Monday, September 18, 2006

Days 12 and 13 Photos

Not many pictures this time, sorry. I was getting pretty bored with taking pictures since I'd taken some 300 or so by this point. There really wasn't anything all that amazing to take pictures of these last days anyway.
The "sporty girls," as I called them. You'll have to open the picture up larger to be able to see the butt cheek hanging out of her skirt, though. The other was more or less identically revealing. Pretty risque for an airport parking lot.

Us standing in front of some water, a boat of some sort and more of the damn mountains they're so fond of down there. Actually, you had a much more scenic view of these in the pictures I took from the gondola place in the earlier post.

Us standing in front of a Moa. Behind us and to the right, if I'm remembering correctly, is where the statue of Jebediah Queenstown was. I'm very disappointed in myself for not getting a picture of that.

And that, is that. Thanks to everyone who took to time even to scan through some of these posts. I enjoyed writing them, even if most of you bastards didn't read them.

Tavelogue Days 12 and 13

Travelogue Days 12 and 13

Day 12

Well, hmm. Sadly, there isn’t that much that can be said about our 12th day in the trip. Jamie and Ami were leaving around noon, so we pretty much puttered around the house through the morning, waiting for the inevitable end of our trip. Libby spent a little time in the morning packing, then went back and finished in the afternoon—I stayed plenty clear of the packing, just to keep from causing any unnecessary stress with my near complete lack of Tetris skills.

Invercargill’s airport, though, did have a quite amusing statue in the front. It’s of two “sporty” girls—I’m not sure what sport they would be playing, and of course I didn’t take the time to notice such details. Probably it was some local color sport of choice for girls involving sheep or “decks” or kicking unsuspecting farm boys in the fork. Who knows. Maybe they were punting kiwis, lord knows I would have if I could have. All I know is that it involved a ball. Anyway, the statue itself was amusing because these two girls were wearing quite short skirts and both of them had their hands in the air. Usually, detail isn’t paid to the little things in these types of commemorative statues, but this artist obviously felt that the little things DID matter—well, actually, the not-so-little things in this case. These girls were . . . substantial. Not chunky or obese or anything, but possibly stocky, or husky by boy standards. And stocky girls have “back,” to be sure. And a noted consequence of raising one’s arms while wearing a short, I don’t know what it would be called—a jumpskirt outfit, maybe?—is that one’s lower parts will be partially exposed. And these girls were bearing butt cheeks, or at least the hint of the crease where butt cheek meets upper thigh. It made me laugh and take a picture.

Besides that, we packed and I figured out how to work the custom weather features on their satellite TV, because I like weather and am a loser. Libby and everyone else went shopping AGAIN, for what I have no idea, but it couldn’t possibly have been important. And that, sadly, was pretty much it. We finished packing and went to bed fairly early because we had to leave for the airport in the morning at 6:00 to make Molly and JF’s flight in Queenstown.

Day 13 (and 14, technically)

Our day started early and the first few hours of it were spent on the road to Queenstown. John was able to go along with us, which was nice—it meant one less goodbye that we had to say the night before. Mostly we dozed on the trip. Most notable was John, who curled up in a ball on one of the back seats of the van and covered himself up with ALL of the blankets that Karen had packed for us to sleep in on the trip. No part of his body was visible, and he wouldn’t move while we packed our bags over the top of him, into the large back seat. Then, not knowing that John was even along for the ride, Molly tossed one of her 200 lb. bags on what she thought was a pile of blankets. Much hilarity ensued, except from John under the covers, who just muttered a few incoherent curses and went back to sleep within five minutes.

In Queenstown, we saw Molly and JF off, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair and all of those other sad-emotion-type actions that people do, but we had a few hours to kill before our flight left, so we decided to wander around the commerce district of Queenstown, which was something we hadn’t had time to do on our first trip through.

We stopped into a Chemist—which is a much more diabolically satisfying name than our equivalent “drugstore” can boast (oh, and it is possible to buy codeine products over the counter there for colds, which kept Libby, James, John and Karen, I believe, half stoned for a few days of the trip as well—and if they weren’t taking the cold medicine, then I guess they must have just been stoned instead)—so that Darrell could buy, of all things, a comb. He said he had been without one for an unfathomable period of time, like a year or two. I’m not sure if he was looking for some special, orthopedic comb or something, and that was why he hadn’t found one for such a long period, or if he just hadn’t thought about it when he was somewhere that sells them, and I don’t remember if he was successful in finding one while he was there, but we stopped to look for one, I do remember that.

After the Chemist, we wandered around more or less aimlessly, up one street and down the next. Queenstown has what must be a prosperous commercial district. Everything is so expensive there that they would HAVE to be prosperous. We passed a few realtors on the streets too and they all had pictures of houses they were selling in the area. A small, beat up, one bedroom loft would sell for something like $100,000, and small houses were going for half a million dollars. It was criminal. (And, of course, I can’t verify any of those numbers, I might be way off base for all I can remember, but I know they were WAY overpriced and that’s all anyone needs to remember)

We bopped into and past about a quarter million “outdoors” stores, selling camping, skiing and hiking gear. You can’t punt a kiwi in Queenstown without it careening off two or three outdoorsy stores during its flight. Every third store sold this type of gear, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating here. Not much at least. After a time, even Libby and Darrell were able to pass them without caring what they had for sale—especially since the first several we passed had identical equipment and clothing at near identical, inflated prices.

We also passed through a park, which had a commemorative statue to Jebediah Queenstown in it. He was standing—surveying the land that he would conquer and settle, which would be subsequently named after him—next to his big blue sheep, Ferdeckin (I’m not sure how kiwis would pronounce this, but I THINK it would be amusing and appropriately sheep-shagging related), who was rumored to be his legal wife and chief military advisor. I also completely failed to take of a picture of this hilarious statue, and I humbly apologize for that.

We had another “hamburger” at a place called Fergburger, which wasn’t at all sexy like it sounded like it should be and which served us another one of New Zealand’s ridiculous culinary disasters on two buns—though, admittedly, this one was far more edible—and then we headed to the airport.

At the airport, we were informed that we should pack EVERYTHING into our checked bags, because the lady behind the counter had no idea what they were and weren’t confiscating thanks to the failed terrorist plot to blow up Washington or whatever. If she had, instead, chosen to stay informed on the day-to-day business of her chosen profession, she would have learned that, in fact, they were only restricting any liquids from entering the planes and electronic devices had pretty much all been cleared. Of course, we didn’t find this out until we were in Aukland and our checked bags were already in the hold of the plane with the gremlins and snakes, so we went the entire trip unable to use any of the distracting devices that we had packed specifically for the purpose of using on the very long plane flight.

Instead, we were forced to watch pretty much ALL of the in flight movie and television options that we hadn’t watched already on the way out, which we did for almost the entire flight because neither of us slept for more than two or three hours. It was a long, long, boring, and almost entirely unmemorable flight. The only sort of interesting thing that happened was time related again. We left at 12:30 pm from Queenstown on the 17th, and we arrived in Wichita at 8:50 pm on the 17th—meaning our twenty-six or so hour flight took us only eight real hours. It was very weird.

