Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Today is a religous day, as I think I found a part of heaven!

Today I awoke to great news on CNN international—DUKE has made it to the sweet sixteen and I am not sure about any of the others teams, which is perfectly find for me.

For the first time I am seated on the correct and in fact the right side of the plane. For those on the left there is nothing but cloud cover but for us special righties, the view of Mt. Cook is right outside our window. Many people have asked if I am going there and others have insisted, that "I must"…but truth be known, this is as close as I am going to get to the mighty mountain. Probably a good thing as the mountain has not been kind to natives or tourist over the past few weeks. A famous New Zealand female climber and two of her climbing mates fell to their death several weeks ago. The weather had turned so bad, many thought the mountain wasn’t ready to release her body and as such kept the rescue turned recovery personnel at bay from accessing the mountain for days. I’ve heard or read of additional deaths since that one and just yesterday someone visiting from the UK literally became the accidental tourist as he tripped at the very end of his guided glacier walk and fell only a short distance but was killed by the ice on the way down. Not having a great track record with heights and falling—I am choosing to explore this part of NZ with my eyes and camera.


When you arrive in Queenstown the landing is much like an adventure ride. First the plane makes it over the mountain range and begins flying low through the gully with the mountains on both sides of the plane and through the double paned plasic window appears to be within arms reach. You circle lower and lower until you finally land. Queenstown is beautiful and just has to be a slice from heaven. The mountains are the southern part of the New Zealand Alps, the lakes and rivers are crystal clear blue and aqua, the town is more than you would expect plus a bag of chips. This town seems very wealthy and well versus on how to leverage its natural resources and amenities for the many visitors it welcomes to their paradise. Day one was pristine, picture perfect, blue skys, puffy white clouds, incredible majestic mountains and amazing waters. Have I mentioned the food, wine and coffees are all great here as well?! Please BOB G., I beg of you can’t we find a business here to buy, acquire, turn-around, re-invent…anything you suggest and I am happy to relocate for the good of our business growth and expansion.

More to come--my internet access time is up....cheers for now.


Coastal New Zealand and then tracking across the entire south island from west to east.

It only took 50 kilometers of coastline travel to reach Greymouth. This is a good size small town with a definite past; I just don’t know exactly what made up the past. I’d guess the gold mining that followed the end of the California gold rush in the 1800s would be one marker in its history book. Nowadays they are working hard to leverage their natural resources and market themselves to the holiday traveler looking for outdoor activities and adventure. The Tranz Scenic train brochure promises they will do everything possible to make ones journey as worry-free as possible. The train staff was nice when I approached them for early check-in, but everything they started to tell me immediately made me start to worry. The train that I was suppose to catch at 1:45 PM cannot make it to Greymouth as a coal train has derailed on the same or adjacent track just above Arthur’s Pass. They let us pre-purchased ticket holding worried-warts know they would transport us by bus to the Atria station where the train coming in from ChristChurch had to stop because of the morning track accident. Normally that would be an easy solution but about a week ago a major tornado hit Greymouth like it was a town in Eastern NC and it so happened that without any trailer parks to attack it went straight after the next best thing, a fleet, the only fleet, of area buses.

I immediately ripped into my box of good-n-plenty I had been saving for emergency use. It made sense to me, as choochoo Charlie was an engineer and as you probably well know, choochoo Charlie didn’t have any fear. Dr. Bob should add black licorice to our formulary or at minimum as a part of our mental health coverage benefit. I find it has the most calming effect on what is normally my unflappable personality (smile). As a sidebar: the licorice is beyond great in New Zealand and reason enough for anyone interested in coming here to book a ticket now.

We all made it to Atria Station on our bus with mostly broken windows and boarded the Train. Right now we a being pulled by three engines through a tunnel that took 15 years to build. We’ll end up or near Arthur’s Pass, a national park covering more than 230,000 acres of rugged wilderness. The national bird, the Kiwi, can be found here, but only at night, as among it other strange characteristics, it is a nocturnal bird. It's all good--we made it to ChristChurch and my cheapy hotel for the night is, thank goodness, pretty decent. I was sweating the location. No worries.



