Monday, March 30, 2009

Reading is FUNdemental

I arrived in New Zealand a little less than two months ago, and in that time I've read twelve books. That's six books a month--not bad. Now, granted, for the first month, I didn't have a job, and thus did have a lot of spare time; however, I've had a M-F 8-5 for three weeks now and my pace hasn't slowed. I attribute that directly to the fact that my television consumption (aside from a few Super 14 rugby matches) has been precisely: nil. It's amazing how much time you can find when you aren't spending countless hours on your duff in front of the boob tube.

What's more, I've found I can now multi-read. I'd never before been able to pick up and start reading a new book if I still had one unfinished. But no longer. I'm reading four books at the moment: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad; Xenophon--the story of the Greek general leading his 10,000-man mercenary army out the heart of the Persian Empire in 431 BC; The biography of John Lennon; and a book on bio dynamic wine making. It's just like pausing one program and changing channels.

I've always enjoyed reading, but the new voraciousness of my appetite for books has led me to discover one of the greatest places ever: ...the library! Okay, so I can't take credit for "discovering" the library, as if it were some long-lost and forgotten concept, but it was definitely a "re"-discovery for me. I haven't had a library card since I was probably twelve, but that's exactly what I was looking forward to all last week. I simply couldn't wait for Saturday to get my library card. You see the library closes at 5:00pm on weekdays, and I could never make it there after work in time to get one. You know, it's funny, but I never thought of going to the library when I lived in Dallas. Not ever. Never crossed my mind. Not once. If there was a particular book I wanted to read, where did I go? Barnes and Noble--to BUY it! What? Why did I do that? Paying for books seems like such a silly thing to do now that I've discovered, sorry, re-discovered the library.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have four books to read.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Peter Deloise. Some more random things I've been thinking about.

-The stars at night may be big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, but they seem to be much more plentiful deep in the heart of the highlands of Central Otago. Never have I seen more stars. Nor have I ever seen the Milky Way more clearly. Absolutely stunning. And speaking of stars, familiar constellations such as Orion, are upside down here--it's kinda weird.

-Do fingernails grow more quickly in the Southern Hemisphere? I've found that I need to clip them more frequently here.

-I heard this little nugget the other day: "It's all a matter of perspective. To an earthworm, digging in the garden is much more enjoyable than fishing."

-It's a funny thing about money. When I first got here, the price of things had no real intrinsic meaning to me. I was constantly trying to do the math--based on the current exchange rate with the US Dollar--to figure out what things were "worth." But even then, I found myself spending fairly indiscriminately. But now that I have an income (such as it is) in Kiwi Dollars, prices have a whole new (and very real) meaning to me. When you only make $12.50 an hour, all of a sudden that $11 for takeaway fish and chips and a Coca-Cola means something very real.

-We've been doing a lot of "bunch thinning" at the vineyard this week. Bunch thinning is when you remove smaller, less-ripe bunches from the vines so as to remove their energy drain from the plants so the already bigger and more-ripe bunches can get even more so. It's a very Spock-like philosophy: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

-I drove the vineyard truck for the first time today, and with a bed full of people... I stalled out. It was quite embarrassing, and I took a pretty good ribbing for it. I mean, I know how to drive a stick. I drove a stick for years. But in my defense, I've never had the shifter to my left. It took some getting used to. Thank goodness all the peddles were at least in the same relative position.

-"Would you fancy a cuppa tea?" I've come to really enjoy being asked that question because I've come to really enjoy drinking tea. "That would be lovely. Milk, one sugar, please." And it got me to wondering why the English custom of tea drinking never really caught on in America like it did in all the other lands colonized, or once ruled, by the Brits. It was that whole Boston Tea Party thing, wasn't it?

-Given my new-found respect for the price of goods, I bought the generic, store-brand Muesli (read, granola) cereal from the supermarket the other day. The store-brand name: "Sanitarium." Am I nuts, or is that a crazy name for breakfast cereal?


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Today is my 51st day in New Zealand and my 14th in Wanaka. And, as much as I've enjoyed my time, until today, I still felt like I was just visiting this place--and not really living here. Today was different.

