Saturday, November 22, 2008

Glorious! (But never to happen again...)

In all my days of board gaming I have never laid witness to the thorough thrashing that was delivered that lonely night in Haast. It started out with an innocent game of Battle Ship at our hostel. Everyone had fun and nobody got hurt. We then moved on to Monopoly and that's where things got ugly. Courtney and Jeremy both came out aggressively, snatching up properties as fast as they could. Players passed Go, rents were paid, people went to jail and Jeremy even won $10 in a beauty contest. Naturally. But as the game progressed the moods began to turn.

Jeremy was coming on like the Donald and putting houses and hotels on all the properties he could. A few rolls of snake eyes here and a few Free Parkings there and the bankroll was flush with cash. Courtney's luck, on the other hand, was taking a turn for the worse. More rents due, more poor taxes to pay and more properties she had to mortgage. By the end of the night it was mayhem. It was, in fact, the truest game of Monopoly ever played. Behold.

Jeremy owns all properties. There is a hotel on every property. Courtney has no money. Jeremy has lots and a Get Out of Jail Free card. Never would I think that an ass whooping of this magnitude could be delivered at this game. Little did we know that Courtney would do it to Jeremy only a few days later (perhaps this is the ultimate fate in a two player setup?). BUT, as this is the game of which there is photographic evidence, it gets the glory. Jeremy = Monopoly King!!!

Friday, November 21, 2008

PWT? Not us!

Now here's something I can't say I've ever thought to do... Pulling into Taupo we hit a few of the local holiday parks to check rates, scenery, facilities, etc... Now up until now, we have pretty much limited ourselves to camp sites as our sleeping options. If we're really looking to spoil ourselves or if the weather just isn't looking like it's going to cooperate and keep us dry, we'll spring for a hostel. But at one of the holiday parks we tried we were offered up a new option – a caravan. A caravan? Yes, a caravan.

We walked around the site for our obligatory inspection of the facilities (communal bathroom, kitchen and lounge areas) and then made our way to the caravan. It is what you would expect I suppose – a camping trailer, pulled straight from the '50s and it could be ours for the low, low price of around $40 per night. Sold! We booked our three nights and quickly settled in. We unloaded practically the entire car, put away dishes, lined the spice rack with all of our seasonings, hung up clothes and felt immediately at home. Clementine, as she was named after a not too extensive period of deliberation, was stocked – queen size bed, two benches for seating, pretty much a full kitchen, closet and a TV. She was, in her own half-century old, musky, dusty way the perfect holiday getaway – and she was all ours.

We have lots of great memories of times spent with Clementine – cooking up some great homemade meals, playing cribbage late into the night, sleeping in late and watching our shows (which consist of Relocation-Relocation, a British show where the two camera-worthy real estate agents help find new digs for rich folk and The F Word, a Gordon Ramsey show where he runs a restaurant with a new group of amateur cooks each week).

It was a sad day when we had to say goodbye, but alas, we had to move on and Clementine had to provide much needed shelter for a new family. Ya, I can't say I could see us back home rolling into a KOA and asking to rent out someone's 50 year old camper. But then again, after the summer of '95, I'm never going back to a KOA again. (Please refer to the Tillamook County Sheriff's Office judicial records for further information... Sorry again Mom and Dad.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Down the hatch!

I walked into the kitchen of our holiday park in Manapouri only to find yet ANOTHER older woman flirting with my husband (they love him, those cougars), when after introducing myself, she said “Oh, you're the wino!” (Also not scoring high points). Though a tad harsh, she was harmless after all, but apparently I'd been called out on my appreciation of wine. As many of you have probably heard me gush from time to time, my favorite wines EVER are the Sauvignon Blancs produced in the Marlborough region of New Zealand's South Island. I've found that price doesn't much matter, as the $7.99 King Shag from Trader Joe's (BUY IT if you've never tried it – it's spectacular) is right up there with the $20 plus bottles of Dog Point, Whitehaven, and Giesen, which are three of my favs. But really, I've been hard pressed to find a bottle of the crisp, grapefruity/green apple-y/grassy goodness of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that I don't enjoy. Okay, maybe I am a wino.

