Mee, John, In New Zealand.
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Monday, August 12, 2002

Dawn@SydneyHeads Welcome to a light diary covering my 3 weeks on the south island of New Zealand. I'm a 30-something australian male, here for a holiday, catching up with a friend, a week of boarding in Queenstown... some getting to know the neighbours.

The first jetcat out of town, and a perfect pink sunrising over the sydney heads commenced a day of dull waits. Patience was in abundance, since I'm feeling very tired after pushing myself to get lots done over the weekend. Before I say too much however, gotta see if I can get the camera hooked up. Back in a minute. (famous last words?)

Oh dear, the chinaman wants an extra $5.00 to plug in a camera, which is definately outrageous. I'm not going to consume that much bandwidth now really?
Well if that's the norm, then I guess the photos will be coming in bursts. I'll post them when I have a few more.

Time to explore the town. A true geek, I arrived in a new country and I've wound up in front of the first computer I saw. Navigating away from the Starbucks, past the cathedral I need to wander into someone's backyard and find the chicken coup which will provide the key to a house full of strangers who know someone I know. Thus a new adventure begins...

Tuesday, August 13, 2002
Student accom Well, I managed to find the chicken coop, and the keys within. But not without a meeting the housemates first.

Its a fairly classic student/share house kinda deal. An old wooden house with peeling paint and horrendously overgrown garden. Each resident lives their own life and the sudden appearance of strangers wandering the house is barely worth an eyebrow raise. They're all very friendly and accomodating, being all New Zealanders - although I did hear some a female japanese voice talking loudly after I'd crawled into a cleanly made bed for an early night.

Jerry, is fairly pasty looking, quite reserved, possibly lacks social skills, but a friendly guy all the same. He does illustrations, and making a go of freelancing. Julian, I didn't bump into till this morning, but seems a very bright slightly extroverted arteest. Pav, I pumped for information about the region at length last night and he filled out and confirmed what the guide book had already told me. There is also a very smelly old dog, which, thankfully, has an aversion to strangers.

So, in between meeting this merry band of men I set forth and wandered the streets of Christchuch.

Well, there's lots of churches. There's a very nice square in the center of town, in front of the cathedral. The city radiates from the there, and it seems to do well to try and set some kind of tone for the place. There is a very picturesque little river winding through the entire town - "city?" - Avon, and the place is FLAT. Accordingly there are a pleasing number of cyclists getting about town... although the demographic was clearly 20-40 yo male, some girls sprinkled in sparesly. Ummm, its a good country town. No sign of crime or homelessness, although it was a monday. By 7:00pm the streets were deserted after the 5 o'clock rush hour. It started to cool off after a very warm day, and today is cold, grey, and rainy. There are two 12 storey buildings, and the rest are 4-8.

They don't make backyards like this anymore

Well, the plan is forming to take Izzy's car up over to the west coast on a bit of a circuit which will get me back into town around some time when she is here, and I can explore this area then. So after my long leisurely sleep-in, at some point I'll set out for Hanmar Springs, about 2 hours north west, and hit the regular backpacker's trail... hmm, haven't done that for a long time.

Technical notes. It occured to me that blogspot ain't hosting images, so the pics aren't much use yet. But I have a plan, involving piggy backing on someone else's site for the duration... but still I haven't found an opportunity to get them off the camera. So you'll have to wait a little longer.

And, if anyone who doesn't know me stumbles across this blog and has something to say... try

Wednesday, August 14, 2002
Mee, again. Ha ha.

Hello from the backpacker trail. I made my way up to "Hanmar Springs", two or three hours north west of Christchurch. Surprisingly enough the main attraction lots of this east of the mountains here is the hot springs. But before I got here there was a leisurely drive across flat green plains, with sheep, backed by brown winter swept hills, and snow peaked mountains. There are lots of swift running rivers which remind me that I must comment on the quality and taste of the water here. Clean, crisp, pure. Reminds me why I feel the need to mix so much cordial back in Sydney. The water there is really yuck in comparison.

Picked up a couple of european hitchhikers on the way up, just to make it a little more entertaining. They've been moving for 13 months and filled their role perfectly. Giving me all the 'trail talk' and providing the personal account of where to go, what to see, what to do. They'll make their way home soon, via the US.