This was the longest stretch of driving I will be doing in New Zealand. It is about 300 kilometers on a Blue Ridge Parkway kind of road, with one significant addition—this road is filled with one-lane bridges that pop up around any unsuspecting corner. This ride was pure mountain country and it’s the kind of trip that must start with a full tank of gas as you only get one shot at refueling in a one-horse town called Murchison. If you pick up any piece of travel or tourism literature, you’ll find this town consistently boasts of its fuel capacity as well as having the cleanest public toilets one could hope for on a trans coastal trip. I participated in all their town assets and can confirm Murchison is a town that says what it means and means what is says. The petrol was AMAZING and the restrooms ABSOLUTELY worth the trip. Honestly though, I good PR person could find a few more things to position the town of Murchison beyond gas and toilets. This drive was different than others—these mountains are very big, very special and honestly, take you in. Have you ever been to Zion in Utah? I would compare this experience to the time I biked to and through Zion—you felt as one with the mountains. I’m not going Zen on you—it is just the truth. The mountains in this part of NZ look much different than Zion—more like Zion with compete ground cover—a mixture of evergreen pines and dense tropical trees and ferns.

As I traveled, I had only one goal in mind—to reach the coast with a bit of daylight left…so my competition on this trip was the sinking sun. Daylight savings time ended here on Sunday morning and now, on Sunday night, I was trying to make it to the coast before sunset. I stared it down and bet that I would win—I was going to have to take all one lane bridges on with a vengeance—everyone driving east must, I prayed, yield or as they say here “give-way” to my red Toyota Corolla, nothing less will do. I arrived in Punakiki by 6:15 PM and just a few feet before the registration desk at the “Rocks” hotel the huge clock reported the best viewing time of the Pancake Rocks would be at 7 PM….”YES”! I calmly checked in and then hoofed it the 400 kilometers up hill to the viewing trail and decks. The Pancake formation is a natural phenomenon that is for our viewing pleasure in this lifetime, century or maybe the next millennium. But it’s all in mother natures hands how long they stay. The rocks, the blowholes and the sunset were all incredible.

The next morning I walked along the coast at the Tasman Sea and went near but never in the ocean waters. I was walking and looking out towards the end of the earth and also thinking about everyone back home. How can I be so far away yet not feel like I am really very far at all? It was a cloudy, misty morning and I enjoyed walking the beach and finding special heart shaped rocks for people back home. If I’ve lost my marbles during this trip, at least I have my heart shaped rocks….and of course, my good n plenty.


Sheep, Lambs and other fuzzy creatures:

Baa, ram ewe, baa, ram ewe…leaving the wine country of Marbarough and heading West to Nelson the mountains and valleys are beautiful and everyone seems to own lots of land, a farm, lots of animals—specifically, sheep, cow and deer. All these animals, live off the land, sleep on the land and start the same routine day in and day out—regardless of the weather. There are no barn kept animals like in the movie BABE. I too was shocked.

Nealson is a very cool, hip town with lots of artist, glassblowers, pottery-people and woodworkers. Great cafes, restaurants, bars and outdoors live music. Nealson has a sunshine town weather consistency. Some nice size, but not too big mountains surround it. It also boast the ownership of being the geographical center of New Zealand and if you tramp up a nearby mountain for about 30 minutes you reach the mounument dedicated to this land position and for no charge at all you are treated to panaromic views of Nealson, the bay area and the surrounding communities.

I made one huge mistake in Nealson that I will live to regret and if you are someone reading this blog then you'll be upset too. I didn't plan well enough for Sat. morning in Nealson. I got up early alright, drank my normal plunger of way too focused on the net checking emails and before I knew it I had to make a decision--go to the AMAZING ART AND CRAFT MARKET in town OR as planned---head to the Abel Tasman National Park for real kiwi tramping. I'm sorry, I chose the tramping and have the pictures to prove that this too was amazing. I hate that I missed the market--you all would have gotten such cool stuff--I am so sorry, it's so sad. But lets remember--in the end, stuff is stuff and doesn't hold a candle to tramping in the mountains and along the most beautiful coastline...that is after being boated out to a point and dropped off and told make it to your pick-up point in 3 hours. It was a fantastic experience--Abel Tasman, if you don't know, could have been credited for finding NZ after the Maoris, but he only stayed 3 days and then boated off guessed it--what is now known as Tasmania. So, in NZ he is only recognized as an early visitor. Cap. Cook gets all the credit for aligning NZ with the UK.


South Island where the beauty is in the eyes of every beholder!

