Wanganui to Lake Taupo via Ruakuri Cave…

This morning after meeting for worship at the Quaker Settlement, we headed north on Route 3 along the Wanganui River to the Waitomo cave region. It took about three and a half hours to get there. The road was good, and we only encountered a few cars along the way, but there were a lot of twists and turns and construction — apparently there were a series of slides and washouts this last winter along the route, and the road is still being worked on in places. There were lots of one-way stretches, including a scary one where the signal was out and we had to reverse out of the way of oncoming traffic.

We arrived at the main visitor center for the cave complexes at about 2:30, but the next tour we could book wasn’t available until four, so we had an espresso and settled down on the lawn outside to wait. They had a number of tours going to different caves, including a rafting excursion. We picked the walking one, which was about 900m underground, and the only one where you could bring cameras. 

My little Olympus Pen has a pretty slow sensor, and I prefer shooting with no flash, but I still got some OK pictures of the caves:


The highlight of the caves wasn’t the formations, though, but the glow worms. Glow worms really aren’t worms, they’re fly larva, but as the tour guide pointed out, “glow maggot”just doesn’t have the same marketing appeal. I took some pictures of them, too, although they look more like sensor noise than glowing worms!

The glow worms were quite impressive in person, especially once you let your eyes adjust to the darkness. There was one part of the cave where we were all asked to turn off our cameras so it would get really dark, and they popped out like stars in a planetarium.

After the cave we retraced our steps most of the way and then headed out to Lake Taupo, where the AirBnB we’re staying at for the next two nights is. We were met by Linda, our host, and her dog Jacky, a little Jack Russell terrier. We had a lovely cup of tea and some fresh-baked lemon bread and a nice conversation. 

Tomorrow we head off to Rotorua and to some of the local Maori sites.

Wellington to Wanganui…

This morning we slept late — I had night terrors and snored, which woke Meg up, who woke me up and chewed me out and asked me to stay awake, which I couldn’t do — followed by breakfast with the other guest, Alan, at George Fox House.

We then went next door to the Quaker Meetinghouse, built in the 1930’s, and had a lovely meeting for worship with twenty-five members and attenders from around Wellington. Meeting was completely silent, but otherwise the structure was what you’d expect, except that at the rise of meeting, before announcements (which they call “notices” there was a call for “almost ministry”, an opportunity for anyone to speak who had ministry forming but hadn’t had it crystallize yet. I’m not sure how I feel about the practice — I know that Santa Cruz meeting has experimented with something similar, which they called “Afterthoughts” when we were there.

After the rise of meeting, we partook in a lovely prepared lunch potluck — just what they were doing, nothing special for us — and had lively conversation with a number of the Friends there before loading up and heading out.

We stopped about two and a half hours later in Palmerston North, where we had homemade cake with Liz, the sister of Janet, who’s watching our dog and is a regular attended at our meeting. Liz was a very gracious host, and we had a lovely conversation about a lot of things, including New Zealand politics and places to see on the North Island.

Then we headed to The Quaker Settlement, an intentional community of Quakers where we were going to spend the night. We got here around 6:30, just in time for a shared meal we didn’t know about, so we didn’t even have to go out to find food — we sat down and talked with a number of students on retreat here from Earlham School of Religion over dinner and chocolate zucchini cake.

After dinner, we got a tour of the twenty acres — a lot of it is being recovered, having originally been a Quaker school and operating farm until 1975. The folks living here are working to recover the land, which is mostly sandy soil dunes, with a combination of existing (mostly invasive) species and native species. They take a hybrid approach to the project, creating micro habitats for animals where there were none before. It’s really an excellent example of stewardship and recovering the land for future generations.

Tomorrow morning we’ll have breakfast and then join them in their morning worship before continuing on our way.

Golden Bay to Wellington…

Yesterday we drove from Golden Bay across the Takaka pass through Nelson to Picton, to take the ferry to Wellington. It was about a four hour drive, so not the marathon run we had the day before. The Takaka pass is quite something; it reminds me of the road up Mount Hamilton to Lick Observatory— switchback after switchback climbing at a 7% or 8% grade. Every kilometer or so there’s a “slow vehicle bay”, or a “stopping vehicle bay”, and it seems that everyone knows what they’re for, which worked really well — you can actually get in and out at quite a clip. The road is signed at 100 kph, but I doubt I did more than 60 kph on any part of it because it was so windy. And as with the Otago Peninsula, there were very few guardrails — it would have been very easy to drive off the road if you’re not careful.

