Tuesday, June 30, 2009

KIA ORA from Windy Welly!

KIA ORA! from the Capital of New Zealand (Wellington in case you were wondering)...

It appears that it has been quite some time since I've written anything about my New Zealand sojourns (Since the 7th of Jun!) so here's what I've been up to...

met some people
worked on a farm near Monica Lewinsky scenic byway (between Clinton and Gore)
went to Bluff (had fish and chips..but missed out on their famous oysters)
caught a ferry to Stewart Island
hung out with all the locals at the only pub for a couple nights
watched my first rugby game
did some cool hikes and bike rides
had a personally chartered plane ride back to Invercargill (just the pilot and me)
got snowed/iced in to Invercargill
caught a bus (for the first time this trip) to Dunedin
ran up the steepest street in the world (or so Guinness and NZ claim) with my pack on
met this dude Gene on a city bus
passed out on the couch of a friend of Gene (Flavia) for a couple days
rode about 80 km out and back the Otago Peninsula on a cruiser bike 
experienced NZ's only castle
surfed when it was so cold it made my nose bleed
went blue penguin hunting (just to see...)
took salsa lessons
jammed on Djembe's for about four hours
Dunedin Lantern Festival on the winter solstice...followed by all-night parties
partied at a Drum and Base club with a group of German girls
celebrated mid-Christmas
experienced my first Netball and Cricket matches
helped Gene screen-print T-shirts
hitchhiked with Gene from Dunedin to Christchurch
saw lots of sweet-as graffiti
got questioned by three male police officers after climbing a tree and the balcony to get into a friend of gene's flat
rocked to a ghetto blaster and danced through the streets of Christchurch
hitchhiked with Gene from Christchurch to Picton (spent some time in a very remote place...that's being generous).
caught a ferry to Wellington
played around in the most interactive museum I've ever seen (and New Zealand's Largest) Te Papa (means "Our Place")
met some great people at a local youth church...went to a Fondue Party, 80's movie night, and discussed theology
spoke with a girl who was giving out Krishna books
saw Parliament in session and took a tour (including their earth-quake dampening base isolation system - I studied these)
and now I go...

[LONG VERSION... seriously...this will take a while]

     After leaving Manapouri (South Western part of South Island) where I stayed with the Cave Family I started hitchhiking toward the east coast. I ended up catching a ride with a head-banging Austrian taking a day drive through the countryside on his day off. After cruising through the lush green farm lands (reminds me of parts of Northern California) for a few hours we arrived in the town of Gore which was to be my stop-off and I invited Walter (the 30-year old long-haired rock music playin Austrian) to have a beer with me before he headed off. After chilling for a few at a local pub the sun was getting as low as a sub-belt blow and Walter offered a couch to crash on back at the Farm (Marama Organics). What else was I to say, a couch is a couch...sweet!
     Meanwhile back at the farm...I met the owner (Graham) and his WOOF'er (Workers of Organic Farms) and after much of the usual discussions (something along the lines of who are you? where are you from? oh! where is that? oh cool...I don't know where that is, but what are you doing here? for how long? so you don't know when you're leaving our country...good 'on ya!) Graham said I was welcome to stay, be fed and showered for a couple days if I was willing to help out around the farm...good times. I helped a contractor with wall-board, cabinetry, electrical, and trim work for the WOOF'er cabins on the Farm and some high-tensile fence building out in the back of the 3000 acres (yes 3000) filled with 7000 sheep. After a few days of the best produce, sausages, and soups I was ready to get a move on again...
     When I headed out to the road, I had intended on hitching toward Dunedin, but when a local dairy farm mom offered a ride to Invercargill, I took her up on it. She has been by far one of the most fascinating women I have ever met. Mother of seven children, has moved with them through Idaho, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, one of her sons and her husband were shot in the streets of South Africa (both are still alive and well), and she lives and works a Dairy Farm. Quite and interesting story-filled ride.
     After walking the streets of Invercargill and being offered weed within ten minutes (needless to say I have never smoked a day in my life and never intend to) I stoled through an Art Gallery on the corner of town, met the owner who has a friend with an Engineering Firm in Queenstown, next thing I know the Bruce (the owner) is calling up his buddy saying that me should get together with me...man the NewZealand way is friendly...
     I then headed to the south of town on my way out to Bluff (the location of the Aluminium Smelter that uses all the energy from the dam up at Manapouri to process the raw materials sent from OZ -Australia).  I caught a ride with a kid that works on a crawfish boat who within ten minutes was calling his boss to see if I could come out and help out on the boat as the Dingy Boy (I'd get 50 kg of free seafood and pay for three days!) Unfortunately they had already promised the spot to an 80-year old mate. No worries. I had some time to roam around before my ferry to Stewart Island.

