OUR 21 FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT OUR 2001 NEW ZEALAND TRIP
With a 2.4 NZ Dollars per US Dollar, things were 20% cheaper than I had assumed, based on exchange rates about a year ago. When we were there in 1994, there were only 1.6 NZD per USD. That's an improvement of 50% in the exchange rate. I challenge you to think of something that's 50% cheaper now than 7 years ago.
When you're on a birding trip in a vehicle, and you need to ask people questions about directions, it really helps if their answers are in English.
The New Zealand accent is a musical ball bouncing around the brain. I loved it when I figured out that Doug, owner and manager of Stewart Island Lodge, was saying the letter 'N' when he said 'Ian', as in Ian Fleming. And anything that rhymes with 'N', like Ken.
No matter where we were, when Sharon did her bird distress call, you could always count on at least one little Fantail to show up as an investigator. The picture in my mind is of the always-moving bird when it turned its back to us, and spread that great fantail, just for a second or two, before moving on to the next steps of the dance routine.
The automatic transmission was a Godsend for my feet. When you are birding, there is no substitute for having all your gear handy, stored in the same place all the time, instantly reachable. As opposed to stored in a suitcase in the trunk of your rental car. No matter how crummy the evening's RV park may be, you can always count on a warm, friendly home inside, with the same comfortable bed every night. When you get to be our age, you really need a good back treatment each night. The refrigerator, stove and microwave allowed us to eat what we wanted (keeping roughly on my weight-watcher plan, though without any point counting), when we wanted, and very inexpensively. The GPS, when I paid attention to it, told us where we were, compass directions, and how far away that lake was and whether we were headed for it. Having a flushable toilet was very handy in the middle of the night, so we didn't have to dress to go outside. The diesel petrol in New Zealand was from $1.00 to $1.25 per gallon, far cheaper than the gasoline at home in California. The motorhome cost of about $50 US per day, not counting petrol, is unbelievable. The ability to change plans on a dime was sometimes critical, and the fall season assured us that no RV park would ever be full, so we never made reservations, nor did we ever need to. Having re-read this, it sounds so good that I better quit, or you'll think I'm making it all up.
When the oystercatchers would manage to keep an oyster, without a gull stealing it, they would go to where the sand was wet. Then they would stick the oyster down into the sand, like planting a flag. then, while the sand held the oyster in place, they would attack it from the top, pry it open, and there was dinner.
RENTING THE MOBILE PHONE
Actually Adventure Caravans lent us the phone for free. I then dialed a number, gave my credit card "numbah", loaded the phone with $100 NZ (about $40 US), so we could call visitor centers, hotlines, attractions to get hours of operation, cruises to see if they were full, the Bolstads to check in occasionally, etc. In the past, we would just find a pay phone. It's incredible how much time and effort you save with an on-board cell phone rather than having to find a pay phone.
And for the time when the mobile phone was out of range, the phone cards were incredibly cheap and useful, once you figured out how to use them, and once you memorized all the right numbers.
THE BUSH, aka FORESTS
I think I recall a DoC ranger tell us that of all the original forests in New Zealand, all had been cleared except for 16%. So the forests are really special, and it's only a sort of miracle that they weren't totally eradicated. Which would have eradicated most if not all the endemic forest species of New Zealand. Unimaginable. It's so great to walk into a forest path, and have the temperature drop from say 85 degrees to 72-75 almost instantly. Natural air conditioning.
TIRI TIRI MATANGI, et al
There are some species which were originally on the North and/or South Island which, because of the natural lack of mammals for eons of time, came to make their nests on the ground. When mammals were introduced by the Maori and later by Europeans, they had a natural supermarket, except that all the food was free. Some species were totally wiped out, while a handful were rescued at the "last minute," by capture. These then were used in captive breeding programs. But where to put the newly hatched birds, when they were ready to go out into the big old world? There wasn't any place. So the New Zealanders came up with the idea of total mammal eradication on several remote islands, where the captive breeding program offspring could be placed safely. If it weren't for this idea, I doubt very seriously if there would be any Saddlebacks in the world, to name just one such species. I have this internal argument about whether it's "fair" to count the birds that have been placed on Tiri Tiri Matangi as life birds. Our rule is that they not be caged -- that they be wild. This is sort of a gray area, but in the end, we decided that if we don't count them, where would we have to go to see one in the wild? The answer, sometimes, is sorry, Jack, there aren't any that fit those requirements.
