New Zealand Time

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Taking the pigs to market

A project that I'm taking on at home this year (with lots of assistance from son, nephews, brother, brother-in-law, friends, etc) is having three pigs raised by a farmer. Actually 4 pigs. One is for the annual pig roast. We are going to build a smokehouse and do our own butchering of the pigs and making sausage, hams, bacon, etc. We will take the pigs to a slaughterhouse to be killed.



One of the things that can potentially be stressful to the pigs is taking them to the slaughterhouse. I was talking to the couple here, and in NZ, they have someone come to the farm and kill the pigs here. They said is is very calm. They put some feed in the trough and the pigs come up and then they are shot in the head. They then dress the pigs out and remove all their hair and then hang them in the truck for transportation to the butcher. Seems like a much better way to do this than we do it. I'll look into this at home, but I'm guessing that it is not allowed as there probably needs to be a USDA meat inspector there at the time.

Farm visit

I began my farm visit and working today. I got a tour and got to meet the chickens, pigs, goats, lambs, and cattle. Very nice operation. It is definitely something that I can see doing back home. The owners goals are to be self sufficient.

I really like the cattle that they have. They are Dexters. They are a smaller cattle who are good for both meat and milking. They are currently just using them for meat, but are hoping to get a home cow for milking. Dexters are also know for their easy going and approachable demeanor.

The chickens are brown shavers which are primarily used for egg laying.

The three little pigs are a combination of Bershire and Wessex Saddleback pigs.

The sheep are white and fluffy (I forgot what type, and I'm not sure I would remember anyway).

There are a couple of types of goats, but the ones I remember are Angora goats. They have a great coat, and it brings a fair amount of money when they are shorn. They are about the only variety of goats that are shorn.

Today I helped out harvesting potatoes from the vegetable garden and helped with brush and burning a brush pile. I've asked lots of questions and hopefully by the time my 5 days is up, I'll pass my apprenticeship!

Pictures:

1 - Dexter mom and 2 calves
2 - Brown shavers
3 - Three little pigs helping me by loosening some of the dirt. The plant is gorse, which is an invasive from England that was brought over for hedgerows and then went wild. They are trying to eliminate this.
4, 5, 6 - The shaggy goats are the angoras. The others are for eating gorse and the rough stuff in the paddocks.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Current News

As I did on my last sabbatical, I've not seen any news (sports - excluding cricket, etc., political, financial, etc.). My thoughts are that I can't do anything about it, and what difference does it make. On the last trip, we made some predictions that came out true. They were that Congress would still be arguing about social security reform, the Pope would still be sick and that several famous people would die. We were right about all of those predictions.

Not watching TV has been easy, since I don't have it at home to watch. There have been a few times when I'm on the Internet that I've been tempted to look, but I've not done it and will not. My goal is to limit the amount of time I spend on the news when I get back. It really seems to be a waste.

My predictions for this trip are that everyone is still going to be arguing about healthcare, the Democrats and Republicans still won't have anything that they will agree on and several famous people will have died. The last one is a no brainer! The thing is, I won't know which famous people have died until a year or two and I get into a discussion with someone and they say that they have died. Most famous people who die are only in the news for one or two days at most.

Train ride

I took the train from Greymouth to Christchurch. It is supposed to be the most beautiful train ride in New Zealand. It goes from the West coast of the South Island to the East coast and crosses the Southern Alps.

This was my first train trip (5 hours) with the exception of commuter trains. They actually had an outside observation car so you could take pictures. I went out there once, as my seat was on a car about 5 cars away from the observation car. There was also a dining car that offered poor excuses for food and beverages, including beer and wine.

They had a very humorous commentary regarding the scenery as we went, so no one would miss anything.

It wasn't bad, which is good since I've got a train from Christchurch to Wellington (including a ferry ride to get me from the South Island to the North Island) and a 12 hour train trip from Wellington to Auckland.



