Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I'm melting. It is so much warmer here in Hawaii than it was in New Zealand or Australia. It's been between 80F and 90F and muggy since I got here. I won't go into great detail, but I've been to beaches all over the place, hiked the Na Pali coast, and have driven up to Waimea Canyon. I've had really good luck with accomodations, finding a very nice hotel room right on the beach in Kapa'a (first two nights), for a very reasonable rate. My travelling style has changed quite a bit from the start of my trip. At first, I was eating out of grocery stores, staying in backpackers in New Zealand. Now I'm cruising around in a rented 2010 Mustang convertible, eating in restaurants and staying in B&Bs. Part of the reason for that is that Kauai is just not geared up for backpacker-type travellers. Also, I've travelled quite cheaply so far, and I just want to spluge a bit. I was really craving a nice piece of fish, and drove around in the bigger towns looking for a promising place. Nothing looked inviting, so I decided to take my chances back here in Waimea. Right across the street is the Wrangler Steakhouse. Hmmm. Not the normal best bet for a vege-fishy-tarian like myself. I just had some of the best fish I've ever had there-- moonfish rolled in crumbs, cooked in butter and served in a creamy caper sauce with garlic mashed potatoes. Yikes!
I'm taking a raft trip back up the other (western) end of the Na Pali coast tomorrow, which leaves from Waimea. I have to be there at 6:30AM tomorrow, so I wanted to stay as close as possible. The only accommodations I could find were in a B&B. It's a HUGE suite (three rooms) with a Jacuzzi, and a king size bed. It's only $160 a night (which is way more than I would like to pay, but for this place it a bargain). The downside: no AC! It's right on the beach, so it should cool down nicely at night. It's already quite nice outside, but a little warm for sleeping inside. I have all the windows open, with fingers crossed. If nothing else, I can dump a bag of ice in the Jacuzzi, and sleep in that...

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I flew back to Sydney from Melbourne today, saying goodbye to my funky Chinatown pub. The flight was uneventful, and I'm right back in the middle of good ol' Sydney. Not necessarily intentionally, I'm in Chinatown here, too. This part of Sydney is full of Asian students-- not sure where they go to school, but they're everywhere.
I had a nice visit with an Ozzie named Russell at a pub (Paddy McGuires) in the Haymarket district this evening. He related how he likes to go pig hunting in northern Australia, and what a rush it is. They bring two or three dogs, and track down the feral pigs. They loose the dogs on the boars, and the dogs capture them by grabbing them by the ears. In the summa, they just castrate the peegs, so they get noice and fat for next ye-ah. Then they'll catch 'em again, and dispatch them with a noice noif to the lungs. In the winta, they can sell them by dumping them in pig boxes, and get as much as AU$1.60 a kg. Profitable, that. He related how some (expletive deleteds) had captured peegs and cut one ear off. That means that when the dogs go after the peeg, they can't get a hold, and the peeg will sometimes gore the dog to death. I asked Russell why someone would go to all the trouble to go to the bush and capture a wild pig just to cut its ear off, and he replied that they do it just because they are (expletive deleteds).
An interesting country, this. (Note: Picture is not from here, it's a cool beach on Phillip Island, near Melbourne.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

More signs

More crazy, random signs...


I am so crazy about my funky little Chinatown neighborhood here in Melbourne. There are weird little alleys and sub-alleys all over the place, with weird little noodle shops and God-knows-what down there. I had greek food for dinner, and took a little sub-alley shortcut from the Greek Precinct to my Chinatown home. At one point I found both sides of the alley covered with the most bizarre signs. No way to tell what they mean, or who put them there. This has to be one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I've been having quite the urban adventure lately. I flew from Sydney to Melbourne yesterday. I had pre-booked a room at a hotel here, not knowing much about the place or the area-- it was just relatively inexpensive and available. It turns out to be the coolest place. It's an old hotel upstairs from a pub in the middle of Chinatown. Melbourne is great, and this is one of the coolest parts of town.