Also, it took me FAR longer to get used to the time change coming back than it did going down. I was groggy and out of it for nearly two weeks—and my sleep schedule still hasn’t completely recovered almost a month later.

Ah, hell. Has anyone else ever put a pot of coffee on to brew then, distracted for some reason, forgotten to put the decanter back where it belongs? I just did. And it made quite a mess in my kitchen. I was so distracted with trying to remember if anything interesting, at all, had happened on our flight home that I came back into my office with the decanter still sitting on the counter. Stupid.

In Conclusion

I highly recommend a trip to New Zealand. Even if you don’t have highly entertaining family members to fill your days, as we had, there is more than enough country to see to keep a traveler busy for at least a month—and I’m only counting the south island since I have no knowledge whatsoever of the north island.

And I could certainly see the appeal of moving down there now. Libby and I had a conversation about that while we were there—how, in many ways, it was nice to leave EVERYTHING behind. “It’s a lot like when we went to college,” she said. And it was, almost exactly. When I moved to Wichita for school, I left all of my high school friends and my family behind, and I only sort of keep up with any of them anymore (extended family, obviously, not immediate, who I talk to at least once or twice a year, if they’re lucky). I had a fresh start. I could be whoever I wanted to be and nobody would know any different. It was very liberating in many ways, and we agreed that moving down there would be almost exactly like that—a fresh start with a clean slate and no preconceived notions by us or by those around us. But, then, eventually, just like when we moved away to college, we would build up the new responsibilities and the new problems and the new drama and everything would end up exactly the way it always had been, just with different names to remember and different scenery (which, admittedly, is pretty fantastic). And that, we figured, just wasn’t enough of a trade for losing contact with all of the friends and family that we have here.

So, sorry all, you’re stuck with me and my god-awful-long emails and my whatever else you lot have a problem with. And, folks in New Zealand, we’re definitely planning on coming down as often as we can—it is a wonderful place to visit—but I don’t think we’ll be ex-patting it down there with you anytime soon, unless the world descends into utter chaos and we need a place to hide until it all blows over. Then, perhaps, New Zealand would be a pretty perfect place. I can’t imagine any world powers worrying that much about taking over New Zealand. And that, I think, is one of its most endearing charms.

To those of you who actually took the time to read all of these -logues, thank you. To everyone else, cram a bastard in it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Days 10 and 11 photos

A sea lion. Notice the shape and natural posturing of the head--it would be perfect to attach a laser to.

Waipapa Lighthouse. Not even shabby chic, really.

A dog herding a flock of sheep. Far more fun to watch than to look at in a still photograph.

Slope Point. Libby is standing roughly two and a half feet away from sudden death.

This is the drop down from where Libby was standing. Sorry if this isn't the greatest quality, I was holding the camera out in front of me, trying not to get any closer than I had to.

The southernmost sign in New Zealand. I believe you can see the start of the fence that I peed on to the left. If you followed that back another fifteen yards or so, you'd find my marked spot.

The view from the opposite side of that drop I was talking about earlier. I think this gives a little better perspective of just how high up it was. But it still doesn't do it justice.

Never stop in a flock of sheep. You will die.

Jamie, trying to whip a sea bird of some sort--probably an albatross--with a strip of kelp.

The petrified forest. Yeah, I know, not so foresty. I'm told there are strips of rocks on the beach and these are the old trees or something. Whatever. Looks like rocks to me.

Porpoise Bay. It is a bay, but there were no porpoises. To the left of me was snack bar and picnic area that represented the only civilization we'd been in all day.

John, looking contemplative, at Porpoise Bay. No, really he's listening to the cyst in his head. It's saying, "I swear to you, JF SAID he wanted you to push him over the edge." But John wouldn't listen. Instead, JF had to jump on his own. Very sad and tragic, except for the part where he's a French-Canadian.

NZ's Niagara Falls. Not as impressive as the one in North America, but FAR more pleasant to visit--unless you like wax museums and carnival atmospheres, then the North American version is definitely for you.

The diner in Owaka. Be sure to ask them to "hold the salad" on your burger. Trust me on this.

The land bridge connecting Nugget Point Lighthouse to the main body of land. Don't let the foliage fool you, the drop on the opposite side is very nearly straight down.

The rocks out from the lighthouse on Nugget Point that probably killed a person or two. Not the most hospitable place for a sailing vessel.

The family gathered around the table in El Tigre. Notice the cake. It weighed about three hundred pounds and was solid chocolate. They constructed it with a little known chocolate that forms on the surface of dwarf stars. Tasty but filling.

Days 10 and 11--Beaches and the Catlins

Travelogue Days 10 and 11

Day 10

The next two days we covered a pretty fair amount of distance and saw a number of different sites. With only a few days left in our trip, a bit of a sense of urgency started to press on us if we were going to hit the sites that we had originally planned to hit. As far as I was concerned, I did want to see the sites, especially since I knew this travelogue would be awfully boring if all of my posts amounted to: “Today we slept in then got up, had a pie, and played Magic for nine hours.” While this sounds like a pretty splendid vacation to me, it doesn’t make for very good reading. There were a few things still on the list to do, but since we had the first installment of Darrell’s 60th birthday party happening in the early evening, we knew we couldn’t stray too far from home. So we decided to have a beach day.

Oreti Beach

Oreti Beach, while not being what you’d call particularly scenic or, at least on the day we were out there, popular, had the distinct advantage of being very close to Invercargill—about 5 KM to the west, if my map is accurate (or my map skills aren’t faulty, which they probably are). The day was blustery, drizzly and cold. Again. And, being a beach on the southwestern end of the country, and since most of the weather blows up from, you guessed it, the southwest, we were in a perfect locale to really admire what the local weather referred to as “gale force winds.” Of course, being from Kansas, I had a good chuckle at what they called gale force, but it was certainly brisk even by Kansas’ straight line wind standards. Add the chill and the damp and you have the makings of the perfect day at the beach.

This beach did have a very interesting characteristic that I had never experienced before—which isn’t saying much since my repertoire of beaches is not very extensive. I didn’t have my handy measuring wheel (this is, I just found out on the Webernet, what those devices are officially called—seems like someone in the coining department was asleep at the wheel there . . .get it? Puns are hilarious), but I would have estimated that the distance between where the coastline clearly ended and where the ocean began was somewhere near 1/8th of a mile, possibly more.

This seemed like an unnecessarily expansive stretch for a beach. But, then, it all started to make some sort of sense. Up to this point, all of the coastline that we had seen had been sheer rock faces. Obviously, the universal law of Equal-Beach Exchange dictated that, if there were sheer rock faces covering some beaches, other beaches would have to extend further back to keep the acceptable beach mean distance of around fifty feet constant. Of course I planned to publish my findings in Discover magazine or New Zealand Beach Tri-Quarterly, but I forgot about it until just after I typed this sentence, which I haven’t yet finished typing, and, besides, my measuring wheel was confiscated at customs—they didn’t want me polluting their metricked up system with my English weights and measures, it seems, and they are a bit fascist about it.

People, we were told, regularly drive their cars out onto this expansive beach, some to do dangerous car-driving things, others to spend the night watching the sea air destroy their paint jobs. That day there was a minivan parked about a half mile or so down the way. Its owner was probably baking the New Zealand equivalent of meth—which, I think, is called meth (though, I might recall someone saying it had another name too). We didn’t stop to ask.

