"All The World's a Classroom"

Updated Nov 12, 2006......................................................................................

New Zealand

An Introduction to New Zealand (NZ):

NZ is about the size of Colorado (about 267,000 km2) with a population of about 4 million. I got this information from the official New Zealand website I think, but I’m not sure it means much to me. This fact would make more sense to me if I had any ties with Colorado. For me Colorado is about as foreign as New Zealand, so comparing the two of them is pretty useless, eh? I thought that I could get the stats for the Triangle area of North Carolina where I used to be from (the Triangle is the geographic region defined by Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh). There are about 1 million people there, although I can’t be sure about this. And I don’t know what area these three cities comprise, so again there’s no meaningful comparison.

So I thought I could compare New Zealand size/population with something that I know--The Rousseau household ala our log cabin in Zionville, NC:

Rousseau Household New Zealand
Total Population: 4 Total Population: 4,035,461
Area: ~1,200 sq. ft. after selling residence in Cary Land: ~3 acres Area: 267,000 sq km (this is 2.873964e+012 sq ft, a tad bit bigger than our house)
Population Density: 300 sq. ft. per person
Population Density including 3 acres of land: 32,970 sq. ft. per person
Population Density: 712,177.4 sq. ft. per person
Age Distribution (from 2006):
1: 0-4 age range (25%)
1: 5-9 age range (25%)
2: 35-44 age range (50%) didn’t think I’d actually tell you Nicky’s age, did you?!)
Age Distribution (from 2006):
280,000: 0-4 age range (~7%)
300,000: 5-9 age range (~7.4%)
560,000: 35-44 age range (~13.9%)

So now I get a better understanding of the size and population of NZ. It’s much bigger than my house, yet much smaller than Texas, or Australia (both of which are larger than Colorado and have more people). And neither New Zealand’s, nor Texas’s nor Australia’s nor Colorado’s population could fit into my house, or town, or county. So there’s your relevant comparison. I think I have a better grip on this now—although New Zealand is small, it’s bigger than my house, and I wouldn’t want to paint it.

This is the Kiwi state; by this I mean that their national bird is the Kiwi, AND it’s a fruit, AND they also refer to a person from New Zealand as a Kiwi. So this could be a bit of an awkward situation:

US Citizen: I saw a Kiwi today!

European Citizen: Yes, we have that fruit in France as well. It’s both tasty and refreshing.

US Citizen: I’m sorry, I meant the living Kiwi.

European Citizen: How wonderful. Did you enjoy its full plumage?

US Citizen: Huh? She was wearing a running bra and looked pretty good from the rear.

European Citizen: A running bra? I wonder if she was using this to line her nest.

See how it could get awkward?...

How to speak New Zealand:

Although Kiwis (the People, not the bird) speak the English language, it is not the normal English language. Every vowel is hard. There are no such things as a soft "E," or a soft "A." So I’ve put together a short list of "English" words and the corresponding "New Zealand" word pronunciation:

Normal 'English' New Zealand
Hello Heelo
Credible Creedible
Car Car (pretty much the same; amazing, eh?)
Memory Meemory
Anteater Ainteeter
Mazda Maizdai
Gesundheit Geesoondheet

August 11, 2006

We arrived in New Zealand--where’s Zealand? Usually these places like New York and New Jersey have some sort of connection with the founding homeland, like York and Jersey, both in England.

We arrived around 3pm and got accosted by Customs. Apparently we smuggled in an apple. This is a pretty big deal. Nicky and I were careful not to pack any fruits or vegetables or meat or things that could carry bugs or mold or spores. I wish customs were as diligent with the music—who the heck needs to hear Brittney Spears or Christina Aguilera?

Both Australia and New Zealand have strict laws against bringing in things that will upset the very delicate geography and animal/plant life. Good for them—they’ve learned from their past mistakes. This is a good thing to protect their ecology.

So we’re going through Customs and, as usual, Nicky and I are on, "Level 1" mode of concern. This means that the kids are behaving well, we haven’t been mugged or raped lately, and things are going well overall. Level 5 is a going concern; Level 10 is either nuclear or locust attack.

My blood turned to ice when the Customs agent selected Dominique’s backpack from a long row of bags and asked, "Who packed this bag?"

Darren: "I did" (I really did).

Customs Agent: "Did you put this apple in the pocket?"

Darren: "What apple? What pocket? I had no idea there was an apple there?" (I really didn’t, and I thought that this was a plant of a fruit. Ha! It’s funny now, but not then.).

Customs Agent: "Whose backpack is this?"

Darren: "This is my daughter’s backpack, but her father and mother packed it and we take responsibility for it. But if there’s anything wrong then it’s probably her mother that misread something. Or maybe her mother totally disregarded the rules."

Dominique: "It’s my backpack." (OK, maybe it’s alright to sacrifice your firstborn for the good of the family. Good on ya, Dominique!)

Customs Agent (to Dominique): "Sweetie, did you put this apple in your backpack? Please tell the truth."

Dominique: "Yes, I did. I put it in there this morning."

Darren: "Huh?" (By this, I meant, “Huh?” I really didn’t know anything about any apple or that we had apples this morning)

Customs Agent: (to Darren and Nicky, the parents)- "Did you know about this?"

Darren/Nicky: "No" (Nicky: "I gave Dominique an apple for breakfast and she must have put it in her backpack")
Darren: "And any pornographic material you may find does not belong to me. It must belong to my wife… or my daughter…"

Customs Agent: "Good. Make sure you stick to this story when the supervisor comes here. As I understand this, the parents did not know of this apple in this backpack. Unknown to you, your 6 year old daughter put a non-New Zealand apple into her backpack and imported said apple into New Zealand; you did not declare this because you did not know of its existence. Is this correct?"

Nicky: "Yes, that’s correct."

Darren: "Yes, and if anyone should be put away, it should be Dominique or her mother, Nicky. Dominique’s been a problem for a while; Nicky is a typical free-thinking wife. You just tell me where and when I should pick her/them up. Those guys in Australia should have put her away a long time ago..."

Nicky: "Darren, stop it!"

Darren: "...and, Dominique can’t even drive very well. It’s good that you should keep her for a bit."

Darren (to Nicky, in a whisper): "This might be our chance to get rid of one of them for a couple days. Are you sure you don’t want to think this through?..."

...Just joking...

(NOTE TO READER: just kidding about the Dominique and/or Nicky as criminal thing and Darren as a bastard father here. But, although the situation was extremely tense then, it’s fodder for some good comedy now, eh?)

Customs Agent: "OK, just stick to this story, which I believe to be true, and you should be able to get through here without a fine."

Darren: "FINE!? What fine could we be looking at?"

Customs Agent: "$400 for bringing in undeclared fruit."

Darren: "OK, so let’s review this story again to make sure we’re all on the same page—my child is to blame for everything, right? You have handcuffs that will fit Dominique--perhaps you’ll need a cage? Her wrists are quite small..."

It was actually a bit tense, but the Customs people were very friendly and flexible and they saw that the adults knew nothing about an apple in Dominique’s backpack, and Dominique was very believable and she told the truth and we got away with just a warning.

And they didn’t even catch the banana in Annette’s back pocket.

Just kidding.

But this was an interesting introduction to the New Zealand police state, something that would haunt us for our entire time here (See the Franz Josef Heater Police story at August 21 below).

We had pre-booked a rental car that was extremely cheap--$41 NZ per day, which is about $30 US per day. Unlimited mileage, but that’s kinda funny because the entire country is so small that mileage is negligible. Actually the island is so small that the mileage is not negligible, it’s refundable; the island is so small that the more you drive the more you save on the rental fee; the distance you drive actually reduces your rental costs.

OK, enough with the small country jokes. If I tell them all here, what’s left to tell about our upcoming trips to Tahiti and Easter Island?

