Tegalalang rice paddies

After lunch we gambled that the rain would stop and headed to the World Heritage Site Tegalalang rice paddies.

The rain did stop and held off while I walked rim to rim to rim. Impossibly steep, intricately engineered waterways, lots and lots of tourists.

It was interesting to see different people navigate the muddy paths. I saw a Chinese girl in white ballet flats and a flowy pleated skirt do the whole walk without a drop of mud on her, and a European in sturdy REI travel clothes who was utterly covered in goop.

Have another cup

Lee hadn’t seen a coffee plantation, and Chuck and I were both willing to do it again, so Kadek took us to one. See, said the guy who showed us around, like the Hollywood sign!!

The tour was pretty similar to the previous one, but a little better overall. Here’s some specimen plants, here’s the coffee processing, interactive this time…

Hot work and a hard life. I would not want to bet which of us is older.

Then on to the tasting, including a cup of the Kopi Luwak, the famous civet cat poop beans. For the record, it was a good cup of coffee, but I’m not gonna be shelling out the $50+ per pound on a regular basis.

We got to pet a sleepy (probably drugged, now I think of it) civet, and then exited through the gift shop.

Woulda bought a poo hunter t-shirt, but all they had was an Asian medium size… which I definitely am not.

Tirta Empul

On our final full day in Ubud, our Airbnb host Kadek took us on a sightseeing tour. We originally planned to do a bike tour, but seeing the amount of traffic on the roads convinced us otherwise.

Luckily, Kadek is also a driver, so he knew just where to take us.

First stop, the ATM for another couple million rupiah. Second stop, the Tirta Empul holy water purification temple. Real Balinese Hindus come here to pray and wash away sins. The Eat, Pray, Love set (who constituted the majority of people we saw in the baths) do the same, although if anything they take it even more seriously. And tourists like us come to take pictures.

The temple grounds are really beautiful. I find the Balinese carvings and sculptures to be really evocative… their mythological creatures somehow seem just exactly mythological enough.

Everyone has to wear a sarong, which they give you on the way in.

The Balinese Hindu calendar seems to be neither lunar nor solar according to the explanations we got. There are ceremonies and rituals at odd intervals, and then more that happen for births, deaths, marriages, and so on. There’s a good time to start a business, a good time to get engaged, and so on. So with all that complexity, we had no idea what the big procession we witnessed was all about… but it was pretty impressive!

After all the offerings were put on a table, many of the marchers got to take a break in the shade. Out comes the phone, and snacks.

Then more parading of fancy and apparently weighty icons, and the big shaggy dragon brought up the rear.

It was all in all a really special place, mystifying but benignly so. Kadek did us a solid on the way out by getting the door guard to let us skip the enormous handicraft bazaar they funnel you through on the way out.

Coffee plantation

Yesterday Chuck and I went on a “downhill bike tour”, more about that in the next few posts.

The tour included a stop at a coffee plantation, where we got a perfunctory tour of some plants,

a peek into the traditional methods of producing coffee,

a viewing of the beans in various stages (including freshly pooped out by a luwak or civet),

and a tasting of all the things we might choose to buy on the way out.

It was fine, in a cruise ship attraction kind of way.

Ubud Monkey Forest

A few hundred meters from the Royal Palace is the Sacred Monkey Forest.

One minute you’re walking down an overstimulating commercial thoroughfare, the next you’re in the cool quiet jungle.

But it’s not like it was unexpected… we saw a handful of monkeys in town as we got close, and there was this right outside the gate…

The monkeys are long-tailed macaques, and there are about 600 of them. They can leave any time, but they mostly stay in the reserve: lots of nice trees, no motor scooters, and a steady diet provided three times a day. Sweet potatoes, corn, bananas, etc.

You are warned when you enter to not make eye contact, not to smile at the monkeys, and to remove all your shiny jewelry or the monkeys might steal it.

Mostly, the monkeys seemed way more interested in their own lives than ours… you could instantly see the social hierarchies being played out around the feeding area.

This monkey was posing, minding her own business, and then this happened:

There are several temples inside the reserve, with a lot of cool and/or disturbing sculptures.

