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Monthly Archives: February 2006

Back to Civilization!


Southlands-SnipI’m sitting in a little coffee shop in Christchurch, across the street from the eponymous Cathedral. At 300 thousand souls, Christchurch is by far the largest city on South Island, and it’s quite a contrast from the tiny towns and rural backpacker’s hostels we’ve been living in. You can even get wireless internet here, so I can update the ol’ blog.

In the past week or so, our friendly RAV4, Lurch, has taken us from the east coast to the west coast through Haas Pass, up the west coast, and back to the east coast again through Arthur’s Pass. Driving NZ is really an amazing experience. You can drive across it east-to-west in a few hours, albeit through steep, winding mountain passes that abruptly switch from two-lane roads to single-lane bridges and abutments just as the roads get “interesting”. As bad for the karma as it is, I’m really glad we’re in an SUV — Janelle had booked a mid-size, but they were out, so she got an upgrade, and man, were we lucky.

The places we’ve been driving the past several days — the Southlands and west coast — have actually felt quite remote. Endlessly stunning, highly variable terrain, occasionally dotted with tiny hamlets — usually a gas station, cafe, hotel and hostel, and not much more. There are only a very few towns with populations of over a thousand.

It’s hard to put into words how spectacularly gorgeous NZ is. Pictures can’t really do it justice, but I’m trying. I just posted a couple of new photosets, but I’m still a few days behind. Ack! Too many pictures, not enough internet.

How to Order a Coffee in New Zealand (and Other Observations)


Coffee-Nz-SnipNew Zealand seems to have much more of a cafe culture than Australia — it’s almost Vancouverish sometimes. Smallish Dunedin, for instance, is dotted with cool, funky little coffee shops and every town seems to have a few. As in Australia, you order coffee by specifying its colour, length, height and orientation, though not all combinations are valid. You can get a “flat white” (which is very tasty), or a “tall short black” (which isn’t), but not a “flat black”. I think. However, Kiwis seem to like their coffee a lot stronger than Aussies (who seem to prefer tea, anyway), so a flat white in NZ is a fair bit more potent than one from Australia. Espresso drink prices are about the same as Canada, but drip coffee usually costs the same as espresso coffee, which makes it insanely expensive by Canadian standards.

And a French press is just called a “plunger”. I bought one the day I was forced to drink New Zealand instant coffee.

Like Australia, New Zealand doesn’t have tipping, and restaurant service tends to be pretty awful by North American standards. Perversely bad, almost — you get friendlier service at a post office or supermarket than a pub. And the guy at the Dunedin visitor’s centre was openly patronizing. However, I’ve found that kiwis who aren’t actually in the service industry are extremely friendly and helpful, even when they assume I’m American. (My hands-down least-favorite experience in Australia was people who were rude to me right up to the moment they found out I was Canadian.)

Also, I have to say, I really like the kiwi accent, especially hearing middle-aged women or kids. It just sounds so cheery and chirpy. And a lot of kiwis seem to have a cheerfully sarcastic sense of humour, of which I approve greatly.

Okay, there’s more, like my trip to Milford Sound (which is, alone, worth the price of a ticket to NZ), but I’m writing this in a coffee shop in Queenstown and I can’t find any place to charge my laptop battery, so it will have to wait for later.

A Tide With Artistic Aspirations


A Tide with Artistic Aspirations

On the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island lie a beautiful and remote landscape of beaches, cliffs, forests and millions of sheep called The Catlins (which I keep accidentally calling “The Caitlins”, thank you Degrassi Junior High). I really like the southlands, but I have to admit, the steady blasts of Antarctic air make it seem a bit less summery than other parts of NZ.

Link (to Catlins photoset)

South of the 45th


I’m in the town of Invercargill now, on the very southern tip of South Island, and it really does feel pretty far south. The evening are long and the weather is a chilly 13 degrees with a pounding five-minute rain storm approximately once an hour. I bought an oilskin cap with earflaps to keep out the cold and rain. People here really wear oilskin clothes on the street, and they greet you with a cheery “hiya!”

The Southern Scenic road from Dunedin to Invercargill is spectacular. The entire thing looks like a tourism ad for NZ, with sheep-covered hills, dramatic cliffs, and rocky beaches. Not to mention waterfalls and sea caves. Hopefully I’ll get a few pics up soon, but for now, I’ve managed to post some of my backlog of Australia, Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula on Flickr.

Australia pics

New Zealand pics

In the Land of Sheep and Uruk-Hai


Okay, I’m just on a terminal in an Internet cafe, so no pictures yet, but believe you me, I have some good ones. New Zealand is just as gorgeous as they say. Pretty freaking idyllic, in fact. I’m almost getting used to having my breath taken away. The kiwis are funny and friendly, the weather is beautiful, and orc attacks are, at worst, infrequent.

I’m in the little city of Dunedin right now, which is a mixture of modern and Victorian architecture built on a series of hills leads to a cliff-edged peninsula of rolling sheep pastures and little towns that look like they’ve barely changed in sixty years or longer. I met up with Jan yesterday and we set out on the peninsula in our rental car, which we named Lurch en route. We visited a Victorian castle (Larnach Castle) and then went on a tour of the breeding grounds of the rare Yellow-Eyed Penguin. We even witnessed a sheep-vs-penguin battle for a little patch of grass they both just *had* to have.

The penguin won. Penguins rock.