After Darrell pulled out his stunt kite and we made some practical use of the high winds—about ten minutes of use before the rest of us started shuffling our feet and casually heading back to the van without looking like we were heading back to the van—we piled back in and headed off to our next destination: Riverton.


Riverton, which is also located along the southern coast in the Southland region, was something like a forty-five minute drive from Invercargill. The town itself seemed rather pleasant and, of course, it had some great views off the coast. Our intention was to head to the beach near town, but along the way we spotted an interesting store to stop in—we also spotted a few Op Shops and a number of gift stores which we somehow managed to avoid, thank god. The shop we stopped at was a paua jewelry manufacturer and seller. This also afforded us the opportunity to have our picture taken in front of yet another large statue, this one a giant paua shell made from, I was told, real paua. The beach outside town is littered with the shells, and, when we did finally make it to the beach, Libby and I were able to find a half dozen or so shells without much trouble (which we smuggled out of the country—eat that New Zealand!).

The jewelry store, aside from offering us ample opportunity to spend more money, also provided me with the most amusing sign picture that I took the entire trip—that sign of the radiation warning that is situated directly next to the only men’s toilet. Aside from that, if you happen to be in the market for some paua jewelry or other paua knick-knacks—and they had a healthy selection of jade jewelry also—I highly recommend this store. Its prices were probably the best we found while we were down there.

After shopping, we hit the beach, as I mentioned before, and did a little scavenging. The kite was pulled out again, this time with slightly more success since the weather had lightened up a bit, and we spent a half hour or so enjoying the sounds of the ocean. It was here that I also found a vial of a suspicious yellow liquid. It looked like a specimen beaker, and it was sealed. I cleverly decided to leave it the hell alone and backed away slowly. Probably I missed out on my only opportunity to gain superpowers. I’ll never really know for sure, though.

From Riverton we headed back to Invercargill and, after some quick cleanup, we headed to Mevlana, the restaurant where Pete works, where we were having our “outside the family” 60th birthday party for Darrell. This restaurant was, really, quite fantastic. It’s a Turkish restaurant and, I believe, this was the first place that I had ever eaten Turkish cuisine—consciously, at least. Having been previously led astray by people who thought I would like curry, an episode that ended with me spending the better part of two days with my ass plastered to a toilet, and I don’t use the word “plastered” without due consideration of its visual effects, which are quite accurate, I have always been a little mistrusting of middle-eastern and Indian food. But this restaurant, in part at least, assuaged those fears.

The owners, who are fantastic people, went out of their way to provide us with a wonderful meal of mutton, chicken, steak, pita and hummus that left our tummies full and happy. And, because we were all lushes, the “kids’” end of the table bogarted all but about two of the bottles of wine, which we quickly drank down before anybody else had the chance to notice that they, themselves, didn’t have any wine of their own. We were all introduced to the crowd, since many of us weren’t local, and I found out that I am a freelance writer, according to Karen. This, I supposed, could be called a mere stretching of the truth if one removed the “-lance” part of the first word, since I don’t think I’ve ever been paid to write anything, but I continue to do it anyway for some reason.

After dinner and a little socializing, we returned home and Molly talked the family into playing a game that she called Werewolf, though we’ve been told that it has other names like Gangster that people have played it under. The setup was simple, requiring only a partial deck of cards—one card for each player, with one red queen and one joker. Whoever got the joker was the werewolf, whoever got the red queen was the witch (we found out later that there are several other characters that can be added if there are considerably more people playing) and everyone else is a villager. During a game turn, the werewolf kills a victim, the witch tries to find out who the werewolf is, then the village as a whole has to sentence one person to death based on a majority vote.

We were a little surprised to find just how much fun this game was. We spent the next three and a half hours playing game after game—shouting and screaming defenses and accusations and justifications—and killing Karen, usually first for some reason. We discovered that, due to their natural charisma and poor judgment, Jamie and John should never, ever be given civic responsibilities. The pair of them were responsible for the outright slaying of innocent villagers so many times that it wasn’t even funny. Well, actually, it was quite, quite funny. There really isn’t much point to the game itself, except to see if the werewolf can get away with it and kill the entire village. John was the only one to win, and I think it was just because he had the uncanny luck of being the werewolf in three out of four games that we played during one stretch, and nobody thought it could be possible that he was the werewolf again.

After that we called it a night and, as I mentioned earlier, I scared the bejesus out of Molly again when we walked home.

Day 11

The Catlins

The 11th day we were informed that we were taking another road trip, this time along the southern coastline eastward, to and through the Catlins. This was a trip that we had hoped to make the weekend before, but time constraints and, more importantly, a desire to sit around and be inebriated won out in the end. The Catlins, we were promised, were extraordinary and something that we simply “had to see” (we also “had to see” Stewart Island, and we will just have to see it next time). I think there was a general malaisiness about the trip, at least among the kids, possibly because nobody was entirely sure if we could spend the better part of a day with all eleven of us cramped in a giant van without at least minor bloodshed. And with good reason. In the right mood, there probably isn’t a van giant enough to contain this family. Fortunately, we were able to spend the day NOT in that mood, and only a few minor napping accidents occurred.

The trip, as a whole, started around 9:00 in the morning and we didn’t arrive back home until close to 7:00 that evening, and it ran us through several “areas of interest” along the southern coast. The Catlins are a strange, nearly unoccupied little place. Little villages dot the single road that runs through the entire region—and when I say village, I hope mental images of quaint little New England hamlets with shops using words like “Ye” and “Olde” and mental smells of freshly-burned witch come to mind, because that’s sort of what these four and five house towns were like, only without the evidence of witch burnings (though I never saw a single woman in any of them!). All told, there are only something like 1200 people who live in the entire area (which is roughly as big as my thumb on this map—or around 750 square miles, I estimate).

This type of sparsity ( . . .whatever, Spell Check. I KNOW sparsity is a word—sure, I’ll give you malaisiness, that was a stretch, but sparsity exists, dammit! And dammit exists too! Argh! Ack, it never ends!) would not seem strange to someone from, say western Kansas or Nebraska—there is a word for that kind of sparseness: uninhabitable—but visitors who are accustomed to seeing friendly faces or places to stop and pee, forget it, unless you consider sheep faces friendly and don’t mind peeing on the side of the road (or on the country’s southernmost point, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

In other words, we were moving from map point to map point. There weren’t really any cities or anything else along the way—just these points on the map, that signs had been dutifully made of in order to reinforce their existence and roads had been twisted to run into to facilitate visitation of, all along the coastline. And there are PLENTY of these stops along the way. A full trip, visiting all of them, would take at least two days, maybe three. According to the map, there were, I believe, something like thirty points of interest to visit (I think, we left that map in New Zealand and all I have now is a mostly useless South Island map to work with). We managed to hit only five of the coastline sites and one of the towns and still it took us the entire day.

Our first stop, which I believe only took us an hour or so to get to from Invercargill (but I can’t be sure because I spent most of the time in the van in a semi-conscious state—I prefer to blame it on high carbon dioxide levels from so many people in the car, but probably I just have a short attention span for car rides), was Waipapa Lighthouse.