Pictures (from Christchurch):




1- Anglican cathedral from hotel room

2 - Inside of church (no one can say I didn't go to church on my visit!).

3 - View from church steeple that I climbed.

4 - Chess in square for my friend Don

Monday, March 29, 2010

New Sport

At pubs, I've basically been introduced to either cricket, soccer or rugby, with one night of Formula 1. Last night, there was a game that I thought was women's basketball, until I took a second glance. It was net ball (I had to ask the bartender). There is a basket, but no backboard. The basket is only about 7 feet high. They only pass the ball. When they get the ball passed in close, it is like no one can move and the person takes a shot. The defenders can raise their hands, but can't move their feet off the ground. Very strange. Seems to be a big sport over here.

Fellow travelers

I know I've commented on this before, but I find it interesting the make up of the people that I meet. At most restaurants, pubs, resorts, and activities, the workers are from somewhere other than NZ. It seems to be easy to get a 1 year work/travel visa, and then people come over here to do something so they can make enough money to travel.

The majority of the travelers seem to be either younger than myself, or older. There aren't a whole lot in the middle (although, I'm probably starting to trend to the upper middle). On the glacier climb, I was at least 20 years older than the next oldest in our group. At least they didn't call me Dad! Most groups seem to have a large number of Aussies, which is understandable, since it is only a three hour flight to NZ.

I'm guessing that part of the reason for the age spread is that only the young and the old have enough time to make the major travel. I'm also surprised by the amount of time that many people are spending. I thought I would be near the top at 5 weeks, but I've run into a number of people who are spending 3, 4 or even 6 months. These do not include the people going to spend a year working.

The make up of the glacier climb was interesting. It was 1 US (me), 2 Canadians, 1 UK, 2 Dutch, and 6 Germans. The Germans did not all know each other. I was surprised that there were no Aussies. I'm guessing that the older demographics opted for a shorter climb, or the heli-climb (helicopter up to the glacier and then walk around for a bit and a ride back down).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Glacier climbing


















I went climbing on the Franz Josef glacier today. They were sold out for the full day climb, but I was first on the waiting list and got on. It was a fine day! Not a cloud in the sky. This is pretty remarkable since Franz Josef gets about 7 meters (22 feet) of rain per year. They are on the west coast and the winds from the west pick up moisture in the Tasman Sea and then drop it as they start to climb the mountains. The mountains get 30 to 40 meters of snow per year. This all feeds the glacier.

We spent 6 1/2 hours on the glacier. My feet are sore from the crampons that are strapped to your hiking boots. I think I may have gotten some neat pictures of the crevices that we climbed through and an ice cave that we went into.

One of the toughest parts was that we were allowed to use the restroom at 8:30 before we went out and then couldn't use it again until we got back at 5! I saw a lot of blue ice, but no yellow ice!

I promise I'll try and find a place where I can post some pictures. I'm using a machine that gives you internet access as long as you are drinking. The sacrifices one must make in foreign countries!




























Pictures:














1 - Franz Josef glacier before we hiked up to it


2 - View back from the glacier


3 - The ice.


4 - A creavice to walk through


5 - Picture from inside the creavice - wet, cold and sometimes very tight


6 - Chopping out steps for new path


7 - Very tight fit!! Good thing I'd lost a few pounds on this trip!


8 - Just have to climb up there!

9 - Into the ice cave.

10 - Down into the cave


11 - It keeps getting smaller!


12 - That's about as far in as I can go! Pretty cool lighting in there from the sun coming through the ice.


13 - Back up to the exit of the cave.


14 - We'd somehow missed these signs on the way in!







Whitewater rafting

After the hiking, I was supposed to go on a three day whitewater rafting trip. A helicopter flies you up the river and then you raft down and camp along the river. Unfortunately, they did not get the minimum to sign up so had to cancel it.

As a consolation, they gave me a complementary 1/2 day whitewater rafting on the Shotover River. It was a fine (NZ term for beautiful weather) day. The water was cold, but felt great as the wet suits were warm. Flows were pretty good due to storms earlier.

