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Changes in Latitudes (and Attitudes)

I have great news, folks:  after six weeks of gray skies and liquid sunshine, torrential flooding and seemingly (at times) never-ending rain, the weather in New Zealand is finally improving!  Me and about 3.8 million Kiwis are thankful that the skies over New Zealand are starting to dry up and that summer has finally arrived -- just in time for the kids to go back to school (doh!) 

 

Because the weather has improved, though, I havenít had much time to work on my website.  That's because Iíve been traveling around the country instead of hunkering down in some motel room typing away, like I did in soggy Christchurch for a week and in even soggier Dunedin for another week. 

 

However, I recently plunked myself down in the town of Palmerston North and started cranking out updates once again, then I finished them here in Taupo (pronounced "TOE-poe") which, according to a huge sign on the outskirts of town, is the ďTrout Fishing Capital of the World.Ē  Taupo joins about 300 small towns in America (and another 300 small towns in Canada) with that title, I'd imagine.  By the way, I've illustrated my recent travels with the drawing above, which you might call a "topo map."  Get it?  Taupo (or topo) map?  That's a little USGS humor.

 

Along with this page, I've posted three new updates in this round, including:

The updates in this round include over 100 photos of New Zealand and, of course, my always-sparkling commentary.

 

By the way, I occasionally get e-mails wondering why I havenít updated my website in a while.  Each update page takes me about four hours to put together with all the text, photos, captions, maps, and link updates.  It doesnít help that Iím a slow thinker (and an even slower writer).

 

When you add those website updates to the numerous e-mails I've been responding to, plus the frequent data backups that I do -- not to mention all the traveling and sightseeing, of course -- I've been pretty busy lately.  No, make that really busy.  Sometimes I have to decide between seeing and doing things on the one hand, and working on my website describing what I've been seeing and doing, on the other.  You can either DO it or you can WRITE about it, but if you're a travel writer, you frequently don't have enough time to do both.  This is a common conundrum among travel writers, I imagine, and it's why I'm sometimes slow to post updates.  So please be patient.

Rain and Crowds:  Situation Improving

This summer, unfortunately, has been one of New Zealand's rainiest summers in many decades (or "dee-cades" as they say here), especially on the South Island where I spent most of January.  During the past three weeks, since my last update from Dunedin, it's also been very crowded, which has been discouraging at times to put it mildly.  If you like big crowds, noisy parties and loud bars, youíll enjoy visiting New Zealand during the summer school holiday (from mid-December through late January).  But being a quiet person who enjoys nature, crowds arenít my thing and this whole experience has been a little draining.

 

 

The 1960s group The Monkees are really popular in New Zealand for some reason, and I hear them all the time on the radio.  Here's Daydream Believer.

   

Even the trails are crowded and, as Iíve discovered, some even require reservations during this time of year.  I donít mean reservations to camp on the trail; I mean reservations just to HIKE on the trail.  It doesnít matter though, because Iím a wimp when it comes to hiking in the rain, so crowds or not, backpacking (or "tramping" as they call it here) hasnít been a feasible option for me.

 

Looking on the bright side, however, the weather during the last week or so has been pretty nice and itís been quite warm, with daytime temperatures usually in the 70s or low 80s and dropping down only to the 50s at night, so Iíve been wearing shorts and t-shirts during most days.  The only time I had to wear jeans during the past week was when I dealt with sandflies:  nasty biting creatures with which Iíve become all too familiar.  For some reason, New Zealand doesnít seem to have a lot of mosquitoes, a bothersome niche that has been filled here quite effectively, as ecologists might put it, by the pesky sandfly.

 

Along with the improving weather, the crowd situation has also improved recently because all the kiddies went back to school this week after six weeks off, and things have quieted down quite a bit.  On the other hand, Iíve heard that February is the big month here for international tourists.  I've already run into a lot of German, Japanese, and American tourists and I guess I'll be seeing a lot more of them in the near future.  And, in case you were wondering, the September 11 attacks have had a big impact on tourism here.  As crowded as it's been, a lot of Kiwis that I've talked to have told me that there are usually even more Americans here than now.  That's hard for me to imagine because I've seen a lot of them.

 

      

Above left:  The clouds are gradually diminishing . . .

Above right:  . . . as are the crowds.  This is a tour group on the "Kiwi Experience" bus which travels around New Zealand, picking up and dropping off backpacking tourists along the way.

Why New Zealand is a Great Country

Now that the crowds are starting to diminish and the weather has improved, so has my mood and I'm really starting to like this country.  However, my experience here continues to be a bit polarized.  I got pretty drained during my first six weeks here, dealing with the massive crowds and crummy weather.  But Iím glad I came to New Zealand so I could see what all the fuss was about.  The crowds and the rotten weather were the "Bad," but there's a lot more that's "Good" about this country.

 

Above:  The scenery (and scenic diversity) in New Zealand is amazing, especially on South Island.  You can drive through areas that resemble Kansas, Alaska, California and Hawaii -- all in a few hours.

The best part of New Zealand is definitely the people.  The Kiwis, young and old, have all been terrific.  Without hearing a person speak, I can usually tell if theyíre Kiwis, Americans, or Germans just by the way they react to me.  Kiwis are definitely the friendliest and will often come up to me and start chatting away.  Germans are the least outgoing or friendly, while Americans are somewhere in between.  Most American tourists here are nice but can be a bit arrogant and obnoxious.  During my Doubtful Sound cruise last week, I ran into a group of 60-somethings from the U.S. who epitomized the phrase ďUgly AmericansĒ -- loud, crude, and rude.  Jeez, no wonder we Americans have such a bad reputation overseas.