We boarded the Ferry on St. Patty’s day and upgraded to the “CLUB ROOM”. This room has nice comfortable seats, is considered much quieter and the best part is you get all the cappuccinos you want during your three hour ride through the Cooks Strait out to the Ocean and into the Marlborough Sounds. In honor of St. Patty, we were surrounded on each side with emerald green mountains for most of the ride. At one point during the trip a school of dolphins entertained us as they swam in formation alongside of the Ferry. The countryside between the two Islands is beautiful and arguably some of the best fishing in the world is found in these parts. Vavrina, McKelvy and Bennington--what in god's name are you waiting for--get down here NOW--this is your kinda land, your kinda country and the trout, I swear are calling your names. You must come here--I promise it will leave you with stories to tell until all our eyes roll out of our heads after listening to you all for the years that follow your return--IF, you return.

Pictone to Blenheim is only about an hour drive and allowed for more opportunity to get comfortable driving on the left side. This is wine country through and through—I’m not even sure much else happens here other than growing grapes, making and drinking wine. Fine, I'll admit it here--I am a true Sov Blac convert. Try Kim Crawford, Alan Scott or Goldwater to get started--no worries as there are many, many more great ones to speak about at another time.


This city deserves an award for transforming itself--Mayor Meeker, head this way for a site visit...we need to put the welly in raleigh!

I am nearly a frequent flyer on the flights to and from Aukland and Wellington. The New Zealand pilots are considered some of the best in the world as they have so many extreme weather conditions they fly in each day. The are very cheeky as well, for example, recently when one pilot, after seeing my passport, said to me, this flight is going to Guantanamo Bay for you. Anyway, back to their real talent--not humor, but hard core piloting--take offs can really be rough, bumpy and enough to make my face go milk toast white. However, the standard in-flight service is enough to making any thoughts of scary turbulence seem minimal and worth the price of admission. The flight attendants on these types of flights do not have to serve as back-up pilots. They get to walk the isles and hand out two items, one a sealed cup of water and the other, a cup that inside you will find a small napkin, a container of milk, a sweetener, and an individually wrapped Macadamia nut cookie to die for. The next sweep of the plane is when the flight attendants walk around with a tray and silver tea or coffee service. This is all so civilized, simple and SO much better than the clanging carts of every fizzy drink to can imagine on a US domestic flight. Lets get “W” to change the constitution for this kind of behavior—I am certain it would lead us to be a more kinder, gentler'on DubYA, as daddy would say--we've got a window of opportunity, gotta move through it! This move alone should be enough to save the airline industry.

The trip to Wellington was an opportunity to catch up on lots of work emails at the Fulbright office, process through some of my fantastic meetings and enjoy some of the sights and foods of Welly-Wood, New Zealands movie capital as well as the country’s capital city. Peter Jackson walks on water here as many credit him and the success of his movies as putting NZ on the front-page of every major newspaper in the world. I have a favorite restaurant in the Thrornburg district of Wellington—I’ve had more dinners at Ford’s café than anywhere else. It is an older building with a cozy feel inside and I think great art. Most people do not know, what I know and that is Ford’s is located right across the street from Peter Jackson’s mother’s house.


Planes, no trains-yet and automobiles:

Check out these great pics: CLICK HERE!

