Friday, February 24, 2017

Whoa, Nelly! That Was a Really, Really Long Fall! But a Good Show!

I mentioned in a previous blog post that New Zealand is THE destination for adventure sports. Some might say extreme sports. Queenstown seems to be the epicenter.

As I mentioned, Pope and I are mostly focusing on minor recreational drugs--hot springs, boat cruises, waterfalls, gardens, scenic drives--instead of mainlining the hard stuff.
We even did a bus tour--of Fiordlands National Park--a first for both of us.

But here in Queenstown, the pressure is intense to go all the way. Jump, leap, dive, bike, raft, fly. For thousands of 20-somethings here, this stuff appears to be addictive. I think Pope is acceding to the allure.

Yesterday we stopped at a glider school. $250 for 30 minutes in the air with an instructor.

This morning we chased a paraglider in our car, up a mountain on a steep dirt road. He put on a fabulous show for our benefit, dipping and soaring, before landing next to our car. On other occasions, Pope has watched the paragliders longingly for hours. $200 for 2 hours, tandem.
This afternoon we saw the feature presentation.

In an era of fake news, I can testify that those videos of bungee jumping (called bungy here) are real. I saw it with my own eyes. I took video. Their feet are bound together, like a prisoner. They descend headfirst. They fall a long, long way into a deep rocky gorge, 43 meters. Some splash the water--deliberately! I almost wet my pants just watching!
Of the dozen or so people who took the bungy plunge off a historic bridge, between the steep rock walls, before my very eyes, most waved at the crowd, smiling, before swan-diving off the platform in the best Olympic tradition. No one bombed or broke their back (amazing, I thought; they should at least get whiplash). Only one backed out, way up there on the high platform, already trussed up and loaded with gear. Sorry, no refunds! $195 down the drain.

I confess. We were so fascinated, we watched for hours.

Pope was offered the senior discount: free bungy jump after age 75! (He would only have to fudge his age by a few months.) Hmm. From our initial plan to stay here two nights, we have now expanded to four nights while he thinks it over. As a former whitewater kayaker somewhat on the extreme side (first-time runs of some of the world's uncharted rivers, years ago), he doesn't shy away from dangerous, life-threatening opportunities to drown or break your neck.

I, on the other hand, Miss Scaredy-Cat, was perfectly content to just watch. I was happy with my 7-kilometer moderate hike up to the top of a mountain. Very grounding. Tinged with just the right touch of athleticism.
Tomorrow is the fourth day. Pope is still pondering. Dreaming. Imagining flying through the air.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Ouch! Scratch, Scratch

Horrors! A second bee or wasp sting! I am still recovering (and itching) from the first one. In addition, after two weeks of hiding out in long pants, long sleeves, and socks in sweltering weather (because returning travelers warned me), the no-see-ums (known here as "biting sand flies") have wormed their way into my world and are wagering on whether they can wreck my vacation.

That's because we are closing in on prime sand fly territory: the southwest coast.

I take back the good things I said about New Zealand in my previous blog post. Right now I am glad to be an American....

....No, wait!  I am embarassed to be an American. Because we are the laughingstock of educated, enlightened populaces around the globe. (Not that they don't laugh at their own politicians.)

The New Zealanders are forgiving. When the subject of US politics arises,  they chuckle and ask, "What's next?"

What's next for me is to tighten up on the clothing, especially around the scalp and ankles--at the risk of heat stroke. Add a veil and some DEET. A sheet over my head at night.

At least we Americans use screens on our windows!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The World is Indeed Flat

(Readers: I am struggling with format and photo uploads now that Apple has chosen to remove the Blogger app for iPhones and iPads, so please forgive the incongruities. I am trying to use an Android tablet, which makes blogging a horribly frustrating experience. Advice welcome!)

Even though it's practically on the opposite side of the globe, New Zealand--good or bad; I reserve judgment--shares a number of characteristics with the United States. Here are a few observations, in no particular order or priority.

1. Former colonial nation.
2. Many cattle farms; more cows than sheep. This is disappointing! Must be the worldwide appetite for burgers. Lamb is rarely on menus; I am told that it is mostly exported.
3. Despite what travelers to the American west might think, we have not cornered the market on tacky roadside tourist attractions--from Old MacDonald's Farm to a 20-foot kiwi to tame eels you can pet.

4. Latin dance is popular. An outdoor lesson attracted a hundred people.

5. Street festivals are all about the food booths.

6. A lot of food is fried. French fries (and McDonalds and Starbucks) are a global staple.

7.  The timber industry is, unfortunately, highly visible in denuded hills, extensive recent clear cuts, replantings, and logging trucks on the roads.