     Much of this has pictures that some-what follow along and tell the story here: picasaweb.google.com/Daniel.Herr 

     I walked down to sterling point where there is a large chain symbolic of a Maori Legend...Rakiura (or Stewart Island) is the Anchor Stone of Maui’s Canoe in the legend where Maui and his crew caught and raised the great fish (the North Island) from their canoe (the South Island). The chain represented on the Stewart Island side as a continuation (see my pictures).

     While taking the ferry over I was told by a local girl that I should stay with Liz and Heath at their Bunker's Backpacker...good decision. This has been by far the best backpacker I have stayed in and it included free internet and washers...the only bummer is the no dryer part with the temperatures as cold as they have been....I ended up burning my pants while trying to more-rapidly dry them on the wood stove. I believe the couple's last name that ran the backpacker was Cave as well, tough I forgot to ask if there was some relation. 

     Stewart Island afforded me some epic hikes, bike rides and view throughout. Oban, the town in Halfmoon Bay and only town on the island has only 20 km of roads. most of the island is only accessible by foot, boat, or is considered inaccessible all together. The beaches on the island are massive to say the least and apparently it is a very popular summer destination/get-away. I could definitely see that...as there seemed to be 30 people on the island at best (though they say 300). I found some amazingly perfect shells in a cave along one of the beaches (I gave them to a german girl however since I'm trying not to collect weight in my pack...I do have pictures though...picasaweb.google.com/Daniel.Herr ...there are a lot of german girls touring down here...anyway). The coolest little bit on this island tough, was the working old-fashion telephone posted on a tree in the middle of nowhere...I didn't make it over to Mason Bay on the other side of the Island as I would have liked because the weather turned into Gale Force Warnings, downpours of rain and genuinely nasty conditions after two beautiful days with epic sunsets. Its not called the "Glowing Skies" for no reason...though some say that is because of the Aurora Australis...
     I found out that I could catch a plane back to the main land on standby for cheaper than the ferry ride back, so I figured why not. I ended up being the only one on the flight back and I got to sit right up front with the 20-something pilot in the 10-person puddle-hopper. It is crazy how much those little guys get tossed around by the wind...I think I felt more motion sick on this trip then on the stunt-plane ride :(
     Back in Invercargill (said like IN-VA-CARGO - where I flew into) I figured I'd spend a day or two to see what this city had to offer, not to mention I was going to take the chance to meet Mr. McMillan (Bruce's Engineer Friend... I rarely turn down the chance to meet someone), and avoid he ice storm North, East, and West of us. After two days, a haircut, and chillin with a French Trombone Player, I was ready to get out of town. I decided for once I was going to take a bus and see what that was all about down here (you can take buses most anywhere in the country at many times of the day...it is super easy to get around down here).
     I arrived in Dunedin (said DUN-EE-DIN) mid-afternoon and decided to check out New Zealand's Number 1 Research Institution and highest-ranked school, Otago University. I checked out the campus, the facilities, and graduate programs...all in all a very top-notch operation so it seems and it keeps growing...there are lots of exchanges from other Universities, lots of international students, and lots of government funded projects...I liked it. I decided after a quick bite and a taste of a local brewery's Porter that I would head out to the Steepest Street in the World (or so Guinness and New Zealand Claim...though I think San Francisco could definitely challenge it...its only 1 in 2.86 or 19 degrees at its steepest...heck I can think of some streets in Ithaca that were pretty damn steep too). There is a guys who has become a local legend down here for running up and skipping down the street 30-time per day at 10:00am. In my mind I figured I was up for the challenge and decided that I would run up it with my 75kg backpack on my back. I started out with some steam as a group of Korean tourists looked on in horror with cameras ready. 1/4 of the way there...still going good...1/3 there...alright keep pushing...just about half way...wow its getting steep...my legs are pushing but i don't seem to be going anywhere...i might be going faster if I just walked...I'm practically speed walking, without the speed...keep pushing...3/4's there and all I can do is walk...thank god there is a water fountain at the top...not to mention a bench...good times...breathe...
     That plastic bottle of Locally Brewed Porter also tasted quite amazing on the way down until it slipped out of my bag and decided to go rocketing down the steepest street in the world...no use try to stop it...
     I decided to catch a bus back in toward town...
     On the ride, about mid-town a guy with a curly mop of hair, tight white pants, a brief-case sized olive green suitcase straight out of the 20's or so, and a shiny blue Chicago Cubs jacket boards the bus and looks at me with one of those smirks if only to say...listen up buddy, make some room so I can sit in one of those four seats your taking up with that size-huge backpack you're wearing...naturally with a smile and not a word between the two of us I made room with my feet out in the isle so he and his mini-suitcase could take a seat...this is Gene
     Gene is a constantly analyzing fifth-year zoology-psychology major at the University of Otago fresh off hiatus from a life-threatening skate-board head-injury. Gene offered me a place to crash for the night at his flat right on the beach...needless to say a risk...but friendship is quick in this part of the world. Gene is mellow and does not like his mellow harshed, does not respond well to being told what to do, and tries to be as genuinely rebellious as possible within semi-social-norms. Gene's roommates (or flatmates so they say down here) or at least one of them in particular buts heads with Gene as he tries to be papa-bear of the flat, and my presence seemed to be the icing on the cake for the ice-berg that had been building in the chill waters....all said, it was in the best interest of all that I, how do you say, peaced-out. I was figuring I'd head to a backpacker; no big deal. Without skipping a beat, nor a word from me, Gene called around some friends and asked if I could chill on their couch...
     Enter Flavia...Flavia is a short black girl from German...a ball of energy and as German as they come, though she speaks Spanish, English, and French quite well. Flavia is doing bio-mass energy research for a few months on internship at Otago. Flavia had decided that she was going to fast for a week to allow food to regain its meaning in her life...Flavia is driven. Flavia came around a met Gene and me at a bar along the beach in Saint Clair where after brief introductions and conversations she said she would be more than happy to give me a place to crash. Gene and I exchanged numbers and Flavia and I walked the 40-minute walk through the sand-dunes back to her flat...that is the most comfortable couch I have ever slept on.
     Flavia's flatemate Brian is a guitar jammin, outgoing, property manager who introduced me to Cricket and Netball in his recreational leagues. After a couple days Brian and I were good buds.