Hanmar is very quiet. The ski slope here didn't bother to open all season. No snow. But the place is very tourist oriented. Lots of jet boating and bungy jumping etc on offer. Seems an odd spot to be plonked, but the hot springs explain that. After a $3.60 fish and chips I soaked up 2 hours worth of hot springs, and felt appropriately sleepy, spent, relaxed with that stupid grin on face, afterwards. Let an hour of telly wash over me, and off to bed.

All advice says.. go west young man. So I'll do that today. Not entirely sure where to. So I'll have to fill in those details tomorrow.

Thursday, August 15, 2002
Where are the trolls? Day 4? and still blogging. How long can this last?

Last night I wound up in a place named Reefton. Now we're talking! Wow, had to drive through Leif? pass. Welcome to the forest. I did actually see the sun for a moment this morning, but it was only momentory. The sheepy green plains have given way to the kinda forest which you can't see into. From the road, looking into the trees, you can see about 6 feet before it just becomes a dark mass of trees and things. It is perrenially damp, not raining, but just that fine mist keeping everything moist, not wet exactly, but not dry by a long stretch.

The roads all wind alongside what is now a vast wide fast moving, cold looking river. It's all country town now. Folks might actually greet me first when walking down the empty street, what a pleasant change. I'm definately in low-season, last night I had the backpackers to myself. So wandered over to the pub for a beer and a feed. The local crowd (of 10 perhaps) all polite and unintrusive. I declined the rope to join the evening pool comp, and smirked at their customs. Everyone buys a jug for themself, and just tops up their glass as they go. Leave your money on the bar, and let the bartender sort it out as he goes. Casual.

Reefton was the first town in NZ to get electric light, and sadly I don't have a copy of the newspaper account of the day it was switched on, but to recount, they marvelled at the depth and strength of the shadows produced. So much so that it was very 'surreal' and given on obstacle in front of them, people had great difficultly working out whether to step over the obstacle or the shadow. We take it for granted, but next time you're outside with a spotlight...

The hostel stove ran on coal, which was an experience. Coal burns very hot. No wonder its so popular. The guy running the hostel was a retiring coal / gold miner. Very friendly. In the evening I found a bit of walk to venture on. Deep into some rainforest, was good. I'm now wishing I had enough time to do a solid "tramp" (hike). The roads all follow the valleys. I'm thinking a 5 day trek, and seems they're pretty popular. Also keep picturing what it would be like to ride (pushbike - no, roads, not on the trails silly). Excellent methinks, but can't decide whether I'd want to do it carrying the gear, or have a support car, pros and cons.

Home Sweet Home

I'll also mention the roads are all excellent, watch out for the many one lane bridges across raging waters. I'm still getting used to the idea that not everything is an eight hour drive or more away. The routine is already, to drive a few hours a day between 11-3, take it slow, there's plenty to see, and no rush anyway - its just not that far. The walking tracks I've seen have also been excellent. Although I can see some now becoming 6 inches of mud.

So today I'm cruising for the glaciers. Not sure what I'll find there... that's the fun of it right?

Tech notes for today. Still no opportunity to dump my images, and I'm running out of ram fast. Ugg, people really do get subjected to 640x480 (eg. this library terminal).

Wednesday, August 21, 2002
Snow capped mountains everywhere along the roadside.  Beautiful. Day ???. Oh well, four days running was a pretty good effort, don't you think?

Today is day ?, gotta count them, must be 10!? I did start an entry on day 5, but was just too tired to complete it and went off to sleep instead. Day 5, was the day on the glacier.

5) After reefton I drove down to Franz-Joseph Glacier, and found the major stop on every tourist's map. So obligingly I took the full day guide trip onto the glacier. Wow, that was awesome. I ran out of photos on the glacier, and barely have an image since. Which is a crying shame... but we'll get to that. Driving toward the glacier is fantastic, and I really started to feel some of the remoteness of where I was heading. But, on the same token, the road is so good that this extreme remoteness is accessible to thousands, so it was kinda weird.

Anyway, wandering around a glacier was very cool, in all senses of the word. With a guide, we got to crawl in between huge ice cracks and crevices, cross ladder bridges over cracks of indeterminable depth, and plunge ourselves into frigid, recently frozen pools of sky blue. Wait for the pics.