Auckland harbor to Auckland airport and before I could finish a flat white I was traveling by small plane to almost the most Northern part of the North Island. The plane was so small the flight attendant has the double-duty role as the copilot—or maybe that’s the other way around. For most in–country flights there is very little security and for these types of flights they only request you show up before they close the plane door and while it is not a posted rule, they seem to appreciate if you will make eye contact as confirmation you are a safe passenger and you belong on the flight (so civil!). I made it to KeriKeri airport and picked up my first rental car—here the driver sits in our passenger side and also drives on the left (this double negative does not guarantee an automatic positive). This takes an extra amount of concentration but overall I was very pleased with my confidence and actual performance. I drove north to Takou Bay area and in case you choose to travel this way—you hang right for 5 kilometers on a gravel road through absolutely beautiful countryside and views of the ocean beyond the low mountain range. This road less traveled literally ended at the Takou Bay Lodge and Magic Cottage located in an equally beautiful setting surrounded by the mountains, gardens, a historic river and bordering the ocean where hundreds of years ago some of the first Maori landed their canoes to call Aotearoa home. Anna and Ian Sizer own this amazing oasis on something like 165 acres. They are a lovely couple and have two precious young children, Harry age 2 and Lucy age 1. This home-stay was picture perfect. They have put a lot of effort and thought into creating the guest living quarters. The nearby boathouse is equipped with all the watercrafts and safety gear one needs to get out and about. Day one took us upstream to find a historic marker. In a book on KeriKeri, Lorelei Hayes writes Takou Bay as holding particular significance for Maori as this was where the “Mataatua”—one of seven migration canoes—finally came to rest. An impressive memorial and plaque beside a bend in the river marks the site where legend has it the symbolic remains of the ancestral Maori waka of the Ngatiawa, part of the Great Migration to New Zealand around 1350 AD, can been seen beneath the water. Access to this plaque is through private land and permission must be sought from the owner. We were traveling to a very special historic area where very few are privileged to enter or view. Day two took us in the other direction on the river that eventually led to the very active and roaring ocean. Prior to entering the ocean waters we beached the kayaks on the riverbank along a row of mango trees and on foot walked through very tall grass over small hills, through fields and finally reached shore. This river ride and walk confirmed for me that I want to give the show Survivor another shot. Of course this was all a lot less scary with the knowledge and understanding that New Zealand is an extremely benign island. There are no snakes, leaches, lions, tiger or bears… it has more species of birds (although I have already written about the freaky bird activities) than anything else as the government has made a very concerted effort to remove any mice, possums or other types of pesky rodents from the island. This was important knowledge to have and as important to trust as we tramped through marsh country, which anywhere else in the world would have been a land mine for snake nests and evil-doing creatures.

The ocean was rough, loud and in control—I wasn’t going anywhere near it. It was ire to stand back and think about the tsunami victims and the power of this huge body of water. The beach was isolated with only a variety of birds hanging around. The shell hunting was pretty good and I did find a bottle sans any message. A little more than an hour of beach roaming was enough sun exposure to call it a day. The sun is extremely strong here and locals seem to think the hole in the ozone layer is actually directly above New Zealand. I’m not sure about this fact versus fiction comment, but it seems logical to me the closer you are to the equator, the more intense the rays become. Or, as my dermatologist at home tells me—sun exposure is not a sport, you don’t have to be good at it.

Through the fields and over the hills to the beached kayaks we roamed. Once we located the kayaks, I was breathing a sigh of relief that high water levels had not slipped in and to my fear slipped out to sea our only transportation. The evening was spent on the porch at the Magic Cottage with James and Shelia, another wonderful couple from the UK who were spending their first of many post retirement holidays traveling abroad. New Zealand was their first choice to explore for about ten weeks. They hosted a fantastic and relaxing cocktail party with all the right nibbles that turned from appetizers to dinner. Anna, Ian and family arrived and once again I was in awe over how amazing this entire experience has been. Day three led to the Rainbow Falls. We rushed, sort of, to the airport and arrived 10 minutes before airport departure to literally toss the rental car keys to the Budget Car Rental lady and board the plane with eye contact and a smile.


Yes, the weather is beautiful and my wish for you is that someday you will too be here!

Click here for great pics and great homes!

The last four days have been dedicated to travel to new destinations in the North Island. The weather continues to cooperate with my on the go schedule and I am grateful for this extended or late summer with limited rain or rainy days. I flew to Auckland and traveled by Ferry to Waiheke, which other than Shania Twain's or Nicole Kiddman's helicopter transports--this is the only way to arrive on this special island. Surrounded by simple, yet beautiful homes overlooking breathtaking views everywhere you look which places most of them in the seven figure category thanks to location, location, location. Waiheke is one of the 41+ volcanoes that make up the landmass in this area. I believe this formation of land and water area is called an ibises but I need to check both my vocabulary and spelling on that one. The volcanoes are inactive but not officially extinct--lets just hope they remain in hibernation during my visit. I traveled the island by foot and also for the first time hopped on a bus to explore one closed winery after another. This was a perfect scenario as I enjoyed walking the vineyard grounds more than I need to taste more incredible wine. I stayed at a great location found on the internet called Le Chateau, a very nice and nicely appointed apartment rental with a deck view of Little Onerora Bay and many sail boats in the near and far distance.

By Sunday morning there was just enough time to walk along some of Waiheke's back roads and take pictures of some of the great homes before catching the 10 AM return ferry to Auckland. My photography skills as well as the position of the sun do not really do the contemporary and extremely cool looking houses justice. I would love to have a house someday with this much style, this much glass, this much stainless steel and this much creativity in function and design. Note to Shane: get ready for my return--we've got to add the corrugated metal design to the near-the-beach house.