     Dunedin is a city full of life...intellectual life, party life, youth, and yet experience, age, and history (once the capital of New Zealand). It is big enough to have everything you could need in a city, every industrial need, every financial need, ever car dealership...but still small enough that you get away from it in just a few short blocks and your are in small down...and even further your are back to nature...to me Dunedin would be imagined as San Francisco 100 to 150 years ago.

     The next day I got up early as Flavia was heading off to work...she let me borrow her bike and leave my pack at her house for the day. I started riding and figured I'd see where I ended up. I biked all morning as the sun rose to shine light on the most beautiful golden sun-rise of an amazing bay surrounded my lush green hills and broken with islands and peninsulas...simply beautiful was all I could think as I stood alongside a grassy field still layered with morning dew and frost and two quarter-horses moved slowly under their blankets to sip a refreshing bit of ice-laden farm-fresh water. I ended up making my way up to New Zealand's only Castle and out to the end of the peninsula...all of 80km of riding this day...

     I ended up chilling the week in Dunedin for about a week hanging out with a group of German Girls (Flavia, Rina, Nicki, and Angela) while Gene ran over to OZ (Australia) to pick up some things from his ex-girlfriend. On the evening of the 21st of June (winter solstice) we started out at a BBQ with a group of South Americans (Angela flats with them) in what turned out to be a 4-hour jam fest on Djembe's, Bongo's, Piano's, Chimes, maracas, shakers, wine glasses, mixing bowls, and anything else we could find to jam on...a jamin start to a good night with good 'ol South American Flavor and of course Spanish dialogues. We went from there straight to the Lantern Festival. The parade in the town-center Octagon was filled with color, crafty-hand-made lanterns, music, dancing, and or course delicious tent-side treats (mainly crepes). Following the display of fireworks (the major is Chinese) and more crepes, we headed to a Capoeira Party (Brazilian dance-fighting) because a few of the girls are taking a class. I have a video that I will try to post online at some point here. The dance instructor from Africa is amazingly good at it...maybe youtube capoeria when you get a chance. Later on we hit some of the clubs, saw some Maori Boys and some White Boys get into it with each other (any by into it i mean kicking the crap out of each other) in the streets only to be stopped by their quite large islander girlfriends...what experiences. 