Yesterday I answered an ad for a room to rent, took a look at the place, liked it, and paid my first two weeks rent in advance. I'm renting a good sized room, with a queen size bed (the first non twin I've slept on in NZ), in the home of a very nice lady named Paula. Also in the house is Paula's eleven year old daughter, Jahda, and two of the most lovable little kittens you've ever seen: Bubbles and Squeak. And come Wednesday, when Paula's 23 year old son, Jethro, moves to Wellington, his room will be filled by another lodger: Antonia, a young woman from Auckland who just moved to Wanaka for the upcoming ski season.

Paula has lived in Wanaka for almost eight years now and she tells me the longest she's gone in that time without at least one lodger is two weeks. As a result, she's got the 'make you feel at home' thing down pat. Last night she invited me to sit down with the family for a chicken dinner. It was SO much better than the tuna fish sandwiches or canned ravioli that have been my standard dinner fare for the last couple weeks. Tonight it's home-made pizza!
Today, for the first time in NZ, I woke up in a big bed. Today, for the first time in NZ, my clothes were folded and put away in a dresser or hanging in a closet rather than rolled up in a backpack. Today, for the first time in NZ, said backpack was nowhere in sight, having been stowed away in said closet the night before. Today, for the first time in NZ, I ran into to someone I knew at the grocery store. Today, for the first time in NZ, I bought toilet paper. Today, for the first time in NZ, I felt like I was home.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

72nd Annual Wanaka A&P Show

That's "Agricultural & Pastoral" so you know. And it's kind of a big deal around these parts. A much-anticipated, all-day affair on the sport fields in the middle of town, the A&P show draws people from far and wide throughout Central Otago. Think county fair, writ large.

You've got all your latest and greatest tractors and other farm implements on display. You've got your sheep-shearing competition. You've got your equestrian dressage displays with all it's pageantry. You've got your prize-winning pumpkin proudly showing off it's blue ribbon beside the champion cucumber and the most regal rhubarb you've ever seen. You've got your fresh berry ice cream sundaes and even corny dogs (not Fletcher's, but not bad). You've got your grand parade of all the best bulls, sheep, alpacas, and llamas. You've got your dog trials, where the best sheep dogs from around the region showcase their abilities to usher a six-pack of woolly sheep through, around, and into several gates and pens. I was hoping beyond hope to see a James Cromwell-esque gentleman enter his trained porcine pet in the competition, but no dice.

However, the highlight of the afternoon was, without question, The Jack Russell Terrier Derby! The idea of the race is to lead the pack of pooches around a track by means of a dead rabbit dragged behind a horse and rider, with the first little JRT to cross the finish line taking the blue ribbon. The reality is far more chaotic, and heaps more entertaining. Picture if you will fifty or so little fuzzy balls of pure energy barely able to be restrained by their owners until the report of the starter's pistol signals the start of the "race." When the gun goes off, most, if not all, our little racers immediately dart toward our recently departed rabbit playing the lure, and it looks like we've got an actual race on our hands. That lasts all of two seconds. All the little Jacks, as a breed more than a little ADHD ("oh look, something shiny!") quickly lose interest in their supposed quarry, and any semblance of an organized race devolves at warp speed into a general melee of Jack Russell chaos. None of our tiny racers crossed the finish line so there was no winner this year--not an uncommon occurrence I understand. Greyhounds these are not. But good times were had by all.

The day was unfortunately slightly marred by a little technological tragedy. I had recently filled my digital camera's memory card to capacity, so before heading out this morning, I inserted a fresh one. When I tried to take my first shot of the day, my camera beeped and angrily displayed a message telling me "Memory Card Error--Card Locked." I have no idea what that means or how to fix it. So, a great day, filled with heaps of really fantastic pictures, will just have to be a great day filled with heaps of really fantastic memories. And you know...

..."That'll do, pig. That'll do."


Bonus points if you can point out precisely how many alliterations I used in this post.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Movin on up

For the past four weeks Rippon Vineyards has employed a number of temporary workers, like me, to prepare for the upcoming harvest. Those preparations will be done tomorrow, and for the next three weeks or so--until the actual harvest--the temps will not be needed. Some, may not even be asked back for harvest. Charlie, the boss lady, told me today that she not only wants me back for harvest but wants me to stay on during the entire interim between now and then so that she can train me up for a "position of responsibility" as she put it. Not too shabby, huh? I've only been working there for nine days and I've already been given a promotion!

