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February 13, 2016 / cmfletcher


213View frm apartment

Lake Wakatipu from our apartment

Today was another traveling day, from the west coast through the Southern Alps to the town of Queensland, the adventure capital of New Zealand. This is where bungee jumping was invented, and since that is too tame, they now have a canyon swing that is unbelievable, and other ways of trying to get your adrenaline pumping. Being boring old fogies we booked a wine tour.

213tree hugging

Tree hugging is serious here!

Most of the accommodation in town seems to be apartment rentals, rather than straight hotel rooms. This, of course, excludes the numerous backpacker hostels.

213Sunset over Lake wakatipu

Lake Wakatipu at sunset

Lake Wakatipu is just beautiful, as the view from our hotel shows. New Zealand is an amazingly unspoiled land with incredible mountain vistas, clear lakes, pastoral landscapes and great forests. The tourist dilemma comes back: I love seeing this, but I don’t want too many people to come here. Yet New Zealand needs the tourists for their economy. And everything that involves getting people to spend money is now in English and Chinese. When I get back to Benedictine University, I want to talk to the Chinese language instructors about getting our students placed over here.

We went to the Vigil Mass at the local parish, great experience. It is one of those things that turns a tour into a real visit to a town or area. The pastor gave a good homily on the temptations of Christ, lots to think about.

I can’t believe our visit to New Zealand is almost done. I am so glad we came here.

February 12, 2016 / cmfletcher

Ice, ice, baby

Today we were in Franz Josef and wanted to see the glacier. We booked a helicopter flight for 10 am, turned up and found that the company had booked us for the wrong day. But they had an opening for the 12:30 flight so we were set.

I had no problems with the helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon, but today I was a quaking mess. I think the news about a helicopter crash on these mountains about a month ago had something to do with it, and sheer bloody panic explained the rest. I finally told myself that we had spent a bunch of money to do this, so just say an act of contrition and enjoy the rest of the flight. It worked. I even stopped clutching the seat.

I had no idea what to expect, and when you are flying you can’t really judge. We chose the trip that circled the Franz Josef and Fox Valley glaciers and then flew around Mt. Cook. It had been very cloudy in town so we were afraid we weren’t going to see anything, but we actually flew above the cloud line.

The trip to these mountains takes you to the divide of NZ: you can see both the east and west coasts.

The pilot told us that the crevasses were visible now, but in winter they are often filled with new snow and can trap glacier hikers.

As we were flying over the blocks of snow/ice he told us they were the equivalent of a 3 story building. Nothing made sense until we flew past the climbers cabin, a full size house that appears as the red dot on the photo above. AHA!  Suddenly I realized the ‘moss’ on the rocks we were flying over was actually full sized trees.

It was so much fun. Afterwards we had lunch and drove to the path to view the glacier from below. There are warning signs about how conditions may change, and a leaflet that has an idiot’s Q&A:  Q: “But I came all this way to touch a glacier” A: “Ask the families of the people who have died if it was worth going beyond the safety barriers.” They don’t really do risk management in NZ. They say this is dangerous, here’s how to keep safe and let nature take its course. Our favorite sign was the river flooding one.

We walked most of the way that was open, then I dropped out and Peter continued to get some better photos. It was really exhilarating to see the river, and the waterfalls and the glacier. And of course the beta-endorphins from a nice long walk. Altogether one of the best days of the trip!

February 11, 2016 / cmfletcher

The Coast Road

We left Nelson this morning to follow the coast road down the western coast of New Zealand. I know we are only seeing a bit of the country, but by driving instead of flying or cruising, we are actually seeing the landscape.

We came through the mountains to get to the coast and made for Punakaiki. This is the site of the pancake rocks — they are sandstone which have ridges that look like pancakes. The sea erodes them into fantastic shapes, and hollows out caves and inlets. There is a walk to get out to see them, and it was so worth it.

The spray comes from the surf crashing into the rocks, filling caves, inlets and surge pools and then the pressure blows the water high like a geyser. It was exciting, and we did get sprayed. OK for humans, not so much for cameras.