     After a few days of exploring the Dunedin culture, surfing when it was so cold my nose started bleeding, and hangin with the German Girls, Gene and I decided we would hitchhike up to Wellington together. Gene has family and friends up here (he grew up in Wellington through high school) and offered a place to stay. After saying some goodbyes for the winter holiday break, we were off...
     Two rides and thirty Michael Jackson songs later we were in Christchurch (our first stop on the journey and the first place I came to know in New Zealand). Gene's friend with whom we had planned to stay was flying back in from Hamilton on a visit to his sister. His flight on the newly formed JetStar Airlines encountered delay after delay. Gene and I had hours to kill so we danced through the streets of Christchurch, walked town the most random of stretches of train tracks, checked out street art, rolled a tire down the street, and walked all the way to the other end of town to find a certain restaurant, found it, and just turned around. We got back to his buddy's place about eleven, and received a text saying he would still be a while, but that if we climbed the balcony, we could get in and chill till he got there (about 1 am). Well we got in no problem, but in the process of awkwardly hoisting my massive backpack up the railing, a guy from one of the other apartments walked by and decided he had an issue with us (understandably so). Gene did his best to explain the situation, and thought everything sorted. Not more than five minutes later as Gene was making a pot of tea (they all have to have their tea down here) he kept noticing a flashing out of the corner of his eye. He turned to see what was the source only to find three male police officers flashing their lights on and off repeatedly at him through the kitchen window. Gene walked out to the patio and engaged in what must have been the most awkward of conversations which resulted in him climbing back down the house and tree to speak with the tree male police officers (I was oblivious and occupied in the little boy's room). After rapidly explaining the situation, his relation to the house, and showing the officers the text messages back and forth, Gene was able to appease the officers, much to his relief. Gene's friend made it in later that night and we had a relatively peaceful, though freezing cold, night (apparently kiwi's don't believe in insulation or heating - walls, roofs, and floors and uninsulated, windows are single-pane, and central heating does not exist except for in maternity wards).
     The next day got a bit of a lazy start with our hitchhiking devoid of a thumb road-side until well after noon. Our first ride with a lovely farm girl left us an hours walk from anything, but an hour down the road none-the-less. This has been my longest wait roadside by far...but two PB&J's, a box of crackers, two water bottles, kiwi fruit, and an hour later and we were back on the road. This time picked up by no less than two Otago University students on their way to meet the parents for the mid-winter break back home in Nelson. The roads were as crooked as 431 Mount Rose along the ocean for hours...and the driving is what Gene would call "loose". Having safely arrived in Blenheim we were overjoyed to get a ride with an elder lady in a nice new Mitsubishi within three minutes of having been dropped off, on our way to Picton.
     Upon picking up out tickets for the inter-islander we caught up with a guy we had seen just two days earlier back in Dunedin. He two had been hitchhiking for the whole day from Christchurch and had taken three hours longer to get here...

     The ferry over carries quite an eclectic mix in its load, trucks, cars, trains, and of course people. This is the main connection between the north and south islands. It was quite a trip to see how much the eight-story ship moved in the waves with the 1-2 meter swells with the brilliantly bright stars moving from the front of the ship to straight overhead. I thought it was quite a ride, only to hear that the ships won't sail with people if the well is 7 meters or greater!
     We wandered our way to Brenden's flat (Gene's movie making, producer-esque, film student...you know sloppy hair, tight gene, dark jacket and scarf wearing mid-height guys who smokes like a chimney). The flat here is like something out of Friends. There are about ten guys and girls between 23 an 30 living here, the main common area is littered with random furniture, a swing hanging from the concrete roof, bright colors, the largest selection of dish ware outside the thrift store, and paint splashes and posters for style...as unique in its own right as the people who live in each the rooms of this third floor montage just off the main shopping district of Cuba Street.
     Exploring the capital city (Wellington that is) has been interesting to say the least. I spent some time in New Zealand's largest museum and cultural center Te Papa (means "Our Place"). This was by far the most advanced spectacle I have been to; interactive maps, touch-screen picture and video galleries, multi-user control display screens filled with editable digital imagery, and motion tracking picture piles. I presume my expectation had been derived from multiple visits to D.C. in that there would be security cameras on every corner near the legislature, that you wouldn't be allowed within 100 yard of many buildings, that you would be frisked at every chance possible and sirens would be polluting the air...quite to the contrary. Wellington is small city status, and keep in mind that NewZealand as a whole, the entire country, has a population of 4 Million...DC itself has 5.3 Million! Its a little more small town. Walking into the capital building, I wasn't divested of my wine opener, nor my nail clippers; heck with my 3.5" pocket knife, they just wanted me to check it with them until I left....not to mention the fact that all of the security guards are the equivalent of 65+ year-old library workers...very pleasant men tough i might ad (I've had a few conversations with them in the past few days). Somewhat needless to say at this point, but I visited the capital building; he center of power in New Zealand (the executive and legislative basically reside in one house and share some duties and people). The debates I was a party to last night (I was the only spectator in the house aside from the security guard) was with regard to global warming and green-house gas credits. The comments were with regard to holding up the promise locally to perform what they have promised internationally...being the global leader in climate change policy and implementation. I had planned on returning for the continuation of debates today (their are only debates on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) but this email has taken quite some time, so I feel that will be left for another time. 

     In the meantime I am about to head over to my buddy Matt's house to chill (I've met a good group from a local church here - we've chilled for fondue night, 80's movie night, and tonight is a men's small group). The sun is coming out for once (they don't call it windy-welly for nothing - it has been raining the whole time I've been here) so I think I'm going to get walking...

     Its 3:10 PM in Wellington New Zealand on the 1st of July 2009...I hope this message finds you well wherever and whenever it is that you are. Sweet-As!!


Daniel S. Herr
+64 21372133 (NZ)