Ended up with extra days due to not having 3 days whitewater rafting, so am headed up the West coast and hope to spend a day hiking on glaciers.

Dart River






After the Routeburn track, we were offered an opportunity (read way to make more money) to do jet boating on the Dart River. Jet boating is a big thing on the lakes and rivers around Queenstown. Jet boats were supposedly invented there. They have tremendous power and are able to go over very shallow waters. They are famous for their 360 degree turns at full speed!

The Dart River is a braided river that the Routeburn River runs into. Earlier in the week it hit a 9 year high flood level due to the storms. This was very unusual since flooding is usually a spring event with the melting of snows.

It was quit exciting to go for a 1 1/2 hour ride up and down the river. We scrapped rocks several times, but never got stuck!






Pictures:

1 - Picture of Dart River Valley
2 - Another picture - Some filming for LOR was done here
3 - I know that it looks like a river of rocks, but that was a lot of what it was. They said each day was different as the river changes channels.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Routeburn Trail

I was right and got my second helicopter ride. The roads were still blocked from landslides, so we took a helicopter to the trail head. It was fun, but not as interesting as the first one when the clouds were so thick we couldn't see the tops of the mountains and had to wait (hover) until they cleared a bit to pop over the mountain.

The Routeburn was different than the Milford, but in some respects it was more interesting. The first day of hiking was raining and the clouds were low, so we didn't get any good views. We did get to walk through a waterfall. It was very large and anything that was dry before that wasn't after crossing the waterfall! The second morning, we woke up to snow covering the mountains. It was their first snow of the season. It was raining as we started hiking, but as we gained in elevation, the rain turned to snow. Pretty soon we were hiking in snow. It was pretty slippery at first and there were some pretty big drop offs, but everyone was careful. There were 22 hikers on this trek, including two women from Chicago. (I have their names and e mails for Greg and Brad!) We reached a stopping point for lunch and there was a summit that we could climb, but they said know as it was very steep and it was still snowing heavily and there would be no view. I'll post of picture of me hiking in the snow in shorts.

The snow stopped on the way down and we had some beautiful views of the Routeburn valley and also some magnificent waterfalls. Unfortunately, the water was flowing too strongly to allow swimming in some of the pools.

The third day we hiked down from the mountains and along the valley out.

I believe that over the course of the hikes and this visit, I've seen some of the most gorgeous country I've ever seen.

I would recommend to everyone to consider doing the treks before age catches up with them!
Pictures:
1 - On the helicopter ride to the Routeburn
2 - This is the waterfall we walked through (taken from a distance)
3 - Snow at the pass
4 - Water coming down as we hiked down the other side of the pass
5 - Myself with the Routeburn valley in the background
6 - Routeburn valley with some snow on the peaks
7 - This is the pool we were supposed to swim in

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lodges


The lodges were very functional. One thing that I thought was great was the drying rooms. They have rooms that are like a dry sauna and filled with racks. You can do your wash and hang up your wet cloths (or just those that you were wearing), and they dry relatively quickly.

Lights were out every night at 10, as that is when they turn the generators off, and then they came on at 6:15 AM. This was your alarm clock.

Restrooms and showers were all in a big room and were unisex.

We did see some independent hikers. They stay in other shelters, but without any real amenities. Glad I had money!

One other interesting thing was drinking water. Only carried one liter with you. When you ran out, you just filled it from any of the streams. No filtering or anything. They said the have the water checked and it is some of the purest in the world. No problems!

Milford Sound Trek (rain, earthquake, landslides and helicopter evacuation!)



At this posting, I've completed the Milford Sound and hopefully (more on this later) start the Routeburn tomorrow morning.