Waipapa Lighthouse sounds like it should be fascinating and/or extraordinary. It is, in fact, not so much. The lighthouse itself would leave lighthouse enthusiasts somewhat let down. Consider it the lighthouse experience equivalent of a trainspotter viewing a daily Amtrak line moving through any of the six or seven towns across the US that still have Amtrak stops. By noteworthy lighthouse standards, it was pretty bleh. It was also inaccessible as it was located on a berm (damn you Spell Check, I know these are words, what’s wrong with you? Trainspotter and bleh are words too. Well, maybe not bleh, but it should be. Why do you have to taunt me so?) just off the beach and completely fenced off. It was pretty small, fairly run down and had no creepy older men in full yellow rain gear shouting possibly provocative but ultimately insane rants at the sea from just to one side or the other of the blazing light, which would go out as soon as a ship needed it most.

There were, however, a few sea lions. Big, blubbery and basking—the two sea lions that we could see didn’t seemed a bit non-nonplussed (which you’d think would just be “plussed,” but it’s not—stick that word up your ass, Spell Check) to see us. In fact, one of them allowed us to get far closer than I would have ever gotten to a wild animal that didn’t use flopping about like an epileptic as its primary means of land transport. We took pictures and said things like, “Wow. A sea lion. Look how close we are to it. Isn’t this an example of a large animal that we don’t get to see in our everyday lives in an up-close-and-personal sort of way? Do you think we can ride it?” This last was my idea, and it received almost no consideration by the group as a whole. I did take the opportunity to eyeball the approximate head size of the beast, for future reference, in case we can’t get enough walruses. I think a laser will fit just fine on the top of a sea lion’s head too, in case anyone was wondering.

Our next stop, which took us a little longer to reach, was Slope Point. Slope Point is the actual, official, southernmost point of New Zealand. This accomplishment is celebrated, however, in a most unexpected way—with a small sign in the middle of a sheep paddock, which can only be reached by walking through ANOTHER sheep paddock. There, after a quarter of a mile walk, we found a sign declaring the latitude and longitude of the spot and another, attached sign that cleverly pointed us in the directions of the South Pole and the Equator. Pretty showy, those Kiwis.

There were two interesting things about Slope Point—beyond the fact that it was in the middle of a sheep field and required a twenty minute walk to get to it from the road, that is. The first is that, without a doubt, this attraction would be banned and forbidden to EVERYONE, even the people who owned the pastures, if this place was in the States. On three sides of the sign, there is the sheerest, most palm-sweat-inducing, rocky-bottomed drop, and there is absolutely not a thing in the world but sure-footedness keeping people who wander too close from meeting a pulpy end on the jagged coastline below. I tried to take a few pictures, but I’m afraid that the perspective just didn’t translate very well into two dimensions. In the same way, my description here can’t possibly do justice to the vertigo inducing feeling of walking up to the edge of a place, without knowing beforehand how high up one is, and with no barrier or warnings, only to look down suddenly on a couple hundred foot drop to crashing waves and rugged outcroppings. I am not mortified by heights, but I certainly consider them one of my weaknesses, and, though I’ve never experienced vertigo before, I feel pretty confident that if I hadn’t backed away from the edge as quickly as I could without slipping to my death, I would have swooned like a belle and kersplattered my way to the great hereafter. The experience and the view did, however, leave an impression, no doubt about that.

The second interesting thing about Slope Point was that I got to pee on very nearly the southernmost point of New Zealand. This is interesting to me, at least. Unfortunately, it didn’t dawn on me at the time that I should actually be peeing over the southern edge, to make it official—plus it might have been a bit rude since there were family members all around. So, not thinking, I wandered off a bit and peed on some farmer’s fence just a little bit north of the southernmost point. Still, even if it wasn’t THE southernmost point, it was the furthest south I’ve ever peed, and pretty darn far south by any standards. Now I just need to hit the other end of the world with a dousing of Pat juice and my life will be complete.

From Slope Point we hit Curio Bay then Porpoise Bay. Curio Bay was unique because much of the coastline was made up of petrified forest. It doesn’t, however, make for a terribly interesting description because, well, it’s just long dead trees, really. They were rather, I don’t know, nifty, I guess. I don’t think I’ve seen a proper petrified forest before, so it was a first experience for me. It wasn’t exciting enough—or long enough since Slope Point—to warrant me peeing on, though.

At some point in the trip—I think it might have been between Slope Point and Curio Bay, actually—we very nearly had a sheep-van pile-up, which would have been incredibly interesting for me to describe here. We were rounding a blind corner when, all of a sudden, a flock of sheep was blocking the road. The shepherd, instead of driving ahead of the sheep which I believe is the custom—if I remember my bible metaphors correctly, anyway—was dawdling behind, closing gates or something, and his sheep were tromping down the road thinking they were heading to wherever the sheep equivalent of Mecca or Shangri-La or El Dorado is (yes, I know, Mecca falls into a different class than the last two, but I typed it first so that shows proper respect). Most of us were suddenly jolted from our naps as the van . . .slowed.

I would like to say that the van shrieked to a halt or squealed to a stop or something more colorful, but, really, because the van was carrying a pretty full load and the roads necessitated us driving around 40 mph the whole time, we really weren’t going fast enough for there to be any drama to our deceleration. In fact, that’s probably the best descriptive term for what we did—abrupt deceleration.

Anyway, the trick to getting through a flock of sheep is to not stop. If you stop, like sharks in water, your vehicle and everyone in it will die and be devoured by the sheep. Or something like that, the local legend goes.

Somewhere along the way we had the distinct pleasure of seeing an honest-to-god sheep dog bolt across a pasture and single-um-pawedly round up around 100 sheep. That was also rather fun to watch—like a, I don’t know, really fast, agile, potentially dangerous . . . insect of some sort . . . flying across an open area to round up a bunch of . . . non-dangerous . . . but still group-oriented bees. . . . Hmm. That one needs some work. It was probably more like a dog darting around a pasture and sheep all swarming to one corner. But remember, sheep look like maggots from the sky—that’s an important mental image to ALWAYS keep in your mind when thinking about sheep. Trust me. It might save your life someday when you’re driving through a flock of them.

So, Porpoise Bay was the first real civilization that we had stepped into in quite awhile. We had passed through a few of the aforementioned “towns” earlier, but there weren’t what one would be possessed to call services available in any of those. In Porpoise Bay—which was decidedly free of porpoises—we found a nice snack bar/convenience store place, some public restrooms and some more nice views of the ocean and the bay itself. From the some of the paintings that decorated the walls of some of the buildings, I would wager that Porpoise Bay is a popular jumping off point for surfers, but I can’t verify that without looking it up on the internet, which I don’t feel capable of doing at this moment—I have no good reason, just that I don’t feel like learning anything at the moment. We were also told that, a few years earlier, whales had been spotted in the bay. I was very excited for the people a few years earlier who got to see that, but less excited for us since we got to see doodly (bastard! Doodly IS a word! I have never known hate like this, Spell Check. I will destroy you) squat. Then I had a cookie and a soda because it was rounding 2:00 and I hadn’t eaten anything since my morning cup of coffee. After our snack break and some more picture taking, we hit the road again, this time trying to found a town with some sort of substantial food to offer.