We were supposed to meet a person at the airport that would drive us to the rental car hub, but we couldn’t find him. After a couple calls to their office, I spotted him at the bar about 50 feet away, with a stamp-sized paper that had our name on it. When you exit Customs and Immigration, you usually walk through some main door and there is a huge line/group of people that are waiting there to greet the people from the plane. Also in this group are people that are picking up or transporting travelers with very distinct and readable signs that signal the traveler. This is the normal place to meet—many people have signs with surnames of travelers indicating that they are their next form of transportation.

Our guy, the brilliant dude that he is, opted to wait about 30 meters away, next to the bar, in a dark alcove. He also wore a trench coat, fedora hat, smoked a cigarette, and hid in the shadows (just kidding—I was in a film noir mode just now). But he was in a place that he was not easily found. When I finally flagged him down, he had the nerve to say, "I’ve been looking for you for quit a while. Were you lost? What happened?"

Bastard. He was quite surly and sour and every question I asked him he answered in a negative manner:

My Question His Negative Response
So was this a long drive for you to pick us up? No longer than walking down a long pier and taking a swim in ice cold water.
What’s the population of Christchurch, New Zealand? 400,281, but it might be 400,280 by tomorrow if I don’t hear back from my friend tonight.
Can you say something positive, or nice? No
What’s the best thing that every happened to you? (Pause) I’m not dead yet.

Welcome to New Zealand!

Our car rental experience was on par. They were ready for us, and the car was really well-maintained, but it was about 12-15 years old, had 130,000+ km on it, and it didn’t have cruise control or automatic door locks.

Ouch! This wasn’t mentioned on their website: About New Zealand Rental Cars: This was a huge step down from our other rental cars, but it was still serviceable. Especially at $31 US a day.

August 12, 2006

New Zealand has the best money that I’ve encountered; far better than US money which actually sucks. US money, from a traveler’s perspective, is really poor. How can you tell how much any of our coins are worth? There are no numbers on any of our coins; the dime is smaller than both the nickel and the penny, both of which are lower in value. Color means nothing, and size means nothing. The only redeeming value of US money is that we have very few coins—penny, nickel, dime and quarter. That’s good. Coins weigh a lot and many other countries have coins that are about the size of a manhole cover and just as thick. I like small coins, in appropriately larger sizes as the denomination rises.

NZ’s paper money is actually plastic, which allows it to last for a long time. Even if it gets washed in someone’s pants pocket it’s still good to go. Each plastic note value is a different color. Their coins go up in size as does their value; they got rid of the one cent piece and as of November, 2006, they will no longer have the 5 cent piece. What a great idea.

The downside to plastic money is if it gets a small tear, it’s ripped very quickly and easily. But that’s what heavy-duty tape is for, and the banks will honor ripped/torn notes.

Bottom line is that money is really interesting. We’d all like a lot more; I’d like it to make more sense

Grocery Shopping

We are now in a land that makes grocery shopping sense—the rear wheel of their shopping carts (i.e. trolleys) are fixed and you can use them to pivot the cart around corners. Whew!

Most of the grocery stores are open on Sundays, although everything seems to close around the 5-7pm time frame. Since we’re used to things being open 7 days a week, this works for me.

So today was a shopping and hanging out at the campground place. They had an indoor heated pool with a pretty good slide. BUT they kept the door to the indoor pool open and it was really cold outside so it made it really cold inside.

The campground also had two nightly movies—an early one for the kids and a later one for the adults. Very nice. It would have been cooler had they served popcorn or some sort of snacks, but kudos to the Kiwis.

August 13, 2006

On to Oamaru today (pronounced Oamaru). This is the place of the world-famous Blue Penguins. They’re famous because this is the only place in the world where they reside. We love penguins. See our Cape Town, March 30 entry for details about our Penguin-love.

So we were up for more Penguin-loving despite the very cold and wet and windy weather. New Zealand is cold—perhaps it’s because we’re really close to Antarctica?...

We arrived at the penguin lookout place around 4pm and there were several signs that instructed us to stay on the path. This is not a good sign—you really can’t inhibit us bird-loving people, right? But for the sake of good US – New Zealand relationships (we are ambassadors of some sort, right?), we stuck to the path.

After a bit of a walk in drizzling, freezing weather we hit upon a guy that has binoculars and an arctic outfit, complete with warmed bottled oxygen and thermal goggles.

Just joking about these. But he did have a coat that looked quite warm and he did have binoculars.

He told us that he comes here about every night and we can see the penguins right now, on the beach. Look! About 80 meters away from us, down the extremely steep cliffs and terrain, we saw a very small moving thing that, given a lot of creativity, might look like a penguin. Then again, it might look like a naked mole rat. Or a very small dog; maybe an over-cooked hot dog.

This is the penguin sighting that people talk about?! This is the tourist attraction?! It was laughable in comparison with our South African experiences. But then again, most animal encounters are laughable in comparison with our South African experiences. We quickly mentioned, through our ice-encrusted mouths, how wonderful it was to experience this amazing animal in its natural environment, even though we had to view it through our ice-encrusted eyeballs (any blinking shut our eyelids closed until a warm breeze came through, or we spit on each others’ eyelids). We thanked him for letting us view this magical scene through his binoculars, even though Dominique’s eyelids stuck to the binocular viewfinder and we had to pour warm water over them.

It was cold here tonight. Thank goodness for the electric mattress pads here. They’re standard fare for this country. In the U.S. these things used to be illegal because of all the fires they started. Either they’ve improved the technology, or New Zealanders don’t care, or they look at a fire in the bed as a warming experience. Or maybe all New Zealanders are fireproof

August 14, 2006

We did our first stay at a motel today in Invercargill. It was two adjoining rooms, both with kitchens. The great thing about adjoining rooms is that you can make a mess in one of them and blame it on those people.

But the adjoining people were our kids, so we could blame the mess on them, which we usually do anyway, so I didn’t think that we were getting away with anything. Darn.

Today was mostly a travel day. We’re seeing New Zealand from the car perspective, and it’s quite beautiful. Hills and mountains are everywhere. This is one of those places that look as good, if not better, than the brochures that make you come out here.

There are a huge number of hedges. These hedges are everywhere and they’re very large, and very thick, sometimes about 20 feet tall. And just about every farm has them, and they look like they’re protecting both the house and the livestock. So methinks (and has since been confirmed) that these hedges are strategically placed to protect animals and structures from strong winds.

This is funny because the kids saw the movie, “Over the Hedge” on the airline flight out here, and every time they see a hedge they yell, “Over the Hedge!” When you see hedges about every other minute, you can see how this is such a dog-gone fun game, right?!

August 15, 2006

Te Anau today, a short drive from Invercargill. I like to say, “Invercargill.” It’s much cooler and easier to say than it is to type, unless you use COPY and PASTE. Then it’s equally easy. And using COPY/PASTE is always cool.

To get to Te Anau from Invercargill, we had to drive on the, “Presidential Highway.” What a nice name for a road. Until we found out that this road links Clinton, NZ with Gore, NZ.

Seriously—there really are two towns in New Zealand called, “Clinton” and, “Gore” and they are next to one another. And apparently both President Clinton and VP Gore visited the Kiwi state and the Kiwis loved them.

The towns were name Clinton and Gore way before they both took their respective national offices. What a strange and freaky coincidence, eh?

Te Anau is the place that people stay when they want to tour the Milford Sound because it’s the closest place to the sound with accommodations. Apparently 2 hours is the closest that any human being can get to sleep when he/she wants to do a tour of the Sound (we later found out that there is a tiny amount of accommodations at Milford Sound, but Te Anau is such a pretty place that we’re happy we stayed there).

