Queenstown, Day 1

We woke up at around 7. It was cool and misty outside, but it was going to be another warm sunny day ahead. Sue thought we should head into the communal kitchen before everyone else woke up, but that didn’t happen. So after a shower down we went to inspect the zoo that was breakfast — 3 waffle irons with hungry athletes blocking everyone else from getting near the slop-pail of pancake mix, a couple of big toasters surrounded by young girls in oversize t-shirts and pajama pants, the big tub of muesli already three-quarters empty, one young employee doing her best to mix up more powdered milk but barely able to keep up with demand, instant coffee and tea to mix with the hot water boiler mounted on the wall, and nary a place to sit — all the picnic tables and ratty old couches already occupied. Sue made us each a slice of toast with marmalade and we went outside and joined to older german guys on the porch of the building next door. They were devouring their plate of toast, and after they’d eaten that they took out the other half a loaf of sliced bread they’d pilfered from the kitchen and began making sandwiches for themselves for ‘on the road’. Maybe they are cycling — I did see a couple of bicycles with big packs behind our room where the tents were set up.

I filled up with gas before leaving town. Our little Toyota still had about a quarter tank left, but gas stations are few and far between here on the west coast, and I’d rather be safe than stranded. Gas is a little more expensive here than up north — $73 for 3/4 tank! $2.23/litre. But it was worth it. We had a GREAT ride down to Queenstown today.

We started the day in the mountains — and half an hour after Franz Josef we drove through the Fox Glacier village. Then we began the switchbacks down the mountains. We stopped for lunch at a large roadside cafe in Makarora. And then the highlight of the day, the drive first up and then down alongside Lake Hawea, through Albert Town and then Arrow Junction, and finally to our AirBnB in Shotover, just outside of Queenstown. The 340km drive took us four-and-a-half hours, not counting the stops. A lot of winding roads!

We checked in at our B&B. Sarah, our host, was just finishing up with some gardening. The home is in a brand new development. Sarah and her husband Morgan have a 6-month-old baby girl and a big dog. We checked into our room and then sat outside at the patio table and had a cool libation. Morgan came home from work. The whole household is going out tonight, leaving at 5pm, and possibly not returning until tomorrow morning.

Sue and I decided to take a drive into town. We parked our car and took a walk around. Wow! What a great town! Sue remembered Queenstown as one of her least favourite New Zealand towns when she visited here some 30 or so years ago. Not so today! The small town (about the same population as Steinbach) cradles crystal clear Lake Wakatipu. There are lots of restaurants, bars, and shops all around the waterfront. And the beautiful large Queenstown Gardens on one end of the bay. 

At around 7pm we were getting hungry. But instead of taking advantage of all the great restaurants and live music and great looking people that were all around us in downtown Queenstown — well hey, it’s Friday night, and that means it’s Pizza Night.

We stopped by a pizza joint and ordered take away. We drove back to our B&B and were a bit surprised to learn that our hosts had decided to take their dog with them for the night. Whew! Good for us. We plopped ourselves down in front of the TV and watched nothing good while eating our pizza. We opened up all the doors so the evening breeze could flow through the house and cool it down a bit. 

By ten o’clock we were ready for bed. We’ve got an easy day planned for tomorrow — a 4-hour bus ride to Milford Sound, a 2-hour boat ride, and then a return bus trip. We’ll be gone from 9 to 9. And it’s supposed to rain in Milford Sound! When I mentioned that to our host Morgan he said, “Good. At least you’ll have less sand flies!” Sounds like Manitoba! 

Milford Sound

We woke up at 7. Actually, I woke up at 7 — Sue said she didn’t sleep last night! Good thing she doesn’t have to drive today. We’re taking the bus for a 4.5 hour bus ride out to Milford Sound and after a 1.5 hour ride on a boat, we’re coming back home on that same bus. That’s a lot of sitting on the bus, but at least it’s not as stressful as helping Rudy drive the car.

