Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Friday, 18 June 2010
NZ Holiday - Day 14 - Wild Animal Attacks prevented by High Fence and The Self-destructing Plane Engine.
Our last day in NZ threatened to be a fizzer. Kicked out of our motel rooms at 10am and with an early afternoon flight looming we could either wait around aimlessly to go to the airport or we could... go to a safari park. It was close to the airport so it seemed like a good idea at the time. The park was huge and as usual we had to rush through to see all the good stuff. One day we will learn to take the time to see things properly. We left the park and I tried to get the Ford airborne on a particularly steep hump in the road. I think Nita dropped her Tim Tam.
I was a bit concerned as I went to the Budget desk to drop off the Avis’ car keys. It had all the hallmarks of a long, drawn-out procedure. We had no paperwork, proof of rental or previous damage report either. The desk was unattended so I threw the keys into a box and ran away. It’s their problem now. With any luck we won’t be charged. Oh wait, we pre-paid.
We hustled through the interminable lines of customs once again only to find our plane’s engine had shit itself and we would be delayed. Many, many hours later food vouchers were handed out that we could spend at the one lonely (expensive) coffee shop. There was no-one else in the airport.
People were starting to get comfortable on the floor when they finally scraped out all the broken bits of airplane and siliconed up the holes. Strangely I had no qualms about boarding and flying over several thousand Km’s of ocean. I didn’t even check my life preserver.
I am totally and utterly resigned to being fed through the wringer at the Aussie customs end of the flight. I was accosted while joining the end of the second huge line when an official glanced at our passports and said “go straight through”. We did. Straight out! All the non-Aussies were diverted to the strip search, cattle dip line.
Happy, happy, happy. Cept for my ear holes. They were not happy. But we were home again.
We left Lake Tekapo way too soon. Another night would have allowed us to explore Mt Cook and the surrounding area, but it wasn’t to be.
On our way back to Christchurch we knew we HAD to stop in Geraldine. One of the finest collections of Vintage and Veteran Cars, Tractors and Machinery in the Southern Hemisphere is here; and you know what, they weren’t lying.
It really pissed me off having to rush through the exhibits, but once again time was getting the better of us. There was so much interesting shit to look at in the dozen inter-connected sheds. Eric’s explanations of the equipment he’d seen and worked with over the years brought the more obscure gear to life.
We reluctantly left the museum and continued on to Christchurch.
Our schedule here came to a full stop allowing us several days to wind down and check out the city properly. We started at Cathedral Square and bought hop-on hop-off tickets to ride an ancient set of 4 trams which circulated continually around the heart of the city. One was a well preserved 100 years old rattler. Another was an original Sydney Tram. The Tram drivers commentary varied with each different one, I think we tried them all. One stand-out guy gave us a few laughs along the way.
We ducked into a modern art gallery for some reason and left in disgust at the waste of space. Wanky, self-important charlatans according to Eric, (interpreted by Coops).
A hippie market caught my particular attention. Organic beer! (Green Man). Some of which was brewed in old whiskey barrels. The couple selling this stuff were very friendly indeed, and insisted on sharing a bottle with us before we were allowed to purchase any. I love them for the next hour of flooding warmth that sample brought on, and for a nights very deep sleep (after drinking the rest of the 500ml bottles).
The Gondola at Christchurch is a ripper. Doesn’t look as good as Queenstown’s, but the buffeting winds rocking us around on that spindly cable was, in itself, an interesting experience. The operator had thrown 3 x 60 litre containers of water on board to stabilise the capsule a bit. We congratulated ourselves that our current state of fatness did not warrant having water containers removed from the gondola car.
Magnificent views from the top brought a tear to the eye; or that may have been the freezing wind. We had a beer to celebrate surviving the trip up then went back down again.