I should note at this point that it was a Tuesday. Normally this wouldn’t be important, as Tuesdays almost never are. But we found out in not one but two small towns, Tuesday is the day that people don’t buy things in the Catlins. Since there are no serious towns for a kajillion miles from the Catlins, rural residents have to rely on the working whims of the town dwellers, and, apparently, someone somewhere decided that Tuesdays were not meant for work because EVERYWHERE was closed. We hit a few restaurants in two relatively close cities and none of them was open, nor were any other businesses.

Then, in the town of Owaka, which was not the name of an ewok in Return of the Jedi but should have been, we found a café that had its front doors open. We quickly stopped, slid out of the van, went inside and started forming a line at the counter. It wasn’t until about fifteen minutes later, after the owner had taken our orders and started cooking our food, that any of us noticed the sign on the door that signified that he, too, was not opened on Tuesdays. We found out that we had just happened to catch him unloading a shipment and the café happened to be open for that short time. We felt a little bad, but he seemed appreciative of the business, or at least feigned politeness well, and most of us were hungry enough by that point not to care TOO much.

The café, indistinctly named Catlins Diner and Café, was unlike anything I had ever been in before for another reason, besides the fact that it was technically closed while serving me food. Attached to the café there is a hostel for backpackers. Backpackers, in New Zealand at least, are more like hitchhikers than what people in the States envision as a backpacker. In the States a backpacker is usually some gearhead who spends a fortune buying equipment just because the idea of it is really cool—and then he or she will take it out about once a year for a dusting and a couple of miles of walking in a state park before an uncomfortable night or two on the rocks.

There, apparently, backpackers wander all over the place like hippies with no VWs, and, sometimes, they like to stop at places like this to rent a bed and have a night of sleep. The hostel area, which we were able to sneak a peak into, smelled like an old, moist, butt towel and looked about as clean. The beds were sunken and, I’m pretty sure, the source of the smell. In short, I think I’d recommend the ground over the beds in this place—though they did have a TV in the “living” area they provided, which would allow a traveler to catch up on the morning news show that is pretty much ALL that’s available in every hotel we stayed in.

One other note about the café and, in fact, any restaurant that serves hamburgers—that I noticed at least—in New Zealand. Beware the New Zealand hamburger, unless you are from California, then these burgers will probably seem pretty reasonable to you weirdoes. I had two hamburgers while in New Zealand and both of them had all sorts of crazy crap on them, which is a dining disaster in my opinion. Theories as to what does and doesn’t belong on a hamburger are, of course, widely varied, and, with the exception of my own Law, wrong. The center of attention in all hamburgers should be, naturally, the burger. Anything that is added to it is meant to complement the flavor of the meat, not overpower it. Hamburgers should also never be a source of roughage. The color green should never be spotted anywhere but, perhaps, on a slice of dill pickle served next to the burger, which the diner can dutifully ignore. A proper hamburger should have the following: two buns, a burger, a single condiment—never mustard, which is the devil’s condiment and condemns eaters instantly to a circle of hell most unpleasant—and a slice of cheese if the diner chooses. That is all. At this café, the chef added what he called “salad” to the burger, which turned out to be a one-inch pile of onions and another one-inch pile of coleslaw. Even after scraping all of it off, with many select curses on the country that would tolerate such a behavior, the hamburger still tasted like the cow had been inhumanely killed by a two-story onion loaf and the buns reeked of whatever evil juice is used to make cabbage inedible in coleslaw. I was, however, starving, so I ate it anyway, pausing only briefly to continue my tirade on Hamburger Theory (which was adopted as Law by a panel of expert, consisting of me, shortly after the trip).

After lunch, and after calling to change our dinner reservation at El Tigre (where the family’s 60th birthday was being held), we headed to our last point, which was, I think, the one that made the whole trip through the Catlins worthwhile, Nugget Point. Nugget Point, we heard, had another lighthouse. It also had a walk “over a land bridge with a sheer drop to certain death on both sides,” someone, I believe John, who was always eager to ease our fears, said. Basically, we had to drive up some steep hills to arrive at the parking area, then we had to hike about a quarter mile up and down some more steep hills, then we arrived at Nugget Point.

This is actually a rather tough site to describe. The coastline in this area was, again, elevated from the surface of the water. Think Cliffs of Insanity from The Princess Bride. However, attached to these cliffs there is a land bridge, about ten feet wide (which was not nearly as scary as I was picturing it in my head—I was seeing swaying suspension bridges in my head when John was describing it) that connects the cliffs to another outcropping of land. On this outcropping there was another lighthouse. This lighthouse, unlike the first, was well worth the trip—and I wager that even the lighthouse freaks would enjoy seeing this one. The lighthouse itself probably wasn’t that special (I wouldn’t know, since my expertise on lighthouses extends only to what I learned from the movie Hysterical, and this lighthouse wasn’t haunted or nearly as big as the one in the movie was), but its location certainly was.

Nugget Point is a pleasant enough sounding name for a place punctuated by massive, jutting shards of death, which is exactly why the lighthouse needed to be built in the first place. It’s a nice, euphemistic name—like Crocodile Dundee calling his machete a “knife.” I can’t even imagine how much of a pain in the ass that lighthouse must have been to build—many of us were finding ourselves winded after the hike, and we didn’t have to carry a stack of lumber or whatever else they make lighthouses out of . . . light, I suppose, which might not be all that heavy, now that I think about it. Anyway, just off the outcropping where the lighthouse is built, there are several massive rock points spearing out of the water. It’s no wonder people decided the area probably needed a lighthouse, it certainly didn’t look like any place I would want to take a boat through, even with the full benefit of daylight vision, much less by lighthouse light.

Surprisingly, there were fences built along the land bridge and another around the scenic patio that had been built just in front of the lighthouse to allow people to see just how deadly the water below really was (again, it would have sucked hard to be the person who had to build that stuff). It might have been the safest attraction I’d been to the whole trip, and it also ranked among the most worthwhile to see while in the south island, I think. Also, if anyone is planning a suicide jump any time in the near future, I would certainly recommend Nugget Point, if you want it to look like a suicide, that is. If you want it to look like an accident, stick with Slope Point. Both of these places offer a very scenic final view and ultimate resting place, I think. Definitely worth the time and trouble it would take to get there. Maybe I should start marketing some “specialty” trips targeting that particular demographic. Could be some real money there—after all, they won’t have anything else to spend it on afterwards. Something to think about.

After Nugget Point we headed home, which took around an hour and a half. After a little time to clean up and change, we gathered at El Tigre for the final installment of 60th birthday celebrations.

El Tigre is a nice restaurant. No, El Tigre is a nice restaurant, in atmosphere, product and service, and it is handsomely reflected in the price. As both John and Sara pointed out, El Tigre was probably one of the nicest restaurants outside of Queenstown in all of the south island, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that was a true statement. It certainly impressed me. The menu was quite extravagant, with main courses including things like ostrich, baby chickens, veal, venison, fillet mignon and just about every type of exotic food that one might hope to find in a foreign land (no kiwi, though, or penguin, which disappointed me). And, yes, I said baby chickens. Cute, fuzzy, baby chickens. And cute, doe-eyed baby cows. This place has something against the cuter and more vulnerable of the edible species. I steered clear of those plates, because I’m not a baby killer, and decided to try the ostrich. I was a little surprised that it tasted very much like steak. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, though, anything that big and cantankerous couldn’t possibly taste like a chicken or other smaller bird.