That was about half way to our goal for the day Franz Josef Glacier, in the southern Alps. On the drive down you see Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. 211MtCook

It is a funny town, primarily backpackers but also lots of oldies like us who are enjoying the scenery and masses of Chinese on vacation.



February 10, 2016 / cmfletcher

Weird Ash Wednesday

We had made a command decision before we left that Lent wouldn’t begin until we get home. It still felt a little weird to be somewhere where no one paid any attention to the day, and no one had ashes on their head.

So we went whole hog and did a wine tour of this region. It was run by one guy, CJ, who took us to local small vineyards where he knew the owners and may have worked in the vineyard. CJ was a native Kiwi, and clearly loved his home. One of the best sights was a rugby ball made out of grape vines in celebration of the 2011 world cup of Rugby, won by New Zealand’s All Blacks. The vineyard had actually named one of their Chardonay’s Big Balls Chardonay, but had decided to discontinue that label.

The day was a lot of fun, we had two Australians from the gold mining community in the west of Australia, one Canadian, two ex-pat Brits who now live in Sydney and their parents who still live in the UK. With us it made a good group.

We started at the lookout over the Tasmen Bay — beautiful. The weather was georgeous and altogether a fun day.

February 9, 2016 / cmfletcher

Going south

Another travel day — Interisland ferry from Wellington, North Island, to Picton, South Island. The ferry held about 500 passengers plus two full decks of cars. We had rented, and Budget makes you return the car in Wellington, and pick up a car in Picton. No problem.

We get to Picton and get the Rav4, and I notice that the luggage cover is missing. Fletcher slogs back to the office and gets grief from the clerk; they come out and establish that yes, indeed, the cover is missing. So what is her attitude. Not acceptable we say-we read Rick Steeve’s travel advice and problem solving column, and his advice is that you never accept a car with defects. She goes back and from somewhere reappears with a luggage cover and mentions that if we had brought the car back without one we probably would have been charged $1100. I just wonder what is going to happen to the renter who dropped off this car.

south_island_physicalOff we go, following the GPS. Well, the numbered road makes  rectangle, Picton to Blenheim back up to Havelock before continuing around the Tasman Bay to Nelson (the yellow splodge).  Our GPS wants to take a short cut, the coast road. Just so you know, this road is not shown on the map above, it follows the wiggles of the coast between Picton and Nelson. The speed limit was 50 Kilometers per hour, and we rarely reached that speed. It was a beautiful drive which I enjoyed; Peter had to keep his eye on the road.

This is why you plan trips with the timings the New Zealand government tells you on the tourist website. The roads are interesting; beautiful, but interesting, and speed is not likely.

We arrived at Nelson, which is supposed to be near the center of New Zealand. After traveling all day, we went for a long walk along the river path, through the town, up to the Anglican Cathedral and then back to our motel. The scenery is just wonderful.



February 8, 2016 / cmfletcher

Deep in Middle Earth

Today was LOTR geek day  with Wellington Movie Tours. Totally worth the money and time. Peter and I were the geezers, everyone else on the tour were of the backpacker generation and we all had a  blast. The deal is, they take you to the sites, but before you get there they play clips of the movie that show the scenery and sets, so you really get a sense of what the filmmakers accomplished.

We started at the quarry which had  been transformed first into Helm’s Deep and then that set changed and used for Minas Tirith (if you have no idea of what I am talking about, read LOTR or watch the movies, it is worth the time). The first picture shows the quarry where the sets for Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith were built. The second shows Ted, our guide, showing us where they filmed part of Gandalf’s ride to Minas Tirith.

We also learned cool things about the movies like the fact that Viggo Morgensen, who played Aragorn, didn’t want the part, but his son persuaded him to take it. Later, his son got to be in the movies as an Orc — the first orc Viggo killed! I was and am totally blown away by what goes into making a movie. This trip has opened my eyes to the complexity of the project, and the achievement of a director such as Sir Peter Jackson.