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
We left Dunedin late and headed north up the coast. I was feeling pushed for time as our next accommodation was a fair way off but we stopped at Moeraki to look at a big set of balls. These unusual boulders were strewn across the beach. Some were as big as a car but all were almost perfectly round. The tide was well in but I think we saw most of them. Check out the Wiki link if you are interested in their geology/history.
Now it was really getting late. We took a left into the heart of the South Island towards Twizel. Now we were looking at the backs of all the mountains we saw on the way down the West coast. A real reminder of how small NZ is when you can circle a mountain range in only a few days. The deserted road was like silk and stretched to the horizon. The largest wild animal you can hit in NZ is a possum so I floored the throttle and let the Ford’s potential shine.
There wasn’t much to see on the darkening prairie anyway. Not at 170kph.
We reached Lake Tekapo on dusk undented and unyelled at. Thankfully there are no cops in NZ. Our accommodation jinx got us again here. First we had to track down the owner (I suggested opening and shutting the unattended cash register a few times, which can really speed service along). Then we were told our room hadn’t been vacated as the people in it loved the place so much they extended their stay. While I banged my head on the counter Jules negotiated a FREE upgrade to an awesome room facing the beach.
OK we’ll accept that.No, I’ll carry my own bag. Get out of our room.Go back to Day 1- The Airport/Customs/Flight/Airport/Customs Horror.
Sunday, 13 June 2010
NZ Holiday - Day 10 - The Chinese Garden Monstrosity, Steep Street of Impending Doom and Delightful Rich Dude's House
Dunedin. Wish we’d spent more time here. Historically rich and excellent winding roads for more of that ‘spirited’ driving.
Dunedin lays claim to the world’s steepest street. The Ford managed to crawl up and down this impressive 45° obstacle with 4 adults on board! No-one in this area needs a Gym membership. A walk in the backyard would be like climbing Everest. Mark and Tamsin know all about this sort of terrain.
Excellent venison sausage and mash for lunch. Damn I love venison. Bambi sure does taste good. So many deer farms here. The 7 foot fencing must cost a fortune. Lots of sheep too, And field after field filled with some sort of smelly vegetable they use as a winter feed supplement.
Nita insisted on a visit Olverston, an enormous historic mansion which made me very angry cos there was no parking. The place was incredibly incredible though. The story behind it even more so. The owner left the house to the city of Dunedin fully furnished, right down to clothing and personal belongings. A beautifully restored 1922 Fiat limousine, originally purchased new by the owner, is in the garage.
Olverston is a unique time capsule showing how a very wealthy family lived in Dunedin during the early 1900’s. Their lifestyle and tastes are displayed by the paintings, sculptures, carvings and furniture they collected over some well-travelled years.
The modern conveniences incorporated into the house seemed ahead of their time. T’was almost as though the 4 story house was built recently and back-dated to look old. For instance the telephone and intercom service throughout the house; a lift, central heating, heated towel rails, modern conveniences abound, even for the servants.
Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to really appreciate the beautiful detail throughout, as the tour was fast paced by a prissy bitch to allow for a maximum of revenue returns. In essence we were booted out as quickly as possible, predictably into the gift shop. Well, whatever it cost it was worth it. I forget the entry fee as I’m not allowed to pay for anything.
We then went to a ‘famous’ Chinese Garden. This was a mistake after being surrounded by such historic grandeur at Olverston. We still might have been impressed with the Chinese Garden if it had been properly executed, but it was a plastic facsimile, with structures and landscaping so utterly false and contrived. Just frigging awful. Eric and I spent the whole time making fun of the polypropylene wood sculptures and shot-creted rockeries. Chinese people would cringe to see this commercial monstrosity.
Te Anau, our next port of call, was a nice little town, (even if we never did get the pronunciation right). We settled into our motel as a massive storm broke across the entire South Island. It pissed down all night.
Next morning our expensive Milford Sound Tour was cancelled. Flooded roads. BUT, they told us if we hurried we could upgrade to the Doubtful Sound Tour. The alternative was to watch TV all day. The Doubtful Sound sounded less doubtful.... so we took it.
