Back in
the North
The Wellington cable car.
January 22, 2006

Today I got to experience how pleasant a city Wellington is.

I arrived via the BlueBridge ferry from Picton (on the South Island) where I was treated to Jerry O’Connell’s rise to B-list stardom in
Kangaroo Jack.
Since I barely got any sleep last night, I used this as my invitation to sleep for the next three hours…

Once again, I would see Wellington on a somewhat sleepy note as it turns out today is the city’s ‘anniversary’ which is a Monday holiday. I guess the
almost all of the cities in New Zealand have anniversaries. The great thing about this was that parking was free throughout the city so I didn’t have to
deal with getting a parking ticket.

I started off at a café and decided to do a bit of roaming around since we didn’t have much time to check out this city the first time around. There is
something wonderful about this city. The waterfront is a great area to wander about.

I took the cable car up to the top of the Botanical Gardens and caught a view of Wellington from atop. I couldn’t help but reminded of my very own
city as I looked out towards the water while the fog came rolling in. I’m normally not a fan of the fog but, for some reason, today it made me happy.
Instead of taking the cable car back down, I walked through the gardens which then led me to a cemetery with quite a view (not really a bad place for
these people to spend their eternity) and then was back in the city. Because nothing was going on, I decided to head out of the city in the evening to
head to Martinborough.

The drive was probably one of the scariest that I have ever done. About thirty minutes of it consisted of driving over a narrow winding pass. Of
course I had the privilege of having to drive on the side of the cliff where the only thing preventing somebody from coming to their crashing death
were some wooden posts. Let’s just add extreme winds and some rain. Oh yeah. And the
fog. A combination of navigating the turns, staying in my lane
(which is already a difficult feat for me while driving on the other side of the road) and needing to squint in order to see oncoming cars through the fog
takes a hell of a lot of concentration. There were a couple points where I just wanted to throw in the towel. I wanted to just stop because I didn’t know
how much longer I was going to be able to do it. But of course this is not an option when there is only one lane. I’m not a timid driver but I have to
admit that there were times that I wasn’t sure I would make it to the end. Finally I saw the road widening and I was near the end.
Big sigh of relief.

Martinborough is much smaller than I anticipated. I got into town and there was a lone restaurant that was opened but that was closing in an hour or
so. Since this is mostly known as a wine area, everything is centered around daytime activities such as wine tasting.

The only hotel I saw was in the $250NZ range. Time to pull out my Lonely Planet. I saw ‘Kate’s Place’ and proceeded a few blocks away. This was a
home-stay type of place and I couldn’t have been happier when I arrived. I was shown to my bed. Nobody else was here so I ended up getting my own
room. She told me to make myself at home. This was not a difficult task as she was watching the Food Network. I haven’t seen a show on this channel
for almost nine months. My lucky night! She also let me use her computer for as long as I needed. I spent the latter part of my night checking out stuff
on the internet and responding to all of my emails. This in itself was a treat as I have barely been able to use the internet much since it is rather pricey
in this country.

After feeling quite productive, I am now off to bed. Gotta get some rest if I want to be productive with my wine drinking tomorrow, right???

January 23, 2007

Ohhh. Martinborough. Another place to put on the ‘place to drink wine’ map. While they are known for pinot noir, I actually ended up falling in love
with a chardonnay.

It was fun experiencing wine tasting while walking as this town and its wineries are manageable by foot. I popped in my ipod this morning and got
going. I visited four wineries and now I’m sitting at a cheese shop waiting for my cheese platter to come. I think I’m calling it a day as far as wine
tasting is concerned because I realized that if I want to take part in the thermal spas in Rotorua, I need to get started on my drive this evening.

Oops. Cheese just got here. Time for a brief pause…

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. Drinking wine. Kate gave me some recs of places I should check out. I set out on foot and was like a kid in a candy
store…or in my case, a thirty-year old in a wine country??? My point is that I had a lot of stuff that I deemed wonderful at my disposal.

I made several little buddies along the way – people I would be following the same paths as and, therefore, felt like I was seeing an old friend when we
crossed paths again. Then there was the couple who I learned was from Yorkshire after the man working at the wine bar asked where they were
visiting from. I did everything to refrain from telling them I loved their terriers and their pudding. Believe me, this took restraint (after having
already been to three wineries).