We went to Kaitoke Regional Park to find the setting for Rivendell. One of the cool things about the tour was that our guide, Ted, had us pose in the places as the characters. So someone became Legolas, for example. The NZ government has woken up to how big a deal LOTR and The Hobbit are for tourism, and so have rebuilt a gate for Rivendell: the  the round edges above are swimming noodles covered with the plastic to make the gate. There was a swing bridge in the park;  I crossed it not once but twice — facing my fears!

After lunch at the park we went to Mount Victoria woods where the first day’s filming took place — the hobbits were confronting the ringwraith, and rolled down the hill. Apparently one of the stunt men who actually rolled down the hill dislocated his shoulder in the stunt! Ted, our guide, had volunteers from our tour pose as the hobbits. He then created the scene where the hobbits are hiding from the ringwraith – so someone was the tree, the horse, the tree roots, the hobbits and, of course, the ringwraith.

Finally he had some people recreate the shot of the mounted ringwraith on the top of the clearing. As you can see, it was all tremendous fun and very instructive about camera angles etc.

Then we went to Weta Workshops for a tour. AMAZING! No photos except from the front area and outside with the trolls from The Hobbit, since the props are the property of the various studios and production companies. Fascinating to see the talent, time, energy and money expended to make a film look right.

We finished up the day at the Weta Cave, the shop for all things Weta and LOTR or the Hobbit, and then the outside of the production facilities Sir Peter Jackson has built in the Wellington area.  On the film about the horses in LOTR (the Riders of Rohan is one of my favorite parts), one of the quotes was that the 100th rider was as important as the stars. Good spiritual principle. We learned that after filming was finished, the horses were sold, and Viggo Morgensen bought not only the horse he rode through the films, but also one of horses for the woman whose job was training horses — she would never have had the chance or the money to get it for herself. What a great guy!

This has given me so much to think about — the complexity of making a movie, the different creative talents that all are necessary for a great film, the importance of character and collegiality for a film company, and how much film speaks to most pe0ple who may never read the original books. Probably one of the best days in terms of benefit to my teaching of this sabbatical.




February 7, 2016 / cmfletcher

Southern Star Abbey

We were traveling from Napier to Wellington today, and planned the journey to include Mass at Southern Star Abbey, a Cistercian house between the two cities. The journey there took us off the main road and deep into the countryside.

We had an hour before Mass to contemplate the setting and just relax. There were only 3 monks, and a congregation of about 20 including some wonderful children. It felt like a very close-knit community. Coffee and cake followed Mass. I was talking to one of the monks who told me that 4 other monks were on vacation at the beach and returning tomorrow. Peter, meanwhile, was having a long conversation with one of the men who was a local dairy farmer. I found the woman who sat in front of me at Mass, and we found common ground in knitting. She came from Auckland 40 years ago, because of her husband, and now loves living in these wide open spaces.


Maori Madonna

It was a neat way to get out of the tourist rut and see something of the real country. Tonight we are in Wellington, the capital, which is empty. It is a Sunday of a three day weekend so everyone is out on the beach or up in the mountains. Pleasant driving.


New Zealand’s scenery is beautiful, the mountains, the oceans and bays- all of it combines to make one glorious picture. So glad we are here.


February 6, 2016 / cmfletcher

Hawke’s Bay Wineries

We are real wine lovers and enjoy visiting wineries. We booked a day tour with Bay Tours and Charters, and had a wonderful time. We started on Te Mata peak, overlooking the Hawke’s Bay region. We didn’t try the hang gliding but went off to small wineries to sample their offerings.

We stopped for a tasting and then lunch at the Mission Estate Winery. This was founded in 1851 by French Marist Fathers who carried vines with them to the missions. (Hooray for Catholic missionaries!) Today the historic seminary building is a center for wine tastings, weddings, and a fine restaurant. The winery is operated as a commercial enterprise, which supports the work of the Marists throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

The afternoon saw us driving around the valley, learning about the soils, and the effects they have on the wine. Our guide Tony, was very well informed about the economics of the agricultural industries in the region and shared his knowledge with us. We saw avocado groves, apple orchards, and a kiwi fruit farm. The final winery was Moana Park Winery, which makes their wines in such a way that they do not use the normal chemicals, but they don’t call themselves organic. They have managed the process so that their wines are all but sulfite-free and delicious at the same time.