Flowing water covered the road to Manapouri in several places, but the Ford aquaplaned across each one without killing itself (or us). We got to the Ticket Office and discovered the ‘upgrade’ was not complimentary. With further denuded wallets we crammed on board the ferry, and waited for a late coach load of tourists. I don’t particularly like waiting... or tourists. The extra 100 people made the seating acceptable for small children and Japanese. We were neither. (This is how we learned not to go cattle class. No choice in this case)
The boat ride across Lake Manapouri was pretty bloody good, despite the constant light rain. In fact we were lucky in a way, the hundreds of water-falls flowing in sheets down sheer cliff-faces in every direction were instantaneous and short-lived between rain showers.
I braved the howling gale and freezing rain on top of the boat. The deserted viewing deck was ideal to take it all in. And there were no tourists up there.
The ferry took 40 minutes to get to the Manapouri Power Station. We were herded aboard buses and taken to the underground entrance. I was fairly amazed when the bus kept going. Down the decline we went and I wondered what the hell was going on as squeezing past other buses and machinery coming up with bare centimetres to spare seemed unreasonable risky. This was part of the tour!
Turning an 11 metre bus in a 6 metre tunnel was an art-form our driver must have dabbled in a fair bit. He spared the paint and pulled up; in the decline, and we were invited off the coach to check out the machine hall. It may not sound too fascinating but the history behind it all was cool.
After a perfunctory head count to ensure most of us were back on board, the coach hauled us up the decline with our driver running an amusing commentary the entire time. It was a nice to sit and look out the window at endless waterfalls, sheer drops and thick rainforest. Despite my occupation I find the pleasure of this experience difficult to describe. ‘Very enjoyable’ will have to do.
So far we were still only being transported to the ‘real’ part of our tour! Incredibly we were getting our money’s worth. The gravel road down the mountain was the steepest, most expensive road ever built at the time. $1 per centimetre which we were challenged to come up with a final figure for. I did a quick equation in my head and came up with ‘can I have a Tim Tam’. Nita can always be counted on to have a spare Tim Tam handy.
Dammit this post is dragging on too long. River, lake cruise, food, beer, waterfalls, cold, fantastic, didn’t fall over board, frigging excellent, 1000 photos.
And then we were back at Manapouri. The lake had risen over a metre in the time we were away. Our car was still on ‘dry’ land so we jumped in and raced back to our motel.Go to Day 10
Monday, 7 June 2010
I am now a published writer. My world should be complete... I guess.
Unfortunately the short story Antipodean SF published, Pod 5534, wasn't something I'm particularly fond of, nor do I think it is particularly clever. I regard it as forgettable; a passing milestone preceding the eventual world-wide publishing of my beloved SAM novel, and a notation of accomplishment to populate a fairly bare resume.
The story Pod 5534 is a mere intestine cut from a disemboweled 50,000 word dialogue-only compilation I wrote for Nanowrimo. This brain dump was very intense. I wrote around 40 short stories, one after another, using whatever came up from that strange, dark place inside me. I varnished a few of these stories and sent them off... mostly into editor's bins I suspect. The Pod story just happened to hit the right note with this editor.
So why write 50,000 words of pure dialogue?
Other than to annoy my sister by refusing to follow Nano's rules to the letter, I know how important descriptions are from a character's POV and I needed the practise. My character's minds are built from very obscure and indefinable 'stuff'. Articulating their beliefs and ego's so a reader can judge them is incredibly hard. Nano was a chance to allow a character's speech to flow without me butting in to twist their words into what I wanted them to say.
It was an interesting experience and a valuable technique. I will have to use it again sometime.
Saturday, 5 June 2010
After our nanna-nap rest it was time to hit Queenstown. We’d pre-booked a lovely scenic cruise... ON A JET BOAT, YEAH BABY.
