Friday, March 28, 2014

New Zealand Day 42: Heading Home

I had a great soak in the mineral pool at the Top 10 last night, and while I was doing that had a lovely chat with some folks who are part of a group of six couples engaging in a friendly challenge/road trip: buy a car for less than $1000 and drive it from Auckland to Bluff (at the bottom of the South Island). The next morning we went out to see them as they were packing up.

B particularly liked this car:

 Yes, it has a ladder on the roof. Awesome.

We sent them off with our remaining maple syrup candies that we'd brought to hand out during our trip.

Then B and I gave away a bunch of stuff, leaving shampoo and conditioner in the communal bathroom, laundry detergent and clothespins in the laundry room, and food and spices in the communal kitchen.

I got almost all of our stuff smushed into our two checked bags (the allowance is one per person on Air New Zealand), including three bottles of wine! Turns out wetsuits are excellent for cushioning bottles. My parents also took a couple of bottles for us.

We spent the rest of the morning at the excellent Rotorua Museum, where they had a great activity sheet for kids that toured them around the various exhibits. Then it was picnic and playground time before getting in the car to drive to Auckland.

I enjoyed my last hard cider. This was my absolute favorite from NZ:
 Too bad I didn't have any more room to bring some back with me.

I was also disappointed that the airport store appeared to have every single flavor of Whittaker's chocolate except the mint-filled one that I love. Ah, well, I'm taking this as a sign that it's time to get back into triathlon shape!

B and I were very excited to see that we were going to travel on a Smaug plane:

The flight from Auckland to LA actually went very smoothly. B watched Peppa Pig and then the two of us watched Frozen simultaneously during our very tasty veg dinner. We got ready for sleep and made up our cuddle class bed, but B simply couldn't turn off her brain—she had question after question about plot points in Frozen! Eventually she fell asleep. I finished my book and then tried to catch some sleep...was able to drowse for a few hours.

After leaving Auckland at 7 PM Sunday night, we arrived in LA at 11:30 on Sunday morning. Whaaa??? I actually had to wake B up for final approach into LA. Getting through passport control was a nightmare as three large international planes had come in simultaneously. LONG line. Getting through customs was also extra-interesting as one of the sniffer dogs alerted on our baggage (eventually decided it was from a salad from the plane, which had spilled into it). However, it appears that they were so busy making sure we weren't importing fresh fruit that they forgot to charge me duty on the alcohol, so OK.

After giving back our checked baggage and getting dressed again, we said goodbye to my folks, checked in for our Boston flight and got through security without difficulty. Then we made a beeline for Starbucks! After chai for me, hot chocolate for B, and some snacks for the plane, it was time to board again.

B did great again, watching a movie on the iPad and doing some other activities before falling asleep.

We were SO happy to arrive in Boston after our many hours of travel. Our bags came right out and Alex and Jasper picked us up at the curb. Hurray!

New Zealand Day 41: Rotorua

We are planning to stay our last two nights in Rotorua before heading to the Auckland Airport for a Sunday evening flight.

The Top 10 where we are staying is right next to one corner of the big park where B and I played on our earlier swing through town. This morning, we were happy to discover that there's a farmers' market right there!

It also features a library bus. Cool!

I had to stop myself from going crazy with all the lovely harvest-time fresh food, since we are leaving tomorrow. B and I did pick out some fresh fruit for our travel day, though.

 We also looked for flower girl dresses for my cousin's wedding in May.
A little too frilly, I think!

The main goal at lunch was to use up as much food as possible. Mom made a great pasta salad with a combo of leftovers. Very tasty.

The afternoon was mostly taken up with packing and other preparations. Then we went out for what B termed a "bang out dinner" to celebrate and mourn our last night in New Zealand.

We chose Capers Epicurean, because the food looked great and we could bring our own wine.

We brought this fantastic single-block Sauv Blanc from Saint Clair. Yum.

B and I made some selections from the dessert case for us to share. Mmmmmm.

And yummy drinks to boot. I'm going to miss this!

New Zealand Day 40: Hilary's Much Less Enjoyable Tongariro Crossing

After Alex's spectacular hike of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, I had been hoping to have a chance to do this walk as well. I watched the weather for the last week of our trip and it looked like today, Friday, would be the best. There's a hiker shuttle from Taupo, almost an hour and a half away, so I reserved a spot on that so that B and my parents wouldn't have to spend several hours taking me to and from the trailhead and would have the car for the day.

The shuttle was supposed to pick me up at 5:30 in front of our holiday park. When it got to be 5:55 with no shuttle, I was starting to think about going back to bed! But then it showed up and we had a quiet drive into Tongariro National Park. Much quicker than with the campervan last month!

When we arrived at the trailhead, I was pleased to see that the volcanic risk was normal.

It was spitting a little bit of rain and therefore was a bit chilly when I hit the trail at 8 AM. Some of the other folks in the parking lot were wearing quite...interesting ensembles for something called an Alpine crossing, including shorts, Converse sneakers, jeans, and cotton sweatshirts. Seriously—just because the logo on the sweatshirt says North Face doesn't mean it's safe for hiking!

