Saturday, January 31, 2015


Our next stop was Arrowtown, a gold-mining town populated by thousands of Europeans and Chinese seeking their fortune during the late 1800s. It has gone to some lengths to preserve a lot of its Chinese history, with an outdoor mini-trail populated with signage and restored houses from the former Chinese settlement.

Lord of the Rings stops:
We visited the Ford of Bruinen where Arwen takes Frodo across the river to escape the Nazgul. It was definitely recognizable from the movie. We also walked through a forest to the Gladden Fields were Isildur lost the ring in the river.

The Lakes District Museum was worth the admission. Sure there were several grammatical and punctuation errors on the signs. But overall it had lots of interesting information and a basement area with an old carriage, teaching classroom, bakery and blacksmith room replicas, and mining equipment. It also didn't neglect the Chinese history of the area.

That was about it for Arrowtown. Next we drove to another LOTR location on the Kawarau River: the section of the Anduin River where the Pillars of the Kings (or Argonath) were digitally added. Right across the street was another great view of the river, from the bridge where bungy-jumping originated. A.J. Hackett Bungy is still operating and letting people jump off the bridge after forking over lots of money. We watched two people jump and were glad not to be them!

Friday, January 30, 2015


After the day at the glacier, we drove to Glenorchy, about a 40-minute drive up the side of Lake Wakatipu. It was a nice drive along the cliffs with views of the lake, a couple islands in the lake, the mountains, and the hillsides.
The town itself was fairly small. We continued past it on our way to a couple Lord of the Rings and Hobbit locations. The first was around Paradise where Beorn's house, the land between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood, Isengard, Amon Hen, and Lothlorien were filmed. Unfortunately, we were stopped partway through one of the forests by a creek too large for our car to be able to ford. The scenery was pretty, but I couldn't help but notice how similar it was to some of the coast of California. I think someone coming from a city or the plains would have been more startled by all of the features. It made me appreciate my experiences in California, for sure.
Paradise 1
Paradise 2
where Isengard was digitally added in LOTR

Back in Glenorchy, we parked in a lot by the lake to eat our lunch (in the car, because it was sprinkling and very windy out). I noticed a big black dog on the beach barking as it tried to get two ladies to play fetch with it. I assumed the dog was theirs and was feeling up for some socializing. We got out of the car, started throwing the stick for the dog, and struck up a conversation with them about the dog. Turns out, they were tourists and the dog actually belonged to locals and knew it could get people to play with it by visiting the beach area (a new crop of tourists every day!). Later it was joined by a golden retriever. One of the ladies was from Australia. Her friend was from the U.S., and it turned out she had a PhD so we talked about the lousy job market, and she offered advice on how to get ahead once we received our degrees. It was a very encouraging encounter -- one of those occasional travel experiences you don't seem to get as many of when you're stuck in your daily routine. We parted ways, then as we were filling up at a gas station down the main street, she ran into us again and gave us her business card so we could stay in touch.

On the way back to Queenstown, we stopped to hike at a couple other LOTR locations near Closeburn and Twelve Mile Delta: Ithilien, where Sam saw the oliphants, the place where Sam cooked the "coneys" or rabbits, and the spot where Frodo, Sam, and Gollum watched the battle between Harad men and the Rangers of Gondor. It was here that we unknowingly were bitten by bugs on the trail and had to deal with a few itchy bites on arms and legs the rest of the trip.
in the Twelve Mile Delta area 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rob Roy Glacier Hike

I planned on doing the biggest and longest hike -- the Rob Roy Glacier Hike -- on our first full day after arriving in Queenstown to ensure we would have the energy to finish it. And it's a good thing I love glaciers, because it was a hard day for sure. To get to the start of the track, it was an hour to Lake Wanaka, then another hour, which I hadn't realized.
rough idea how far the glacier area was from Queenstown
The last 30km were on an unpaved farm road, and 30km doesn't sound like a lot until you're on an unpaved road for that long and your hands are going numb from the vibrating steering wheel and you're wondering when you are finally going to be done with it. We saw a glacier on the way there which helped encourage us to stick it out. Like the guidebook said, there were 9 fords to cross on that road. Thankfully, none were too bad. When we finally made it to the parking lot, we were glad to see many other cars there and other hikers preparing to start out.
this was a promising sight while on the dirt road -- a glacier!
I was not prepared for the blasting winds and droplets of rain/river water pinging my face as we traversed the first section of open fields. It literally stopped me in my tracks and almost bowled me over several times. I was tempted to turn back, but I saw that the track went into forest ahead and figured that that would cut down on the viciousness of the weather.