August 16, 2006

“Milford Sound is simply stunning. In Maori legend, the fiords were created not by rivers of ice, but by Tu Te Raki Whanoa, a godly figure who came wielding a magical adze and uttering incantations. Milford Sound (Piopiotahi) is without doubt his finest sculpture. Whatever the fiord’s mood, teeming with rain or with sun glistening on deep water, it will inspire you.”

This is what one of the tour companies says in their Milford Sound brochures. Wow, sounds like something we’d like to experience, eh? Who wouldn’t want to tour the Piopiotahi that was created by Tu Te Raki Wahnoa?

Gesundheit. Gracias.

We arranged a bus ride on a bus that specializes on Milford Sound trips. This thing came with a TV and a bathroom, which is pretty important for kids.

And adults

We proceeded on our two hour ride to the sound. We waited to hook up with the bus with another couple with two kids (4 and 1 yrs old, respectively). The parents are teachers from England and they were really great people with which to hang out. It’s good to hear their perspective on something that touches every parent—teaching.

In a nutshell, the English aren’t doing much better than the Americans when it comes to the public school system. Both are teaching to pass tests—in America we have the, “No Child Left Behind” federal tests AND we have equally invasive statewide tests; England has an equivalent testing program which I can’t remember the name. As teachers they are extremely frustrated that their job has been reduced to teaching students to pass a specific test. As a parent, I am equally frustrated that their job has been reduced to teaching students to pass a specific test.

I guess I am frustrated at my children’s teachers’ lack of ability to teach/show creativity, intuitiveness, and teach to a child’s level. I know that every teacher I talk to is equally, if not more, frustrated for the same reasons. Neither they as teachers, nor we as parents, like nor approved of these “standards.” We agreed that they force teachers to train their students to pass these standardized tests. There is very little room for creativity, intuitiveness, original thinking, etc.

Thus ends my political tirade—I now step down from my soapbox.

Milford sound was pretty. It needed to be because we had to take a 2 hour bus ride there and a 2 hour bus ride back. And the bus didn’t even have snacks or a movie!

Milford Sound Panarama

This was a bit of a strange place because there were about 60 people on this boat, all outside taking pictures. Every second of the ride. It was so strange that it was kinda funny.

People taking Pictures

How funny is a picture of people taking pictures? OK, maybe not funny, but ironic? OK, maybe not ironic, but at least cynical? It was a funny thing to see, and it continued through the entire ride, which made it more funny.

I’m not sure if this was Piopiotahi’s finest sculpture, and I’m not sure that it inspired me, but I’m pretty sure of the following things:

  1. Coffee is always good to have on a boat that’s in the middle of a frozen fjord.
  2. Always bring lots of food and snacks for the kids. This is something that we knew from many years ago, but it’s always good to reinforce the standards. And always bring more food than you think you’ll need, because there might be another kid or two that hook up with your kids—always good to grease the skids, eh?
  3. Always pack an extra pair of underwear. That’s all I have to say on this subject.

August 17, 2006

Yet another day in Te Anau—it’s a really beautiful and cool place, literally. We really didn’t do anything today. Although I found out that in some places the liquor stores sell in bulk. You bring in your container and fill it up with whatever flavor you want. You save about 15% buying this way.

I didn’t partake but this shows, once again, that wonderful Kiwi spirit. Bring your own vessel for bulk spirits and wine—Great Idea!

August 18, 2006

We went to a campground and stayed in a cabin in Queenstown today, which is about a 2 hour drive from Te Anau. Everything in New Zealand is about 2 hours away--from just about everything.

Queenstown is a magnet for backpackers and rain. It rained the entire time we were here. And it’s one of those cold-to-the-bone rains.

So we made lasagna. Did you know that you don’t have to boil the lasagna noodles now? Just put them in the pan and I guess they get soft from the liquid in the sauce.

Very cool.

That’s pretty much the highlight of our three-day stay in Queenstown--our un-boiled lasagna noodles.

Except for the really cool luge...

August 19, 2006

Queenstown is pretty touristy. They cater to skiers, backpackers, and people that want to go up to their small mountain and do bungee jumping. If you go up the mountain via their cable-car, you can enjoy the views, enjoy the food and beverages at the restaurant up there, and participate in the luge.

The luge is cool for several reasons:

  1. To pay for it, you must first pay for the cable car up the mountain. You can get discounts on the luge if you pay for both the ride up there and the luge tickets. They sell them in packs of 1, 2, and family. A family ticket is for 5 people (2 adults and 3 children). When you buy this, not only do you save money on the tickets, but they actually give you 5 tickets for the luge even if you only have 4 people in your family. Quite different from the US ride operators.
  2. The ride up is spectacular. You are in a cable car that allows 360 degree views of Queenstown. If we were smart enough to take our camera with us the two times we rode up here, we’d share these pictures with you.
  3. It’s a luge. It’s a board with wheels and a steering mechanism that not only allows you to turn left or right, but also acts as a brake if you pull back.

So take a gander at Dominique doing the luge:

Dom Luge

OK, so I pasted her mug on some dude’s body to simulate her doing the luge. Again, we didn’t bring our camera here today for some ungodly reason. But you get the point—it’s a cart that goes down a downward-sloping track as fast you allow it.

And it’s a pretty funny picture.

If you go fast enough, they have sponsors ready to sign you up and luge-cameras ready to affix to your board. If you win, you get a gallon of milk to pour over yourself, along with a scantily-clan sexy female. ESPN is in the wings for coverage.

Just kidding—they couldn’t have scantily-clan sexy females here because it’s too damn cold. And wet.

So there are the four of us (Darren, Nicky, Dominique and Annette) and we purchased a two-ride family ticket. This gave us 10 total rides--we get 5 tickets for the family, times two, which equals 10. Good deal for us. Except it started raining as soon as we arrived at the top of the mountain. And it was really cold. So we waited for a bit and the rain let up and we gave it a go.

What a rush. What a great run. At the end of the ride all our noses and fingers were freezing. I had to cut off my left thumb because of frostbite but I understand that some Australian can weld it back together.

We’d only burned 3 of our 10 tickets because Annette rode with Nicky and Dominique and I rode separately. So we had 7 more tickets to burn and it was really raining heavily; and it was cold. So we got some hot chocolate at the restaurant that must have been shipped in from Switzerland because it took about 4 hours.

After we warmed up Dominique and I wanted to go for another run. But they had closed the track. Bummer.

We went to the ticket counter and talked to them. We told them of our plight:

US: We’re world-travelers on a tight budget and we have 7 tickets left. What are our options?

THEM: They might open it back up this afternoon.

US: Cool. If they don’t, what happens to our pre-paid tickets?

THEM: You can come back tomorrow and we’ll issue new ones.

US: But we’re not here tomorrow (This is a lie, but it’s an appropriate lie. In actuality, we would BE here tomorrow, but we weren’t planning to COME here tomorrow. But the end does justify the means—we paid for 10 luge rides for today. If you cancel them for some reason, then you need to refund our money or satisfy our financial obligation somehow).

THEM: No problem. I’ll give you tickets that are good for two days. If we can open up this afternoon, you can use them. If we can’t open up because of the weather, we’ll refund your un-used portion of the tickets.

Good on ya, mates!

After the luge run, we appropriately went back to the campground and took a nap. Then the girls and I went the common area and tried to do a $2 puzzle I bought yesterday. It was great! Several other people came in a talked with us and some even helped. I was a good afternoon.

August 20, 2006

The Tale of the Heater Police.

We’re in Franz Josef Glacier today, home of the fastest moving glacier on the planet. How fast do you think a glacier can more? Maybe several meters a year? Several meters a month? How about several meters a DAY?! Yup, that’s some movement on the glacial scale.

We stayed at yet another Top 10 campground. They’re everywhere and offer a consistently high level of service, cleanliness, and good value. This particular one had a heater in the living room that kept cutting off for some reason. I thought that it was tripping an electrical circuit breaker, but there seemed to be a pattern—I timed it at just about 15 minutes before it would turn off and then I’d have to reset the breaker.