My favorite coat ($200 Marmot softshell) was stolen out of my room in Sydney, so I was on a quest for a new jacket. It was fairly cool out (probably 50F), so the idea of travelling more with no coat wasn't too appealing. On my quest for a gear store, I heard a smoky saxophone calling to me from a dark side street. Turns out there was a fantastic jazz trio playing at a tiny cafe, just outside Chinatown. I sat for a while and soaked up the tunes. It was by far one of the highlights of my vacation so far. Today, there were a couple of guys playing Bolivian music outside the Queen Victoria Market-- also great. The QVM is a huge bazaar, with all sorts of different booths selling everything from leeks to leather jackets. Very cool to wander around looking at all the bizarre bazaar stuff. I even found a smoking deal on a new jacket. Now I'm ready for more adventure.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

$300 Seashells

I have been having really good luck with travelling. Pretty much everything has gone smoothly. Until now. I seem to save up my bad travelling mojo, and experience it all at once. Today must have been the day. I was set to fly out of Wellington for Christchurch at four o'clock this afternoon. I still had the rental car, so I had to some time to kill. I have several friends who make musical instruments (mandolins, mostly), who do inlay work with abalone shells. New Zealand is the home of the most exquisitely figured and colored abalone shells in the world, so I've been meaning to pick some up. I hadn't gotten around to finding a source for some during my trip-- I've asked around at jewelers, with not too much luck.
With my time to kill today, I hit a cybercafe and Googled "Paua Abalone New Zealand". I found out that a big supplier and processor is right near Wellington, where I was! I called them up, and told them I'd be right there. I hopped in the car and headed up to Carterton to Paua World. I got a smokin' deal on a whole load of paua pieces and six whole, unprocessed shells. I headed back to my guesthouse in Wellington, knowing I was pushing my luck for my flight. I had seen the airport bus many times going right near my hotel, and I know right where the bus stops are, so I thought I was golden. I gathered up my stuff, locked the key in the boot of the car, and headed down to the bus stop. I sat down there and waited for a bit. No airport bus. I finally asked an elderly gentleman if I was in the right place to get a bus to the airport. No, he informed me, I should be waiting a half a mile away on Courtenay Place. I hustled down there through pouring rain and driving wind-- got completely soaked. I got to the bus stop just in time for the airport bus. But it never came. I waited for over a half an hour, and finally it got there. I hopped on, and hoped for a quick ride. The bus wound through all sorts of random neighborhoods, getting caught in traffic and not heading anywhere near the airport. Finally we got to the terminal-- I ran inside and headed straight for the JetStar departures counter. One clerk was helping a very disgruntled customer, and it looked like it would be a while. The other clerk was shamelessly flirting with her boyfriend. I was starting to get perturbed. The flirter caught my stare of death, and dismissed Romeo. I told her what flight I was on, and she informed me that my check-in had closed fifteen minutes ago. I was really screwed. Their next flight was 4:00PM on the 15th, but I am booked on a flight from Christchurch to Sydney at 1:30PM on the 15th. All the tickets are non-refundable, and they are booked out of Denver, which due to the time difference could be of no help. My stress level escalated. I pulled out my itinerary, and realized that I didn't have any phone numbers for the Christchurch travel office, just Denver numbers. I headed over to the Air New Zealand counter, hoping that they had some more flights to Christchurch available. The counter was manned by one person. The worlds slowest man. He...helped...the...guy...in...front...of...me...for...an...eternity. Finally, I got to speak with the slow man. Turns out that they did have a couple more flights leaving for Christchurch today, and I could get on one for only three hundred dollars. I really didn't have any good options. I handed him my card. Declined. Turns out he wasn't using the machine right-- it did go through after...four...attempts. The plane I missed cost me $69NZ (about $50US).
So my little side trip to pick up some sea shells cost me $300NZ, or about $230US. I was very grateful to get a flight, though-- it would have gotten really ugly for my travel plans if I missed my NZ-OZ flight.
Now that we have gotten all the bad luck out of the way (knock wood!), I'm ready for some smooth sailing!