As I started up the trail, I saw that the valley below was bright and sunny.

Looking up was cloudy...

...but I was hopeful that after climbing a bit I'd break through the cloud and there would be sun above.

Like Alex, I was really impressed by the trail work!

Sadly, it turned out that once I hiked into the cloud, I never came out of it. Eventually I topped out at Red Crater, but couldn't see anything but cloud in every direction. I had planned to hike up Ngaruhoe, but decided that heading off into a white-out to climb an unmarked trail up a volcano was perhaps not a very good idea. Plus, why bother with no view? If I'd had a car at the trailhead, I probably would have turned around at this point, or sooner, as it was clearly not my day either weather-wise or health-wise. I'd felt a bit sick to my stomach overnight and hadn't slept well at all. It was cold and rainy and there was no view. I was not happy.

But, on I tramped, slow and steady. Eventually I headed down a steep scree slope and saw my first view of the day. Look! The Emerald Lakes!

Even prettier once I got closer:

It was a good thing Alex had taken all of those photos, as at least I could imagine all the awesome stuff that was off in the clouds somewhere.

Eventually I came down onto the shoulder of the mountain and got out from underneath the clouds. Then it got lovely!

This area had some beautifully colored rock, mineral-stained I think, as well as some steam vents.

And this is the steam vent left over from the eruption in 2012.

I took a lunch break at the Ketetahi Hut and was able to warm up now that the sun had returned. Then I headed down the long run-out, eventually ending up in the woods for the last few kilometers. 

Once at the trailhead, I settled down to wait for the shuttle to return. Happily, I had packed my Kindle and had a good book to read. The shuttle came back a little early and everyone booked on it was already off the mountain (probably because the weather had been so crummy that no one did the side hikes up Ngaruhoe or Tongariro). I got back to Taupo just after 4 and ran into the final issue with my not-very-good hiking day...the public showers had just closed. Arrgh!

So, all in all, not a spectacular day. I will hope to return on a lovely day in the future! Sometimes you just need to chance it, though...the risk just didn't pay off today.

B had a great day with my folks in Taupo, including lunch at L'Arte Cafe and mini-golf. Once I returned we headed towards Rotorua, our destination for the night. On the way, we stopped to show my parents Huka Falls and the blurbling Mud Pool, favorites from earlier in our trip! The mud was just as entertaining the second time. I love that place.

New Zealand Day 39: Wine Tasting in Hawke's Bay

The plan for today was to celebrate my mom's birthday with a tour of some Hawke's Bay wineries near Hastings and Napier. Hawke's Bay, on the east coast of the North Island, is best known for its red wines, rather than the Sauvignon Blancs and other white wines that are the specialty of Marlborough on the South Island. 

We started our day at Salvare, which was a great choice!

We sat out in the garden for our tasting. Their motto is to slow down and enjoy the journey...and in that vein we had a very mellow and enjoyable tasting, served by one of the owners.

We tried three different chardonnays: a 2011 Salvare Chardonnay, which was the least oaked, a 2010 Salvare Chardonnay, which was a bit more intense, and then a 2011 Salvation Chardonnay which was wild fermented. Steve explained that this meant that they didn't add any it took 11 months (rather than 4 weeks) to ferment and is always an experiment because it relies entirely on what yeast is present in the vineyard. Sometimes delicious (like this one) and sometimes terrible. I don't usually like Chardonnay much but enjoyed trying these very much.

Then we tried a 2013 Merlot Rose, which was very fruity, a 2008 Salvaret Merlot (too dry to be my thing), a 2009 Salvare Syrah (very peppery with some clove), and a 2009 Salvation Hawkes Bay Blend (which if I liked reds I would probably have enjoyed).

Brynna stayed busy with some coloring and with a box of toys that they have available for kids. We also ate some chardonnay grapes that Steve picked right off the vines. Very sweet and yummy.

We finished off with this very interesting Frappe Vino wine slushy!

Yes, I know it sounds sacreligious but it was delicious.

After our hour or so in the garden, we moved inside to try olive oils, dukkah (an Egyptian blend of spices) and vinegars. Sooooooo tasty.

B liked looking around the shop, too.

I think this was my favorite cellar door of the whole trip. I liked the white wines down south better, but the whole experience at Salvare...fantastic.

Next stop was down the road at Ngatarawa.

Their cellar door (tasting room) is in this lovely converted stable.

I have never seen this before and think that it is brilliant. It's a sunscreen dispenser!

B liked the friendly chocolate lab in the courtyard, who sniffed her and then rolled over for a tummy rub.

We started with the whites:

A 2013 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (they partner with vineyards on the South Island), a 2013 Pinot Gris, a 2008 Chenin Blanc, and a 2012 Chardonnay.

For reds, we tried a 2012 Pinot Noir, a 2009 Merlot, and a 2010 Syrah. We wrapped up with a 2013 late harvest dessert wine that I loved so much I got a bottle to bring home.

The views at the estate were lovely. It's just about harvest time—some places have just finished, other places in process, others just about to start.