I am so cool :-> Not my girl, but... oh drat, that's her guy hiding behind. I like this pic, makes me feel artistic. Our guide has only felt the ice move once.. but in a space this tight, once too many. Our fearless leader.  This stuff is much bigger and mazical up close, eh. Don't fall in, its a 50m drop

6) Well I stayed for a second night in Franz-Josef, but wasn't liking it at all. The tourist traffic was too much for me really. The standard stay there is a single day, and around 300-600 people turning over per day. So I went for a walk out of town, saw the stars and the jungle at the end of the road, and figured I definately want to get out of this town, and into some bush.

So day 6, I took a morning visit to DOC ("Department of Conservation"), and enquired about going for a hike into the bush and staying at a hut somewhere. The only overnighter on offer was the Copeland Track, up to Welcome Flat (6-8 hours). However there is a little 2 man hut at Architects Creek, about half way. So filling out the return slip, packed my bag, and went bush.

Best thing I've ever done.

Isn't it purty!

Fantastic. I'm an instant 'tramping' fanatic. I understand why it is called tramping, since from the moment you leave the carpark, your feet are going to be wet, until they get back to the carpark. The undeniable feature of NZ is water. Its everywhere. Everything is defined by it. From the carpark, you start with a river crossing. Get wet first up, and you wont be so worried about getting wet for the rest of the track. The next 5 hours were spent following a well marked trail up a pristine valley, with the most amazing views any postcard can attempt to show. It was just so much fun. Only saw two other groups coming out of the trail that day. The whole day was watching where those feet land, with the occasional water crossing 'challenge' to keep things interesting. I didn't have a clue what I was getting myself into when I left that carpark.

By the time I found the hut, things were getting a little tense... light fading, unknown territory, no-one for miles around, cold, wet, drizzling, thunder, lightning, this is not a place where you want to crawl up under a tree for the night, I guarantee you that. Phew, found the hut, chop some wood, fire. King of all I survey. Snowy mountain ranges, dark green lush rainforest, red sky, long flowing waterfalls, birds, green green moss. You gotta go there. I'm coming back with a full pack and a one way ticket in. Highlight of the trip without a doubt.

No photos. But image heaven, and you've got the picture.

7) Day seven was more of the same. Coming back down was so reluctant. Just wanted to head up to the top two huts and be lost for a few days. Alas I had only food for a night, and an emergency. So more rock hopping, and physical challenges, and got back to the carpack before dark. Drove back through franz-josef, and stopped by a lakeside for the night. Again, not a soul in sight, beautiful snow peaked mountains backing, lush green forests, and this time with a perfect calm lake with a mirror reflection of the whole scene. Perfect. Except byo fire. The night in the car was pleasantly not uncomfortable, and the heavy frost and steaming lake in the morning another wonder of God's glorious creation. A constant reminder of Him.

This whole lake was in a layer of steam an hour before.

8) Maate, what a day that was. I told Isabelle I'd be back Monday, and here it was monday morning, and I'm half an island away (technically only about 3 hours driving, but I certainly was not in a focused driving mode. A leisurely morning (instant) coffee and muffin (choc-chip) at the local minimart (the only place in town open), I enjoyed watching the locals trapse through in their wellingtons (or Rubbers?), grab their bits and pieces and get along.
Took a couple of detours on the way out of town. The surf was looking cold, dirty, and not at all appealing. There was a knoll/hilltop on the outskirts of town. Perfect spot to sit and warm in the sun. The cemetary. Well no one disturbed me there, and what a beautiful spot. The sea, the mountains, the sun, the birds. You can lay my bones there anytime thanks. So peaceful it is.

One quick misadventure on the way over Arthurs Pass I should recount. Running out of petrol on the freezing, wind swept plains at the top of the pass. Oh, I thought there would be lots of towns on the christchurch side... nope. Got a fun ride immediately with a fijian studying agriculture here, and visiting his uncle at Hokitita. 30km to the next petrol, and waited maybe 15 mins for a ride back with a car camper from Nelson/Golden Bay area. That was fun. Just made it back to the petrol station 10minutes before they closed for the night.

Christchurch, Isabelle, and the funny Churchill St crew. Home :-)

Ok, which catches up to yesterday...