There were 39 of us that left on the bus. I would say that I was close to the median age of the hikers (I think the cost moves the average up). We left Queenstown on a bus and then took a ferry to the beginning of the trail. You carry all your own gear (about 30-35 pounds) and hike from lodge to lodge. They feed you at the lodges and even have beer and wine. Not a bad way to hike! http://www.ultimatehikes.co.nz/mt_home.asp

Dinner was fantastic. I was signed up to sleep in the dorms (4 to 6 hikers), but ended up with a dorm all to myself.

The first day was a beautiful day (they use the word "fine" in their weather forecasts). It was a pretty flat terrain as it followed a river. We did 10 miles, so it was a good way to warm up. Went swimming where this waterfall comes down off the rocks. The thought is that the water, which is coming from melting snow, warms up on the rocks on the way down. I think it warmed up to at least mid 40's! It was invigorating. Needless to say, there were only a select few that took advantage of this opportunity.

This time I was assigned to a dorm room with three women. They decided that there was an extra room, so I elected to move.

Next day was the big day, with going over Mackinnon pass. Nine miles and 800 meters of elevation climb and then 1,000 meters of drop. Unfortunately, the weather was not "fine". Rain varied from steady to heavy, with a little chunky rain (snow) at the pass. Winds were a nice steady 20 to 30 miles per hour. I did fairly well and made good time as there wasn't a lot to see with the rain. I was the 4th one to the next lodge. The trail cuts across a number of streams, waterfalls, etc. I was able to skip across most of them from rock to rock. The hikers at the end of the day were going through knee deep water to ford the streams.

After dropping off the packs, did another three mile hike to see Sutherland Falls, the 5th tallest falls in the world and the tallest in NZ at 580 meters. Needless to say, with all the rain, it was really coming down. If any of my pictures come out, I'll post them.

About 9:30 that night, there was an earthquake. Not a real surprise for NZ. It wasn't too bad, but a number of people had never experienced one before.

Next day was a 14 mile hike to Milford Sound. It was supposed to be pretty flat, but don't believe everything they say. Some good up and down, and the legs were still feeling the night before. Took a ferry to Milford Sound to the next lodge. This was really our last day of hiking Milford Sound.

That night the winds were very strong and the rain kept coming down. In the morning some of the windows in the lodge were broken by the winds. Our schedule was to take a cruise around Milford Sound. There was a lot of rain, and this made for numerous waterfalls. Probably 10 at any one glance. Once again, I'll try and get some pictures posted. video

Came back from the cruise and found out that the road out was closed to to trees down and a number of landslides. Estimate to get the road reopened is three days. The only way to get us out was helicopter, but it was still windy and raining. After a delay, they got a couple of helicopters (this was an added bonus to the trip!) and could take 6 people at a time. Two up front with the pilot and 4 in the back. It was an interesting perspective. We had headphones on so the pilot could tell us what was going on. We went down this one valley and then needed to climb over a peak, except the peak was covered in clouds. We tried going up a couple of times, but couldn't see. Finally, there was a little break in the clouds and we were able to pop over the mountain. It was a little tense. We could then see the road below and all the landslides. Lots of work for someone.

Tomorrow, I hope to start the next leg of the hike. Some people did start it today, but were unable to get there by road, so they helicoptered them in. I may get a second "free" helicopter ride!
Pictures:
1 - Orchid
2 - Spider web
3 - McKinnon pass in the low spot in the middle of the picture
4 - Pond at the bottom is where I went swimming (Sorry, no pictures of that!)
5 - Myself posing
6 - Short video of Sutherland Falls, the highest waterfall in NZ and 5th highest in world (1,904 feet)

St. Paddy's Day

After jumping for St. Paddy's day (I did not have a drink before the jump even though the bars opened at 8AM for St. Paddy's day), I took it fairly easy. I decided not to sign up for the pub crawl that was $25NZ and got you 6 free drinks and specials at 15 different bars. You also got a great green hat to wear. Did see a number of these people through out the night.

Went to the orientation for the hike that was starting the next day. It is called the Classic and combines the Milford Sound Trek and the Routeburn Trek.