I don't mean to toot my own horn (oh, who am I kidding? that's exactly what I mean to do) but I'm hand's down the hardest temp worker there. I'm absolute dynamite at net pulling, apparently--Ned told me so himself. And the fact that I've been able to somewhat motivate our lackadaisical German friend, Austen, may have something to do with Charlie taking a shine to me. Every morning Charlie assigns the two-person work teams their tasks. Every day the teams are shuffled up so that you work with someone new every day. Apart from Austen and me, that is. We've been teamed up for the past six work days pulling nets behind Ned's tractor. Charlie told me today that it's the only job that Austen is halfway competent at and motivated to do, and that he hasn't responded to any other pairing than with me, and that she greatly appreciated my taking him on day after day without complaint. She calls us the "six million dollar" team--think about it. Feels good to be recognized for hard work.

And now to answer a couple of questions I've received:

-Yes, there are a number of more efficient ways to secure the nets rather than "digging them in" as explained in an earlier post. For example, you could use tent stakes to secure them to the ground. Or, you could use little plastic clips to secure one bay of nets to it's neighbor, thus eliminating the need to secure any but the end rows to the ground. However, that's only half the story. What nets get put out must be taken in at some point. And that's where the digging in method earns it's stripes. A moderate tug is all that's needed to get the nets out from under the little piles of earth placed on top of them, so reeling the nets back in is a relative breeze. If you had to stop to collect thousands of little stakes or unhook thousands of little clips the job would take forever. So, you sacrifice a little bit of efficiency on the front end for heaps of it on the back end.

-I've been laying my head at night at the home of one of my coworkers: Amy. Last Wednesday Amy heard I was staying in a hostel but looking for a flat, and she offered her spare bedroom until I get sorted with a more permanent spot. She and her flatmate, a nice Irish fella named Sean Kelly (about as Irish a name as ever there was, huh?), are super nice and have made me feel quite at home. Funny note: I've been here for eight days now and the subject of a house key has never come up. Because the doors are never locked. Half of the time they're not even closed. You know, it's weird that that doesn't seem weird to me.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Four-legged friends

There's a whole pack of dogs running around the vineyard everyday. Thought I'd take a few moments to tell you about them.

Tank: Mutt. Tank is the unquestioned leader of the pack. And the resident rabbit killer. Any rabbit nearby better pray he doesn't find Tank barrelling after him, because if he does, it's lights out. Apropos of nothing, the "death squeak" a rabbit makes when in the jaws of a dog is not a sound I'd ever like to hear again.

Pippi: Mutt (but may have some greyhound in her). We see, Pippi during our morning handshakes then never again the rest of the day. She darts off at full sprint into the vines and she's gone.

Sweet Lou: Mutt. The ugliest dog I've ever seen, but true to her name, she's as sweet as sugar.

Diva: Jack Russell Terrier. At six months old, she's just a puppy, and the cutest thing you ever saw in your life. The vineyard, with acres and acres of space to run, heaps of birds and rabbits to chase, and plenty of playmates around (both two- and four-legged), must be Diva's idea of heaven.

Buddha: Jack Russell Terrier. Another good rabbit hunter, and Diva's most faithful playmate.

Flynn: Schnauzer. Poor, sweet Flynn. The senior citizen of the pack, Flynn is wholly unable to keep up with all the young whipper snappers. Most of the time he wanders around aimlessly with a rather confused look on his face. We all kind of think he's just a bit senile. But he's sweet.

It's kind of fun working in a place with these little characters running about.


Let's get ready to rumble!

Halfway through week two at Rippon Vineyards. It's amazing how quickly your body adapts to new working conditions. I've done about twice as much work these three days than the first three days last week (now that I know what I'm doing), yet I'm only half as tired. It seems I'd gotten quite soft sitting behind a desk for the last seven years, but a few more weeks of this and I'll be ready to wrestle my little brother once again. Let me explain: growing up, my brother and I wrestled all the time. We'd go at it til one of us gave in. I always won. Always. day I didn't. You see, my "little" brother is much bigger and much stronger than me. Once he beat me, and it became abundantly clear to all involved that he would beat me every time going forward, that was all she wrote for our wrestling matches. Who knows? Maybe the next time I see him, we might just re institute an old tradition.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A week at the office

The work day starts promptly at ten of eight in the morning, after the ritual morning greetings of course. The way it works is the first person to arrive simply parks him/her self in front of the equipment shed. The second person in shakes hands and exchanges "good mornings" with person one. Person three says good morning and shakes hands with persons one and two. And so on and so forth until our last arrival has made the entire handshake circuit, thus ensuring that not one minute of work is done until every member of the team has shaken hands with and greeted every other. Next we get a brief overview of the boss man's expectations for the day and receive our morning work assignments.

