Saturday, January 31, 2004

A man parted from his money

Unlike Cindy’s wonderful stories, this is just an update of what we have been up to in the last few months. Obviously writing has not been at the top of our priority list.

After a raucous New Year spent in Buenos Aires we headed down to New Zealand. The land of Kiwis, poor exchange rates (compared to South America), over hyped and overpriced entertainment, and legal prostitution. It took me about 2 weeks before the novelty of being able to understand the conversations around me wore off. Cindy said that I would talk peoples’ ears off just because I could.

We have been here for about 6 weeks and will be leaving in a few days for Australia. We will only stay long enough to process my Irish passport and then will head off to the mysterious Middle East and the land of Evil Doers. Hence the neccesity of an Irish passport in a ridiculous attempt to disassociate myself from wonderful Mr. Bush. I think the ball cap, American accent and straight teeth will be a dead giveaway no matter what I do. Mom, I will tell you all about it after we have left the area.

We have really enjoyed NZ but it has been a severe drain on our pocket‐books (I may rant about that later). The scenery here is beautiful and we have had many adventures. Our friend Brian Huston from Portland came to visit and helped me destroy my liver for a few weeks.

(Here comes the rant) Truthfully as fun as it is, the whole of NZ can feel like a giant tourist trap. The difference is that in South America, when they try to separate you from your money, they try to conceal the fact. Here it’s just in your face, “Hey you silly rich tourist, come over here and empty your pocket book!” The best example of that was in Queenstown. It is adrenaline junky heaven. They have hang gliding, parachuting, bungee jumping off bridges, cable cars, parasailing, white water rafting, kayaking, sledging (think going head first down a river full of rapids with a boogie board on steroids, a wet suit and fins), canyon swings and the list goes on and on. I was very quickly parted from over $400 New Zealand dollars for just a few minutes of shear terror filled events. Some I was forced to do twice in a row. I was told by some locals that they don’t go anywhere near Queensland because they can’t afford it. Even worse, the nightlife there goes on all night. It’s a horrible place.

Once we arrived in the land of the Kiwis (which can be a bird, a fruit, a dollar, or a person) we thought we would ease the cost and heighten the fun by buying a van and living out of it while we were there. There was a bed built into the back and it had all the camping equipment needed for making it a home on wheels. We tried to sleep one night in free camping and the next in a “holiday park” with showers, kitchens etc. Worked out great execpt when I drank too much beer at night and repeatedly have to go find a bush in the middle of the night.

Surprisingly, the weather here has been not great. It’s the middle of summer and I have had very few times when I did not need a fleece. The north Island was a little better than the south but now I understand why the Maori called this place “Aotearoa” which translates to “Land of the Long White Cloud”. In case you dont know the Maori were the indigenous people here before the ’Brits came, waged war with them and stole their land. I have had quite a few wonderful “white” New Zealanders quite unprompted tell me all about how much they dislike the Maori, are angry that the government is giving them money and land back as compensation for the land taken when this was a British Crown Colony. They generally move on when I give them my “deer in the headlights” look of disapproval about what they are saying

Some quick highlights from Kiwi land

Abseiling (rappelling for us in the states)

We got to absail into a cave in an area called Waitomo (they filmed the Shire there for you Lord of the Rings nuts). Then jumped into an inner tube for a butt numbing ride down the frigid river running through the cave. The ceiling of the cave was filled with glow worms trying to attract insects to snack on. It looked like you were under the stars on a really dark night.

The Tongariro Crossing

It has been called the most beautiful one day hike in NZ. It passes over varied and spectacular volcanic terrain. Near the summit you hike by Mt. Ngauruhoe, its steep black sides tinged rust-red near the summit. (Again for you Lord of the Rings junkies it has the distinction of doubling as Orodruin or “Mount Doom” in the films.) Volcanoes as tall as this were the result of multiple eruptions over many thousands of years. Ngauruhoe’s first eruption is thought to have occurred 2,500 years ago, making it the youngest of the volcanic vents in the park.

The Fox Glacier

This was very cool. We got to hike up and onto the glacier. The cracks and crevasses were way cool to see. It is remarkable in that it ends in temperate rainforest, 250 meters above sea level and a mere twelve kilometers from the sea.

Kayaking with Hector Dolphins in Akaroa

We rented a double sea kayak and headed out into the sound. Suddenly I saw a few fins in the water and the next thing we knew there were dolphins swimming around us checking us out. They even bumped into the bottom of the boat. Very cool. They are endangered with only about 3–4,000 of them left in the world.

Spying yellow eyed penguins in the Banks peninsula

We hid in the grasses on the edge of a deserted beach and waited for sundown to see them come ashore at the end of a day’s fishing. They are extremely afraid of people and if they see you, they won’t come ashore and feed their chicks. We had seen quite a few come in near us and wanted to leave but got trapped by a straggler on the beach. He was just taking his sweet time coming in and we did not want to run the risk of him seeing us. The only way off the beach was to walk right by him about 5 feet away. I dashed by him with no problem but he saw Cindy and she had to dive down under a clump of tall grass. She finally got by him but he got spooked and headed back towards the water. We were happy to see him finally turn back towards land a few minutes later and start to waddle home. They are also endangered with only about 4,000 breeding pairs.

The Canyon Swing in Queenstown

There is no way to adequately describe this thing. It is basically a giant rope swing across a 300 foot high canyon. You are attached to the ropes in a full body harness. You are launched off a cliff-mounted platform and swing in a giant arc into the Shotover River canyon and after coming to a rest are hauled back up to the platform. You freefall for about 180 feet before the rope changes your direction into an arc. At the bottom of the arc you go so fast you reach terminal velocity and you experience 3Gs of acceleration. I was so scared shitless the first time that I had to do it twice: the first time facing backwards so I could see the platform receding from me and the second time head first facing the canyon wall. Check out a picture of the canyon swing.