Bungee jumping



Have you ever noticed that things seem better the night before than they do the next day?

I met Andy at 11 to go bungee (or do you say bungy?) jumping. We decided to go to Kawarau Bridge, which was the site of the first bungee jumping. Boarded a bus in Queenstown that goes out to the bridge. It was a pretty quiet bus ride. Everybody was a little apprehensive. I think that I brought the average age on the bus up by a couple of years!

Andy went first (he was smaller and there was a shorter line). The height of the jump was 43 meters, or 142 feet (about a 14 story building). Andy got up there and went to the edge and then looked down. They tell you not to look down, but to go up there and jump on the count of 3. He backed away twice and they told him that if he backed away once more, it would be best for him not to jump. He finally jumped.

I went up there and moved my toes up to the edge. In the pictures that I have, it looks like I'm about 7 months pregnant, as I have my feet up there, but I'm arching my back to make sure I don't fall over. I did not look down, and jumped on the count of three. (see pictures above!)

I was supposed to hit the water, but missed it. They must have misjudged. They weigh you so they know how much cord to give you. I guess being short is better than the other alternative. You bounce a couple of times, and then they lower you down to the river to a boat that brings you back to shore.

I probably will never do this again. It was fine except after bouncing and spinning, I got a little dizzy from the motion.

I did get the picture package and a DVD. I'll try and post the DVD later. They also give you a free (!!) t shirt to commemorate your jump.

Queenstown




Arrived in Queenstown (the capital of adrenaline) on the 16th. It appears that they must have a big Irish population, as they were getting ready to celebrate St. Paddy's day! Checked out some of the local establishments and made some new friends. One guy, Andy from the UK, was interested in bungee jumping. We decided to go together and agreed to meet the next day at 11.

I also meet an interesting guy, Kyle, who is a whitewater rafting guide. He is originally from SF, but now guides 6 months a year in NZ and 6 months a year in Switzerland.

I'm amazed by the number of people that I'm meeting that are just floating. Came to NZ to work for a bit and then spend their money to do more travel. One woman from Colorado is on her 30th country at age 34. She is trying to get residency in Colorado so she can finish up her degree. She wasn't really sure why. She just waitresses until she gets enough money to move on to another country. She said she primarily travels in third world countries now as her travel dollars go farther.

Treetops Lodge

Here is the link for the great resort. http://www.treetops.co.nz/

On to Queenstown

I'm a bit behind in my blogs, but will try to catch up!

I traveled to Queenstown on Air New Zealand. Check out the safety warning from the airline that has nothing to hide. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-Mq9HAE62Y I can't imagine this on a flight in the US. The body painting seems like something from Key West.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Big Mac parity

I went into a McDonalds at a service area to see what the price of a Big Mac is. It was $4.90NZ. This converts to about $3.40US. As noted earlier, the products in NZ include tax in their prices. This McDonalds was in Auckland, so seems pretty reasonable.

I had a real bargain last night for dinner. One kilo of green lipped NZ mussels for $9.50NZ. They were much bigger than the ones service in the states. About the size of an oyster and there were 20 of them. I managed to finish them off with the help of a couple of large Stella's!

Trying to forget about work!

I've been very successful at not thinking about work. At the cocktail hour at Treetop, people were asking where everyone was from and what they did. I mentioned that I worked for a CPA firm in the states. One gentleman from Auckland said that he was a tax accountant. I said our firm has some offices in Auckland, and he asked who that was. I said RSM. He pulled out a very familiar looking blue and white business card. He is a partner with the Auckland office of RSM. Out of respect for being on holiday, we did not talk much about business, but did talk about common acquaintances.

It just goes to show how small a world it is.

By the way, Grant explained that their busy season did not really start until April. He also explained that the owner of the resort is a friend and neighbor of his. He was also impressed that I took the scenic route (gravel roads) on my earlier drive!