Monday: I'm on net pulling with Shannon and Bones. About a month before harvest, the sugary goodness of ripening grapes becomes an irresistible temptation for the local avian population, and thus nets are needed to protect our precious pinots and whatnot. A tractor, with Bones at the wheel, drives between a couple rows, slowly letting out the net from the large spool and threaded through the twenty foot-high boom attachment on the back. Shannon and I walk along behind the tractor a couple rows further out on either side. It's our job to stretch and pull the net so that it fully covers a bay of four rows of vines. Shannon is a full-timer and is absolutely indefatigable. It's all I can do to keep up with the pace she and Bones are setting, and by the time morning smoke-o (that's what Kiwis call break time) comes, my arms, chest, and shoulders are on fire. Never have I had a more intense upper-body workout than that first morning of net pulling. After a sweet fifteen minute respite, we're back at it til lunch. Another hour and a half of upper-body torture. The news I receive at lunchtime, that we're finished with net pulling for the day, is music to my ears. The afternoon will be spent helping the others "digging in."

I quickly discover that I've simply escaped one form of physical torture only to be introduced to another. It's not enough to simply drape the nets over the vines, they have to be secured all the way to the ground. This is done by digging them in. A two person team goes down between two bays of nets, one person digs a hole in the ground between the rows, then the second person stretches the ends of each net over the hole, and the first person replaces the earth he/she just dug up. The process is repeated approximately 250 times to complete one "dug in" row. Shannon and I make a pretty good team, and we're able to rock 'n roll through four rows that afternoon. By quitting time, every fiber of my being is exhausted. Upon returning to the hostel, I laid down on a lounge chair on the back patio for 45 minutes trying to summon the energy just to take a shower. I slept well on Monday night!

Tuesday: I'm digging in with Lewis. Lewis is an 18-year old kid, with the boundless energy of, well, an 18-year old kid. Witty, clever, and with a store of movie knowledge well beyond his age, he's an absolute delight to work with. While talking movies, we bust out five rows without even thinking about it before lunch time. Our post-lunch pace only slightly slower: four and a half rows. I slept well on Tuesday night.

Wednesday: I'm net pulling and digging in with Austen, a nice, but quite unenthusiastic, German fellow. Within 15 minutes of starting the day he turns to me and says "this work sucks, yeah?" Then throughout the remainder of the day he proceeded to ask me approximately every fifteen minutes or so to check the time on my watch. When I report to him the updated time he quickly does the math and reports back just how many minutes we have left to smoke-o or lunch. I don't think I checked my watch once while working with Lewis the day before, and the time flew by like nobodies business. This day drags on for an eternity. Still, despite Austen's grumblings and his ever present inquiries as to the hour, our morning session of net pulling goes rather well--much better than on Monday in fact. The reason being, we've got Ned behind the wheel of the tractor. Ned sets a much more forgiving pace than does Bones, and Austen and I are able to keep up without too much of a struggle. We were actually able to pull more nets at this slower pace than at Bones' breakneck speed because we didn't have to stop nearly as often to fix our mistakes.

The afternoon session of digging in, however, was not so smooth. Austen's lack of enthusiasm for the work translated into a frustratingly glacier-like pace. We barely completed two rows the entire afternoon. Oh well. I still slept well on Wednesday night.

Thursday: I'm on net pulling (again with Austen and Ned) in the morning and digging in with David in the afternoon. The morning goes well. David, my afternoon workmate, is in his fifties and is a self proclaimed expert on every single topic of conversation. He's also a bit of a one-upper. You know the type. If you know the prince he knows the king; if you've run a marathon he's run a triathlon. That kind of thing. I think he's also pleased as punch to have me around. The lone American on the crew, I'm a frequent target of David's critiques of the "American" way of life. He's pretty harmless though, and when we come to points differing opinions we're able to agree to disagree. Plus, an afternoon immersed in discussions of geopolitics flies by pretty quickly. I slept well on Thursday night.