It was freaking insane fun. The crazy bastard driving had us going sideways through gaps we shouldn’t have fit through going straight. We were bashing over rocky sections of the stream that you could have walked across, ankle deep! And we were doing it at over 80kph. Once again I am amazed at NZ attitude to public liability. I am deeply thankful this insidious, fun-sucking legality is beneath their awareness.
For the rev-heads amongst us, the boat was powered by twin V6 Buick’s and spat out 800 litres of water per second from the thrusters. This is a super-fast dump in anyone’s language.
The Jet Boat insanity only pumped us up. We headed into town for a ride on the Skyline Gondola. Now in NZ a Gondola is not a skinny boat shoved along gently with a pole; it is a little fiberglass cabin attached to a cable that allows fat people to attain the heady heights of mountain tops. A ski-lift contraption if you will.
It was in fact an awe-inspiring ride up. I tried jumping up and down a bit to see if the clamp holding us onto the cable would slip. Nita gave me the evil eye so I stopped. Besides, I think it did move a bit.
The views from the top were once again spectacular. We had a beer so our insides could be as cold as our outsides. It was freezing cold.
There was a purpose-made luge track (unpowered go-carts really) at the top. Looked like fun but we were content to watch other people hurt themselves, get wet in the intermittent rain showers, and make fools of themselves getting in and out of the carts and chair-lifts.
The day was done so we came down separate from the In-laws so I could try to convince Jules to join the Mile High Club. My application was rejected.Go back to Day 1- The Airport/Customs/Flight/Airport/Customs Horror.
We left Fox Glacier after the first sleep-in we've managed so far. We decided to take a break from our hectic holiday and just cruise for a day. A holiday from the holiday so to speak.
On the way to doing nothing we came across some very strange piles of crap on the side of the road at Bruce Bay. We just had to stop, it was so weird. Underwear, CD's and hats festooned piled rocks and drift wood. There were thousands of these calling cards, from around the world judging from the languages and messages.
We wandered along the roadside reading the scribbled on rocks, (and avoiding the undies). Quite a few messages complained about the sand-flies of which there was no sign. I started towards the beach through the tourist's clutter when something bit me. Then another and another. HOLY SHIT I WAS COVERED IN THEM.
I can only imagine what we looked like. 4 wildly arm-waving, sprinting people, slightly obscured by a cloud of tiny insects, leaping into a car and speeding off with the windows down. The little biting bastards would not get the hell out. One particularly nasty testicle biter caused a sudden stop not far up the road. Slapping your own nuts seems to hurt more than someone else doing it I found.
We culled the number of freeloading sand-flies in the car and set off again, vowing to view the rest of this particular piece of coastline at high speed through closed windows.
Wanaka was a haven of beer and lounging about. I swear the dopey receptionist of our motel was on something. She gave us free internet. I asked why. “Cos the amount you paid for that suite...wow!” Gee thanks lady.
Now I hate our Travel Consultant even more.Go back to Day 1- The Airport/Customs/Flight/Airport/Customs Horror.
Tuesday, 1 June 2010
The views in New Zealand are unrelentingly spectacular in almost every direction. Mountains, rivers, historic landmarks, 10,000 possum fur shops. The mountainous terrain was such a novelty for us. In fact there were only a couple of flat bits scraped out by glaciers which I judiciously used to gather up a bit of speed before serpentining our way up and down the next range.
And thusly, we found ourselves at Fox Glacier.
Nita and Eric were very keen to see a glacier up close. Anticipating their enthusiasm we’d already booked a Heli-trek, inadvertently implicating us in attempted murder! The prospect of an early inheritance for Jules was not our motivation.
Now I have reiterated this apology several times, but once again Nita and Eric - WE DIDN'T BLOODY KNOW IT WAS GOING TO BE LIKE THAT.
