Ah, where to begin... this bus trip has kept us so stinkin’ busy that I’ve had to keep a tight grasp on the written out schedule just to remember what I’ve done. It’s actually to the point where I talked to mom on the phone and forgot that I had skydived the day before and so didn’t mention it. Ooops! I’ve just been writing the very basics of our trip down as a personal outline, thinking I might fill you in on everything, but that would take so many pages, I may just give you the highlights. Might I mention first that my penchant for writing things on the computer can never match Laurie’s ability to write out postcards like some sort of robot... the other day we sat around reading and writing, I played around with pictures on the computer, typed out a basic outline of our trip so far, and wrote 3 postcards... while Laurie wrote 22 postcards. And once again, here she sits, writing who knows how many, trying to polish off her list of people she needs to write to. Unless I ask her to leave room, she fills every available space, and so my current thought is, just add my name to the end... I do proof-read and ask her to add stuff... Where was I now... ( Laurie just wrote another 12!!!)
Our trip around NZ has been chauffeured solely by the Stray bus. There are 3 main buses here, the Kiwi bus (tends to attract the young, party animal type crowds and stops mainly in cities and places where there are multiple bars to go to every evening), the Magic bus (tends to attract the older, more sedate traveller, and the asian travellers as they all have chinese/japenese interpreters on board), and the Stray bus (tends to attract the mid to late twenties group, willing to go to less touristy places, motto “off the beaten path”) For a total of 2 weeks, our driver was Nads, a spunky little thing that has personality to spare. Not actually a Kiwi, (the name that New Zealanders have adopted for themselves, just as Australians are Aussies and Canadians are Canucks) Nads is Welsh, and as fiercely loyal to her own country as she is to NZ. I made the mistake of asking “isn’t Wales a part of England..” that didn’t go over well.
Nads, like any good bus driver, has a lot of info about the various places we pass through and/or stop in. Along the way, we have learned that much as she knows and tells us, she also loves to throw in some wild tales that are told with such artistry that many people truly believe what she says. And so you too must try your hand at deciphering the truth from the lies...
- there is a beach on the north island where a thermal vent creates a unique situation. As the tide goes out, the water level in the sand gets low enough that the hot water from the hot spring is able to flow through the sand out to the ocean. If you walk along the beach, you’ll find an area where the sand burns your feet. Stop there and start digging, and voila! Your own little homemade hottub. Done in the right spot, you might even be able to lay in it until the tide gets too high and cools down the water too much... was all our digging worth it?
- there is a small town where they had a massive earthquake in the 1940’s of around 7.5 that wiped out pretty much the entire town. It was a thriving town, but thanks to the earthquake few people have rebuilt and what remains is only the hardiest folk determined to rebuild and make something of the town. Since the earthquake a bylaw was passed that you cannot smoke within the town itself, even if you’re outside. All smokers must travel to the outskirts of town if they wish to light up.
- the north and south islands of NZ are strongly divided, and each has a fierce pride in being different and better than the other. These divisions are so strong, there is even a separate currency, and one must exchange currencies as they travel from island to island.
- the western coast of the south island is wild and covered in mountains, making travel through them a windy, cliff-edged experience, that includes more single-lane bridges than double-lane. At one point, there’s a bridge we had to cross to get to one of our out-of-the-way places, this bridge high over a rushing river was made many years ago, and is unable to carry heavy loads, so all passengers needed to get off the bus and walk across in order to get the bus across. Luckily the bridge wasn't too long.
- in an area called Rotorua on the north island there is a historic Maori village situated in the midst of a geothermal area. Here the ground is very unstable, and at any point a new thermal mud pit or hotspring could split the ground. Some houses have had whole rooms or sections rendered unusable thanks to a newly opened steam vent. In this village of Whakearewarewa they don’t use ovens or heaters, or even have baths in their houses. All meals are cooked either over a steam vent or boiled in a hotspring pool. Baths are communal in a bathing area filled by a constantly overflowing hotspring. Traditional meals sold there include: boiled corn, steamed sausages, and steamed pudding. There's a lot of steam!
- one out of the way place we visited was called “Old MacDonald’s Farm.” Here, they kept sheep, cows, and one interesting new breed of animals. In the interest of new types of wool and hardier animals, these entrepreneuring people managed to cross breed their sheep with camels, producing odd looking animals they call “shamels.” Aren't they cute?
- Travelling through the mountains, we passed many canyons and rivers, some with truly unique names. One of these rivers was called “Roaring Meg.” This region was originally settled by gold miners, a hardy lot that is generally a large male population, lonely for some companionship. A local prostitute, nicknamed Roaring Meg, was well loved and in high demand in the town. Unfortunately, she died in a tragic accident on the river, and so in memory of her, the river was named Roaring Meg.
- New Zealand was once a land populated solely by birds, reptiles, and not a single mammal other than the bat. The intelligent westerners and their need for sport hunting and large meat animals brought over numerous mammals, everything from the mice and rats, to cats and dogs, various farm animals, etc. At one point, the intelligent idea came to someone that deer hunting would be an excellent sport for NZ, and so deer of various kinds were imported and let loose in the wild. These deer flourished in a land without predators, and began to decimate the landscape. They were so numberous, that the government employed people to kill them off any way they could. In the 70’s venison became a very popular meat in europe, and suddenly these deer killers were also bagging them and making money off the meat. Hunting and bagging deer meant going in territory that had no roads or ways around, and so helicopters were used to transport hunters and carcasses in and out of the steepest mountain ranges. Thanks to the money made off the meat, the deer population declined rapidly at this point, and soon it was difficult to make a living off the deer hunting, but venison was still a very profitable meat. At this point the idea of capturing and farming the deer was made a reality by some hardy bushmen who decided that the best way to do this was by jumping out of a helicopter onto a deer’s back, tackling the deer, hog-tying it and bringing the live deer back to a place where they could be contained and bred. Later, they developed net-guns, and this meant they could catch them in a net before tackling them from behind and slinging them up in a bag under the helicopter. To this day, southern NZ is covered in deer farms.
- A wonderfully intelligent Australian came to NZ with the idea that he could make good money off of a possum fur trade. He set up a farm full of possums before even bothering with any research into the feasibility of his idea. His idea failed miserably, and in sad defeat he returned to Australia, leaving behind all his possums to fend for themselves. Once again, as with the deer, the possums lacked predators and flourished in the NZ climate, and currently number around 80 million (twice the number of sheep in NZ). Possums kill off a lot of native trees, and eat Kiwi bird eggs to the point where they are considered a menace by most New Zealanders. One entrepreneuring man has a little shop where he sells possum pie, a meat pie made with possum meat instead of beef or chicken.
And some random pics along the way...
One of the few remaining giant trees in NZ
Rabbit shearing at it's best!
Bone carving, sanding, polishing...
On the boat at Milford Sound
Surfing, fully geared up in wet suits. Couldn't resist.
Laurie driving... with her eyes closed of course.
Me, searching for Jade on the beach... not a clue what I'm looking for, just know it's supposed to be here.
Posing with a giant gumboot... as you do in New Zealand.
Climbing a glacier. (I was sick, I skipped this day and stayed at the hostel with my homemade chicken soup)
Skipping rocks in a river of glacier water. The deep pools around here are a gorgeous blue.
Our driver Nads, posing with a statue.
All geared up for Quad biking through the rain and muck, sooooo much fun.
Party time, with some items from the dress up box.
Just before we jumped from a plane over a couple of glaciers!
Laurie decides to take the plunge...