Yesterday I followed Isabelle to University, and we (she) pruned her vines. As a viticulture and oenology student (wine) she gets to maintain a row of vines for a season, and produce wine from it. This was all fabulously interesting for me (although a little unprepared for the cold dry wind of the field). So we spent the day chopping and weighing and tying, and generally contributing a day of love and attention toward 10 bottles of Chardonnay.
Last year's tastes excellent to me :-!

Today we're going Otago. Yippee for me.
What did you do today?


Friday, August 23, 2002
Hello World.

I'm in Queenstown. Got here a day early. Here's how...

Dunno, it's a landmark for sure. Another pretty girl.  This one's married... now.  Sigh. I had my chance.

Isabelle, Turlough (sorry dunno how he spells it), and I got in a car and drive south-west. It started flat and dull. A little dusty even as we powered across the foothills of snowy peaks. Eventually we turned up and into the hills. A little greener, a few more sheep. But gradually it got colder, and less treed, more tundra, brown, bleak and perhaps a little mean.

The mission was to scope out the Otago wine region. What have they got? What are they planning? What does it taste like? Can they give us a job?

Isabelle and Turlough are doing a one year course on Viticulture and Oenology (spelling?) at Lincoln this year. They want to work on a vineyard, or in the cellar. They like wine. So much so that they want to make a career of it. Isabelle dreams of a little winery in a nice place with James by her side. Turlough, I dunno, the fireman turned wine merchant turned wine distiller, as long as there's a beautiful blonde and a dog in his future, he'll be jolly.

After finding a room in Cromwell (the 'Chalets' are a little more remenisent of school camp than my recent idea of chalets, but no mind). We set out and launched our assault on four of the local wineries. Tasting, schmoozing, critiquing, and asking good questions. I may now know more about the South Otago wine region than any of you ever will. Frost was the most amusing. One cold morning and the whole crop could be lost. But each had only just pockets lost unusually. I'm surprised by the terrain they are planting in. Some of so rocky terraces were blasted out. One grower is working hard to establish a reputation for Pinot Noir, to distinguish the region from the famous Sav Blanc's coming out of a more northern region. The wines all taste fine to me, but i'm just not all that into it at heart. I'd be proud of any one of them. Some beautiful rugged country these people are living in. Very much like the Okanagon region of interior British Columbia (Canada). It was curious to observe the personality and business differences between the small risk takers who have pioneered this area. As large investors gobble up sheep farms at spiralling high prices. Grapes are going in everywhere. Golf, what else... Restaurants, and helicopters from Queenstown. Welcome back to the rest of the world.
'The most photographed winery in the world.'  So I took one too. I'm the short one

Night Two was a summer cabin in the caravan park - no heating. Lots of empty $70 motels in town, but the backpackers was washed away by the flood, two years past, along with the oldest pub in NZ. Alexandra was a mining town which seems to be doing very well. We couldn't really work out why. Just a rural intersection I think. But nice local people, and probably beautiful in a few more weeks - spring. A couple more wineries this morning, and time for goodbyes. I really enjoyed my time with Isabelle and Turlough on their adventures, and I learnt heaps. But dizzy lights of Queenstown beckon. They dumped me at Wanaka, and I got a bus into town.

That's it. I'm the advance party for the mission beyond on Queenstown. Cya.

Monday, August 26, 2002
There's quite a bit of this.
There are some more photos up there under "dump3", but I can't tell you any more since I'm experiencing some curious internet access points, and the various restrictions they try to hide the fact that they are running on windows.

Anyway, less of the boring stuff, and more of the fun.

Today is a lay day. Woken at 6:45 by the breakfast cook, Kate, I dozed for a few more moments till the troops arrived at 7:00. We took porridge, bacon, eggs, toast, and tried to work out what was going on with the ski-fields. It snowed overnight, and there's nothing like the sight of snow on the balcony. All fields are closed for high wind.

Yesterday was a day of blizzard conditions perched high upon the Remarkables. The road up is fun, think Pikes Peak and you're on the right path. This was Day One for most of the crew. Steve F. and a second carload found their way into town at around 1:30am, whilst Steve C. found me just preparing to leave the unit a little after dusk on Saturday.

