Anniversary weekend

It’s the 171st anniversary of the founding of Auckland, which is mostly important because it’s a long weekend.

We had a quick road trip to Tom’s place in Tutukaka with Astrid before the gravitational pull of her Massachusetts home place pulls her away from all this NZ ease and beauty.

We started the trip with a pie, which is becoming a ritual. Pioneer Pies is a very good pie shop but not as good as the one in Kumeu we’ve been to before.

Next stop, also comfortingly familiar, Eutopia Café and the Dutch cheese shop.

Then on to Whangarei Falls, where they’ve added a grove of trees commemorating the lives of the Christchurch shooting victims since our last visit.

And then to the bach (that’s Kiwi for beach house). We made a quick jaunt to a nearby beach, then cooked supper and watched a spectacular moonrise.

On Saturday we did the Perfect Day charter out to the Poor Knights islands. After a ride out that the skipper described as “sporty” and which had half the boat puking into the little emergency bags, the clouds cleared and we enjoyed a few hours of snorkeling and other activities. The shot of me on the paddle board is a marvel of journalism, because I spent about one second standing up and the rest falling off.

We capped the whole day with a soak in the new cedar hot tub overlooking the ocean… very nice… and another moonrise and stargazing session.

On the way home we took the scenic route to Langs Beach and passed through Waipu, which was having its big summer market and festival. Ate mussel fritters and ice cream cones.

Home and unpacked, we drove down to the foot of our own road to watch the Harbour Bridge light show and of course the Anniversary Day fireworks.

And there’s still a Monday holiday left!!

More From Sydney

What a difference a day makes… look at that sky. Some rain came through, cooled things off and cleared the air.

This cool statue guards my hotel.

The Opera House at night.

Their lunar festival lanterns are way bigger than Auckland’s.

Operatic Sydney Busker

This woman had a great set of pipes and a good sound system, so you faintly heard the music a block away. I couldn’t tell if she was a truly good singer or not, but she was certainly good at tugging on the heartstrings!

Ho ho Hobart

I got to visit Tasmania this week for a 42-hour work trip. Thanks to Bugs Bunny cartoons, it’s a place I’ve always known about but couldn’t have found on a map until moving to the region. More recently, Hobart came to my attention via this amazing article about the Museum of Old and New Art.

The 17th largest island in the world, Tasmania was a timber-based economy for a long time. Now a lot of that land is given over to (legal) opium poppies. Hobart, the state capital, is about 230,000 people, slightly less than half the population of the whole island. If NZ ever starts to feel too crowded…

The part of Hobart I stayed in had a lot of great 19th century architecture and the best collection of door knockers I’ve found since the first time I ever really noticed door knockers in France.

It gets hot in the summer, but the ducks found a way to keep cool.

And I think people also have ways to keep cool, although I didn’t get the chance to experience a Pimm’s or G&T here myself…

Altogether Hobart looks like a perfect place for a long weekend. It’s likely we’ll be working there for the long term so I hope I’ll get to go back.

Fergburger

Everybody told us we had to eat at Queenstown’s famous Fergburger. But the lines at lunchtime were ridiculous. No burger is that good.

But if you’re willing to eat a burger at 9 AM, and we were, you can walk right in.

Apparently Fergburger has been around a while, but Lonely Planet named them as some sort of global best burger and it really blew up after that.

I still wouldn’t stand in a long line for it, but it was pretty damn good and we went back, again at breakfast, on our last day.

Arrowtown

Yesterday we took a bus trip to Arrowtown, which was a gold rush town in the 1860s and still has most of its original buildings. Super cute…

There’s a little museum, which we didn’t go in, and as many cafes and shops as can be crammed into the available space. Whilst we were sipping a beer we got to watch a good juggler practice in the park… nice.

It led me to think about hobbies and passions… I’m very susceptible to their siren song. But only up to a point. I can juggle, for example, but I’ve never had the focus to truly be “a juggler”.

This guy above, who was on the return bus with us, seemed to have gone all in on photography, although when I took this picture it looked like he was trying to find a YouTube video to help him use his camera.

But this guy below, taking a break from his construction job, maybe hasn’t found his passion yet… he needs a gold rush to come along!

What Goes Up

That stripe on the right is the Queenstown Gondola. It’s super-steep, and gains about 1500 feet of elevation.

The main reason people go up there is to come back down in some creative or exciting way. There’s one part of that wants to point out that you’d end up in the same place a lot easier by not going at all… but that would be boring!

