The need for speed

I walk by this plaque most mornings on the way to and from the pool but I’d never stopped to read it until now.

Pip Gould’s record in the 200 only held for a few months, and the time has dropped steadily since then. The current record is 2:04.06, set by Missy Franklin in the 2012 Olympics.

Pip is 78 now and still lives in Auckland according to Wikipedia. Maybe she’s one of the ladies I see knocking out laps in the next lane over.

We support the monarchy

This was our first butterfly shortly before she came out of her chrysalis.

And a couple hours later, although we missed the actual event.

Because the caterpillars were being eaten very effectively by wasps and other predators, we took steps to bring some inside. The upstairs shower is now a caterpillar nursery with an expected crop of up to 20 butterflies over the next few weeks.

Caterpillars poop a lot.

We did get to watch one wriggle into its sleeping bag, though.

I haven’t really thought about the whole butterfly life cycle thing since learning about it in elementary school. But now that we’ve taken this little step to plant a couple of milkweed plants… it’s amazing!!

Weather or not

The summer weather has been great the last few weeks. But we did have a storm pass through the other day, and that means more dead umbrellas.

First flaps

Flying is hard! This young gull spent a few days hopping and flapping before finally getting out of the nest, probably by accident. Apparently it’s pretty common for them to fall out and finish growing up on the ground.

All three of the babies are now hanging around in the Moonies parking area, flying a little better each day, and eating a proper seagull diet of whatever their parents bring and what people feed them.


I know a lot of what I publish in this blog is cryptic, idiosyncratic, an inside joke. Sorry not sorry for that. I like that kind of thing.

This little whiteboard was in the window of a construction site — well after Christmas — and even I found it to be especially mysterious.

Ride toward the light

Auckland’s Light Path cycleway is a very visible downtown feature. It’s built on an old motorway ramp, and features interactive lights in the evening.

We finally rode it last weekend, pretty neat!

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 4: Palmy North

Exhibit A: We first heard of Palmerston North when Sparky, a small time crook character on Outrageous Fortune, had to lay low for a while in the worst place he could think of.

Exhibit B: Then we heard Laura Daniels’s great anthem about Palmy on Jono and Ben (may they rest in peace).

Exhibit C: We just watched Bandersnatch, which was awesome.

So… pick one option about our recent trip to Palmerston North.

Option 1: we stopped in town, had a nice meal, toured the city garden, the galleries, and a quirky corn-themed museum. We even visited the landfill named for John Cleese (who said Palmerston North was a perfect place for people who wanted to commit suicide but didn’t have the courage).

Option 2: we drove right through because we were tired and only halfway to the hotel in New Plymouth.

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 3 Part 1: Napier itself

Napier is the hub of the Hawkes Bay region. It sits on a tranquil bit of ocean…

and is famous for its Art Deco buildings. The buildings are all in the same style because all the old ones were flattened in an earthquake in 1936.

Over the years, they’ve really embraced the Art Deco brand. There’s a big festival in February, you can take guided tours in vintage cars, and no civic detail is overlooked…

We stayed in a nice enough motel right on the beachside boulevard…

Overall, a nice place to go back and spend a week, maybe? But it was kinda hot and flat and after you see the attractions (next post), maybe there isn’t really much to do there.

New Year’s Road Trip Stop 2: Esk Valley Winery

After leaving Taupo, we continued toward our first night stop in Napier. There are many wineries along the route, and we stopped in one at random. It turned out to be fairly well known, and winner of multiple awards. We got the standard tasting patter (from a guy with a very strong Chinese accent… hard to understand for us, but catering to Chinese tourists is an absolute necessity here) and bought a few bottles.

Most of the driving was on two-lane roads that make Vermont’s byways feel downright spacious by comparison. So a swig of wine was certainly welcome by this point, only a few coastal km from the destination.

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.

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