Saturday I awoke to the rustling of 4 irish girls preparing to meet their 9:00AM bus, out the front, at 7:00AM. It was a horrible night back in backbackerville as six people were squashed into a tiny room in a house purpose built for housing on a people per sq foot basis. I lounged around most of the day after a couple of urgent downtown items. Did the tourist round of exploring the town. Yes, McDonalds and friends are here, Tiffany's, Louis Vuitton, Hard Rock Cafe, the list goes on and on. Hunted out a flight home, snow rental prices, coffee, sunnies, sheepskin everythings, I'm all shopped out. Found the hotel, checked in, transfered luggage, wondered how much I should touch. Waited.....

Seems endless

So the skiing was... er .... fun? I'm boarding, and aren't overly impressed with the Burton step-in bindings. Perhaps after practice, but I couldn't get into them without sitting down. Have a niggling achillies tendon keeping my attention, but not a real problem as yet. I just can't really comment on the conditions, just wasn't exciting. On the side of one of these treeless mountains you're totally exposed to the elements and the wind made it impossible, combined with being in the clouds, you've a flat light such that you can't tell the barren hard pack patches from the deep fluffy powder pockets, you might be getting the idea.

We wandered the town this morning, with an express interest to get our names down for heli-skiiii. I wasn't at all hard to sell :-D but took my casual distinterested face. Now the excitement begins. A plan is forming. This is a ski week after all. (someone say "Open that credit card up?"). Tomorrow Steve C will take us skiing if it kills him. So heli should happen on Thurs or Fri. Nice climax to the week. This could get fun.

Ben and Judith.. the happy couple. Kerrie Katherine and Sue Steve, a private moment

Thursday, August 29, 2002
WOW, have I said that before.

Well we reached the climax of the week on Wednesday. Heli skiing was absolutely fantastic. Superb. Brilliant.

Do you ever have those days when you can't get the grin off your face?
Ever had a day when you feel like the Lord really does love you a whole freaking lot?

The sun shone all day. There was fresh, untracked snow on the ground. There was a guide and 3 others. This was.....
Insert your very own superlative there. I can't express just how much fun and excitement that was. Perhaps the photos can tell some of the story.
Try this...

Start of a perfect day. Taxi!!! Going up?  Just plonk it here then, eh? Up and over the inversion layer
Hsin is just gorgeous! Who's driving this bus. Ok... so who's excited?
Here's our ride. Mark conquers the universe. Where'd everybody go? Toughest decision of the day. Left or Right? Move along now people, there's nothing to see here. Drawing lines.
But if i go down there, he'll only bring me back up again. Cool! What a job No Standing

for just a sample.
I could rave on forever, and should definately have made this post yesterday evening, whilst fresh and still on the big high... and what a high!

Just one more day to go sadly. Today we took it easy and got up to the Remarkables at about 11am. It was crowded, and the light was really flat like last time, and my boots hurt, and... moan, moan, moan ;) A couple of lazy runs and back to the benches for me. Got into it late, for a few harder turns on the last few runs as the crowd wound down and the sun weakened. Just like those beautiful days at Big White for a moment there. Got away on my own for a few runs and just the listening to people on the lifts, on the runs, listening to the mountains, the quiet, perhaps meeting a local. Beautiful really. An inkling of work... why would you?

Getting late already. We've been dining it up most evenings, and not a lot (any) free time out for this kind of thing. Just one more day to go. A last hard blast or two down the mountain.
Hope I have the legs for it.

God Loves You All.

Sunday, September 01, 2002
I'm home.

Meanwhile, back on the ski hill The last day was Coronet Peak. We slept in a bit, but still got onto the snow by about 10. I guess everyone was really getting worn down. The snow started out hard and frozen but was slushing up nicely with the perfect sunshine on it. We cruised around slowly and took an early lunch in the sunshine. I ducked out of the apres-lunch group ski thing and found a deserted T-bar. Excellent move. Powered my way down a gruelling run over and over, needing two rest stops on each run. Does the T-bar count as a rest? I dunno. Must've got about 6 runs in pretty much by myself. Now that's more like it. All the skiing had been so crowded (excepting the heli of course).
I'm soooo depressed

I'm home... did I mention that already? The trip home was uneventful. I matched my 3 take-offs with 3 landings and discovered the 5:45pm ferry doesn't run on Saturdays. Welcome back to the world.

Hope you enjoyed the trip.