Friday: We spend the day net mending. After several years of use, the nets develop some sizable holes that need mending so as to deny our winged friends access to the delectable treats contained within. Using a special needle and twine we spread out and walk each row mending holes as we come across them. It's an incredibly easy task, and not nearly as physically taxing as the other jobs I've done. It also affords a good bit of solitude, perfect for quiet contemplation. A very Zen-like job for the end of a long hard week. We knock off thirty minutes early in the afternoon and gather at the picnic tables where we're greeted with four bottles of wine from the tasting room, nine glasses, and a plate of bread, butter, cheese, crackers, and apple and orange slices. Not a bad way to wrap things up if you ask me. I slept very well on Friday night.

One week down. I don't know if I've ever worked so hard, slept so well, or been so happy! Looking forward to week two.


Saturday, March 7, 2009

Wanaka Working Man

...that's what I am. Or will be, come bright and early tomorrow morning.

I've covered a little over 1700 km since I left Auckland on Tuesday. I certainly didn't break any land speed records on my drive, but I've covered a lot of ground and left a lot of sights unseen. I only stopped a night each in Taupo, Wellington, and Kaikoura, and two nights in Twizel. I could easily have spent several days, if not weeks, in each of these places, but I needed to reach Wanaka by Sunday so I could start my new job Monday morning.


Lovely lakeside town, and adventure capital of the North Island. Arrived rather late and planned on leaving early the next morning so I didn't see much at all. Stayed in a dreadful hostel that I later read in Lonely Planet caters to the young hedonist--wish I'd read that first and found another place to stay. My room was directly above the attached nite club. Eurotechnopop bumping til 2:00am. Then, at 3:30am, a drunken British backpacker comes crashing into the room, awakening everyone in the process, and struggles up to his top bunk, only to come crashing back down ten minutes later in a desperate race against the reappearance of his dinner. Thankfully he made it out of the room, but not quite all the way to the bathroom before spewing. Despite my alarm being set for 8:00am, when I awoke at 7:23 I decided I wanted no more of this place so I got up and gathered my stuff. The vomit stench in the hallway was as bad as you might imagine! So long Taupo, hope to see you again under better circumstances.


New Zealand's capital. Not as pretty as I thought it would be, but not a bad little city. Found a nice relaxing hostel and confirmed the lack of an attached nite club before checking in. Then walked over to the Capitol Building, named The Beehive both for it's distinctive architectural style and for the buzzing flurry of goverment activity that takes place within. Next scoped out the waterfront and watched a few rowing races taking place in the harbour, while enjoying a nice gelato ( it seems my complete inability to pass a gelato stand without purchasing a cup has followed me from Auckland). Turned in pretty early as I had had such an early start in Taupo and had an even earlier start scheduled for the following morning in order to checkin in for the first ferry to the South Island. Slept very well.


I've already talked about the drive from Picton (the South Island ferry terminal) to Kaikoura in my "South Island Drivin" entry. Gorgeous! Famous for it's whale watching, and dolphin and seal swimming adventures, Kaikoura is a charming little community on a charming little peninsula. I'd definitely like to go back and spend some more time there--perhaps I'll look into whether I can secure a job there sometime later in the year. Trivia Night at the Whaler was a lot of fun. Didn't find Kim and The Big Wakas (they must have taken the night off) but joined up with a nice Dutch couple, to make a team of three. Our team name: The Bandits. Despite repeated efforts to tell me their names, my brain was just not wired to understand the sounds that were coming out of their mouths (Dutch people talk funny). So, for our purposes, we'll just call them Nooney and Girt. Bless em, Nooney and Girt were sweet enough, but absolutely no help at trivia, so I was, for all intents and purposes, a team of one. We (read I) came in fourth. Not bad considering every other team had at least seven people. No prize for fourth place, but it was fun nonetheless.


When I consulted my trusty AA South Island map, I discovered that in between my current location in Kaikoura and my destination of Wanaka lies Twizel. Twizel is the home of Bruce and Jane White, the parents of a nice Kiwi fella (Chris) I know back in Dallas. I decided to give them a call and see if they wouldn't mind putting me up for a night or two. They kindly said they wouldn't mind a bit. When I arrived the following afternoon I profusely apologized for dropping in on them with such little notice. I mean, I hadn't even confirmed with Chris that they were even aware of the possibility of a call from me. They summarily dismissed my apologies as wholly unnecessary, and the famous hospitality of the Kiwis I had heard so much about came shining through. Jane is the sweetest thing ever, and the consummate hostess. Bruce is an absolute character, and quite the tour guide.