Our hosts didn’t come home until after we’d left this morning. Breakfast was toast and fruit and coffee. We were at the bus station about 5kms from here by 8:50, and the ‘Jucy’ bus was there to pick us up just before 9. We were lucky to be the last pickup of the morning — some of the passengers had already been sitting on the bus for nearly an hour. In fact, the bus was full and it looked for a minute like Sue and I wouldn’t be sitting together — but the driver ordered a single guy to move next to a single girl and that opened up 2 prime seats in the second row for us. 

The driver didn’t stop his (monotone) running commentary in a very thick Kiwi accent until about and hour and a half into the trip. Finally he put on some ’70s music instead. The weather was cloudy and we had a few drizzly and even rainy spells on our drive to Milford Sound. Milford Sound is a fairly deep fiord on the south west coast of New Zealand. From Queenstown it is only about 70km by air but about 300km by bus. And it is a winding, but very scenic drive. We made numerous stops enroute for short walks and to take photos. We stopped the the town of Te Anau for lunch. It was almost 3pm when we got to Milford Sound and boarded our boat. Sue and I bought our tickets online and had opted for the ‘included pita lunch’ option. Oops — that was a mistake. We could buy them on the boat for the same price and after we shared one pita wrap we were stuffed and had to pack the second one into our bag to take home with us.

The boat cruise was better than we’d expected. The forecast had called for an 80% chance of rain, but the clouds actually lifted as we cruised the 15km trip from the dock out to the Tasman Sea that separates New Zealand from Australia. We saw quite a few very tall waterfalls, and even stuck the nose of the boat into one so that the young people who were standing on the bow could get soaked. 

Next to us on the bus sat an older couple from Great Britain. We had a nice time chatting with them on the trip there and back. They travelled a lot, and said that for the last dozen years or so they spent more time in their home in Florida each year than they did in the U.K. 

It was 9pm when the bus dropped us off where we’d parked our car on the road beside a bus shelter. We drove back to our AirBnB. The hosts were snuggled up on the couch in the living room, watching some crappy reality show on TV. Their big dog welcomed me home by sniffing my crotch and licking my hands and putting his big face right into mine as I sat down on the couch. Yeah, I know — I’m supposed to be really ga-ga about how great our hosts’ dog is, and gush about how cute he is, and play with him, and love him to pieces — but somehow that just seems wrong. I’m paying THEM to be nice and friendly to ME, not the other way around.

Sue zapped our leftover pita in the microwave and we shared it over a glass of wine. We sat on the couch for a few minutes and showed some interest in the crappy TV show and then excused ourselves and went to bed. We’d had a great day today, but we’ll be quite okay leaving here tomorrow shortly after ‘breakfast’ and heading across the island to the east coast for a couple of nights in ‘our own’ apartment in Christchurch.

Christchurch, Day 1

We woke up, showered, had breakfast, and left our AirBnb in Queenstown shortly after nine. It was a warm but cloudy day, but the weather forecast for Christchurch was sunny. Google Maps said we were in for almost six hours of driving today. 

After about two and a half hours were were between Twizel and Tekapo, driving along the shore of Lake Pukaki. The Lake was a bright blue-green. And across the lake, in the distance, standing tall alongside other snow-covered mountains, we could see Mt Cook (3,724 metres), the highest mountain in New Zealand. I think we were lucky to see it — not long after these photos were taken the clouds shrouded the mountain from our view.

The drive took us across the South Island of New Zealand. The last 150 of our 500km drive was along the #1 highway near the east coast. Here the landscape was comparatively flat, not unlike the prairies at home. Sure, there were still lots of fields of sheep, but we also saw herds of cattle and big fields of wheat and other agricultural crops. And while most of the day had seen only light traffic, the road up to Christchurch felt a bit like the ride from Falcon Lake to Winnipeg on a summer Sunday afternoon, when everyone is heading home after the weekend at the lake. And that forecast for sun? It rained for the last hour of our drive.

At around 3pm we pulled into Christchurch. We were about a mile from our destination when we spotted a ‘Countdown’ grocery store. We pulled in and picked up stuff for breakfast and lunch fixings. Then we found our next B&B, this one a furnished studio apartment where we’ll plant ourselves for the next two nights.

