avon which is home to a flock of mercenary ducks and several traditional punts (where tourists sit in the shallow boat while a punter dressed like a member of a barbershop quartet poles them slowly along the river). It was a lovely place to wander.
After that we did some final souvenir shopping and then Rob's aunt and uncle gave us dinner at their house before we bundled back off to the airport. Our plane lifted off around 10:30, leaving New Zealand behind.