I went to the office and they said that this was a feature, not a problem. He explained to me that if they didn’t have this feature then people would keep the heaters on all the time.

I kept quiet. I was thinking, “Of course people would keep the heater on all the time when the temperature is near freezing—that’s what people do to live.” Then he rambled on to try to defend his position by saying that people come in after skiing and drape their wet clothes over the heater and it’s a fire hazard.

OK, I get the wet clothes draping over a heater thing—this is not a good thing. But to set the breaker at 15 min?! I can see maybe 2 hours or so, but anything less is inviting a jerry-rigged duct tape solution (which is what I did) that is even worse than draping wet clothes over the heater.

I noticed that the duct tape that I purchased in both New Zealand and Australia is not as good as American duct tape (especially the “Duck Tape” brand), but it’s still the strongest tape I was able to find. This observation is not meant as any kind of slur or negative strike against the host countries (i.e. Australia and New Zealand)—it’s just an impartial and objective experience that needs to be shared. For men, duct tape is almost a spiritual thing; it’s a thing to which we are attached. We adhere ourselves to our particular brands of duct tape and the loyalty is binding.

I’ve laid it on thick, eh?

August 21, 2006

The format for my narrative will change for the rest of New Zealand because there was a lot of rain and a lot of normal living. And this is my website so I can change the format whenever I want. I might change it back at a later date, or I might not. See how sneaky I can be?...

While we continued to experience wonderful and outstanding things, New Zealand was a place of mostly normal living. Which means that if I continue with the format, “August 2: We stayed indoors and we cut our nails and we played Charades…” there would be an ennui from which it would be hard to return. Plus it would suck to write and my friends would make fun of me.

Seriously, who would want to read about Joe taking a day to wash his clothes and buying stuff for a pot roast? That’s not fun to write about, or to read about even if it’s in Chile, or Thailand, or pick-your-favorite-place.

So the Golden Rule is this: Even though we didn’t specifically talk about it before, people always need to eat, drink, sleep and go to the bathroom. And even if you don’t hear about these details in their writings when they document their travels, it’s still going on.

So, while I might be able to wow you with stories of cutting our toe nails (which are indeed nail-biting--ha!) and the nuances of cooking pasta at altitude, methinks that we would all be better served by turning the remaining 28 days into more of a prose format instead of a day-by-day format.

Consider it the magic of storytelling instead of the mundane of day-to-day living.

The New Zealand rain forest around the Franz Josef area is a real rain forest. It hasn’t stopped raining in the three days we’ve been here. It makes the Australia rain forest look more like the Automatic Drip Coffee Maker Forest (See Australia, Queensland, June 26).

Man it rains a lot here...

While at Franz Josef, which we’ve already established is the fastest moving glacier on the planet; we decided to go on a heli-hike. A heli-hike is a clever play on words that combines helicopter (i.e. “heli”) and “hike,” which means to walk around a bit while sweating, or walk around a lot while sweating, or just walk from your kitchen to your living room while sweating.

To come clean, I’ve never been able to understand the meaning of, “hike.” Some people say it’s an uphill walk, so that means I hike up the stairs. Others say it’s a strenuous walk, so I hike from my front door to my car. Some others say that a hike is a meaningful journey from one place to another, which means that I hike from my couch to the bathroom during the halftime of the Giants’ game.

So a heli-hike is a helicopter ride to the top of the glacier, where you then hike/walk around for 2-3 hours, then you get a helicopter ride back down. It was outrageously expensive at $300 per person, but we decided the day was too beautiful and we were at a place that was the best in the world for doing this.

Unfortunately, they don’t let kids under 9 do this. So we suckered… ah… the campground person volunteered to watch our kids for the overlapping hour that Nicky and I would both be on the glacier. I had the morning run and Nicky had the afternoon run. There was about an hour of overlap that we needed someone to help watch the kids. So the campground office person helped us with that. He was a really good guy, despite his lame explanation of the 15 minute heater deal.

The ride in the helicopter was half the fun. The hike on the glacier was magical. We’ve all seen these pictures of the tropical island with the white sandy beaches with palm trees and the blue, blue ocean; New Zealand’s Franz Josef Glacier was the farthest from that.

We’ve also seen pictures of snow-covered mountains that look untouched by human hands with a backdrop of blue sky, with a deep blue color in the ice that comes only from thousands of years of ice development.

Usually when we visit these well-marketed places, they are very pretty, but lack the luster and magnificence that the brochures suggest. Franz Josef glacier not only met their marketing pictures in terms of beauty and clarity, but it beat them. It smashed them into thousands of tiny pieces. This was one of the rare places on the planet that actually took your breath away because of its size, its color, its breadth, and its beauty.

And it also took your breath away because it was really cold up there. Brrrr. Quite chilly. And did I mention the cost—that will take your breath away as well.

Franz Josef Glacier

So we’re at one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and arrived here by one of the coolest ways to travel, and the weather is spectacular.

And I don’t have a camera.

Because of the timing of my heli-hike and Nicky’s heli-hike, and the fact that we only have one camera between the two of us, we thought it best that Nicky take the camera for her afternoon hike.

The experience was incredible even sans camera. We slid down our own man-made slopes and climbed through tunnels.

Ice tunnel

Awesome. They just needed a hot chocolate stand and a sauna up there and the magical experience would have been complete.

When we left Franz Josef I had to put on snow chains in order to get over the mountains to get to our next destination: Westport. I felt very manly doing this, although I did this just about every day during the last winter because we lived in the Appalachian Mountains. But it felt different doing this in a rental car and one of the chains really didn’t fit the tire. So my manliness was measured against other men as they attempted to put chains on at a rest stop—it was like a NASCAR pit stop, only there was one guy (me) putting chains on existing tires, with no additional help, and no hydraulic jacks, and the driver (Nicky) was yelling, “Darren, we’re pretty cold here, can you move more quickly?”

snow tires

Westport boasts a seal colony. We’ve been to a seal colony before (See Namibia, May 5-7). It’s a smelly experience, but we thought it would be good to compare/contrast.

What we learned from Oamaru (see our NZ penguin experience from August 13) enforced our experience that we learned from Australia: animal experiences outside of Southern Africa almost always suck.

South Africa gave us the most amazing animal encounters that it has forever ruined any trip to a zoo. Documentaries on African animals are wasted on us—we’ve been there; we’ve experienced that first-hand; we’ve almost touched them (in some places we actually did touch/pet them!); pictures or movies don’t do it justice.

To give you an example, here’s a small clip of the “vaunted” seal colony in Westport, New Zealand:

Video: Seal Colony

Note: if you can not see the video, download QuickTime and view the movie with it.

quicktime logo (4K)

The seals were the small moving things in the video; they’re the living things way, way down there.

Now compare/contrast this with a similar video from the seal colony we visited in Swapokmund, Namibia:

Video: Stinky Seals from Swapokmund, Namibia

See the difference? We’re about 2-3 feet away from thousands of seals in Namibia; in New Zealand we’re about 2-3 miles away from the seals. You can smell the seals in Namibia; we were barely able to see the seals in New Zealand. Acht! That’s some smell!

My intention is not to demean anybody or anyplace during any comparison that I may make, so please do not take it as so. My liberal use of hyperbole and sarcasm might lead the general reader to this conclusion, but verily, this is not my intention. I hope that you continue to enjoy the light-heartedness, insightful commentary, and witty banter that this website will offer.

There are many wonderful things about New Zealand, seals not withstanding. It’s a really beautiful country; one of the most beautiful on the planet. There’s a reason why the movie, “Lord of the Rings” was filmed here. The rolling hills and amazing mountains make a magical backdrop for the film.