Sunday, October 11, 2009


I’m in the middle of the north island of New Zealand now. I hung around in Christchurch for a couple of days, soaking up the sun (and rain), and communing with the baby ducks at the Botanical Gardens, right across the street from my hotel. I indulged in Thai and Indian food, and walked around a lot, reacquainting myself with the town. The weather was kind of up and down—two really nice days and some not so nice. A big storm came in and dumped a bunch of snow on the mountains, so I made my decision to head north. I took a bus from Christchurch to Picton, where I got on the ferry to Wellington. I had never been to the north island before, except the Auckland airport. The south island is much more wild and interesting for hiking, and the north island is much more populated and less mountainous. That’s why I had never been as interested in the north island, at least until I ran out of things to see on the south island.
The bus trip was actually a lot more scenic and interesting than I thought it would be. The trip to Picton is composed mostly of rolling emerald green fields full of frolicking sheep, alternating with endless vineyards. Just about every place you could stand and take a picture on the south island looks like it could be a postcard. There were towering snow-capped mountains in the background all the way—it was incredible. (I’m at a backpacker with no SD card reader on the computer, so I can’t post any pictures just yet.)
The ride was pretty twisty, and at one point the kid sitting in front of my suddenly and without warning lost his breakfast all over the stranger sitting next to him. It was quite gross. I felt bad for the kid, as well as his victim.
We got off the bus and onto the ferry boat at the Picton ferry terminal. The boat was HUGE—almost six hundred feet long (http://www.interislander.co.nz/Our-Ships-And-Services/Kaitaki.aspx). The terminal had posted that the ride over to Wellington was expected to be quite rough. The straights between are famous for being stormy and turbulent. I thought such a huge boat would surely be immune from a little wave action. Think again. The boat pitched so violently that I needed to hang on to railings to even walk around. I saw many people doing their own quite disgusting impersonation of the poor kid on the bus. There were cookies tossed and chunks blown in all directions. I think I even saw someone praying to the Porcelain God, Ralph.
I hung around in Wellington for a couple of days, where I ran into a group of ice friends. We took in an Irish music set at a pub last night, which was nice. Decent food and culture, too. I could get used to this.
I rented a car and headed north this morning. I’m staying at a little town called Turangi now, near the south shore of huge Lake Taupo. I did a great day hike around an emerald green mountain lake, got some groceries, and headed back to my hostel. It’s a smokin’ deal if you’re ever in the Taupo region. $26NZ (about $18US) dollars a night, for a single room. It’s called the A+ Lodge. It’s in a quiet residential area. A little old and run-down, but very clean and well kept. They also have a dachshund puppy, which is a major bonus. That’s one of the worst deprivations of living on the ice. I didn’t get to so much as pet a cat for eight months. That puppy might have a bald spot by the time I get out of here!

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Well, I'm back in the real world now. I got into Christchurch a couple of days ago, and I'm enjoying the baby ducks at the Botanical Gardens, and snorfing Thai food to my hearts content. I'll post more pictures as I take them. More soon.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Well, the big invasion is finally here. After our invasion of 300-some folks at Winfly, we kept a stable population of around 480 through September. The first flight of mainbody was supposed to come on September 29th, but some bad weather caused a delay. The Air Force tried again the next day, but had mechanical problems. Between the weather and mechanical issues, the first flight was delayed for five days. That is a really big deal, because the train of people flying into Christchurch doesn't stop, causing a huge pileup of folks there. I was set to leave on the fifth flight out, but the delays caused the schedulers to put all the northbound folks who were supposed to leave on the first four flights on the first northbound plane (yesterday). 140-some new folks came down, too. After a long winter of unlimited privacy and fairly mellow energy, it is quite unnerving to have a bunch of loud-talking tanned people invade. I'm ready to get out of here. My plane takes off tomorrow (weather permitting), so today is the big packing day. I'm not planning on coming back next winter, so I'm not leaving anything here. I am trying to travel as light as possible, so I mailed a bunch of stuff to the states, and I'm giving a lot of stuff away. I made the difficult decision to put my mandolin in the mail. I'd like to be able to play while travelling, but it is such an incredible pain to schlep a lot of stuff through all those airports and hotels. I think I made the right decision.
It was a relief for a lot of people that that first mainbody flight finally arrived. It's really a drag for folks to go through the emotional goodbyes, and find that they aren't leaving yet. Plus, quite a few of the winterovers did what's called a "winfly-summer-winter", meaning they have been here for fourteen months straight. Those people are READY to get out of here! I'm glad to go, but not in that big a hurry. Here the food, gas, and housing are all free, and it's a rude shock to transition to a life with so many expenses and no income. I'm definitely not craving that, but a little salad would be nice.

(These pictures were taken on one of my last working days. I drove a PistenBully up to the top of Crater Hill to repair a sick data circuit. Where you see me walking downhill, I'm decending from a tiny hut called the Doghouse down to a comms shelter called building 65.)