I was also amazed at how much the guy at the last winery (Alana Estate) knew my tastes after only telling him that I thought the Reisling was very dry
and the Sauvignon Blanc was nice (adjectives were not my strong suit by the this point). Call him a wine psychic, if you will. He
knew I was going to
love the next wine. And he was soooo correct! It was a Chardonnay that could rival Rombauer (my fave Chard from back home). The other wine I
absolutely loved there was the second Pinot Noir that I tried. The man working the tasting bar gave me props for my expensive taste as I was in love
with the two most expensive wines. He told me his fourteen-year old daughter was the same way. Gotta love a country that encourages its young teens
to hit the bottle. In any case, I splurged on a bottle of the Chardonnay to bring back with my other three bottles of wine. Ay yay yay! The only
question now is ‘Will U.S. customs have a problem with me bringing back 3 liters of wine when the allowance is only 1 liter???’ I guess I will just have
to wait to find out…


After an ever-so-thrilling 3½ hour drive, I arrived in Napier. I take it back. There was one moment that broke up the monotony of the drive (that is,
other than Huey Lewis’ ‘Power of Love’ playing on the radio). I came across a Kiwi road sign. This might not sound like much. But it is. First of all, Kat
and Jim would not allow the car to be stopped for me to take a picture of such a thing when I was with them. They thought
I was insane for wanting
such a picture (when it is really clear that
they were the insane ones for not wanting such a thing!). Now that I was alone, I could take my picture.
Except for one thing. It was a one-lane highway and there was no place to stop. So I was left to my one option – take the picture while driving. This
was only possible for two reasons: I spotted it early enough and I saw that there was nobody in my rear-view mirror. As I slowed down, I grabbed my
camera, turned it on, took off the lens cap and got my picture. Wow. Feels almost like I’m the paparazzi for inanimate objects.

Now I’m in Napier for the night as it is my half-way point from Martinborough to Rotorua.

I actually had a funny thing happen to me at the hostel tonight. I was making some soup for dinner. This other woman was making dinner, too. There
was one of those plastic pepper grinders near her. I asked her if I could borrow it for a second. She gave me a look as if I had asked her to be a
surrogate mother to my child. It was at this moment that I realized this was
not community pepper. She was quick to point this out while reluctantly
saying I could ‘use a few grinds’. I immediately apologized and told her that I didn’t need any pepper and that I thought it was the hostel’s pepper.
Once again, she was quick to point out that everything here is owned by individual’s who are staying here and that she would let me use some of her
pepper (I guess this was to introduce me to hostel etiquette as if I hadn’t a clue???). I defended myself by telling her that there are many hostels that
have the basics (like salt, pepper, sugar, etc.) available. And, of course, I denied her pepper offer. She then came over with her pepper grinder. I
really didn’t want her damn pepper nor any other huge favor from her but I used two grinds just to have the whole thing be done with. Ahhh…the
backpacker life.

January 24, 2007

I can’t believe that we didn’t pay more attention to the architecture of Napier when we first drove through this city at the beginning of our trip. Even
though the Lonely Planet mentioned that it was a very Art Deco city, not one of us seemed to take a moment out to notice this.

Being in Napier this time around, I can’t believe that none of this stood out to any of us. I mean there is really no way
not to notice this. Between the
street lights, the palm tree, the style of the buildings and the font of the signs, it is next to impossible not to. Should I put the blame on the fact that we
visited a couple of wineries before getting into town???

A three-hour drive brought me back to Rotorua. My main purpose for coming back here is to meet up with a couple who is also from San Francisco
and just began their year of traveling around the world this month. We made it so that we would cross paths today. We are meeting for dinner later
tonight. Coming back here worked out more than okay with me as the first time I was here I didn’t get to reap one of the main benefits of what this city
is all about: soaking in the natural thermal pools. We only explored one of the geothermal areas (in our defense, we thought we would be able to soak
in this area as well. It wasn’t until the girl who worked there saw our towels in our arms and said ‘You know you can’t go into the water, right?’ To
which we were like ‘Oh…uh….yeah.’).

I went to the Polynesian Spa today and it was just what I needed. In fact, I left about two hours ago and I am
still beyond relaxed. I opted for the adult
pool which consisted of an area of four pools. One pool consisted of different water (meant for relaxing) than the other three pools (which were meant
for relieving aches and pains). All of them were different temperatures. There was one pool that bordered on the lake. You could see in the near and
far distance all of the steam rising from the ground. The wonders of nature.

There is, however, a downside to natural geothermal pools.

Maybe I’m alone but I feel there is only one time when a hard-boiled egg has a remotely positive smell…and that is when I am starving in the morning
and I have a craving for such a thing. Now I didn’t necessarily mind the smell while soaking in the pools. What I
do mind is that fact that I now smell
like a hard-boiled egg. Still. After two showers and two different hair washings. It is clearly a smell that keeps on giving. And now I am meeting two
people in an hour who I have never met before…and I am going to smell like an egg. I’m sure there will be some level of understanding. But still.