We got to Picton over an hour before we had to board the ferry, which was a bit of a relief, because I misread a road sign and spent much of the last hour of that drive biting my nails thinking we were on the wrong road and we were going to miss our ferry, even though the GPS kept reassuring us that we were going the right way. There are two roads into Picton, the narrow windy one we took, and route 1, which is the main road up from Christchurch.

The ferry continues the highway to Wellington; the ferry boats take cars, vans, buses, the works. I think it seats about 1300, although I’m not sure. Embarkation was orderly but slow; Meg splurged for us and got seats in the VIP lounge, which had couches instead of airline-style seats, and free food throughout the three and a half hour crossing — so we had lunch and high tea after a fashion, along with a glass of wine to start and an espresso to finish. I spent most of the trip reading back issues of CACM, which will lighten my bag significantly now that I’ve had a chance to recycle them. There wasn’t a lot to see off the boat — the countryside in the sound is mountainous with forest leading down to the water, but of course the channel is through the middle of the sound, so you don’t get very close to the shore. 

We had to drop our car in Picton, and get a new car in Wellington — the car company doesn’t want cars crossing between islands, because it raises Cain with their inventory control. Because we didn’t check bags, we were off the ferry and in our new rental car in what must have been record time — I’d guess no more than ten minutes total. After that was a series of wrong turns and then a drive through Wellington center to Wellington Friends Meeting, where we were staying in the Goeorge Fox house, a guest house run by the meeting. We were met by Ralph, who is filling in for the caretaker, who showed us our room and chatted with us over a nice cup of tea before we walked down into town to get dinner.

Dinner was at a hole-in-the-wall Lebanese place having won “Best of Wellington” awards for the last three years, an award from Lonely Planet, and an award from TripAdvisor. It was excellent! I had some sausage wrap thing, which was spicy but not uncomfortably so; Meg had a combination plate of lamb, salad, and rice. 

A bit on driving…

I have not actually described the driving much around here. Getting used to driving on the left hand side of the road was easier than I thought it would be, although every morning I wake up anxious about the day’s driving ahead, and am relieved when we get to where we’re going. Most drivers have been very polite, although there have been a few bad ones — who may well be tourists like us, this is the height of the tourist season and there are a lot of tourists.

The semiotics of the road signs are very similar to the US — the main exception is that the “Yield” sign says “Give Way”, and there are no turns at red lights anywhere on the islands. The top speed is 100km/h on highways, and most highways are two-lane, single-carriage way, with passing lanes and/or “slow vehicle bays” every few kilometers on the straight stretches. You stay left except to pass at one of those places, although much of the rest of the road is marked to permit passing, including in places where it would be utterly crazy to do so. Most roads are clearly signed.

There aren’t a lot of advertising billboards, and the few that are are usually road safety signs warning about things like speeding or road fatigue. My favorites so far have been “Don’t count sheep while driving” and “Expect motorcycles. All the time.” The last gives me an image of motorcycle drivers raining from the heavens.

Off to Wellington!

Overland from Christchurch to Golden Bay in Pohara…

Yesterday was our longest drive, and unfortunately it was not a day to stop and take pictures. We drove over Lewis Pass from Christchurch to Pohara, and had to be in Pohara at 6:15 to meet our hosts for the potluck we were going to. We left late enough that we really didn’t have time to stop, so we didn’t. It was a seven-hour drive, with two five minute stops for gas.

The countryside looks a lot like the Sierras, although there’s less granite and more limestone. Most of the timber is farmed, however, giving the trees a rather combed look — they’re all the same height and planted in rows. The road into Motueka, off the pass, comes down this narrow river valley that’s farmed. It’s a lot like the river valleys in Monterey or Half Moon Bay, coming off the hill, just longer. Montueka is a small beach town, and definitely has the coastal beach feel.