SOOO, you can imagine my unabashed excitement upon arriving to the South Island and heading straight for the glorious grape-laden fields of Marlborough. We stayed at an adorable place called Watson's Way Backpackers, right in the heart of the wine region, whose owners were happy to point us toward the wineries offering free tastings, and to the best meat pies in town for soaking it all up afterwards. Our first day out we drove around to the outlying wineries, hills surrounded by vineyards as far as the eye could see on a gloriously sunny day. The scenery was as tremendous as the tastings! Our first stop was Montana (known as Brancott in the States – they don't go by Montana so as not to confuse us with thinking the grapes were grown in the state of Montana – they give Americans a lot of credit, eh? Thought you'd find that interesting, Eleissa – before our niece Leighton was born, Eleissa was very familiar with the likes of Brancott as well!). It was the first time that it's really 'hit me' that we're here....I just couldn't wrap my head around the fact that we were wine tasting in MARLBOROUGH!! We hit up 11 different vineyards and met some very entertaining people – including one wine steward who grew up in Portland!

The second day we rented bikes from our lodge and made our way around to several more within peddling distance, stopping at farms for heads of garlic and shallots, and local cheeses along the way. Another lovely warm day welcomed us as we combined our boozing and biking. By the end of the day we were surprisingly steady on our wheels, even after tasting the offerings from 13 different 'cellar doors' – impressive, no?! The headache the next day said differently, however. But with about 50 or so wineries in the area, I'd say we'd done a decent job touring the sights in our two days!

Needless to say we found some amazing wines....some of which we can find at home, but most of which are not exported to the States. We looked into the cost of shipping some home – YEAH RIGHT – the shipping fee and taxes alone cost over $300, NOT including the cost of the bottles themselves. Not quite in this traveler's budget. Ah well. We would have loved to share the joy of what Bouldevines had to offer (my top choice – even the Reisling was fantastic) and especially the Mt. Riley Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc with our Prosecco-loving family, but alas, tis not the season after all. We were able to pick up a few bottles to enjoy on our travels, however, with surprisingly little arm-twisting from wino, I mean wife, to husband!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

For Todd

Have you ever seen that Friends episode where Rachel makes the trifle but the pages of her cook book are unknowingly stuck together and she ends up with custard (good), jam (good) and meat (GOOOOOD!!!)? Meat pies are kind of like that. An apparent staple around New Zealand, I'm quickly becoming a fan. Picture a light, flaky crust wrapped around the meat/cheese/veggie combination of your choosing. It's not exactly gourmet, as the gelatinous and rather unidentifiable meat goo that binds the filling together constantly reminds you that you are in fact eating mostly “meat goo”, but they're still good. They're usually about three inches across and run about $2 USD each. A nice little snack on the go. So many varieties to try and so little time. I'm sure we'll report back on our favorites once we've completed more taste tests. I'm already envisioning a meat pie cart on the corner of 13th and Lexington. Maybe I'll end up in Bon Appetite!

In all its glory, I present to you steak and onion goodness. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Is this sane?

Unique people, places and activities in New Zealand are what we would like to go for as we travel around. If we can stay off of the Lonely Planet hot spots and get a little more authentic flavor we will. So granted, NZ is the adventure sport capital of the world (bungee jumping, zorbing, sky diving, hand gliding, giant swing things, black water rafting and on and on and on...), but none of those things are adventures that we couldn't have at home. Maybe zorbing being the exception, but we're not dying to do that.

So of our options, I'm thinking that a bungee jump would be pretty cool as Queenstown is the birthplace of the sport? (back in 1988). At least I could then say that I jumped from the very first location ever. But then I thought, hey, if we're going for it, let's go for the big daddy. As the original location is off of a bridge and about 150 feet high. But, for those with a complete lack of sense, there is the Nevis jump which is something like 130m. Now I'm still working on my imperial-to-metric conversions, but I think that's around 400+ feet. Riiiiiight... When we were at one of our hostels up in Renwick there was a guy we met from London who had just done the Nevis jump and had a video of it. We watched it. I'm not doing the Nevis jump.