Disclaimer: OK, so I can’t COMPLETELY remember if there were, in fact, baby chickens on the menu. I swear up and down that there were, but Libby can’t verify it. I will leave it up to another family member to post a reply to this to either verify or deny my claims. I’d hate to be sued by the New Zealand Anti-Defamation League, Baby Chicken Eaters Division or something for being inaccurate about this.

We ate, drank, reminisced about old family stories, and took turns enjoying what I think was the most appealing feature of the entire restaurant—the handicap bathroom. As I mentioned in an earlier post, this was far and away the nicest bathroom that I had the honor of peeing in the whole trip. It was spacious, well-decorated and had individually rolled hand towels in a basket off to the side. It was opulent and decadent. I relished every moment I was in there. I did, of course, feel a little guilty using the handicap restroom, but, as I stated in the earlier post, we were pretty much the only customers left at that point in the evening, so it wasn’t like I was depriving anyone of essential services. Plus, the other toilet was a hole in comparison.

By the time we finished eating, it was coming up on 10:00, so we decided to take the birthday cake home and eat it there, which we did, with more wine and laughter and stories. It didn’t take long after the cake for all of us to start feeling the onset of end-of-vacation blues, though.

The next day the Canadians and Libby and I were going to have to pack everything up and Jamie and Ami were heading back to the north island. Fortunately for all of you readers—or at least the ones that I have been talking to, who keep complaining “but your stories are so LONG” –things pretty much came to a screeching halt after this day. My next post will be pretty short, so you have that to look forward to.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Days 8 and 9 Photos

The family picture with the dog we inherited for ten minutes. I'm on the far left, looking dashingly the most attractive of all. I sort of feel sorry for how homely the rest of them are.

A row of sheep. One of these will feel Libby's wrath. Or at least her unsteady shearing hand.

Libby, shearing a sheep with an archaic hand-shear. I can't imagine that these are still being used. If they are, someone from Gillette, or whoever the sheep equivalent is, needs to send some reps down their way.

The Piss Up. Jamie and John and some people from America that I spoke with for a time about gas prices and such--I can't remember their names, which isn't surprising since I can't remember anyone's names. I believe Jamie and John may be sober, they sure look it.

JF had his glasses off by this point, so we knew he meant business. This was the only time I saw him without his glasses when we weren't going to bed or waking up. Pete, who doesn't drink, obviously didn't find us as amusing as we found ourselves.

Karen. I wasn't in the room when this was taken, but I can hear what she's saying in my head still: "That damn Cybill Shepherd was such a bitch." That, actually, might have been the PG rated version of what she was actually saying. Ask her about Cybill Shepherd the next time you see her. She's really quite fond of the lady.

I THINK this was at Bluff, but it might have been out somewhere in the Catlins two days later. Considering how cold and miserable we looked, I sort of thought this was in Bluff.

One of those signs, like in M.A.S.H. that has a bunch of towns and distances. This is that "not-quite-the-southernmost" point in New Zealand I mentioned. Everyone in New Zealand is required by law to have their picture taken under this sign at least once in their lives.

Lots of rocks . . .hey, what's up with this underline? I can't make it go away no matter what I do. How very odd. Rocks and a long drop--this was alongside the trail in Bluff. The trail wasn't close enough for my hands to sweat, but I had plenty of opportunity to catch up when we went to the Catlins a few days later.

Libby in front of the ocean. Weird, the underline is gone now and I didn't do anything. Perspective in these pictures doesn't really do justice to just how dead someone would be if they stumbled back just two or three steps from where she's standing. The answer is very.

Sara and rocks and ocean and potential death.

This was the second take of a picture of John, Sara, Jamie and Ami. The first one they were just standing there, sort of vaguely smiling. Then they said, "Wait, we weren't posing, take another." Then I shot this one. Hams.

Libby making the international sign for Grizzly Bear, which is odd since there are no bears of any sort in New Zealand. This was on the path that led up over a quite large hill through some impressively dank and thick forested area. Probably considered a "moderate" hike, but my out of shape ass was doing some huffing and puffing.

And, finally, us eating again in the cafe adjacent to the M.A.S.H. sign. We were having tea. I had a scone with jam and some tea with milk. I felt just like a colonist. Or a loyalist. Or whoever still eats tea with scones . . .non-me's with accents. That's the term.

Days 8 and 9--Party Pt. 1 and Bluff

Travelogue Day 8

By this day in the trip my sleep schedule had finally adapted to the time change. This was, it turned out, something of a mixed blessing. It was nice because, after around a week of not sleeping more than a few hours every night, I was starting to wear down pretty seriously. Being able to get to sleep at a decent time and sleep later in the morning allowed me to catch up a little bit. Unfortunately, it also meant that I wasn’t waking up three or four hours before everyone else, so I wasn’t getting any of this writing kept up.

Because of this, here I am, two weeks after returning, sitting here trying to remember what we did on these particular days. I can still remember quite a lot of it vividly, but some parts—like what we did in between our scheduled activities—is pretty much a blur. I do have a few quick notes to remind me of what took place on each day, so hopefully that will be enough to spark memories. If not, be prepared to buy some lines of BS that I’m making up as I go.

Day 8 was our first party day. Yes, I know, “partying” sounds like what we did pretty much every night we were down there, but this party was different. Not only would it have plenty of food and booze, it would have strangers and would be held at John and Sara’s. Day 8 was also the day Karen had scheduled us to have a family portrait taken by her friend, Louise.

The morning passed more or less the same as the last few had. I was up earlier than Libby, so I walked over to the Loves’ to have some coffee, check my email and read the newspaper.

It was around this time that we heard about the mighty and terrible terror plot that the British government had uncovered. Actually, it might have been a day or so after this, I can’t remember, but I’m thinking of something relevant to it now, so I better keep working forward as long as I can. We, of course, were prepared to be inconvenienced by the new restrictions to carry-on baggage, but otherwise we weren’t that put out by the news. After all, we were coming from New Zealand, surely they wouldn’t put too many new restrictions on us. What self-respecting terrorist would come out of New Zealand? Australia would be enough of a stretch, but a terrorist from New Zealand is nearly as inconceivable as a terrorist from Andorra. What would they be doing here in the first place?

Anyway, I do want to apologize to anyone who might have been flying the day that happened. Since we were a day in the future, as soon as I read the paper and heard about the plot, I should have gotten in touch with everyone and passed on the news. That way word could have been spread and many travel inconveniences could have been avoided. That was totally my bad for not living up to my responsibilities of living a day in the future, I guess.

Family Portrait

Eventually everyone showed up and we arrived at Louise‘s house about fifteen minutes after we said we would be there. It was pissing down rain all morning and was scheduled to keep doing it the entire day—so she was a little surprised that we had showed up at all and not simply rescheduled it for the next day. I was surprised that we were only fifteen minutes late. The Love family works on a pretty relaxed timeframe—the same way that many cultures work on their own time: Indian Time, Mexican Time, Aussie Time. Really, it’s only the oddball people like me, who can’t help but be punctual to the point of fault who don’t work on this kind of time, it seems. Still, since I’m the one writing this, I feel it’s my right to judge.