We moved in and checked things out. Very good. Then we sat down and had a late lunch — leftover pizza and sushi. It was still raining and a bit cool, but our apartment had air conditioning and a heater and soon it was very comfortable in there. I hooked up my AppleTV to the big TV on the wall and Sue and I watched another movie from our Oscar list, “Loving” (Best Actress). We still had one more ‘big’ movie to see, “Fences”, so we ended our evening by watching that (Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay). That more-or-less catches us up for the Academy Awards, which take place tomorrow afternoon (which is Sunday night at home). I don’t think we’ll get to watch the Oscars — at least not on our TV here. But we’ll do our own voting here, and see how we make out tomorrow.

Christchurch, Day 2

The sun was shining again when we woke up this morning. We had breakfast and then Sue did a load of laundry. We set up the drying rack in our ‘living room’ and turned on the in-room air conditioner to help along. Then we got into the car and drove into Christchurch’s “downtown”.

Re:START — a “temporary” shopping mall made of shipping containers.

We parked in a car park and started walking. We’d heard so much about how the city’s efforts to rebuild after the February 2011 earthquake devastated much of big parts of the Central Business District were mired in red tape and stalling by government and the insurance companies. We wanted to see some of that for ourselves. So we were not altogether surprised by the number of broken buildings. And there were construction barriers around many properties. And cranes and caterpillars and hammering and grinding and construction workers. And still SO MUCH to do — how can they even keep their spirits up and keep on going? We walked around the ‘Re:Start Mall’, an area where big shipping containers were brought in right after the quake in order to give shops a place to display their merchandise and try to keep their business going. We went to a museum that featured displays and videos of interviews with people who were there when the quake hit.

After eating lunch in the downtown, we drove down to the Botanical Garden, a huge park not far from the downtown. We parked our car and took a long walk around the paths in the park — alongside the river that ran through the park. Ducks and flowers and trees and green grass areas and lots of people enjoying the sunny afternoon. We ended up at another museum, the Canterbury Museum. This one featured displays about the early Maori people, the cultural and natural heritage of New Zealand, as well as some curiosities and oddities from around the Canterbury region. Really a good little museum. 

We were back at our apartment by around 4. By that time the Oscars were nearly over so we marked the winners on our ‘ballots’. For supper we walked down our street for about a block to a little Fish ‘n Chips place and ordered ‘take away’. After supper we sat down and watched 3 episodes of the 10-part Netflix series, “O.J.: Made in America”, which won the Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards today. At eleven we tuned into Sunday’s ‘The National’ on CBC. And that was the end of a pretty fun day here in Christchurch. We’ll spend the last day of February driving for 5 hours back up to Nelson, near the north end of the South Island, where we plan to hang out until next weekend.

Back in Nelson

We slept in today — woke up at 8:30. Sue got breakfast ready and then we packed our suitcases. We were on the road by a little after ten.

The ride up to Nelson was just over 400kms — and took us just over 6 hours. The weather was great. The traffic was okay too. There was quite a lot of road construction — the one two-lane road (the other one is damaged by the earthquake) down to Christchurch had repair crews conducting single-lane traffic in about 20 different places along the way.

We ate our lunch (sandwiches) in the car along the way. When we got to the Greens Motel in Nelson it was around 4 o’clock. We checked in — we’ve got 4 nights here before we plan to take the ferry back to the North Island. Our room is a large room with a separate bedroom and a small kitchen. We unpacked. We skyped with Dave and Marylou for a while — they are leaving Phoenix tomorrow, where they’ve been since the beginning of January, heading for home.

After our visit with the Driedgers we drove into town to the grocery store to stock our fridge. Sue made supper. After supper we watched another episode of the O.J. series on Netflix. By 11 it we were in bed.

Nelson Golf Club, Round 2

This morning after breakfast I went to the motel office to get a book to read — they have a small ‘library’ of books other visitors have left behind, but both Phil and Jill (really! those are the names of the couple who own and manage this motel!) declared that all the books were for women and I wouldn’t want to read any of those ‘sappy’ books. But I found ONE book that Jill said was a pretty good “guy’s” book.