Mountain panorama landscape panorama

It really is eye-popping, head-twistingly crazy beautiful here. Can’t you just picture a bunch of Orcs running over the hills? And some huge walking trees coming to fight them?

We spent a couple of days at the northern-most city in the south island--Picton. For those of you who are geographically-challenged, New Zealand is two islands—North Island and South Island. The north island is more populated and more city-like because Auckland is there; arguably the south island is more picturesque. To get from the one island to the other, you must take a 3 hour long ferry. Many people take their cars, which we planned to do.

The first day we were there, Dominique, Annette and I toured the local aquarium mostly because it boasted of a good bunch of sea horses. They did have a bunch of sea horses, and, uh, that’s about it. It was an amazingly lame house of fish, but we hit it at a good time because we got to participate in feeding the fish. This is because we were the only saps that paid to be here and there was nobody else in the damn place. But they did have a good dead carcass of a giant squid which was impressive, but very little data to accompany it.

Mostly we just played with a really big fish puzzle and then watched the lady feed the octopus and watched her try to rid herself from the suckers on the octopus’s tentacles. The girls were fascinated, and the lady was really nice so I didn’t laugh out loud, but I did smile maliciously while I grilled steaks later that night.

We took the ferry from the south island to the north island. This is a pretty standard thing to do, and I was amazed at the amount of both cars and commercial traffic on the ferry. The boat was huge and only about half full because we’re here at the slow tourist season.

I thought the trip would be much more fascinating, much more exciting, much more interesting. It was surprisingly boring and uncomfortable. I thought that if we could walk around (we could) and sit down at our leisure (we did) and get food (we ate), and the kids would have other kids to play with (they played), then we’d be golden.

The seats were the kind of seats that are ubiquitous in airports--comfortable for about 15 minutes until some part of your lung or spleen starts to complain. Then you have to squirm to try to get into a better position. Your back then starts to hurt because you’re trying to wrest your body into a shape in which it wasn’t meant to be. So you start to put your feet up on another seat that’s just about too far, which really means it really is too far, but reprieves you of your temporary kidney failure.

We’ve all been here before, yes?

But the kids were entertained by other kids, and they served alcohol, which Nicky and I didn’t touch because it was 10 in the morning and we had a long drive ahead of us after we docked. But it was comforting to know that it was there if we needed it…

After our trip on the ferry, we stopped for a couple of days at a place called Taupo. We stayed at a Top 10 campground (this is the same brotherhood of campgrounds at which we stayed in the south island) that boasted of the largest jumping pillow in New Zealand.

Huh? What the heck is a jumping pillow? And why would I care about the size?

Verily, I tell you that this is an important and life-changing item. A jumping pillow is a continuously-inflated tube that’s half-submerged, so that the un-submerged portion looks like a huge pillow on which you can jump. This thing was about 40 meters long and 15 meters wide:

jumping pillow
jumping pillow
jumping pillow

These pictures should give you a good understanding of the size and shape of this monstrosity. And we thought the Aussies were a strange bunch…

From Taupo we went to Rotorua via a quick visit to Craters of the Moon which must be the hugest scam in New Zealand. This used to be a free park, and it was advertised as free in all the literature that we’d seen, but they listed a $10 charge to enter the park because of “upgrades.” But with a cool name like this and the hope of seeing the NASA lunar lander here, I thought that $10 was still a good deal.

Crater Moon

This place was a 1.2 km walk around a bunch of land that boasted fissures from which steam and hot-spring-like activity emanated.

Crater Moon

Uh, that’s about it. I dunno why I chose to talk so much about a place that affected us so little, nor why I chose to put two pictures of it on the site. But perhaps, unconsciously, I chose to keep the scam going…

Crater Moon

OK, we’re on to a third picture here—maybe they call it Craters of the Moon because of alien influence. Again, there’s no reason why this should stand out in my mind, nor why I would put three pictures on the site. Maybe there is some sort of alien influence…

After the Craters of the Moon fiasco, we journeyed to a place called Rotorua (pronounced Rotorua), which might be the tourist capital of all of New Zealand. They have sheep farms, the Zorb (see below), natural hot springs, parks, water sports, and it seems to be the heart of the Maori culture (pronounced Mowri).

The air of Rotorua smells like rotten eggs. This means that either there are a whole bunch of rotten eggs lying around, or that there is a bunch of sulfuric activity going on. Rotorua is built upon a ground of sulfuric hot springs, a veritable volcanic city.

That’s what I tell Nicky and the girls when I’m particularly gassy—there’s a lot of volcanic activity in the area. Plus I blame it on the girls, or the dog if she’s around. Or maybe a bunch of eggs that’s been left on the counter. Or possibly a dead possum.

The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand and have a Polynesian background. There are about 600,000 Maori people in New Zealand which is about 15% of the entire population. They have a TV station dedicated to the Maori people, in the Maori language, which really helps conserve their culture and promotes good communication among them. The majority of the Maori people are around the Rotorua area.

But Rotorua is the heart of the healing natural hot springs. Nearly all of the water in and around this town is heated naturally from the volcanic forces. That’s what causes the strong sulfur smell. Not a great smell and it tends to cling to your clothes.

We did the Zorb. This is a purely Kiwi invention (Kiwi as the New Zealand person, not the bird or the fruit). To get the semantics correct, Zorb is both a noun (the big ball), as well as a verb (i.e. to Zorb is to get into a big plastic ball and roll down a hill). It’s also an adjective (i.e. Zorb gear), and, despite natural convention, an adverb (i.e. the sponge picks up abZorbingly well! I was abZorbed in the movie.).

I made up this last bit about the adverb.

So here’s what a Zorb experience is like: Picture a hamster in one of those small acrylic balls running around your basement floor. If you’ve never had a hamster or one of these acrylic balls, picture a mouse-like entity inside a basketball-size clear plastic sphere.

Now blow up the ball to something that’s the size of a 1970’s conversion van

Zorb size

Replace the hamster with people (i.e. us), which are called, “Zorbonauts.”

Zorb ready

Now put that ball on a hill

Zorb run

And watch it go down with the people inside. And there’s no hamster anywhere, nor is there cheese, or beer, or hot dogs, at the end of the run. But it is exhilarating.

Zorb Yahoo!

The inside of the Zorb is a large open sphere.

Inside the Zorb

It’s very slippery, and they make it more slippery by adding about 8 inches of warm water. It also makes the inside of the Zorb quite warm.

The feeling of going down the hill in a Zorb is similar to going down a water slide. Water is everywhere, and you continually slide on your bottom inside the Zorb. But I started to feel very claustrophobic, even though I never feel claustrophobic. I think it was a combination of the heat from the water. So about 3 seconds into the ride, I started feeling a bit uncomfortable. But Dominique was in the same Zorb as I and she screamed and shouted and I joined her and we had a great 25 seconds together on our Zorb-ride.

After this most-amazing morning, we went to one of the touristiest places we’ve been to — AgroDome. What a bizarre place. We thought that we’d skip it because of the touristy nature surrounding it (they had a picture of a dude in shorts, pith helmet, and a camera for cryin’ out loud!), but it was only about 1 km from the Zorb place, so why not give it a look?!

We pulled up to a big parking lot that was obviously painted for buses because the parking spaces were about 50 feet long. I had no problem with me taking up a huge bus parking space with my small Nissan Sentra rental car because the parking lot was mostly empty and I thought my car was particularly long on this day.

When we exited, we saw a dog and sheep herding show about to start. Not knowing (nor asking) if money needed to be paid, we hung around the fence and enjoyed the show. I think the sheep were more trained than the dog, but it was entertaining to see the three sheep herded between posts, around barrels, into corrals, and under proceeding lower and lower fence posts to the tune of, “Limbo Limbo….”

Afterwards we enjoyed their free show on wool carding and spinning.