We had a lovely time at the pot luck attended by about ten other Quakers held in our honor last night. We spent time talking about Pacific Yearly Meeting, the Quarter and its corporations, and the work that our meeting does, as well as some of the challenges our meeting faces. Golden Bay Meeting has been around for about thirty years, and is clearly a close-knit group. They have about thirty members, and meeting for worship each week ranges between ten and fifteen folks.

Today we retrace our steps before curving out to Picton to catch the inter island ferry to Wellington. We’ll return the rental car in Picton, and get a new car in Wellington — the rental company doesn’t let the cars go on the ferry; it’s too hard for logistics keeping the right number of cars on each island.

Dunedin to Christchurch…

This morning we got up early and did the drive to Christchurch from Dunedin, getting in at about noon. We’ve been doubly blessed by Quaker hospitality today; we’re staying at a home of some Friends in Christchurch who are traveling at the moment, and have a lovely view of the city from their living room. We got here, met them, learned about the house and chatted for a bit, and then they were off for their long weekend getaway. We spent some time catching up on emails from the people we’re staying with later in the trip, and then met up with Michael Winter, another Friend with Christchurch meeting.

We had coffee at Zeros, a little cafe down by the hospital just a few short minutes from where we’re staying. Michael’s vocation is education, and his avocation is beekeeping, so we learned what it takes to start a new queen in a hive of bees — it’s a lot more complicated than I thought! After coffee — quite good, but all of the coffee we’ve had in New Zealand has been very good — he was kind enough to take us on a driving tour of downtown Christchurch.

This turned out to be even more valuable than it sounds, because there are a lot of roads still closed with construction from the earthquake recovery. Not the one they had this weekend, but the big one from a few years ago. There are piles of rubble where buildings should be, new buildings being constructed, and in some places there are stacks of shipping containers along the side of building facades that they’re trying to save. It’s very sobering — it reminds me a little of after Loma Prieta in Santa Cruz, but the scope is much bigger than just the downtown Santa Cruz area. 

I didn’t bring my camera with me for the drive; it would have been too difficult to shoot out of the car, and somehow it didn’t seem right to be photographing buildings in the process of being torn down or built up. 

We had dinner at Zaffrons, which our hosts told us about, a Vietnamese-Thai fusion restaurant that was really good. They’re not on Yelp, though, which was frustrating, because we didn’t bring the address with us, and ended up finding it by accident after choosing another restaurant that was coincidentally on the same corner. 

After dinner while getting ready to drive back, I was programming Meg’s phone (she has a Nokia 1520, so we’ve cached offline Here maps), and there was a small earthquake.

Tomorrow we drive overland to Golden Bay, and tomorrow night is a Quaker potluck. It’s a long drive tomorrow, and we’ll probably drive it in shifts. So far I’ve done all the driving. I’m finally getting pretty used to it, although it’s still anxiety-provoking making right turns.

Eastern Bush to Dunedin

Today we drove from Eastern Bush to Dunedin. We got here at about 1:00, and poked around the city center and the university some. Meg found the psychology department at the university, which was in a cute little house near the center of campus.

After that we drove out on the Otago Peninsula to visit the Royal Albatross Center. The ride out the peninsula is hair-raising; it’s a narrow highway with maybe a meter between you and the ocean at high tide. It’s not a long drop down, but around every corner you wonder if you’re just not going to clear the turn or not. No guardrail, no curb in most places, not even a bike lane. Just a narrow strip of soil, a three meter drop, and then the water. 

The Royal Albatross Center was wonderful. We spent nearly an hour watching four nesting albatrosses feed their chicks (one per bird), while another three did lazy turns over the ocean and cliff in front of us. I got a lot of photos, but they’re going to take some work, as I only have the kit telephoto, and so it’s hard to know how much detail you’re going to get. At a minimum, the photos need cropping, which is why I won’t post them now.

The albatross is a big bird — their wingspan is about three meters. In the air, they look big, but it’s hard to realize how big they are; on the ground when one stretches its wings, you get the full import of how big the bird really is. They look for all the world like giant seagulls on steroids; the coloration is very similar to a gull; they’re just huge.