I walked over to the golf club pro shop, which is just down the driveway from our motel, and bought a special card that gives us 4 rounds for $125. And I booked 2 of those rounds for one o’clock this afternoon. Then back to the room to start reading my motel novel.

Meanwhile Sue was checking out hotel options for us after we leave here on Saturday. She booked something in Palmerston North for a couple of nights. And then she took her little notebook and her calculator (iPad) outside and sat under the shade of the patio where the communal barbecue is and did some accounting. It’s her way of doing “month end”. We’ve been gone January and February; now it’s up to Sue to make sure we have enough money to make it through to the end of March.

Sue on the 18th tee.

After lunch it was time to head over to the golf course. We took the clubs out of our car trunk (or “boot”, as they say here) and walked to the first tee. Another great day for golf: warm, partly cloudy, an ocean breeze to keep things comfortable. The course was quite busy this morning when I was here but not so bad now. We had a great time walking the 18 holes this afternoon. Sue was a bit frustrated with her game, but what else is new? It’s golf!

We finished at around 5pm. We went upstairs to check out the clubhouse restaurant — looks very good — we’ll maybe get our supper here on Friday after we’ve golfed our next rounds here.

Happy hour back at the motel. I was thinking we should drive into town and go to the Vietnamese restaurant for supper. But in the end I phoned a Thai restaurant and ordered ‘take away’ instead. I drove into downtown (about a 15 minute drive OVER the big hill each way) and picked it up and we had supper at our own kitchen table in our motel.

I’d spent part of the morning trying to figure out a way to get my AppleTV to connect to the wifi of the hotel. Now it was time to put it to the test. So we watched a couple more episodes of the Netflix “O.J. Simpson” series. Of course we followed that up with the CBC National News, and a few YouTube videos from the evening talk shows after that. Went to bed just before midnight.

How we spent our ‘day off’ in Nelson

Today was a ‘day off’. Well, it was SUPPOSED to be a day off. We lazed around all morning. Sue really wanted to finish reading her book club book (even though her friend Noreen has already emailed her twice, telling her how the book ends!) and I needed to do my best to finish the ‘borrowed’ motel book. So we goofed around all morning, watching YouTube videos of all the late night talk shows making fun of Donald Trump, and reading the Steinbach, and Winnipeg, and Canada news, and watching the couple in the room next to us frying up bacon and eggs on the ‘community’ barbecue in the back yard, etc. And NO reading.

And before you know it it was 11:30, high time for lunch. So we had lunch. And THEN we sat down to do some serious reading. Oh, but first Sue had to email some friends, and then phone her sisters, and then see if she could alter our flights home with WestJet (nope, she couldn’t — that old ‘travel agent’ thing doesn’t work quite like it used to). And I had a bit of a Skype with my parents. And then we FaceTimed with Max and his parents. And THEN I did some reading. And all the while, we had decided to use our two remaining golf passes tomorrow. And I told Sue that maybe we should rather golf today; you never know, it might rain tomorrow. And she said no, today was our reading day. And then she said I should call the golf course to make sure we could get a tee time tomorrow. And I said SHE should call the golf course. And she said, ‘No, YOU call the golf course.’ But I didn’t. And then at around 3 o’clock (I guess she was tired of reading), Sue calls the golf course. What? Tournament tomorrow and NO tee times available. How about today. Yes, you can come right away. Shoot! Well, you know it’s all MY fault (of course) — Sue says, ‘I told you to call the golf course!’

No big deal. Although the sky is looking a bit dark over the top of the big hill to the south, the temperature is PERFECT, the breeze is light, and I was getting tired of reading anyway. We take our clubs out of the trunk (boot) and head down to the course. The guys standing at the first tee suggest we go ahead of them. Great! And we’re off. Great tee shots. We chase down the fairway after our balls, hoping the guys on the tee can see just how far along we are. Second shot. Dribble, dribble dribble. Topped the ball. It rolls into the long grass. Oh boy! And then on the second tee I smacked my new favourite fluorescent yellow Titleist  golf ball sideways into the river. But I persevere. What’s past is past. So you won’t have a great score for the round; why not just count pars and birdies like Ed Hildebrand (Lorette) always does? Besides, it’s a beautiful afternoon, the guys ahead are not holding us back, and the guys behind are far enough behind us that there’s no rush. Let’s ENJOY the round!