What the heck is wool carding? It’s taking the raw sheep hair (i.e. wool) and separating/stretching/cleaning it into something that can be spun:

wool-carding machine

Just in case you don’t know anything about wool, and shearing, and carding, and spinning (I didn’t), here’s a brief overview:

  • Wool comes from sheep. I don’t mean to insult your intelligence, but we in the western world sometimes forget the roots of our discontent. Or at least the roots of our clothes. They grow a wool coat and once a year this wool coat is sheared, or cut, off the animal.
  • The shorn wool coat is called a fleece and it is very oily or greasy. The wool from the back end of the sheep is removed first because it’s too dirty to use. Then the remaining fleece is washed.
  • The grease must then be removed from the wool. This can be done using soap or detergent and a lot of water or it can be done by submerging the wool in an acid bath which dissolves all the vegetable matter as well as the grease. It’s at this point in time that the sheep have the option of baptism or not.
  • The washed and dried wool is then "teased" or "picked" which is the beginning of the process of opening up the wool and turning it into a consistent web of fibers. I think I went through this process in seventh grade.
  • The wool fibers are then put through a series of combing steps called carding. This can be done with small hand cards that look much like brushes you would use on a dog. It can also be done on a larger scale with machine driven drums covered with "card cloth" which combs the wool many times by transferring it back and forth from one drum to the other as it is passed down the series of drums.

Video: Wool Carding

  • The final step in the carding process divides the web into small strips called pencil rovings. These are collected on large spools on the end of the card. These spools of pencil roving will be placed on the spinning frame to make yarn.
  • The roving as it comes off the card has no twist. It is held together by the oil and natural hooks that exist on the surface of the wool fibers. The spinning frame will put the actual twist on the roving and turn it into yarn.

This is an operation that’s decades old, and they still do it basically the same way today. Of course, the machines are about 6 times faster now, as are the ladies, so we all come out much better, eh?

Our guide then showed us how wool is spun. This means that wool, hair from a sheep, is somehow, magically, made into thread or yarn, or something in between. I always thought this was some sort of magical process involving lots of pixie dust or marijuana, but now I know the truth:

Video: Wool Spinning

What the heck is going on here?! Verily, I say this: no wonder the founding people of our country, and other countries, did not have television. There’s no way you can watch TV and do this spinning. There’s no way you can do this spinning and do anything else, hence the term, “Spinster” which means a crazy woman that does nothing but wool spinning. If you do spinning long enough, you will become crazy and you will become old and you will become homeless. But you will make about $4 for a pound of yarn…

So how weird is this entire wool-to-yarn process? We saw it all, from beginning to end. Actually we saw it backwards because we saw the carding and spinning first, then the shearing. But what an amazing process. And it’s done just to make my underwear.

After the spinning demonstration, we stumbled into a free sheep-shearing, uh, thing. It wasn’t a show; it was one of their employees preparing some of the sheep for the upcoming show. But we wandered into the building while he was shearing the sheep and we had a private showing.

Video: Sheep shearing

Not only did we get our private sheep shearing tour, but the guy showed us the old way of shearing, and the new and improved way of shearing that was invented by kiwi Godfrey Bowen. Apparently shearing sheep prior to Godfrey Bowen used to be a back-breaking, labor-intensive, smelly and time-consuming task. Sheep shearing post Godfrey Bowen is still a back-breaking, labor-intensive, smelly and time-consuming task, but his method takes a little less time. But this new method was such a breakthrough that Godfrey was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and won many sheep shearing contests.

I used to be surprised at what kinds of contests there were. But not anymore…

After we witnessed our free dog/sheep show, and our wool carding/spinning show we experienced, “My Brush with Greatness:”

This afternoon I met a very interesting woman. She’s a New York City transplant and her husband is a very well-known Hollywood actor named Cliff Curtis. Cliff is a Maori (this means he’s a native New Zealander from the Maori people) and still lives in Rotorua, but travels extensively when doing his films. Today, he was in Namibia shooting a film, and had to get a polio vaccine because there was an outbreak there! Yikes!—the astute reader will remember that the Rousseau family left Namibia a short 4 months ago…

So Cliff Curtis is a huge deal in New Zealand, and he’s had some pretty big roles in some pretty big Hollywood movies:

Movie Role
River Queen (2005) Wiremu
Runaway Jury (2003) Frank Herrera
Whale Rider (2002) Porourangi
Collateral Damage (2002) Claudio Perrini
The Majestic (2001) The Evil But Handsome Prince Khalid
Blow (2001) Pablo Escobar

Pretty good stuff, eh? And I met his wife. Uh, I think she was his wife. She said she was his wife. Actually, I don’t remember seeing a ring on her finger. And she might have called him, “Craig” instead of, “Cliff.” I recall that her hands shook a lot and she had a map that was the Rotorua version of, “Homes of the Stars” in her pocket. But maybe not…

His wife and our kids were supposed to hook up for a hot springs weekend, but we never did. She was really good about keeping up with us and although we didn’t hook up again, it was fun thinking that we could have been part of the New Zealand acting greatness that is Cliff Curtis. Perhaps he was too good of an actor and played sick this weekend and that’s why we weren’t able to meet with him and his family.

September 1, 2006

Again, I continue to reserve the right to change the format when and if I choose. It’s good to be the web writer content guy.

It’s the first day of spring in New Zealand and we’re still in Rotorua. I thought I’d celebrate by getting a haircut. Actually it has very little to do with celebrating the first day of spring and more to do with my ability to pick up the hot New Zealand chicks, which to this point was basically zero because I’ve been holding my lovely wife’s hand quite a bit, and walking around with my children. But just in case my hand comes loose and my kids disappear, I thought I should be prepared.

To date in our world trip, I’ve gotten my brown beautiful locks cut in South Africa and Australia—now I need to give the Kiwi state a chance.

Did I say haircut? I meant butchering. The hair cutting lady butchered my hair. She was quite a good butcher, but it made me wonder if roles in New Zealand are reversed. I wonder if I brought my long hair to the butcher he could give me a good haircut. Maybe I’ll bring a big leg of lamb to the hairdresser for a good butchering.

So we continued to do the usual touristy things—go to the park, look awkward, wear colored socks with shorts and tennis shoes. And we did the paddle boat. Nicky somehow got out of paddle boat detail and I got stuck with, uh, was blessed with a wonderful morning with our cherubs that included wonderful aerobic activities. This really means that I got stuck with the kids, on a paddle boat, and I did all of the work.

I remember paddle boats from many years ago for being way more fun in theory than in reality. I remember that it was fun boarding the boat and being very surprised that it took way more effort than what I was willing to put in just to get the damn thing moving. It’s comforting to see that the paddle boat industry has not made any improvements in their ergonomics nor their engineering—it still takes an extraordinary amount of effort just to get the damn thing moving. Perhaps Godfrey Bowen needs to spend some time around some paddle boats. I think they should put a digital screen in front of the peddler (which is almost always a male) with pictures of sexy women so he has some incentive to peddle. It’s the carrot for peddling.

And the stick?... Well, we’re on a paddle boat, right? That’s stick enough…

The rest of our stay in Rotorua consisted of a day at the indoor swim complex when it was raining, and more time at the public parks. There was supposed to be a good 3D maze that we humans can run through, and we went there but they didn’t take credit cards and we didn’t have enough cash, and they wouldn’t give us a discount (about $5 discount) to let us go through, so they lost our business. We thought that we might come back later, but the whole, “didn’t give us a break for $5 so to hell with those bastards!”

While all the girls were in an indoor pool complex, I was outside practicing my banjo. For those of you that don’t know, part of this trip is sponsored by Angie’s Banjo. She gave me a great open-backed Gold Tone Cripple Creek banjo with a well-padded gig-bag. If you’re in the market for a banjo, please get up with Angie.