Treetop

Stayed at Treetop Estates, which is the number one ranked resort in NZ (and 25 in the world). It was amazing. Service was great, and the resort only has about 40 guests. There is 2,500 acres with walking paths. See picture of Bridal Veil Falls posted earlier. Every person knew your name.

Cocktail hour was at 7, and it was a good opportunity to meet fellow guests (see later posts on one of the guests). Dinner was probably the best for this trip to date. They had a big table, so guests sat together and it was fun exchanging experiences.

Went horse back riding the next morning (after a huge breakfast) and got to see some of the area that had not been covered in walks the previous day. Saw water buffalo, red stag, fallow deer, etc. The Estates also is used for hunting and fishing. Some very large trout, but I did not take time to do this.

Invasive species

I spend much of my spare time at home working on the property, trying to clear it of invasive species. I found that there is much effort and dollars being spent on the same in NZ. Originally, NZ had only a few types of mammals (seals, sea lions, and bats), but the first settlers (the Maori), brought Polynesian rats with them for food. Another big invader was brought over from Australia, and that is the possum (not like the possum at home). There are active hunting, trapping and poisoning programs to try and control this population. The fur on the possum is used for a number of things, and mixed with Merino wool for cloths. Both of these species are very hard on native birds that had evolved with little predation.

Also, there are a wide variety of plants that they are working to control. They have strict controls and questions at customs to try and prevent further introduction of species. This includes inspection of soles of shoes to see if there is any dirt in the tracks.

Pounamu Lodge


Arrived after the long drive. Was tired of driving, so Karen, the hostess offered to cook dinner. It was fantastic and went well with the wine purchased on the wine tour the day before. Also took advantage of the hot tub outside the room.

The Lodge was beautiful and is located on Lake Tarawera. The picture is of the volcano on the other side of the lake. It last erupted in 1886. Karen is Maori and her great grandmother was a guide who used to row people over to the white and pink terraces, which were hot baths that were believed to cure people. See picture above. The eruption covered them in 20 meters of ash and rock and they have never been uncovered.

Karen led a walk in the morning and described how the area used to be and the various plants and their uses. Then made breakfast using some of the plants in the area. Great place to visit.

Bridal View Falls at Treetops Lodge

View from breakfast at Pounamu Lodge

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Scenic Route

Traveling from Napier to Rotorua, decided to go up the coast and then head over to Rotorua. This made more sense than backtracking part of the same way that I'd driven earlier. The map showed a road that went past some lakes, and it looked like it might be a nice ride. Went up the coast and then headed cross country.

Shortly after turning, there was a sign that said it was 251 km to the destination, and that 155 km of the road was windy and unsealed. It turned out to be more than an adventure than anticipated. This made it very interesting when going around hairpin curves and switchbacks in the mountains. Fortunately, did not pass more than 10 cars during this stretch, and 20 or so houses/farms.

Came around one curve and there was someone in the road and a car in the ditch (next to the mountain, which was the right side to be on). It was a couple and they had just slid off the road. Stopped, but there was no way we were going to be able to get the car out of the ditch. It had just happened and they were fine, but pretty shook up. Offered to give them a ride. None of us were sure what was ahead. There had been a campsite back 10 miles the way we'd come. They'd elected to wait to see if someone was coming the other way. We didn't come to another town for about 1 hour, so hopefully that was the right choice for them. Obviously, there was no cell coverage in this area.

Made it safely, but it was a draining drive of six hours!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Decided to take a scenic drive from Napier to Rotorua, going up coast
and then cutting cross country instead of backtracking.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Beautiful waterfall

Wine tasting

This morning did a walking tour of the Art Deco area in Napier. The entire central buisiness district was destroyed in 1931 by and earthquake and subsequent fire. It was rebuilt and the majority was in Art Deco as was the rage at that time.

This afternoon, took a tour of wineries. Some very nice wines. Not big on real heavy reds, but some nice ones. They are getting ready for the harvest in about 2 to 3 weeks. The grapes were heavy on the vines. Also a number of orchards and olive groves.