Okay, so I was not playing very well. But you should have seen (and heard) my playing partner. Jeepers, you’d think she was on the pro tour! After EVERY SINGLE SHOT she whined and complained at length about how terrible the course was. She would hit a near-perfect shot and then watch as the ball took a hard bounce to the right. Or she’d putt and consistently the ball would end up at least five feet to the right of the hole. And then she’d get mad (I’ve already cautioned her about throwing her clubs), and it was all I could do to try to keep her spirits up, and encourage her, and say ‘Great shot!’, and just generally ‘cheerlead’ my way around the course. And then, after nine holes (and she’s still steamed about ‘having to go golfing today’), she’s only BEATING me by SEVEN STROKES! 

The back nine went more-or-less like the front nine, except that all that complaining seemed to catch up with Sue, and I finally stopped complimenting and encouraging her after EVERY SINGLE SHOT. And I played a bit better (and didn’t lose any more balls), and Sue had some unlucky shots. And when it was all said and done (and I mean SAID and done), we walked off the course at 7:30 TIED (at 105 — nothing to brag about for either of us).

So that means that we get ANOTHER ‘day off’ tomorrow, to read our books and laze around. And as challenging as it was to try to keep Sue feeling positive on the golf course, once we got home she was completely happy again. And when she’s got some corn-on-the-cob to cook up in a too-small pot, and some rice and chicken with (leftover from yesterday’s Thai take away) coconut cream sauce to heat up for supper — well,  all is right with the world and she is in her element. And that’s great for me, too.

So now it’s 8:30. The dishes are done, the doors and windows are open to allow the cooling breeze to blow through our motel room, the sky is dark, and it’s time to cue up the final two episodes of the “O.J” series on Netflix. And I’m quickly writing my journal, trying to stay ahead of the game. And now I’m done — gotta go watch TV. See you tomorrow.

Friday in Nelson

No golf today. It was supposed to be a reading day. Sue finished reading her book club book, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. I didn’t read at all. Instead I wasted the whole day trying to figure out how to program a rotating header background image based on the post category. Yeah, I know, that doesn’t make any sense — it didn’t to me either. And I didn’t manage to figure it out. Waste.

By late afternoon, after we’d FaceTimed with our kids again for a bit, Sue thought it was time to go for a walk. So we did — a little over an hour’s worth, around the perimeter of the airport, next to our golf course. Not as warm out today, and quite windy. 

Then we drove into Richmond, about 10kms away, and found a Pak’n Save grocery store where we restocked our happy hour supplies. Then across the road to the pizza place to order take away. 

After we’d eaten supper back in our place, it was time to do a bit of reading before it got too dark. Summer ‘officially’ ended here in New Zealand at the end of February. And we can sure notice that now the days are getting shorter. People here say autumn is a fine time of year — and we do look forward to seeing some fall colours in the vineyards and forests as we make our way north.

Eight o’clock and it’s time for Netflix again. Tomorrow we’re heading back to Picton (2 hours away) from where we’ll take the ferry back across Cook’s Strait to the North Island. Here’s hoping for calm seas for the crossing.

Palmerston North, Day 1

We checked out of our hotel in Nelson by ten o’clock this morning. We met Phil, the owner-manager, walking by as we were carrying our suitcases out to the car. I was going to return the book I’d borrowed from the front desk — I wasn’t quite half-finished it — but he said to just keep it. Great. That will give me something to do on the over 3-hour ferry ride this afternoon.

We drove to Picton via the picturesque winding road across the northern part of the South Island. It was Saturday morning and there was a huge cycling event going on — we passed hundreds of cyclists along the way. There is an awareness and a respect for cyclists here in New Zealand — so even when the roads are quite narrow two-lane highways, with lots of trucks and camper vans winding their way up and down around the hills, everyone gives cyclists room, even when it’s a peloton of a dozen or more in a group. Once we got closer to Picton we were once again in wine country — beautiful rolling hills with rows upon rows of grapes stretching as far as we could see in all directions. 