On Friday night, Bruce and Jane had plans to go to a friend's 60th birthday so they left me to my own devices. I walked down to the town center and had a lovely dinner at Shawty's. Then bellied up to the bar next door to drink a cold Speight's for Brad. Then two more for Chris and Haley. Then, just to see what all the hubbub was about, I had one for myself. I can definitely see why Speight's is the "Pride of the South." Even though I only drank one of the four for myself, the effects of the entire lot were mine to enjoy. Good thing I was walking home. Bruce and Jane were home upon my return, and we all settled into the living room to drink a cup of tea and watch a footie match on telly. Bruce, a former rugby player, provided quite the education, and my understanding of the game increased ten-fold over the course of the game.

On Saturday morning I was treated to a nice breakfast and then a tour of, first the White farm, and then the surrounding countryside and lakes. Bruce is absolutely the best tour guide you could ask for. He can provide an education on so much more than rugby. I learned quite a bit about, among other things: sheep farming, fishing, rowing, and hydro-electric power generation. Did you know that over 70% of New Zealand's total power needs are provided by completely renewable hydro-electric and geothermal means? After the tour and a lovely lunch back at White Manor, I headed over to Mt. Cook and the Sir Edmund Hilary Center. New Zealand's highest peak, Mt. Cook stands a little over 12,000 ft. Because of it's relatively short stature (as far as mountains go), Mt. Cook is continually underestimated, evidenced by the eight people on average that die each year trying to climb her. Sir Edmund himself called it the perfect training ground before tackling Everest, and considered it one of the mountaineering world's great challenges. Unfortunately clouds completely obscured the peak the entire day, but it was neat anyway.

Saturday night, Jane and Bruce took me with them to a neighbor's barbeque. About 30 people in all were there, and we cooked enough food to feed 60. It was easily the most enjoyable evening I have had in New Zealand. It reminded me of Peachtree Lane Potlucks back in McKinney so long ago.

My Job

I said farewell to Twizel, and my most gracious hosts, on Sunday morning (after another lovely breakfast, of course) and arrived in Wanaka by early afternoon. I drove around the town to familiarize myself with it's layout, then headed over to my new workplace (Rippon Vineyards) to meet my new boss (Charlie Mills). Charlie is the vineyard manager, and her brother, Nick, is the head wine maker at the winery. Charlie hired me over the phone a couple weeks ago based solely on the fact that I know one of the Texas Boys who worked for Nick back in 2004. Good on ya, Brad, for working so hard back then and earning such a good reputation. I promise to work my tail off so as not to tarnish the Texas Boys' good name. Charlie did admonish me not to fall into the bonfire at the Harvest Party though. Is there a story there, Brad?

I'm looking forward to doing some good, hard, manual labor. I need to work off the few extra kilos I seemed to have packed on in my gluttonous search for Auckland's best gelato. Plus, it will be nice to staunch the bleeding of my bank account with a transfusion of fresh funds.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

South Island Drivin' (and some Scattershooting)

Well, the drive from Auckland to Taupo's reign at the top of my list of favorite stretches of road lasted all but two days. After a lovely three-hour ferry ride from Wellington to Picton, I was South Island Drivin'. And, oh my goodness!

First, let's start with your basic foothills of the Rocky Mountains, with lush pine forests. Next, overlay the meadows with a patchwork quilt of hundreds upon hundreds of rows of grapevines. Then, for good measure, sprinkle in a few wide-open, verdant, rolling fields, dotted with little puffs of white grazing sheep. This landscape then slowly morphs into one of towering volcanic-rock slopes covered in dense tropical forests, with the odd waterfall poking through every now and again. Oh, and did I mention all of this was just what was on the right side of the road? To my left there was the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, crashing ashore no more than 15 meters away.

I only drove 160kms today, as my destination for the evening wasn't too far south. That being Kaikoura. You see it's Thursday, and Thursday night in Kaikoura means trivia night at The Whaler. You know me and my love for trivia. I'll look in and see if I can find Kim and his buddies. Maybe they'll let me join their trivia-night team, The Big Wakas. If I find 'em, Katy, I'll be sure to tell 'em you say "hello."