So I’ve played this banjo in Hong Kong, Thailand, South Africa, Namibia, Mauritius, Australia and New Zealand. That’s, uh, pretty much everywhere we’ve been to, huh? At every place I’ve played, I’ve attracted attention—not so much for my finesse and ability on the banjo, but for the unique sounds that I’m able to create on it (many of these unique sounds are inadvertent; many of the sounds I want to create don’t happen). I should note that I’m on my 4th year of banjo playing which really means that I’m still trying to figure out the number of strings on the thing. I think there are 5 strings, but that seems to change daily as my playing progresses, or regresses.

Regardless, the banjo is an instrument that garners attention even when played badly. And attention garners conversation, and conversation garners knowledge. And we’ve engaged many people in conversations and gotten a lot of knowledge because of my rather poor banjo picking. We got a great evening with free food with a great family in Townsville, Queensland, Australia; I joined in with a campfire sing-a-long at Mt. Surprise in Queensland, Australia; I entertained French, American and Thai kids in Chantaburi, Thailand; I scared off much of the wildlife in all of South Africa. I have to say that the American banjo in the hands of Darren Rousseau is a dangerous and surprising instrument

And EVERYWHERE we go people ask if I can play the tune in that movie where the guy has to scream like a pig. Nobody can remember the name of the movie, but they remember the banjo tune, and they remember the squealing like a pig part. For the record the movie is, “Deliverance” and the tune is, “Dueling Banjos” and I can play a very poor version of it at a mediocre level that the non-banjo playing community thinks is great, so we all win.

September 7, 2006

Pedestrians walk diagonally in downtown Auckland at road intersections. It’s legal and it’s allowed at certain intersections, but I don’t know which ones. I couldn’t see any signs that said diagonal crossing, or show diagonal crossing, or even showed the sign of the cross. So I asked several people how they could tell which intersections allowed diagonal crossings and nobody could tell me the straight dope. Hmmm. Perhaps there is a heavy anarchist population in Auckland that develops their own set of pedestrian traffic rules. Or there might just be signs that I didn’t see. Probably the latter, but the former makes a better story.

Maybe there are secret hand signals. Or perhaps something having to do with sunglasses and high-end lasers. That might make a better story.

So we had to stop by our travel agent’s Auckland’s office to change some of our tickets. It’s a city. For a city, it’s fairly clean. Enough said.

September 8, 2006

We’re in Whangarei today (pronounced, uh, who the heck knows?).

Today we tried to teach Dominique about vowels. I said, “The vowels are A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y.”

Nicky said, “What “Y?” What are you talking about?”

I said, “Sometimes “Y” needs to be considered a vowel, as in Egypt, or zygote” (later I was to find out that yes, Egypt has “Y” as a vowel, but I can’t say definitively that zygote has a “Y” as a vowel.)

Nicky said, “I’ve never heard of that. Crazy talk from a crazy person.”

According to the Oxford Dictionary a vowel is, “'a speech sound which is produced by comparatively open configuration of the vocal tract, with vibration of the vocal cords but without audible friction.”

Huh? Take a look for yourselves—vowels are actually much more sinister than that because the definition of a vowel includes things like, “tongue root extraction” and, “secondary narrowing in the vocal tract.” The only narrowing in the vocal tract that I remember came from my 2nd girlfriend in High School and she didn’t really like the process, despite my begging and pleadings, Vowel

I don’t remember learning any of this in elementary school.

What the heck are Wikipedia and the Oxford Dictionary talking about? I guess that most of the times a vowel is, “A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y.” Or maybe a vowel is something like, “melon,” or “shoe,” or “M.”

But I digress. Let’s get back on track to the debate—is “Y” a vowel or not?

A quick Google on “Y as vowel” made me the English hero of the day. A sample of words that use “Y” as a vowel:

Pygmy Gym Egypt Cyst gypsy cryptic
Cynical Myth onyx Syllable mystical crystal

So I was redeemed in my, “Y as a vowel,” but I was hard-pressed to prove it. I would like to thank my mother and father, the Academy, my Producer, my talent agent, and most of all, Google. I’d like to thank Wikipedia, as they’ve helped me in countless ways in the past, but when you have things like, “tongue root extraction” and, “secondary narrowing in the vocal tract,” you have to wonder…

In case you’ve been misguided, this is the kind of hard-hitting journalism that you can expect from the top-shelf writing that is

Whangarei saga continues

It rained today and, being the wonderful husband that I am, took the kids for the day on this rainy Sunday. I thought that we’d tour downtown Whangarei and possibly buy some cheap stuff. We stumbled on the local movie theater and I saw that we were about 2 minutes late for the latest kids movie—“Hoodwinked.” I thought this would be a good waste of time on a cold, rainy day, so we entered.

The movie, like most of these computer generated movies today, was passable for both kids and adults. I’ve since downloaded the movie and watched it several times with the girls and, like most of these computer generated movies today, the quality improves the more you see it. There are a lot of clever innuendos and adult jokes woven into the children’s’ story. Good stuff. Not on the same level as, “Shrek” or, “Toy Story,” but still a cute movie.

September 11, 2006

We were almost killed in Auckland today. Actually I mean I almost killed about 4 different people today, but I have a flair for the dramatic—it was actually only 3 people.

I don’t like cities because I expect to be mugged and killed in a city at any time. It doesn’t matter what the city is or what the time is. Rape, murder, crime, plunder, piracy, it’s all going on (can you have piracy on land?).

At one point today Auckland was a 10 on my scale of 1-10 of hatred of cities. But that’s because the US Federal Government got in the way so what can you expect?

We had to go into Auckland today to get more pages for Nicky’s passport. This is an enigma to me—I don’t understand why more pages are needed because it does not seem like there are any rules/regulations/processes that any immigration department follows. Here is what I understand:

Look at your passport in back section; it’s called the VISA section. You’ll see lots of blank pages. Each of these pages is divided into 4 equal-sized sections—2 upper and 2 lower. If you separate each page into right/left, then you see that it can comfortably house and entry/exit stamp for two countries per page (one entry/exit stamp for the upper section and one entry/exit stamp for the lower section). Presumably it is supposed to be two countries per page, which sounds nice and neat. In reality, each country makes their own rules on where and how many stamps they put. Some take the whole frickin’ page (thanks frickin’ South Africa!). Some take a small section of the page (good on ya, Mauritius!). Some don’t follow any known or discernable pattern at all. We went to one country and they stamped our foreheads and warned us not to wash our faces until we exited their country. I mean really...

The world is a weird place.

Anyway, Nicky realized that she needed additional blank pages in her passport so the South American countries to which we’re going can misuse her passport just like other countries have.

The US State Department website states that it is a 6 day turnaround to add more pages to your passport. Are these business days, or day days? We didn’t have that flexibility built into our time table mostly because we didn’t pay attention to the passport pages until our last couple of days in New Zealand, so we decided to go to the Auckland US Consulate General to get the passport appended directly. Better to do this in a country that speaks English. You’d think that our US Consulate General Offices would be staffed by, uh, Americans, but that’s not true.

Anybody know what the difference is between the US Consulate General Office and the US Embassy? I don’t. What the heck is a Consulate General, and should we salute him/her? I don’t think you can run into the US Consulate General Office and claim US citizenship if you’re being chased by bad guys—I’ve been reading some spy novels lately. I think you need the protection of the Embassy, but again I’m not sure of the difference. Maybe one has Satellite TV and the other doesn’t—that would assure US citizen protection. The decadence of the western world and all that crap…

I called the US Consulate General in the morning, which is supposed to be the overseer of US passports, and after a 5-deep phone tree maze, I got a human. It was surprisingly quick, and she was surprisingly friendly and helpful in her New Zealand accent. She said that if we got here prior to noon, she could add the pages in about 10-15 min. Wow, great service. I said that we wouldn’t get there prior to noon because we had a 3 hour drive, but if we arrived afterwards could we drop off the passport and pick it up the next day. She said that would be OK.