I’m beginning to think those pools made me too relaxed. I could fall asleep right here and now. I need to get up. I need to start moving. It’s time for a
latte pick-me-up before dinner…

January 25, 2007

Oh, God. Not feeling well today. At least I’m feeling better than four hours ago (at 4:30am). That was when I woke up with my hangover. I needed
water. Badly. Only it was outside in my car. I sat in bed for almost thirty minutes thinking about my water. I also kept thinking about how sulfuric my
hair still smelled. I think that was the tipping point in what was making me feel so ill. I finally got up. Before going to my car, I felt my way around my
suitcase to grab my Advil. Then it was time to go to my car to get my water. This strategy always relieved me of feeling the full hangover when I would
wake up later on. I sat in the lounge and chugged that 1.5L bottle of water. I then saw a phone. I decided to be productive during my time of water
chugging. I did something I never do. I called up Air New Zealand to confirm my flight that is in a couple days from now. The guy asked where I was
calling from. I told him New Zealand. He was stunned that such a person in the country would be up so early (which is kind of funny since nobody
would flinch at all back home if somebody was up at 5am). I explained to him that I had a hangover and was working on drinking my water and
thought I would make myself useful. Did he need to know all of that? Not at all. But it seemed to entertain him at the early hour…

Okay. Now it is 8:30am and I am gearing up to go to the Agrodome to see a sheep show. I have no idea what to expect except for that it will be mighty
touristy which is more than okay with me. I’m going for the cuteness factor. Hopefully I will see Joy and Jason there. But if they feel anything like
how I felt earlier this morning, there is no chance in hell that they are making it.

As for last night, it was soooo much fun. It felt a bit like meeting up for a blind date. Luckily, it turned out being a successful blind date. We met at a
great restaurant and started with a bottle of wine…which then turned into two…which then turned into three. We still weren’t ready to stop talking but
little things…like the restaurant being well-past their closing time…forced us to head for our departure.

Outside a few of the staff who worked at the restaurant were like little schoolgirls as they were telling us about guys from the Auckland Blues rugby
team across the street. This meant absolutely nothing to me, Joy or Jason. This was clearly a big deal to them. They started telling us who each one
was by name. They told us we should go up to them and get our pictures with them. What the heck did we have to lose? The girls at the restaurant
were beyond amazed by us. I guess it was the equivalent of asking Kiwis visiting America to go up to a bunch of starting San Francisco Giants while
they don’t have the first clue about baseball.

I was sad that it was time to say good-bye to Joy and Jason. We ended up pushing back the final good-bye until this morning. We made an Agrodome
date. I think I might get stood up. I know that if I didn’t have a seven hour drive in front of me (why in the world do I do this to myself???) I probably
wouldn’t be awake right now.


Along with nineteen breeds of sheep, I also saw Joy at the Agrodome. What a trooper. I was shocked that she made it. Jason had to work so he did not
partake in the sheep festivities.

The Agrodome proved to be everything I thought it would be. And because of that, I enjoyed every second of it. I loved nappy Lincoln – the sheep
who was sporting dreadlocks. The breed that made it to the top of the sheep pedestal was the Merino. After the show was over, Joy and I bounced
around the stage being big nerds and taking pictures of each other with the sheep that we fancied the most.

We chit-chatted for another forty-five minutes or so before I headed off for the northern part of the island. I am soooo envious that they only just
started their trip. I already know I will be living vicariously through them. And then…when their trip is over…we will for sure get together in San
Francisco so that we have people to bounce our travel stories off of.   

Right now I am up in Paihia at the Bay of Islands. I have booked my trip for tomorrow – the Dune Rider. Ahhh…a day where I do not have to drive.
Oh, how I am going to enjoy this! In the meantime, I am not able to find a bed in a hostel for tomorrow night. It turns out that this weekend is the
anniversary for the northern part of the island. How am I supposed to know these things??? Looks like I might just be screwed. I’m not worrying
about it just yet. Worst case scenario? I resort to sleeping in a car. Could be worse…

January 26, 2007

Once again in my trip, I got lucky…

I searched and found that there were no beds in town. I was then inquiring about cities where there might be rooms. They didn’t think it sounded too
promising. They gave a couple of suggestions but I had no confidence that I was going to find any of these places. Plus the fact that I don’t have a
phone and all of the reception offices would be closed by the time I arrived. I was foreseeing a problem arising. I then asked about the safety factor of
sleeping in my car. Really, it had come to that. The woman working at the reception counter was now a bit concerned. She told me that she has a flat
on the bottom floor of her house and, while somebody is checking in tomorrow, nobody is there tonight. If I could keep things tidy (not a problem at
all as I want to do is take a shower and fall asleep) she was going to charge me the same price as a dorm bed in a hostel. I told her I would take it! I
followed her to her home. I have a flat with a living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and washing machine…for the same price of sharing a room
with five other people!

Talk about lucking out on my last night in New Zealand!
Back to New Zealand.
Joy, Jason and I with players from the Auckland
Watch out for kiwis!