8. Some regions are geologically active: think Hawaiian and Oregon volcanoes (thus similar steam vents and hot springs) and California fault lines (thus earthquake-engineered new buildings).
9. Ecology and renewable energy are taking hold in tbe form of wind turbines and solar panels; however, New Zealand also produces significantly more geothermal energy than our minor resources in California and Wyoming.
10. Craft breweries are all the rage! Yum. Not being a beer drinker--and especially not a Bud fan!--I actually enjoyed a couple of amber ales and malt beers.
11. Leftover hippies are hiding out in remote beach campgrounds, in the bush, and off the beaten track. What woud you expect in a country with hot springs?
12. Giant supermarkets rule. There are even some Chinese dollar stores.
13. We stick our elderly in "rest" homes.

14. The mountains are beautiful.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Long Soak in a Hot Spring

I take back all the bad things I said about New Zealand in my previous blog post.  Well, almost.

She redeemed herself nicely with a couple of hot soaks in steaming spring water--the first one in a heavily forested, hot rural creek, with water gently cascading over rock and a  serene view above. (Yes, the water LOOKS cold, but that's only because the camera can't capture the steam rising off the surface.)
The other was in a harsher geothermal landscape, at the intersection of fair-sized cold and hot rivers. The temperature was comfortable, the sulfur not too strong, and the crowds manageable.
Why the qualified redemption? Because yet another hazard of soaking in hot springs was revealed to us today (in addition to those mentioned yesterday: sunburn, drowning, burns, etc.). And THIS one is a real killer. So don't get too jealous.
Speaking of geothermal landscapes: take your choice, name your price; New Zealand's North Island has one that's just right for you!
Start with the free attractions--the slurpy and violently boiling (at 100 degrees centigrade) mud pools near Wai-O-Tapu. Erupt! Plop! Only a video does it justice.
Then move on to one of the privately owned and commercially operated collections of "geothermal wonders." Americans, appreciate your national parks while you still have them! The price of exploring the geology of things here ranges from $15 to $95.
We chose the $27 Orakei Karako, a colorful collection of hot rocks, steam vents, geysers, boiling mud pools, and steaming craters. Similar to Yellowstone, on 1/10 the scale.
My favorites are the mud pools! The bubbling pools of scalding magma-heated slurpy water deserve another mention--and another video.
The crowning color is the pale blue crystal "lake."

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Warning! This Country May Be Hazardous To Your Health

Today I had a close encounter with 30,000 pounds of steel moving at 70 kph: a tractor-trailer on Route 27. He was in my lane! Or at least the lane I was turning into. Either he was driving way too fast and came out of nowhere, or I forgot to look right.

It's hazardous for an American to drive on the left side of the road in a right-hand-drive car, especially through all those pesky roundabouts and one-lane bridges.

In fact, it's amazing that anyone survives visiting New Zealand, let alone living here. The hazards come from left and right, day and night--faster than a pack of dogs chasing a rabbit. With luck, most of them will whiz right on by instead of leaving me curled up in a fetal position on a stretcher.

Driving alone is enough to keep your intestines tied up in knots and your heart pumping double time. If it's not starting down the wrong side of the road or a Mack truck barrelling toward your passenger door, it's a hairpin turn on a one-and-a-half-lane mountain road. There are PLENTY of those.

You know it's going to be a doozy when, in a 100 kph speed zone (always a suicidal speed in the mountains, in my view), the sign for the next curve reads 35--or even 25!

In addition to the stinging insects (whose venom is still coursing through my back and keeping me awake nights; see previous blog post), the ozone layer is cracked wide open here, and everyone we've met is sunburned. Then there are the walking paths. They lead to beautiful places.
But they threaten to trip you up with slippery slopes, poison animal traps that are   targetting invasive species, and tree diseases that require you to wash your shoes.

I succumbed to the wet rocks, trying and failing to cross a deceptively slick patch of shoreline at low tide, with consequent bruises and contusions. Not to mention bloodstains on my shirt and mud stains on my behind.
Even the hot springs require caution: from the risk of drowning to being trampled by crowds to frying in the hot sun to burning your tender genitals if the water is too hot.
The list goes on: swaying foot bridges and warnings about tsunamis and mysterious signs with no explanation other than perhaps to be on the lookout for dangerous chickens.

And these are only the hazards one encounters during a routine tourist visit to Kiwi-land--without even engaging in bungee-jumping or sky-diving!! Yikes!
And just to make sure my nerves are on edge.....we haven't encountered the killer sand flies yet!