Some of us scoffed at the backpackers whom we watched slogging their way up to the glacier the hard way. Pfffffttt. We hired a Helicopter - just like the poor people didn’t - and enjoyed an 8 minute, comfortable ride up to the glacier’s guts.
Then it got weird.
The Heli part of the experience was an extremely fun and adrenaline inducing ride, but then the buggers kicked us out of the chopper onto slick, and very unflat, ice. My imaginings of a quiet, mystical experience promenading across the glacier became a flat-out fight for survival as the chopper’s down-draft slides us towards the nearest crevasse. This is something I’d be more comfortable watching some other clowns do on TV. But we were the circus here and no doubt my ice dancing provided tremendous amusement to the Chopper pilot. He ensured we were all well and truly battered into the ice before finally lifting off in any case.
We endured this four more freaking times as load after load of annoying tourists were brought to what I was swiftly realising would not be our private patch of icy paradise. The guides, finally realising the cause of our frantic flailings reluctantly handed out crampons.
Our tour guide was a fit, young chick who set a cracking pace into the steepest, most rugged ice-scape I’ve ever seen. She seemed quite oblivious to the fat, old and scared. That described me fairly well. Dunno how everyone else was coping. I didn’t care. I was concentrating on not going arse up and stabbing myself in the eye with a crampon.
We saw some amazing stuff amongst the higgledy-piggledy ice chaos. Certainly raised itself from the lowly rum and coke cooling substance I was used to handling. Utterly worth being stripped of our dignity and the effort involved. If we’d been better informed regarding the physical requirements we definitely would not have done this tour, and yet I am very glad we were duped or we would have missed the highlight of our trip.
Monday, 24 May 2010
Wednesday, 19 May 2010
We suck at holidays.
Took another shuttle bus to the train station. No, not the romanticised Steam Loco that would puff its way through the mountains. Just a couple of dirty old diesels hooked up to some really old carriages. The carriages weren’t ‘romantic’ old either, well used might be more accurate.
The trip had been advertised as a magical scenic experience so the lack panoramic windows seemed odd. Also our seats had been double-booked, but we got to them first. (I think I could have taken the big guy who was insisting we were in their seats.)
The trip across Arthur’s Pass was pretty good scenery-wise. Not magical, but interesting. Especially if you like breathing diesel exhaust in the world’s longest, steepest tunnel or some shit. Couldn’t see a damn thing so I failed to grasp the magicalness of this part of the experience.
Jules and Nita almost had their faces scraped off while taking photos in the open viewing-carriage (Generator car) when the train slammed into the tunnel at 80 kph without warning. This was probably my first good belly laugh when Jules told me.
Got to Greymouth which isn’t the diseased hole it sounds like.
Finally we were to achieve the freedom of a hire vehicle. Reliance on other people schedules would be a thing of bad memory. Boy, was I happy. They gave us a Holden Cruze. Boy, was I unhappy. It was only because our bags were so well tenderised by the baggage handlers that we managed to fit them all into the boot as an amorphous blob.
We dubiously got in and found the interior lacking in certain comforts – like breathing and moving more than a few centimetres. I drove down the street and gave it full throttle to gauge the all important - ‘discomfort of interior and ride versus exhilarating engine power’ ratio. It failed miserably.
I looked at Jules as the asthmatic groaning of the high-revving engine and lack of greenery whipping past in a blur did all the talking for me. Jules insisted she asked for, and paid for, a larger car, which was enough to get me into whoop-arse mode. I pulled a wallowing U-turn and went back to the agent. Eric and Nita unfolded themselves from the rear seat and went looking for a crowbar or a stick to prise the luggage back out of the boot.
My unhappiness became the agent’s unhappiness when, under my clever questioning of “how the hell are 4 adults s’posed to fit in that pile of crap”, they inadvertently let slip that they’d given our larger, pre-booked and pre-paid for, car away. I borrowed a Customs Clerk’s stony gaze and folded my arms most impressively. Talking is over-rated. The scurrying between the multitudes of (two) other rental company desks dredged up a just returned XR6. My ‘Gimme-a-Holden’ mantra stuttered and fell quite when I looked into their car-park.