Depending on the timing of this post, we may be past Queenstown and past the bungee jumping experience. Either way, I'm sure I just freaked my mom way the f' out with even the possibility of us bungee jumping. I know, Mom, I won't tell you for sure until after the fact.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Oktoberfest - NZ Style

Pulling in to Rotorua for a few days of thermal pool soaking and touristy wandering, we pull into the local Top 10 and get checked in. We browse the wall of brochures to see what there is to do around town and what catches our eye? Of course the advertisement for the first ever Oktoberfest to be held in nearby Okere Falls. They've got a drunk bus leaving from the nearby Burger Fuel and everything... this could be trouble.

A twenty minute ride later and we pull up in front of a small roadside store in pretty much the middle of nowhere. Granted just about everything looks like the middle of nowhere around here unless you're actually in a larger city. We figure we're probably stopping to pick up a few more degenerates, but nope, it's off-the-bus time. We're here?!?! Ok, around back we go to what could be described as a nice little outdoor beer garden type area – tables set up on terraces, a few small tents, a fire barrel and a window with two lederhosen-clad bier maidens shelling out the frosty cold beverages. Not to be deterred by the underwhelming nature of this Oktoberfest celebration (guessing about 15 people there once the bus unloaded, total), we head to the window for our first sampling. Twelve genuine German selections to choose from – why not just run down the list and get them all?

A new deck of cards quickly purchased from the store (naturally we forgot ours back at the camp site) and we were well on our way to a debaucherous night of drunken Gin Rummy. Watch out New Zealand!!! We hung out for a few hours, chatted with a few other travellers and managed to make our way through the entire list of beers, obviously doubling up a few times for good measure.

We unfortunately had to catch the bus back to Rotorua at 9:00, which only gave us three or so hours at the party. Courtney tried to muster up the drunken courage to join in with the locals and their sing-along, but after quizzing me about the full lyrics of “Like a Virgin” opted to pass on her opportunity to shine, Karaoke style. I have to think that if we were in Munich under the same circumstances we may have seen her best Madonna impression. Let's see if we make it there next year...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Picture Time!

So we've finally had a chance to get the majority of our photos captioned and we've started uploading, so check them out! There's a link to the right "Evidence (Get yer flickr on!)" that will take you to our online albums.

We're still behind, but making progress. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Bye Bye Bush!

WOOOHOOOOOO!!!!! Way to go, America! The good ol' US of A got it right this time and no blatant cheating took place this time (as far as we know)! We'd just checked into a little hotel in Hokitika, got settled, and turned on the TV to see Obama giving his acceptance speech live from Chicago. We're so excited and celebrating at the bar downstairs with a jug of the local brew. It will be intriguing to chat it up with other travelers now that we know the outcome. The overwhelming consensus so far has been that the rest of the world was rooting for Obama as well, so many parts of the globe are probably breathing a sigh of relief along with us. We've already received many congratulations on our win....I guess people just assume we'd be leaning the Obama way! Now we'll wait to see what changes are to come!


Since our caving adventures in Waitomo, we now manage to explore every crevice that possibly resembles a cave that we may happen upon on a hike. These are some friends we've met:

They are called Cave Wetas (though we were sure the guy was saying Cave Widows but it was just his accent – we learned that after visiting the museum). They are like giant grasshoppers and won't hurt's fortunate someone told us this BEFORE happening upon them, or there surely would have been two screaming Americans running wildly down the trail! (Okay.....probably only one)

Cave Masters

Well we have now officially reached badass status! In Waitomo we did a tour of one of the many caves that the area is famous for. It started with a 90ft abseil (apparently Americans are the only ones who call it rappelling) down into the belly of the cave. Jer had never done it before and my only experience was rappelling off the Ormsby House Casino's parking garage in high school (Mom & Dad – I've told you about that, right???). We'd lucked out that no one else had signed up for the 9am timeslot with us, so we had Allen the hilarious Scottish guy as our personal tour guide.

After landing in the cave we hiked upstream a bit to check out the glowworms – also unique to the area. Though they seem really cool, glow worms are actually the very gross larval form of the fungus gnat. The gnats lay their eggs on the cave ceilings, and once the larvae hatch, they create a slimy sock like cocoon that they live in for 9 months. In order to catch food, they excrete long sticky threads that hang down from their cocoon to catch flying insects, who are attracted to the glow they give off. The glow actually comes from their waste that stays stored in the tip of their body. Gross, right?! But did you enjoy your glow worm lesson for the day? Ugly in the light but really cool in the dark....the cave ceiling is alive with a million tiny blue lights that look like stars. Allen slammed his intertube against the cave wall (scaring the absolute shit out of us since it was pitch black and we had no warning) and it made them 'wake up' and glow brightly.