And now for some Scattershooting.

Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Scott Fletcher. Here are some more random thoughts, observations, and general whatnot.

-It seems the defacto uniform of the European backpacker is a Che Guevara T-shirt. I've hardly gone a day without spotting several. I find it amusing, however, to know that intrepid capitalists the world over have for years made a mint off selling t-shirts emblazoned with the image of the iconic communist revolutionary.
-I need a thesaurus. I think I've used "defacto" in my last three or four entries.
-I spotted some fresh road kill, and an even fresher center stripe, on the highway yesterday. The striping crew, apparently uninterested in removing the carcass, simply painted a bright yellow stripe across its back.
-My cap is adjustable. I wear it at two different "settings." Up to the fourth little peg for everyday wear, and up to the third peg under high-wind conditions such as for the Auckland Harbour Bridge climb and the Wellington to Picton ferry. It gives me a headache, but it keeps my cap from flying off.
-On the afore-mentioned bridge climb, our guide pointed out the navy base and said the following: "So there's our navy base. As you can see, it's empty. BOTH our ships must be out at the moment. We'll cross our fingers that Fiji doesn't use this opportunity to invade."
-Shaving no more than once a week has done wonders for eliminating the in-grown hairs that have plagued me since puberty. The down side is that my beard has never been full enough for me to have that cool unshaven look. Rather, most of the time I just look like a scruffy homeless person, which, technically, I guess I am.
-Is there another word for thesaurus?


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

On the road again

And by "again" I mean for the first time--excluding my epic 22km journey to Albany (northern suburd of Auckland) a couple of weeks ago.

After installing a third new second-hand engine, the garage finally got my Chariot back in working order. The first engine was the wrong kind. Oops. The second had a stuck ring on one of the cylinders that, despite all efforts, absolutely refused to budge. Try again. Well, third time's a charm I guess.

Loaded up this afternoon and said goodbye to my most gracious hosts: Andrew (the guy I did some work for a few weeks ago); his domestic partner, Andres; and their English Bull Terrier, Martha. Hit the road by 5:00pm, destination Taupo, some 320km away. Would the Rattler (still my Chariot's name even though she's sans rattle now) make it all the way? Hell, would the Rattler make it 5km? She performed like a champ I'm happy to say. We cruised along at a leisurely 100 and enjoyed the drive. And what a drive it was--WOW! Absolutely gorgeous! Prettiest drive I've ever done. Even prettier than Highway 149 in Colorado, which, until today had been my favorite stretch of road. And to top off the evening, when I arrived in Taupo and stopped in for dinner and a beer at a local bar, The Everley Brothers were playing on the juke box. I smiled inwardly (and outwardly, for that matter) that the first music I heard on my first NZ road trip (The Rattler has no radio) was the defacto soundtrack from EVERY roadtrip my family took to Colorado when I was a kid. "He's a dog. Oh what a dog." Great memories. Love you, Mom!

Some of the things I saw on my drive:

-The actual end of a rainbow. Alas, no pot of gold.
-My father's name all over the place, relatively speaking. I'll explain. My dad's name is Leighton. Not a very common name to be sure, and it's not often one comes across it. Well, how about three times in 24 hrs? Not four blocks from Andrew and Andres' house I crossed Leighton Street. Then, not twenty minutes later, I passed a road construction contractor truck with the name Leighton Works written right on the side. These two sightings came on the heels of meeting an actual Leighton (one of the Auckland Harbour Bridge Climb guides) not 24 hrs before. Weird huh? Love you too, Dad!
-More pine trees than I've ever seen in East Texas.
-A cemetary built on the side of a hill--coolest looking cemetary ever. Hundreds of headstones dotting a pretty steep incline.
-Beautiful rolling hills that only lacked Julie Andrews spinning through them.
-A town, Tirau, that prides itself on being the Corrugated Metal Capital of Central North Island. I'm not making that up. They have a sign that proudly proclaims that very thing at the entrance to their little burg. Burg? Berg? Burgh? I don't know.
-And just a rough estimate, but about 47,582 dairy cows.

Looking forward to an equally leisurely, and hopefully as beautiful, drive tomorrow. Destination: Wellington.


100kph is only 62mph for those of you thinking I was lead-footing it down the highway.