Once in Picton, the road led us straight down to the harbour and the ferries. We parked beside the road for an hour — we were too early to load yet — and went to a small bakery to buy some lunch. Pastry and meat pies. Sunny and warm on the picnic table outside. Surrounded by backpacker hotels and backpackers waiting for the next ferry.

Rudy reading on the ferryAt 1 o’clock we lined up to drive onto our ferry. It’s all very efficient. We parked and took our books and extra sandwiches up to the 8th level and found a table next to one of the big windows. And sat and read while we sailed across Cook Strait up to Wellington.

The journey was smooth and seemed shorter than the trip the other way a couple of weeks ago. We drove off the ferry at around 6pm. In no time we were on the #1 highway that leads from here all the way to the northern tip of the island. The drive to Palmerston North took us just under 2 hours. It was cloudy and looked like it might rain, but it didn’t. The first half of the trip followed the western shoreline and the views were spectacular, with the sun setting in the sea and lighting up the hills on our right. There was a brand new 4-lane highway for the first hour — so new that our google maps thought we were in the middle of nowhere and kept spinning around and suggesting places for us to turn left or right in order to find a road for us!

We found the hotel we’d booked for 2 nights and checked in. We were surprised and disappointed to learn that this 6- or 8-storey hotel didn’t include free wifi! Why is wifi free everywhere except in “better” (more expensive) hotels? We’ll be looking for an alternate hotel tomorrow.

So instead of gazing into our devices all evening, we had crackers and cheese and sausage and a glass of wine while we scanned through the TV channels. And I read a few more chapters in my book! And now it’s 11:30 and it’s time to close up my laptop and go to sleep.

Palmerston North, Day 2

We checked out of our hotel first thing this morning. Sue let the hotel know about all the things they did wrong before we left. We’d already found another place on AirBnb and booked it for the next two nights. But check-in time there would be at 2pm, so we had a bit of time to kill. So we drove to the town square and parked the car. We walked over to the i-site (information kiosk at the centre of every New Zealand community) and asked about what there was to do in Palmerston North. We picked up brochures for some of the golf courses around here. And another featuring some of the walks (or ‘tramps’, as they’re called here) in the region. There is a museum just around the corner. And lots of restaurants and cafes and shops. Well, since it was very cloudy, a bit cool, and felt like it might rain any minute, we opted for the Manawatu Gorge Walk, a 90-minute tramp on one of the hills not too far from here. After driving out about 20kms, we found the roadside parking lot. There were already quite a few other vehicles parked there. We put on our walking shoes, Sue took her hiking pole, and we put our rain jackets on ‘just in case’. And we started on our ‘tramp’.

The day improved a bit as we hiked. By the time we emerged from under the highway and returned to the car park, the sun was shining brightly. No need for rain jackets. 

We drove back into town. I filled the car with gas and we parked back near the town square. We went into what turned out to be a big modern shopping mall and ended up eating at the food court. And then we headed to our new AirBnb, a ‘private’ loft over a garage in a residential area of town. The owners lived in the house next door and welcomed us with some freshly baked ‘pancake’ kind of things with butter and jam. Much better than last night’s hotel. Good wifi, a basked of fresh fruit on the kitchen table, and lots of room. We spent the afternoon in our place, scouting out a place for when we leave here on Tuesday. Our next stop will be New Plymouth, a city of about 80,000 on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. We finally found something on AirBnb and booked it. So now we’ve got accommodations for the rest of our week.

At around 7pm we headed back into the town centre, looking for lamb shanks for dinner. We ended up at a ‘Lone Star’ restaurant (yes, it’s a cowboy-themed chain of restaurants here in New Zealand) and did indeed have the lamb shanks. Not bad, either.

We stopped at the Countdown grocery store on the way home to buy yogurt and sandwich supplies for tomorrow. We got home at around 9pm. I hooked up my AppleTV to the Sony in our bedroom and we concluded our evening by watching (what else!) the CBC National news.