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.

Tawapou Farm Community Planting Day

Tawapou Farm is my ex-boss Tom’s family place. A few years ago they decided to put the land into a conservation trust and (over a decade or more) restore the native plants that had been destroyed by 100 years of cattle and pine tree farming.

Now, they have a community planting day every year to further that cause. Tom’s brother, who runs a large plant nursery on the property, does all the prep work (including killing off all the existing grasses), and they put out the call for volunteers. We were replanting between a pretty little stream and a new road they’ve put in to get to the children’s homes on the coastal ridge.

The Orca Research lady had first world conservationist problems… she had to arrange special permission to park down by the work site because there had been an orca sighting in the bay and she was on call to rush off and document any repeats.

Tom’s partner Isabella’s daughter with her beau… is this a pose they might repeat some day???

I don’t know how many people actually showed up today… maybe 80-100? But many hands certainly lightened the work. We planted over 5,000 shrubs and trees in under three hours.

After, we were treated to a great lunch and a long talk about bird habitat management (which mostly means killing rodents by any means necessary).

Kiwis feel about their gumboots the way many Americans feel about cowboy boots, and there many on display. And as with cowboy boots, some looked more authentic than others.

We are sore and that will get worse tomorrow. But it was a fun morning of community and I think it will be a long-term memory of doing something that feels unequivocally “right.”

And then, the long walk from the hotel to the bar… life is good.

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, in Christchurch

Jogged around this morning. After the earthquakes in 2010–2012, Christchurch was in shambles. The central city is still more vacant land than buildings. There is a lot of construction activity, but it all felt pretty small-scale. Still, NZ’s good economy is good here too, and I suppose recovery will happen as it happens.

The Bridge of Remembrance, a War Memorial.

One of the recently terrorized mosques, now guarded by a couple of bored cops and adorned with many floral wreaths.

Air time

One of the people who also arrived early for this morning’s flight to Christchurch was Gwen, pictured above. She’d been traveling for 36 hours following a cruise in Scandinavia. Missed a connection. A bit wired up. Lost her luggage.

She’s written a book about her life, reviewed above. Does a lot of motivational speaking. She took my card and said she’ll send me a copy, here’s hoping!

Zero dark thirty

I arrived at the gate 1 hour 7 minutes before departure and was the first by quite a bit. Still not used to the casual approach to domestic air travel here… but it’s a good thing.

Beachcombing

The haul from our visit to Tom’s farm in Tutukaka the other weekend. A paua (abalone) shell, a couple of super iridescent swirly shells, and a fragment of something… but what?

I’ve always thought of myself as a words guy much more than a numbers guy. So it didn’t take long to come up with “BLEND” and “WHISKY.” And that would have been the end of it, until Google. I typed in “blend whisky jug” and scrolled through the image results for just a few seconds. Amazing. There it was on the first page.

Drumroll please… the Royal Blend Whisky by A G Thomson of Glasgow was apparently a favourite of King Edward VII. They made a lot of jugs like this one more or less 100 years ago. Somehow part of this one ended up on a tiny beach in Northern NZ. You can buy an intact example for a couple hundred bucks on Ebay and elsewhere. So my little shard isn’t exactly the wreck of the Atocha, but it was still a good treasure hunt!

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