26WinebarrelNew Zealand accounts for 1% of the world’s wine production, and consequently is on the bottom of the list for the cork producers in Europe. As a result, they get the corks refused by the French, Germans, Americans and Australians. This is a problem and so most NZ wines are in screw top bottles. Don’t be put off, the wine is fine. The problem we will have is that it doesn’t make it to the US as the producers are smaller wineries. Sigh.

February 5, 2016 / cmfletcher

By the sea

We spent a lazy day in Napier, just enjoying being by the sea. Unfortunately it is a pebble beach with a sharp drop off, so no swimming here, unless you drive to a sand beach. So instead we did the usual seaside things — played miniature golf, walked along the sea front and visited the national aquarium.

The sense of community and the common good and just good sense about being a tourist destination is very apparent. There is a bicycle repair station with tools; phone booths with wifi, good public loos with showers, beautiful gardens along the sea front, and a general welcoming feel.

More public space while still having a busy downtown and sea front makes a better mix that all commercial property along the beach.

The National Aquarium has good well marked exhibits, but the highlight is the Oceanarium, a long circular plexiglass walkway under the big tank. We managed to be there for feeding time. All I could think of is that the diver must feel under seige — like the woman in Hitchcock’s The Birds. I really liked the reef display, too, clown fish are just cute, no wonder Finding Nemo was a hit.

Tonight we are going to a local chef for a dinner of 5 tasting courses. The menu will depend on what he thinks was fresh and interesting when he did his shopping this morning. Can’t wait!


February 4, 2016 / cmfletcher

Amazing New Zealand

24Village Meeting House

Whare Tipuna Ancestral Meeting House

Today we traveled from Hamilton to Napier, stopping at Rotorua and Taupo on the way. Ngaio Marsh had written a novel set in the thermal regions where there are pools of boiling mud; I wanted to see and hear one, since the sound was important to the novel. We started at Whakarewarewa (locals call it “Faca” the wh sounds like f). We went to the Living Maori Village for a tour and a show of Maori singing and culture.

The villagers really do live there,  but they open to the public from 8:30-5:30 every day except Christmas. The villagers manage the whole thing. One family lost their house because a new hot spring opened in their kitchen. There are active geysers, and lots of vents of steam that smells of rotten eggs from the sulphur.

The Maori have adapted to this challenging environment. The village has 5 or 6 cooking boxes, dug in the ground that steam the food. You can use it like a crock pot. There are also communal baths. The villagers are used to being naked and, the guide told us, are trained not to look at each other. The government asked them not to bathe while the public was admitted.

Years ago the missionaries arrived, and the chief decided that half the village would be Anglicans and half Catholics. Our guide, a woman, was an Anglican like all the girls in her family. Her brothers are Catholics because their great-great-etc. grandmother was in the Anglican group and the corresponding grand father was in the Catholic group.

The geysers were amazing, and near by was a steam pot named Korotiotio which translates as “Grumpy old man” so of course I had Fletcher pose next to it!

The performance was explained well, and much enjoyed. The singing was excellent, and they did a dance with sticks where they are singing and dancing and throwing sticks around and nobody is looking and nobody missing a beat or a catch. Hard to capture on a photo. The men did a Haka which I always have wanted to see, since we don’t get to see much rugby on US TV and so wouldn’t have seen the All Blacks perform it.

We went on to Taupo, still in the thermal region, which is a headquarters for backpackers. The first site we saw was a Superloo. You paid, but you could have a shower, and generally clean up. The lake was lovely, but we decided to press on to Napier where we were staying for the night.

Drove 130 Kilometers up and through the mountains, which was just beautiful. Our hotel is on the beachfront, and across from us is a huge children’s playground which includes a fenced in Bike park, with stoplights and everything. The kids were really enjoying it.

There are interesting stores and a line of my favorite New Zealand trees outside. It looks like one of those plastic trees they put on top of mobile phone towers, but these are real.

Busy day, I wish I had photos of the mountains we crossed, but we were too busy staying on the road, and I was trying not to notice the steep drops and the lack of guard rails. Made for an exciting few hours!