 

Another thing I love about New Zealand is the scenic and geographic diversity.  Iíve said it before but this country is as scenically diverse as the U.S. but in a much smaller package.  During my six weeks here, Iíve seen areas that reminded me of every one of the 50 states Ė and all in a country the size of Oregon or Colorado.  When you travel around New Zealand it seems much, much bigger than its modest size would indicate on a map.  That's largely because of the scenic diversity but also because of all the narrow, winding roads here which limit how far you can travel in one day. 

 

Americans might look at this relatively small country on a map and think to themselves, "I bet I can see it all in a week."  Sorry but there's no way.  Not in a month, or even several months.  I've driven about 5,000 miles around the country so far and there are still a lot of places I haven't seen.  In contrast, although I love Oregon, I can't imagine driving 500 miles around Oregon (let alone 5,000) and enjoying it nearly as much.  Although I've been in New Zealand for almost two months, it would probably take me another few months to get a good feel for this country because there are so many places I haven't been to yet.  There is a heck of a lot to see and do here.

 

Above:  Every town in New Zealand has at least one fish and chips place.  This small takeout, Lord Thompson's in Picton, has the best fish and chips of any place I've eaten in New Zealand so far.

The towns and cities here are great and are much more vibrant and interesting than towns and cities in the U.S.  That's partly because they're much more oriented towards pedestrians than to vehicles.  The U.S. is dotted with plenty of towns and cities that have decaying downtowns while the strip malls and Walmarts on the outskirts flourish.  There's hardly any of that here in New Zealand.  Urban planners in the U.S. could learn a lot by coming over here and studying how cities are supposed to work.

 

Another thing I like about New Zealand is that every town or village, no matter how small, has at least one fish and chips takeout shop.   Fish and chips are even better, dare I say it, than bratwurst, which is my staple travel food in the U.S.  And they're infinitely better than the mutton sausages that I was living on during my first week here (yes, they taste as bad as they sound).

 

Best of all, fish and chips are really cheap.  Most fish and chips shops charge only about 75 US cents for each piece of fish.  Chips (which Americans call French fries) are charged by the scoop, usually about 75 cents per scoop, with each scoop equivalent to three large orders of McDonald's fries.  Largely thanks to the weak New Zealand dollar right now, you can get a large meal of fish and chips (three pieces and a scoop of fries) for about US$3.  The same takeout meal in the U.S. would cost about six or seven dollars.  What a deal, huh?  But remember to bring along ketchup -- oops, I mean "tomato sauce" -- and, of course, malt vinegar.  I carry mine in the trunk of my car.  Oops, I mean the "boot."

 

Above:  Cricket has become my other passion here.  Cricket games are long, however, typically lasting seven or eight hours.  Now you know why I haven't updated my website in a while.

Something else I like here is the game of cricket, which Iíve gotten hooked on.  I watched my first televised cricket game a month ago in Whakatane and, being well-steeped in American baseball, sat there all afternoon completely dumbfounded.  It was an interesting experience, though, trying to figure out a sport just by watching it on T.V. without having the luxury of anyone explaining it to me.  Over the next several weeks, I watched cricket almost every night and gradually learned the rules, and now I think I understand the game fairly well.  Iíve been pulling for New Zealandís national team, known as the Black Caps, in their current televised series against Australia and South Africa.

 

Watching American football is a great way to waste three hours, but watching Kiwi cricket is a great way to waste eight hours.  Honestly, once I turn on a cricket match at 4 p.m., I usually end up watching it until itís finished at midnight, especially if the Black Caps are playing.  Cricket is something like American baseball except each team bats only once (until all 11 players are out), there are only two bases instead of four, and there are no foul balls.  Best of all, the players don't go on strike every four years.  Since the teams in cricket don't alternate at-bats like they do in baseball, it's not unusual to hear the announcer say that one team is ahead by "only" 273 runs.

 

So like I say, there are some things about New Zealand that I don't care for, especially the crowds this time of year.  But there's a whole lot more about New Zealand that I've come to love.

My Current Plans

My travel itinerary has always been fluid, but here's my current plan:  Iím going to fly to Sydney, Australia on February 7 and will rent a car there.  I plan to travel around Australia for about two months, more if I like it and less if I don't.  After that, I'll fly back to the U.S. in early April.

 

At one time I was thinking about going around the world, but I'm now planning to return to the U.S. this spring.  As much as I like New Zealand, I miss a lot of things back in the U.S., including my truck, camping in the west, and most of all, my friends and family.  This has been a good experience but I think two months in New Zealand and another two months in Australia will be about right.  Besides, I've gotten pretty drained from dealing with the crowds and from "living out of a suitcase," having to find a motel every night and then packing up the next morning.  I don't have that problem when I travel around the U.S. in my pickup truck.  It's a much easier way to travel.

 

Speaking of that, the theme of my U.S. trip this coming spring will be ďNational Parks and American History,Ē two of my favorite interests.  Iíve been to about half of the 400 national parks in the U.S. and hope to visit many of the remaining ones during this trip.  I'm going to plunk down $50 for a National Parks pass at the start of my trip and will put it to good use. 

Are Three Cameras Enough?

As you may know, my beloved digital camera developed some problems in Dunedin, so I bought a film camera, a Canon EOS Rebel, which Iíve been using ever since.  The main problem with shooting film, though, is that you canít post photos easily on a website.  With some careful cropping, though, I can still use the photos from my digital camera to put on this website.  That why, in case you were wondering, my photos are now square instead of rectangular.

 

By the way, Iíve also brought my camcorder along on this trip, so Iím actually shooting with three cameras now.  Sometimes itís been a juggling act and Iím sure I look silly toting around two cameras and a camcorder while shooting the same scene three times.  But I like looking silly.

 

This page is getting pretty long, so I've posted photos and stories for this update at:

 

Like I say, I've also added three other updates in this round.  They're at:

 

Happy reading!

 


 

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