After the Royal Albatross Center, we headed back into Dunedin for our next AirBnB, with Mick and Mary Strack. They’ve been using AirBnB while traveling in Europe, and decided to open up a bedroom in their house now that their daughter is grown. It’s a very nice house; very spacious; the bathroom has both a shower and a whirlpool tub (which we didn’t use). We enjoyed a very pleasant cup of tea and conversation with them downstairs before heading off to get cleaned up for the night.

Milford Sound and Eastern Bush…

Today we drove the two hours out to Milford Sound and took an excursion on the sound. The ride gets progressively windier and windier as you head into Fjordland National Park, and then at the top of the hill is Homer Tunnel, a really long narrow tunnel with a 6% grade downhill through the mountain. After the tunnel is about another 20km of road before you reach Milford Sound.

The sound really isn’t a sound; it’s a fjord, carved by glaciers. It was pouring rain when we got there — complete with thunder and lightning — and I was really worried that we wouldn’t be able to see much. Nothing could be further from the truth!

All down the rock walls were temporary waterfalls, which start when the rain starts, and flow for 6-12 hours after the rain stops. It rains two hundred and sixty days.a year there — it gets the most rainfall of any populated area on the island. 


Here’s one of the permanent waterfalls:

Along the cruise, we saw fur seals, which are really sea lions, as well as bottle nosed dolphins. The dolphins loved swimming in the wake of the boats; it was fun to be up near the wheelhouse and hear all of the cruise captains talking on the radio about the best places to go to show the dolphins to their passengers. 

Our excursion was with Real Journeys, and we had a really good tour guide describing the history, geology, and wildlife of the region. The cruise lasted about two hours, and included a stop at the “Discovery Center”, a little floating platform with an underwater observatory 10m down into the sound. You could climb down the stairs and then look out into the water. The marine habitat is very interesting, apparently — the freshwater floats on top, and filters out a lot of the light, so you end up with a lot of deep-sea marine life living actually quite close to the surface of the water. 

After Milford, we doubled back — the only way out is in — to Te Anau, where we stopped at a coffee shop and had corn fritters and espresso for an early dinner, and did a bit of grocery shopping and topped up the gas tank before heading out to Eastern Bush. Tonight we’re staying on a sheep farm with about 1800 ewes and 2400 lambs.


Queenstown to Te Anau

We landed yesterday in Auckland, and after a short wait at the Auckland airport, flew to Queenstown. The breakfast in the Auckland airport was amazing — I had a huge plate of very fresh fruit and Greek yogurt with honey, while Meg had poached eggs and spinach on rye toast. Yum! And really good coffee too — I’ve never seen anything like it at an airport.

The air approach to Queenstown is really convoluted; you fly in through this mountain valley system and then down to the level of the lake. For much of the approach the mountains are above you; it seemed like you could look out the window and be eye-to-eye with a mountain goat, but we didn’t see any.

We recovered for a bit at Nick’s AirBnB in Queenstown, and then walked downtown for a lovely Valentine’s Day dinner at The Public Kitchen, at the marina. That was all family-style; we had flounder and mussels and clams and a wilted green salad and a blue cheese and spinach and carrot salad, finishing it off with more coffee and a huge helping of trifle. Then we walked to the Queenstown gardens, where we poked around a bit. The gardens are pretty but not spectacular — no pictures; I forgot to bring my camera.

This morning we got up and drove out along highway 6 past the south parts of Lake Wakatipu, which was incredibly beautiful. The countryside looks a little like the central California coast, although the mountains are more rugged; we saw a lot of plants that looked very similar.


We had lunch at the Cafe Under the Dome in Mossburn, on highway 94, and it’s definitely a place to stop at as well. I had the eggs Benedict, which was three poached eggs instead of two, with bacon. We finished our drive to Te Anau, and arrived at our next AirBnB by about two o’clock. 

This side of Lake Te Anau isn’t quite the sight that  Lake Wakatipu is, but it’s still pretty. The AirBnB we’re in is an old Zephyr caravan (camper for Americans), and is very quaint.

Tonight is dinner in the heart of Te Anau, and tomorrow we’re off to the Millford Sound for a boating excursion.