Our Shitbox Cruze and a dirty red Ford just dropped off.
Damn that XR6 was fast. I was prepared to thrash it merely as punishment for being given a Ford, but it was surprisingly roomy, powerful and quite comfortable. And all our crap fit into the boot. Nita looked like she was about to enquire how fast this car would go, so I found 3rd gear’s rev limiter and let some bitumen disappear behind us to make up the lost time.
I have to add here that NZ roads are exceptionally good. Yes, good. Flat, wide and smooth as silk for the most part. In a country that gets about 5-6 metres of rain a year this is no small thing.
With the stressful stuff behind us I started enjoying myself. Finding the limits of the car’s suspension and tyre grip on tight winding mountain roads, and huge empty straights just made for law-breaking was a great deal of fun; for me anyway. In my defence I never went over 170kph. Not once. (Several hundred feet straight down and no barriers brings about a certain sense of responsibility.)
Go to Day 3.
Go back to Day 1- The Airport/Customs/Flight/Airport/Customs Horror.
Monday, 17 May 2010
Our need to go on holiday coincided with the In-law’s similar need. We decided on NZ as it was being flogged mercilessly on the TV as a fantastic holiday destination, and the dollar conversion was favourable. Another plus - they almost speak the same language as us.
After a horrific, yet non-crashing flight from Mackay to Brisbane, a group of relatives on both sides of the family organised a combined catch-up, send-off, dinner for us. I got to play with my Nephew and found the getting up off the floor harder than getting down. (Getting old.)
The next day saw us at the airport were we managed to finesse our way through Customs in much the same way frightened sheep approach the slaughterhouse. (Except we were actually trying to get to the stony-eyed, humourless guards who weren’t going on holidays and didn’t see why we should be either.)
With my face now scanned and every nose hair counted, sanctimonious approval to leave the country is granted. We relaxed in the stinking cesspool also known as the International Departure Lounge where I bought a pair of magical ear-hole opening devices (ear-plugs with a hole in them) for $15. Yes, I am that desperate for relief.
Plane trip sucked but we didn't crash.
Got off the Flying Cylinder of Death in Christchurch. Grabbed duty-free bottles by feel and threw brightly coloured play money at the cashier before heading to...another line up. This line split many times, and we gravitated at the slowest possible pace in the slowest possible line each time we chose one. Hid my guilty conscience again and showed our passports to the same suspicious, dead-eyed clerks until we popped out in the baggage claim. Dead fricken last.
The baggage handlers looked tired but happy after beating the shit out of our bags. At least this time our baggage actually got on the same plane as us. Good baggage.
Then we lined up again.
Right now I’m wayyyy past my tolerance point (which is fairly non-existent anyway). Having to show and arrange all the little bits of meaningless paper over and over but in a different order each time and then getting it all stamped and bits torn-off coloured sheets with stickers and hole-punching; it was all grating my nerves like a crazy Italian chef with a huge piece of Parmesan. (Or something.)
Managed to punch and kick our way into second-last place and grabbed our bags from the baggage-irradiating machines. We were then greeted by our shuttle-bus driver who accosted me with a ‘Dunemann’ name-card. (Majority rules I guess. I’d walked past him looking for my limo.)
Despite being next-to-last out we waited a further half hour for the driver to herd together other, visually-challenged passengers, who were also looking for their limo’s.
Got to the Motel. Had venison at a nearby pub which was rather awesome. Tried every beer on the menu. Rushed back to the rooms to sample the duty-free Rum.
Monday, 8 February 2010
I know it is off-putting to type that crap in, but until I find a better way it's all I can do to protect myself from the insidious encroachment of my privacy.
Hope to post something interesting soon.
Cheers and beers.