We raced out during a break in the rain (which ended up only lasting a few minutes), set up the family and somehow Louise managed to take about 500 digital pictures of the family in various states of smiling and looking in unfortunate directions. At one point, their dog, I don’t remember his name, wandered into the picture and had a lay down in front of the group—posing as if he belonged there and knew he belonged there. We kept him because every good family picture needs a dog in it. It then began to rain again and we bolted inside (it would again quit in about ten minutes and that time the sun came out, but even that only lasted for another ten minutes or so before it went back to raining).

In the picture, all of us are wearing coats that the Kiwis refer to as Swannies or maybe they spell it Swanis, I don’t believe I ever saw it spelled out. They are waterproof wool jackets, often following a plaid theme because all self-actualized New Zealanders wish they could be lumberjacks, designed to keep the rain out and the outpouring of sweat their non-breathing, thick insulating design creates trapped near the body. Libby seemed to think we needed some to take home, then I reminded her that I barely needed to break out a winter coat anymore since my time outdoors in the freezing cold only lasts as long as it takes the car to warm up. They would, however, have been nice to have during the Ice Storm (not the crappy Kevin Kline movie) when we lost power for a week. We could have cuddled up next to each other and passed our time itching.

After the picture and at Karen’s insistence, Libby was ushered to the back pens where Robin, Louise’s husband, kept some sheep. The intention was to let Libby shear a sheep. Because it was cold and wet outside, and warm and dry inside, but mostly because I had absolutely zero interest in tromping in the mud to hang out with livestock (I have, after all, spent most of my life trying to avoid exactly this activity), I stayed inside and chatted with everyone else. Libby, however, was given a pair of hand shears—the manual kind, not the electric kind—while Robin pinned a sheep. She apologized profusely to the sheep for the expected maiming of its flesh and went to work. A few awkward snips later, she had a handful of wool, which she put in a ziplock and hauled home with us.

That same wool will remain in the ziplock bag, probably on a shelf in our closet, for the next fifty years, or until one of us dies, the other becomes a shut in, and, eventually, someone from social services has to come into our house and forcibly remove us before burning the stinking, putrid remains of it all to the ground. Bleak outlook? Probably. But I fully anticipate being one of those people who poops off the side of the bed to save time and effort when I’m old and don’t care anymore, and I intend to make sure Libby is the same way if I should go first (I am currently running a subliminal hypnosis tape to the sound of “ocean tides” that I told her would help her sleep, if that doesn’t work, I’ll have to come up with something more drastic). This is, I think, the only reasonable way to go.

From there we went back to the Loves’ and quickly went our separate ways for the rest of the afternoon. John and Sara wanted to get their house set up and work on the cooking and Libby wanted to take a nap so she’d be prepared to stay up late that night. I worked on the earlier editions of the –logue, hoping that I could finish some of the earlier days so the family could proofread and fact-check them for me. By this point I had not yet fully completed a single day’s description, instead working to get the major points down before I forgot them. This was a brilliant plan and one that I should have kept up with. Mental note for future trips, I guess.

John and Sara’s Party

The party, or “piss up” as it was being called, was a brilliant success. The food was great (especially the smoked salmon that Karen had shipped from the salmon farm) and everyone had a great time. Because of the great central heating conspiracy and the very nearly freezing temperatures, most of the house had to be shut off to keep the heat in the kitchen and living room, where two dozen people or so crammed close together.

We also got to see a little New Zealand “hail” that evening. Darrell introduced me to the hail earlier in the day when we made a run to the store for a printer cartridge. Their hail is a kind of slushy, runny sleet that melts very shortly after reaching the ground. Libby and I actually heard it falling the night before on our hotel’s roof. Not surprisingly, since it rains all the time, asphalt and cedar shingles would be a complete waste of time and money. Most houses have ceramic or metal roofs—our hotel’s was metal. Thus, at around 5:00 in the morning, it sounded very much like I was sleeping in a machine shed as the “hail” hit the roof. Even the most pathetic of hails sounds like a rain of frogs when you’re living under a metal roof.

Here is yet another future business venture for some aspiring entrepreneur. Though I only visited one liquor store (and we had to be introduced to the owners—guess who spends a fair amount of time buying alcohol . . .), I saw no evidence to suggest that big ole boxes of cheap wine are available in the country. I did see some boxes at the liquor store, but they only held probably a third of what our boxes here in the States hold, and they weren’t really any cheaper than the bottles. I know people are drinking the wine, and it only seems logical that families like ours, who could go through ten bottles or more in a night, would eagerly snap up the supply. Just a thought.

And we could have really used some big boxes of cheap wine that night, because we ended up running completely out of booze. Completely. And around 10:30 too. It turned out to not be a problem, though, since everyone had managed to get awfully sozzled during the time they had.

I really only remember two specific events during the party. The first involved Molly. She and JF were actually drinking, for the first and, I believe, only time while we were down there. And Molly and I had a rather long conversation about, get this, linguistics. Yes, the ideal party conversation. Well, actually, any topic is a good one when you’re drinking, I suppose. Anyway, we discussed infixes (like a suffix or prefix but coming in the middle of the word). We don’t really have any of them in English, but several languages make frequent and successful use of them. The only one of them in English that we could think of is, actually, a bit of a fudge-up and certainly slang in our language, using the F Bomb in the middle of a word as in “ri-fucking-diculous” or “un-fucking-believable.” We laughed about this some, because everything seems funnier when you’re drunk.

The other was a conversation I had with a family friend named Sarah. Sarah, who was almost certainly drunker than me, caught me by one of the doors when I was doing my “mingling” maneuver that I spend most parties using to keep me from getting too tired of listening to the same drunk people say the same things over and over.

“Tell me some gossip,” she said. “What?” I replied, not entirely sure what the rules to this game were. “Tell me some gossip. Make it up!” She was really quite insistent, which only served to fluster me further, and I completely failed to come up with any good stories to share. While I might be a fair shake at making up preposterous stories, I am not the type of person who can do it on the fly like that. So she filled in the blanks for me.

“Karen just broke a glass and Sara is absolutely pissed about it. She’s trying to find Karen and I bet she punches her in the nose. Why, just the other week, we (she and her partner, I want to say Phil but I can’t remember for sure and John would never email me back to confirm or deny this, so that is what I’m going to call him even if that’s not right) came over for dinner and I broke one of their wine glasses. Twenty minutes later, Sara found Phil and punched him in the face!” And so on. Sarah actually spent most of the time that I was around her stirring up exactly this kind of fun, which made the evening go by quite quickly and amusingly. By the end of the night, my jaws ached from laughing so much.

Right before the alcohol ran out (coincidence?), Karen, Darrell, Libby and Pete took off. The rest of us hung out for another hour or so, then Molly, JF and I hitched a ride with a friend of John and Sara’s who happened to be leaving at the same time and who generously offered to swing us by the hotel, even though none of us knew exactly where it was we were going. After fifteen minutes or so of extra driving, we happened upon Abbot, the street Karen and Darrell’s house is on, and we were able to track down our hotel (I was so lost that I thought we were heading in the completely wrong direction at exactly the time when we drove up to the hotel).