We owe everything to Bill and Syl, and daughter Rachel. If Bill had never moved down there and connected with me, I doubt very seriously whether we would have gone to New Zealand. This soon anyway. And while we were there, they were our "island." We knew that we could check in there and rest or recuperate or whatever. Having that possibility in your back pocket went a long way towards peace of mind and relaxation during our trip. And of course, when we did visit, it was great fun to trade stories and see what they were up to. Syl insisted on stopping at the plastic pipe place, so I could have them build me a Maori Fighting Stick shipping tube. Rachel found the best motorhome rental place for us, and knows which nest parasite bird chicks keep their own song and which adopt the song of their foster parents. Well, in one instance, anyway.
BILL BOLSTAD, ANIMAL TRAINER
In 1994, Bolstad's had a cat which they had trained to jump through a hoop. Seven years later, 2001, and that cat had passed on. But Rachel had picked out a scrawny little fluff of nothing and brought it home from the pound. And Bill has trained it to do the same thing. One day when we were walking from Syl's place of work to a nearby shopping center, to have lunch, we passed by a stand of flowers. Bill asked if he had ever shown me how he could make a bee jump through a hoop. I laughed at the time, and the subject changed to something else. That night, a praying mantis made its way into the house, and Bill had it going through his keyring before the evening was over. You know, if you are ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN that you can do something, then you can.
It seemed that every fourth or fifth green pasture had a Paradise Shelduck pair, and about once every day or two, we would see as many as 30 or 40 shelducks together. Sometimes we would stop to take a picture, but invariably, they would all lift off and fly to safety. The memory of their light wing patches vibrating with the wingbeats is a great one.
The pavement, on the average, was better in New Zealand than in California. The highways were narrower though, and except in and around the bigger cities, they were two-lane affairs, where you met oncoming traffic. Instead of the more expensive two-lane bridges, however, they have usually economized to the one-lane bridge. In every case, they have chosen one of the directions as having the right-of-way, and a key sign leading up to the bridge in each direction tells you what to do if you are in a tie with a car from the other direction. Sometimes, you have to yield, and stay behind a white line. Other times, the other vehicle must do that, and you can drive right through. Of course common sense rules, and if somebody is on or almost on the bridge, it doesn't matter whether you have the right of way or not, you wait. And sometimes a train track would share the one-lane bridge. Incredible. And once, the one-lane bridge was a double-decker, with the train having the top and cars and trucks the bottom.
SUNRISES AND SUNSETS
I don't know why it is, but on the mornings and evenngs when it wasn't overcast or raining, the sun coming up or going down was absoutely spectacular. Such pinks, purples, blues, whites and blazing oranges I don't remember seeing before. Of course, I have forgotten lots of stuff I HAVE seen...
I never saw a purple cow, I never hope to see one... But I tell you this, my friend, I have seen a New Zealand purple mushroom, in the forest.
From Te Anou, on the way to Milford Sound, you drive past Mirror Lakes. And in the first one you come to, there is a little walkway so you can enjoy the water. There were little New Zealand Scaups when we were there. Sticking up from the water is a sign, in mirror image and upside down, that says "Mirror Lakes," so that when you look at its reflection, that reflection reads correctly. Kudos to the person who thought of that.
STEWART ISLAND DOCK LIFE
The dock to which the Foveaux Express ferry would fasten itself, in Halfmoon Bay of Stewart Island, is firmly attached to piers driven into the earth, below the bay. But when a bigboat like that first bumps the dock, it feels like a thundering earthquake. Very cool. Well, if you like earthquakes. And watching the longshoremen(?) operate the on-boat hoist, lifting crates of luggage and motorcycles onto and off of the dock, was something that I could watch for hours.
This is no longer the name of the airline, as they changed it recently. But the little plane they used to carry us back and forth was great fun. Two engines, with one passenger riding shotgun beside the pilot. The pilot himself gave the safety instructions prior to turning around, getting seated, and piloting the plane off the ground. Four rows of two passengers each. The air strip on Stewart Island didn't even have a building. A van pulling a trailer would shuttle passengers, luggage and mail back and forth between the "air terminal building" in downtown Oban (the island's only town) and the air strip.
On the east coast of the South Island, there are about 15 or 20 perfectly round boulders, which have been worn away by the action of the surf on the shore. Sharon knows the mechanism by which this works, but I want to stay in wonder at how this could happen, so I subconsciously tuned her out when she read me the details. One of them "exploded" though, and its parts are on the beach for you to see.
SUPERTRIM ROADSIDE HEDGES
A tractor with a special trimmer shaves the hedges as smooth and clean as a baby's butt, and as straight up and down as a stone building. We saw one of these in operation once, and they were a lot of fun to watch.
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