All in all I was fascinated and a little creeped out. I kinda want to go back and just observe quietly, maybe next trip.

Ngockin aroung Ngunguru

We are up north this weekend visiting ex-boss Tom at his family farm in Tutukaka. But the hotel there wanted way too much for a room, so we found an Airbnb in Ngunguru, the ngext towng over. Pronungciation has beeng a topic. There’s no hard G, so no gurus in Ngunguru.


Ngunguru sits on an estuary. There’s a few hundred houses, a mix of second homes, retirees, and some people who make the commute into Whangarei. Pretty sleepy.

The next morning we went for a walk around. Despite there being nothing to see, we saw a lot…

The jandal fence.

The time capsule.

A whole series of funny little ant-themed pictures on the sidewalk.

The blue car that drove off the road.

A funny sign at the golf course and sports complex clubhouse.

And more. Would you want to spend your remaining time here? I don’t think I would, but it’s always a nice surprise to find some of the “more than meets the eye” stuff that surely exists everywhere.

New Year’s Road Trip Stop 5: New Plymouth

Our second and final night on the road was at New Plymouth, on the West coast.

We got in about dusk and went for a walk to shake off the road. One of the first sights we saw was this eerie light hanging out over the water.

It turns out to be Len Lye’s famous Wind Wand, one of several cool pieces of public art around the downtown area. Art takes money. New Plymouth has enjoyed some influx of wealth due to offshore oil and gas exploration. The current government, with its Green Party coalition partners, has stopped that program, so things are a bit tight at the moment.

We saw more Len Lye art at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery… like a lot of more recent art that appeals to me, these pieces are conceptually so simple that I say to myself “I coulda done that,” but then I find myself saying “But I didn’t and I’m glad somebody else did, because it’s magical!”

We walked around town for a while, had lunch, chatted with a blind clarinet player who was busking on the town square, and thus inspired picked up a couple of Django Reinhardt CDs for the drive home.

On the way our of town we stopped to see the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge and walk along the seaside track.

Mt. Taranaki looms in the background. It’s a ways from NP, but the road passes relatively close by, and it’s the most amazing mountain I’ve ever seen, as big as most Rocky Mountain peaks, and just sitting there all by itself.

Of all the places we saw on this quick trip, I’m most excited to go back and explore the New Plymouth and the Taranaki region in more depth.

New Year’s Road Trip (Non-)Stop 1: Road Shots

Once we left Auckland, it was 2-lane roads all the way. The van has all the usual amenities except cruise control. There were some stretches where it would have been nice to set it and forget it, but mostly I had to pay close attention.

On the way into Palmy North, the out of date maps on our GPS had us going over the Manawatu Gorge road, but it was closed a couple of years ago due to repeated land slips. There’s a detour up a twisty mountain road that takes you right up into the Te Apiti wind farm. It had been windy all day, and the spinning turbines were quite beautiful in their way. People hate them, and talk about spoiled views and subsonic disruption and so on. But to me, they are gorgeous feats of engineering and seem so much more benign than the amount of destruction associated with coal mines and oil refineries (although a refinery on a foggy night can also be quite pretty).

Our next non-stop was to see the glockenspiel clock in Stratford. We weren’t at the right time for its twice-daily performance, sadly. Lonely Planet seemed a bit snarky about this particular Roadside Attraction.

And finally, the giant sheep shearing sculpture at Te Kuiti. Other than “awesome,” there’s really not much to be said about that.

New Year’s Road Trip Stop 3 Part 2: Lick This, Dubious Boobs, NANZ, Op Shops, and Trainworld

An overnight stop doesn’t really allow much exploring… but we were ready to see as much of Napier as we could with our Lonely Planet guide and some pre-show googling (do you capitalize the verb form???).

First stop, the Pania of the Reef statue. Lonely Planet told us the Maōri story (like a lot of the Maōri stories we’ve heard, this one involved star-crossed lovers, angry parents, and being turned into islands forever separate) and described the statue as having “dubious boobs.” After close examination I can see the argument… they did look sort of pasted on, perhaps an ice cream scoop had been used in the sculpting process.

The ice cream shop at the skatepark is called Lick This, which we thought was all kinds of awesome. Did the local Council actually approve that name?