Then it was time for lunch. We'd asked the Salvare guy where he recommended, and he mentioned the Unwined cafe at the Unison Vineyard because they had good food and a playground. So that's where we headed.

It was a hit. The food was tasty and B loved the playground.

Then we decided that we were actually wine-d out for the moment. Shocking, I know. So we headed towards Napier, stopping to take this grapevine photo. I didn't realize that the grapes hung down under the leaves like this rather than being scattered throughout the plant. Huh.

Napier was rebuilt in Art Deco style after an earthquake in 1931, and we really enjoyed looking at the architecture.

After some coffee and gelato (as well as some bagpipe music from a graduation ceremony) we headed towards Taupo for the night.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Blast from the Past

Usually the car radio is tuned to NHPR. But there are plenty of places in the state where the reception is a bit sketchy. The other day I was heading up I-93 to Lincoln and the Kanc, and it goes to fuzz. I hit Scan and, a few stations later, I hear these familiar lyrics:

I have forever always tried / to stay clean and constantly baptized...
That's Pain Lies on the Riverside, the first track from Mental Jewelry by Live, who was a favorite band of mine back in high school and early college. I heard that track many, many times coming out from my CD player. Of course, being a CD player, I usually heard the whole album start to finish - an experience less frequent in these days of playlists.

When the song had finished on the radio and I reflected a bit on it, I realized that the album came out in 1991, meaning that it's more than twenty years old! Now, I grew up listening mostly to my parents' music; I'm down with the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle, Creedence Clearwater, The Who, and so on. That was old music when I was young, and I understood it as such. To think that the music that was new and fresh in my youth - the whole Alternative and Seattle Grunge scene - is now pretty old in its own right is a bit of a revelation. If he were alive today, Kurt Cobain would have recently celebrated his 47th birthday. What does that say about me?

What came next on that station? Alanis Morisette's "You Oughta Know." I could still could sing along. Cripes.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

New Zealand Day 38: Welly and off to Dannevirke. Wait...What's Dannevirke?

After one last bounce on the "jumping pillow" on the playground, we broke camp and headed for the city center. First stop was Te Papa, where B again had a great time. She spent most of her time in one of the kids' discovery rooms, where they had this nifty exhibit that showed the difference in energy requirements between an old incandescent lightbulb and an energy-conserving bulb. 

Then she spent lots of time playing in the blue whale heart model.
There was a young boy in there too and they were going through some kind of very elaborate scheme. I think B has really missed playing with (directing?) kids her own age so it was terrific.

Then we had a ride up and down the cable car:

Then headed back to the city outskirts to get some lunch on our way out of town. We found a great crepe place, Crepes a Go Go. They had lovely savory crepes for actual lunch, and then we all shared this dessert crepe afterwards:
Chocolate, passion fruit sauce, and whipped cream. Yum.

Then it was back into the car. We are planning to taste wine in Hawke's Bay tomorrow, but getting all the way there tonight seemed a bit of a long drive, plus we couldn't get a room at the Top 10. So, we found a little motel in Dannevirke, a town partway there. Turned out to be a cosy place to have dinner and spend the night.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

New Zealand Day 37: Weta Cave and back to the Carter Observatory

The big thing on my agenda for our full day in Welly was to go to the Weta Cave, home to Peter Jackson's production company (and thus to lots of Lord of the Rings stuff). We'd tried to go with Alex on our way down the islands, but had been blocked by terrible traffic. 

Mom and I headed off to Miramar, one of the Welly suburbs, to check it out. The free part is pretty much a gift shop, though there's also a cool free movie that runs 25 minutes or so and talks about the digital effects and prop work on a variety of different projects, including Lord of the Rings and more recently the Hobbit movies. 

Here are a few shots from inside the shop:

We did not climb on Lurtz.

We also took the paid tour inside the Workshop, which was awesome! Sorry, they don't allow photos. They talk a lot about how the different departments and the process of bringing all the props and effects to life. Definitely worthwhile if you are ever in town. However, it was a bit shocking when our guide reached out and bent one of the spikes on top of Sauron's spiky black crown—the costume had to be foam rubber because the full metal version used for some close-up shots was too heavy to actually wear!

We were also able to touch some of the special plastic chain mail that Weta has developed, which looks authentic but is much lighter than the real version.

And, of course, we spent some time with the trolls in the garden.

We went out for a dinner at a great Italian place, Bella Italia.

B got a kids-sized gelato but it looked to be just the same size as the grown up one, plus marshmallows.

We've been drinking lots of these.

Then it was off to Carter Observatory, which we'd enjoyed so much the first time and B was eager to show to M and Deen.

It was spectacular again, with a different show in the planetarium (this one talking a lot about telescopes and how astronomers study the universe) and another great explanation of the southern skies.

Sadly, it was a cloudy night so the telescope wasn't open. Instead, B was able to check out some more exhibits. She could touch a space rock...

...and this is her favorite, which is a computer simulation of various shuttle blast-offs, complete with noise and vibrations.

This is a moon rock.

If I moved to New Zealand, I still think I'd like to live in Wanaka, but it would be pretty great to get to go to this observatory all the time. Really superb.