Early in the morning, a lot of mountain bikers use the lift and barrel down. There’s a little luge-thing at the top, which we rode and which was a lot of fun.

But the best was the paragliders… I wanted to do that but it only goes certain days… next trip.

Our motel was right next to the landing field… here’s a video.

Queenstown Cemetery

Some pretty 19th century gravestones, mixed in with more current ones.

Lee didn’t know she was posing…

The verse on this next one reads a lot like a Burma-Shave ad…

Milford Sound tour

Milford Sound, where you can take a 2-hr boat trip out to see the rocks and waterfalls, is (choose all that apply)

  • A 6-hour drive from Queenstown across countryside where not a lot has happened, ever, despite the driver’s heroic attempts at commentary
  • One of the wettest places in NZ with up to 30 feet of rain per year (Well, the driver said, you got to experience it the way it really is)
  • Breathtakingly beautiful, what with the steep mountains, glacial cataracts, etc, and probably even more so when not obscured by clouds
  • The most visited attraction in the country
  • Officially checked off our to-see list

Queenstown arrival

We flew into Queenstown yesterday afternoon for some sightseeing and to spend a little more time with Mitchel and Caroline. It’s a short 2 hour flight from Auckland, which ended with some turbulence and a spectacular approach along the valley.

A ski town in winter, Queenstown makes its summer tourist reputation on adrenaline sports… which we won’t be participating in. But for our first evening we got beautiful weather to stroll around town: Key West meets Park City meets Montreux.

The buskers were out in force. First we saw the mesmerizing but unphotogenic Kosmic Zone, with a beat-boxer, a synthesizer-er, and a didgeridoo-er. They had a good audience but the trancelike music might or might not have opened people’s wallets.

Then Sven From Sweden, whose patter and crowd skills were super funny, even if his tricks were probably more showy than difficult. He also had a big audience and really seemed to rake it in at the end.

And then there was jazz guy seated by himself next to the toilets. Maybe he just enjoys playing outside… he certainly wasn’t making a living.

Fergburger has been recommended over and over, but the 100+ people outside queuing up made us even happier that we’d run into Taco Medic first.

Kereru

That is a kereru or wood pigeon enjoying a snack of puriri berries. The kereru looks like a regular city pigeon more or less, but is about three times the size. They’re somewhat endangered because they make a nice meal…

Hamil-tron

I spent much of last week at a conference in Hamilton, about 2hrs southeast of Auckland. I gave my talk on the first day, and other people were responsible for the exhibit booth, both of which lowered my stress level for the rest of the trip.

Hamilton is the capital of the Waikato region, and has a pretty poor reputation… agriculture, rednecks (called “bogans” here), etc. If NZ were big enough to have flyover states, Hamilton would be a place you scoff at from your business class seat.

But like many such places, there are plenty of good parts. The Waikato River is nice, well-stocked with rowers and paddlers, and bordered by a miles-long bike trail.

The downtown strip is mostly unattractive but they do love them some Christmas, so that’s all right.

And…and… and… it turns out Richard O’Brien thought up the Rocky Horror Picture Show while working as a barber here. Any town with a life size Riff-Raff statue cannot be all bad. And a Riff-Raff webcam.

I took a lovely little jog around Lake Rotoroa, and my knees didn’t hurt any more at the end than at the beginning, which is an improvement over the last few weeks.

We got a nice welcoming song and dance routine from the local Iwi. I blow hot and cold about the hat-tip to Māori culture that is sort of obligatory here, no matter how white the assembled audience. This time, I found it moving and inspiring. And on the subject of inspiring, if you ever want to be reminded why healthcare technology might be a career worth pursuing, check out Terry Lee, whose life is made more bearable by all the gadgets and gizmos and high-tech stuff.

The big conference social event was at Hobbiton. I initially had mixed feelings: my third visit in under three years. But this was the first time I’d been there without rain, and we had the whole place to ourselves, an amazing buffet dinner, and so on. As we stood around the fire pit watching the jugglers and listening to the band, all doubts were erased.

It was my third time at this conference, and a pleasure to catch up with some old friends (and tell stories about others not in attendance) and some New Zealand friends who are starting to feel like old friends. I can’t say I miss the level of travel I used to do, but it was fun to be back in conference mode for a few days.

Melbourne

I had a quick visit to Melbourne last week. It’s a big bustling boomtown, construction everywhere, lots of buzz in the streets.

There were a bunch of cool steampunk sculptures around, including this one. I turned the handle and looked through the lens, as you are seemingly intended to do. I saw something, but didn’t stick around long enough to know if I’d actually seen the point.

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