Maybe the biggest attraction in Napier is NANZ, the National Aquarium of New Zealand. It was pretty cool… better pictures than I ever get while diving! We got there soon after they opened, and it was a good thing… by the time we left it was packed!

The Little Penguins were super cute, but the attendant had seen it all before and was glued to her phone.

For the big ocean tank you can ride on a moving sidewalk in an acrylic tunnel under the water.

We still had a couple hours, so we went into town to stroll and eat lunch. I executed the best parallel parking job EVER!

And then we stumbled across Trainworld. Lee has a longtime fondness for scale models, and train layouts are one of the best ways to indulge that interest. It’s not really about the trains… it’s the landscaping and buildings and painting she enjoys.

Like many private museums/ attractions, this one seems to run on a shoestring budget, and has seen better days. Still… some really great train layouts and worth the $10 for us.

After that, we stopped into a couple of vintage (aka thrift) shops, and scored a couple of nice prints:

Pukekos by Rob McGregor, and

Spirit of the Plains by Sydney Long.

By the time it was all said and done we left a little later than we intended, but it was a fun half day in Napier.

New Year’s Road Trip Stop 1: Taupo

We loaded the minivan and took off this week for a 3-day tiki tour* of some North Island sites we hadn’t seen.

First stop, Lake Taupo. Famous for various athletic pursuits, gorgeous scenery, etc. We tried to have lunch in a café but the high prices and lack of service convinced us to eat the ham sandwiches we’d packed in the chilly bin.

We walked around the village for a while. It boasts the “World’s Coolest McDonalds.” You can go inside the plane.

New Zealand is a land of roadside attractions… not much here is at Disney scale. We found ourselves mesmerized watching people smack golf balls into the water. If you get a hole in one you win a prize, which apparently happens every couple of weeks. This guy didn’t win, but he had a nice stroke and hit the platform about three times out of four.

* Don’t know exactly what a tiki tour is, but Kiwis say it a lot. I think it just means a trip that rambles around and makes a lot of stops… possibly too many.

Whangarei Detour

We stopped off for lunch in Whangarei on the way back to Auckland Monday. You could feel the hustle and bustle of last minute shopping and final preparations.

Other than lunch, our main goal was to visit the Clapham’s Clock Museum, a roadside attraction if ever there was one. It was fun! All the running clocks are purposely set to different times so you get a constant dose of chimes and cuckoos. In the picture above, I’m posing near an Ingraham banjo clock very similar to one that sits in a box in Brattleboro waiting for me to finish the steampunk restoration project I imagined a couple years ago.

We also stopped in at the very impressive hospice thrift shop and admired some art. We came away with a set of ramekins that are the perfect size for baked eggs. Which we had for breakfast a couple days later. Score!

Auckland Zoo

We went to the zoo last weekend, not because we so love zoos, but more because it’s an Attraction, and while here we should see the Attractions.

The baboons were playful, but many of the other animals seemed pretty sleepy, and who could blame them? It was a warm day, and napping in the sunshine was definitely a savvy option.

We glimpsed an elephant getting a bath…

and pregnant zebras munching apples and carrots…

And by the way, once you’ve had the chance to say zebra with a short e, you’ll never go back to zeeeeebra.

There were lots of cool birds, although I didn’t get any really inspired pics of them, they were mostly too far away or moved too fast. But the tortoise was obliging of my slow shutter finger…

It’s a pretty big place and we were definitely tired by the time we got done. Would be fun to go back at dawn or dusk sometime when the critters might be more active.

Leggo my LEGO

We saw the traveling exhibit of LEGO models at the Auckland Museum on its final day last weekend. Amazing details and craftsmanship.

The models all had explanatory cards: a few thousand pieces, a few hundred hours of work, tricky color or shape design puzzles to solve.

Most of the models were as expected… the ancient and modern wonders of the world, depicted LEGO-realistically, but there were some moments of levity… a little Indiana Jones vignette under the hanging gardens of Babylon, spies loitering around the onion domes of St. Basils. And this…

It was a photographic inspiration…

and hopefully inspired some young engineers at the same time.

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