When I got in, Libby was already in bed, but I was still pretty wound for sound, so I stayed up and tried to work on the –logue a bit. Sadly, my fingers were unwilling to cooperate, so I was left with nothing but the television to pass the time—which, as I’ve said before, is no way to pass the time at all anywhere that we stayed while in New Zealand. My choices were as follows: Demolition Man, starring Sylvester Stallone; Dungeons and Dragons starring Miscellaneous Wayans; and non-stop phone sex line advertisements. The adverts were pictures of women with accompanying phone numbers. Each picture would stay up about ten seconds and they cycled like a slide show. These, I discovered, run pretty much every night on one of the channels and, even though they can show nudity on network TV (though they don’t make very good use of this policy, I only saw one set of boobies on TV the whole time we were there), all of the pictures of alluringly fake women were blurred out, so they completely failed to keep my interest.

Since I’d seen Demolition Man and new first hand that it was terrible (possibly beyond terrible, actually), I decided to watch Dungeons and Dragons instead. I had heard this movie was also beyond terrible, but had never watched it myself to make sure. It is entirely beyond terrible. Demolition Man, against all reason, is probably a better movie. How Jeremy Irons thought this movie was a good career choice is quite beyond my grasp, but I stuck it out and watched every last second of it. Quite an accomplishment, I think, and one well worth bragging about.

After that, with a somewhat sour taste in my mouth from the hour and a half that I had just wasted, I went to bed.

Day 9

It was Sunday so we started our day at church. He he, just kidding. I believe I remember us driving by a church at some point in the trip. I think it was near a ping pong hall or something. I actually don’t remember seeing many churches. I don’t know if that was just my selective memory or if there actually aren’t churches on every third street corner like there are here at home.

On Day 9 we decided to take a short road trip down to Bluff, which is the southernmost city in the country. Bluff could, and possibly should, be a very pretty town. All of the southern coastline that I saw was carved out of impressive rock formations, which meant that Bluff was situated on top of just such a formation. Steep hills lifted the city further and further up into increasingly more scenic vistas. The only problem is, from almost all of the city, what should be wonderful scenery is blotted with a wonderful view of the Aluminum Smelting plant. Remember this from earlier? The one that sucks off all the nice, clean electricity? It’s located out in the middle of, I think, a bay of some sort, and it’s visible from just about every part of town, what with town being on a hill and all.

Possibly because of this, Bluff seemed to be a bit on the shabbier end. The houses had a bit more of a run-down look to them and the town as a whole seemed a bit, I don’t know, grittier. But maybe that was just my impression of the city based on the fact that I could always see that smelting plant whenever I looked over my shoulder.

There is, however, a really fantastic walking path that runs along the southern coast and then juts up and through some forest to eventually bring hikers onto a peak that allows for a fantastic view of the ocean and surrounding coastlines. If you keep your back to the aluminum smelter, it’s almost possible to completely enjoy the view. There are also old gun turret buildings scattered along the path. At some point, New Zealand apparently had an army and thought that maybe people might attack them from the ocean, of which they had an unobstructed view—during one of the World Wars, but which one I’m not entirely sure. I somehow doubt that this ever happened, and now their current first line of defense, from what I gather, is their equivalent to our Boy Scouts. As with the terrorists, what self-respecting army would ever attack? Who can you brag to about taking over a country full of mountains, sheep and people who think wearing shorts and wool coats when it’s nearly freezing out is a good idea?

There is also a sign down near a parking lot, about as near the elevated coastline as one can get without hover shoes, that most people consider the southernmost point of the island. At least that was how I interpreted it as we gathered under the sign for a picture. Of course, I found out a few days later that this wasn’t, in fact, the southernmost point, but it is the point that most people make it to, since the actual southernmost point is on the edge of a sheep paddock much removed from any sort of civilization.

We took the “medium” hike, which still jaunted us through some pretty steep forest trail and back down a surprisingly treacherous path (again, this wouldn’t have flown in the States, they would have had to install 1000 yards of stairs to keep people from slipping, which I nearly did a few times because I’m as sure-footed as a two-legged mountain goat). It was still raining and quite cold, especially since the wind tends to whip unobstructed straight off the ocean, and that was why we didn’t take the longer hike. Also, several members of our party were lazy and didn’t want to walk that long. I won’t name names. You know who you are, lazies.

Anyway, this coastline was, like everything in New Zealand, quite beautiful and blah, blah, blah. Big rocks and crashing waves and lots of trees and green and hills and well-kept trails and so on and so forth. Come see New Zealand, blah, blah, blah. Damn scenic places and their always demanding description. Look at the pictures, that ought to do a pretty good job of illustrating what it was like.

After Bluff, we returned home and set about our busy plans of doing just about nothing. We returned to our hotel for a little while to nap some more and we returned late in the afternoon to see what was going on for dinner.

After eating, the entire family crammed into the living room for a TV night. Someone, apparently, got the notion that spending around five hours watching that Attenborough fellow in some documentaries seemed like a splendidly entertaining way to spend an evening. And, while they were educational and, by “doco” standards, interesting, at least half the room was sleeping through the last four hours of shows. After the voice of reason finally broke through, Karen talked everyone into watching a movie starring Bob Hoskins and Sir Judi Dench called “Mrs. Henderson Presents.” By this point we were pretty sleepy, our will to live having been sucked by various mammals living out their lives under the watchful eye of cameramen with far too much capacity for sitting still, but Karen promised us “lots of boobies,” so we toughed it out in the name of seeing nudity.

The movie was fairly watchable, if not terribly original or inspired—and the ending left much to be desired—but it was based on a true story, so it was like learning, which made us all feel good, and there were a variety of pleasant mams to appease our salacious eyes, which also made us feel good in an entirely different way.

After the movie, Libby, Molly, JF and I walked back to the hotel and I started a new tradition. Our hotel was inset slightly from the road, situated slightly behind a strip-mall-type building that housed the “lolly shop,” a wedding store, a fish shop (of which there are many, and this one served mostly Chinese Food for some reason and almost no fish that I could see from their menu) and a few other miscellaneous stores. The corner into our hotel’s drive was, basically, blind, since the store fronts completely blocked it from view. For reasons known only to the cruel recesses of my sub-conscious, I decided it would be funny to wait around the corner and scare the pants off Molly and JF, who were about a half-block behind us.

And that is exactly what I did. With a “Baah!” (short and punctuated, not like the sound a sheep makes) I jumped around the corner as soon as I saw their shadows draw near, and they both pissed themselves in terror. At least that’s how I remember it. I would go on to do this the next three nights in a row—and one of the times the two of them were no more than six steps behind me, but it still scared Molly. She’s apparently a sucker for that sort of thing—just a note to anyone who might be in a position to enjoy just such a sophomoric prank.

Flush with the heady triumph of making someone micturate themselves (in my memory, at least) and warm in the glow of many bared bosoms, I retired for the evening, completely aware that it really couldn’t get any better without Stacey Keach and Lee Horsely fighting it out in a death match of my own whimsical creation.