I should have gotten her name, rank and serial number at this point. And maybe her personal street address and car license plate. I was fooled into complacency by her Kiwi accent and her non-governmental friendliness.

We arrived at the Consulate around 12:30pm and as we pushed the UP button on the elevators we were stopped by a very friendly security guard that works at the Consulate. He informed us that the Consulate was closed (this Security Guard was a good guy and he proved to be our friend).

Huh? It’s 12:30pm. It’s closed? Yes, they open for foot traffic from 8-12 noon. Then they close for 2 hrs for lunch, then they’re open again for emergencies only until 3:30pm, then they close for good.

Where can I sign up for this kind of patriotic duty? So they work about a 6 hour day?! I wonder what they do during their 2 hour lunch…

These are Government bastards on many levels:

  • The lady that I talked to on the phone didn’t say anything about this being closed after noon, even after I told her I wouldn’t make it there by noon.
  • We revisited the website and you really have to look to see these crazy hours at which they’re open.
  • They put in about 20 hours a week of work. What the hell!?! They’re paid to be lazy!
  • This is US government bureaucracy at its best.

We suffered a hugely expensive and very bad lunch at a nearby café and we pushed our way into the Consulate at 2pm, citing an emergency situation because we made a 3 hr. drive into Auckland based on our conversation with the witch-lady this morning. Actually they were very nice and friendly (and we were very nice and friendly, although I might do things differently now) and they didn’t hassle us at all, but I suspect that our friendly security guard had something to do with it. I mean we talked with him for a bit and despite my flagrant use of 4-letter words, I think he warmed to me quite nicely.

Nicky and I have had some experience with the US Federal Government. The worst was a hugely painful experience in getting her green card to work in the US. Remember when we married she was still an English citizen. This meant that she had to get a green card in order to work and she had a strange innate sensation to over-cook her meat and vegetables.

This green card process was exponentially more painful than it needed to be. Countless hours on hold with phone trees and with ignorant federal employees that gave us erroneous information. I think that green cards are not a matter of ability or corporate sponsorship, but of longevity—can you hold out during the painful and complex process that is the, “Green Card Maze of Pain?”

So the, “Add pages to the passport” process revitalized some painful memories for us. Namely the, “we called and asked questions and then we showed up and found out that someone either lied to us or didn’t tell us the whole truth” thing. I think this is US Federal Government standard operating procedures—say something in such a way as it can possibly be construed as something else, so there is no culpability in anything you say, nor is there any meaning in anything you say.

Do I sound bitter? You don’t know the half of it. The bitterness runs very deep and very long, my friend. But the Auckland Consulate General office let us in at 2pm after their 2 hour long lunch. They should—I’m sure it was a 3-5 pint lunch and they’re all happy to see people so they bend the rules a bit. But after a 15 minute wait under the waiting room cameras, we were the happy recipients of 10 extra passport pages for Nicky.

Whew, I’ll take a deep breath now.

We spent the next couple of days in a town that’s about 15 miles from Auckland, but about 2.5 hours away. It’s called Coromandel, and it’s the home to many artists and not so many grocery stores—we found it a challenge to buy anything outside of pasta and sausage. Atkins would have both loved us and hated us in the same breath.

The Celadon Motel

Our host for this stay was a guy called Ray Morley. He’s a potter from England that settled in NZ many years ago in order to continue his pottery and hang out with the other potters around this area. He built his house and the other couple of cabins and runs a guest house business as well as his pottery deal.

The place is a typical artist-builds-house thing. The place has many creative angles and artistic touches that don’t mix very well with the US standard building codes. But who really cares? It was a wonderful place that we were all quite comfortable, and Ray was a charming host.

He insisted that we visit a place called, “Water Works” and promised us that we would laugh all afternoon long. He wasn’t too far from the truth—the place was really, really cool.

water clock

The entire place is run by mountain streams that are fed through either gravity pumps, or electric plumps, or some sort of hydraulic pumps (ironic, eh?).

hamster kids

The entire place is quite cleverly designed with a comedic undertone

magic bikes

We spent the better part of an afternoon here and we could have stayed for much longer.

water canon

The place is up for sale, although methinks the upkeep would drown you. Ha! There are so many good gags, rides and exhibits that I don’t know “water they’ll think of next!” But I’m sure that even if the new buyer is, “wet behind the ears”, the sellers will stay on for a bit to, “calm the waves.”

The other touristy thing to do in Coromandel, besides visiting the local butcher shop (they have one butcher shop and he sells the most fantastic pork and herb sausages. He has also made his own mussel sausages, but I hear they’re a bit tough. Ha!) is to take a morning trip to the Driving Creek Railway.

This is an amazing place. Picture yourself as a pretty good potter and a devoted environmentalist. You get all your clay locally from the land. You move to Coromandel about 30 years ago when the place was just starting to make a name for itself as a place for artists. You buy a bunch of land and start doing your craft, while simultaneously trying to use the land to:

  1. Get your raw materials to do pottery.
  2. Create a sustainable lifestyle.
  3. Fund your pottery with something that will attract the tourist dollars.

So this guy built a narrow gauge railroad that allowed him to transport his raw materials up/down the mountain, and he eventually turned the railroad into a really good tourist attraction.

crappy train

The views from the top of the mountain were great. Here, take a look at them. Oh, we didn’t take any?! NO, we didn’t. We took a bunch of pictures of the girls in posed positions. Man, this irks me. Posed?! I’m not a big fan of posed pictures. And I’m not a big fan of no pictures. Nobody to blame here because I should have been taking pictures also, I’m just venting.

The next several days were spent in a place called Hamilton, about 2 hours south of Auckland. It’s also called the, “Bluegrass place of New Zealand.” We must have hit it at the wrong time because there were no bluegrass gigs or festivals, but it was still early Spring, so we can’t be mad.

This was a place that had good grocery stores, the motel had good internet access, and they had really good parks. So that’s pretty much what we did for 3-4 days.

We then ventured on to a place about 30 minutes north of Auckland called Orewa. Again, it was a motel stay that offered internet access, and on day 2 he informed me that they charge by the MB downloaded. OUCH! I downloaded a movie called, “The Wild” for the girls last night. At 700 MB, this thing will cost us about $35, on top of the $13 that iTunes charged us. Fortunately he looked at our internet usage at our checkout and said that it looked like we didn’t use it. I made sure that he looked at the right unit, and then didn’t argue. Whew!

This place had a good park at which the girls and I spent some quality time. It also had a place called Snow Planet. It’s an indoor skiing facility.

Annette at Snow Planet

This was my first time at one of these and, if I’m lucky, my last. I didn’t hate it because the girls had a good time (at least Dominique did), but I’m not much of a skier and you couldn’t go from the snow stuff to the restaurant. Huh? Yes, you heard me right. If you left the snow area, you could not get back in without paying additional fees. There was no access to hot chocolate, or coffee, or tequila shots directly from the snow area.

Snow Planet

There was a separate place for kids that allowed them to comfortably sled down and then take an escalator back to the top. Dominique had to be pulled away from the place. Annette had different ideas—she was cold and didn’t like it, so I’m in the horrible parent position—I can’t leave one child here (Dominique) and take the other away (Annette) because, well, because you just can’t do that. But Annette was making a fit and I told myself that if I could get her inside to the changing room, I could still keep an eye on Dominique in case something happens.

So that’s what we did and everything was great. Dominique had a wonderful time going down the slope again and again. Annette had a much better time in the changing room running around the benches and climbing the lockers. Dad had a passably OK time trying to watch both girls, but with no access to the bar it was frustrating.

Dominique at Snow Planet

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