We hiked back downstream where we mounted our tubes and blackwater rafted downstream. It's called blackwater rafting because you can't see a thing and it's pretty exciting! The water levels were low so we could only go so far before we were hitting rocks and had to dismount. Of course, true to my klutz-o ways, I managed to slam into a rock and get dumped into the water. Even when I can't see I still manage to go ass over teakettle one way or another.

Since it was just the two of us, it allowed extra time to do some caving and exploring. What a thrill! Allen turned and looked at us with this sly grin and asked “How do you two feel about small spaces?” When we both gave a half-hearted mumble and a shrug, he proceeded to lead us through a series of itty bitty crawl spaces, up nearly vertical cliffs, down natural water slides, under crevices that we had to duck and swim into, up onto ledges, etc etc etc. Wow! We were exhausted and exhilarated all at the same time.

Eventually the tour came to an end, so we high-kneed it back upstream to the cave entrance, where we climbed the rock face to get out. No small task when you've been caving for 5 hours, but definitely an amazing exit to our memorable day. Don't we look sexy in wet-suits???

Saturday, November 1, 2008

19-10-08 - Making a Splash!

So we've become accustomed to staying in the wonderfully outfitted holiday parks, the tip-top of which are the Top Ten Holiday Parks. Stainless steel, multiple burners, manicured grasses and eau-de-bleach galore. When we decide to rough it though (i.e. camp like we usually camp, out in the middle of nowhere) there are a wonderful network of DOC (Department of Conservation) camp sites that are very basic, typically off the beaten track and not too populated. We hit our first DOC site just out of Whangamata on the Coromandel Peninsula late one night with only enough time to fire up a few servings of Ramen noodles (ghetto style bought at the Asian grocery in Auckland, a great idea at the time but quickly found to be a far cry from the college staple REAL Ramen noodles).

The next morning we made our way up to Wentworth Falls, a nice hour-and-a-half-or-so hike shooting off right from our campground. We had the privilege of being escorted by our personal tour guide, Missy? Lucy?, (the camp host had a VERY thick accent) the campground dog.
She was a very good guide and was happy to let us know when we were lagging behind or not going the right direction. Apparently at one point the “right” direction according to MissyLucy to cross the river was THROUGH the river and not over the beautifully crafted wooden bridge going OVER the river, which we didn't see until after the fact. Courtney, not being one to ever miss out on the full experience, decided to really introduce herself to the river.

River, Courtney. Courtney, River. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.

I think she dried off by the end of the hike. Nothing a nice coffee and meat pie wouldn't cure. More on meat pies later...

18-10-08 Yeeee haw! That there is one fancy jacuzzi!

So here's the preface – it's been about two weeks since we've actually been on and blogged, and it will probably be about another two weeks before we get on line and actually post these. We're still getting used to having to pay for internet access and getting things done on $2/20 minute time lines. So be it, we're on holiday...

Anyway, here goes –

So one of the things I will give NZ (that would be pronounced “en-zed”) is that there is no shortage of absolutely stunning hikes to take all over the place. Now granted, the main highways around here disappear beyond 20 km outside of a major city and from there on they are two lane roads passing through some of the most amazingly scenic landscapes ever. You just drive along and look for the sign to the next waterfall, walking track, scenic beach or forest tramp, almost all of which are guaranteed amazing. As we made our way down the Coromandel Peninsula two of the great spots we hit were Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.

The first was a twenty minute hike (down from the posted 45 minutes) to the beach where there were amazing caves, arches and rock formations. I got a few shots, but damn the battery running out in the camera and damn me for forgetting the extra battery. Hot Water Beach is some what of a phenomenon in the highly thermal region of the North Island. On two hours either side of the low tide the hot water springs start flowing up to the beach. So for that four hours a small area of the beach is packed with people digging holes in the sand, letting the hot water bubble up and the cold ocean water flow in creating superb little soaking pools. It really is a free, PWT hot tub, but hey, we're in another country so therefore it's “...a quirky, unique experience not to be missed...” (so says Lonely Planet).