We made it across the swing bridge and settled into a slow but steady hike with our rainhoods on to keep out the constant sprinkling. We hadn't hiked in a while, and it was uphill most of the way. We reached the Lower Lookout after 2 hours and were tempted to head back, but the view wasn't that great and since we'd come all this way, we decided to keep going the 30 minutes more to the Upper Lookout. So glad we did! The view of the waterfalls and several glaciers was great, despite the rain making it difficult to photograph. It's hard to capture the sounds of the hike -- the river running alongside most of the track was so loud, it was hard to think sometimes, but that's part of the enjoyment of hiking for me. The wind blew one of the waterfalls sideways at one point which was fun to watch.

view from the Lower Lookout

view from the Upper Lookout
Glaciers are awesome!
The hike back was difficult because of having to go downhill -- hard on the knees. A few groups of fresh hikers passed us and I felt relieved to be on the way back to the carpack, not just starting out. Of course, now we had to go back another 30km on that dirt road. We did get to witness sheep crossing a bridge in front of us and took a video of them running and leaping to avoid the car. Their "bahs" are so cute! We stopped briefly in Wanaka to stretch our legs, then made the drive back to Queenstown.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Into Queenstown

The drive from Dunedin to Queenstown was supposed to take around 3.5 hours, but like the previous drive, it ended up taking longer. It's hard to stay at 100km on a two-lane highway with slow-moving vehicles and very few passing lanes. We took the advice of our Dunedin hosts and waited until the Cromwell area to stop at one of the several fruit stands on the side of the road. The shop had so much fruit -- I contented myself with only buying enough apricots and nectarines to tide me over until the return home.
view from the balcony
view from the room
In Queenstown, the late afternoon was nice and warm, unlike what the forecast had predicted. We checked into the hostel (Hippo Lodge) which had great views of the city and lake just like it had promised online. Going for a walk through the city center, we indulged in some gelato and picked up some of the perishables at a grocery store that we weren't able to bring in our cooler.

You'll hear that it's hard to do Queenstown on a budget. It's a huge tourist destination and has been growing a lot in recent years. The adventure/thrill attractions are certainly not inexpensive (bungy jumping, jet-boating, paragliding, etc.) and the restaurants often cost more than the already high-priced New Zealand ones. However, if you don't do the thrill stuff and pack your own food, it is possible to have a good vacation and see lots of the area without spending a lot. We spent time hiking, walking, and driving and pre-planned all of our meals (and pre-prepped a lot of them before leaving). It saved a lot on time to have breakfast ready to just be re-heated each morning: scrambled eggs and bacon, with two special days of spelt-flour pancakes and maple syrup. Lunch was sandwiches, crackers & cheese, yogurt, fruit, and cut-up vegetables. Dinner was pasta with marinara sauce, quesadillas, tacos, and fish. We made pumpkin bread and chocolate chip muffins for dessert.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Roadtrip: Dunedin

Our week-long trip had enough stuff and photos to spread it out over a couple posts, so this one will be about our first stop, Dunedin.

Dunedin is the second-largest city on the South Island of New Zealand. It is supposed to be about 4.5 hours driving distance south of Christchurch. was raining most of the way so I drove more slowly. I was very glad we got new tires put on before we left. We made it into the city too late to be able to do any of the things only open until 5 (because we got a late start out of Christchurch, having to drive our cat to the cattery on the other side of town), so we headed out to our Airbnb place to stay. It was our first Airbnb experience and it was a lovely home with a big, upgraded bathroom and kitchen. Our hosts were very friendly and their 9-month-old dog was nice, too.

Our host suggested going out to one of the beaches on the peninsula to see some sea lions. We saw two animals, either sea lions or fur seals. We also saw a bird with a long beak poking holes in the sand to find food for its two chicks. It started crying at us when we got too close. Afterward, we drove out to the end of the peninsula which is an albatross and penguin breeding colony. You have to fork over a lot for the tours, so we hung out with the large population of seagulls nearby instead. On our way back to the car, far away from the hoards of gulls we had just been around, one decided to target D and pooped on his head! I tried cleaning it off with a napkin, but it didn't help much and was so gross! After cleaning that up at home, we stayed up late chatting with our hosts about the city, our life so far in NZ, their kids who all live abroad, and eventually NZ and US politics. It seems to be a lot safer to do that here than in the US which is kinda nice.

not the guilty one :)
The next day, since the weather was still bad, we skipped the Larnach Castle and instead went on a Cadbury Factory tour. It was a 75-minute tour through the actual factory and we all had to wear hair nets and take out everything from our pockets and take off jewelry. I couldn't help but inwardly shake my head at the wall display as our energetic host explained the ingredients that make up their milk, dark, and white chocolate. I wish those were everything that was used! It was missing all of the additives and preservatives actually listed on the candy bars. Example: Sugar, Full Cream Milk, Glucose Syrup, Vegetable Fat, Butter, Cocoa Mass, Milk Solids, Cocoa Butter, Food Acid (331), Emulsifiers (Soya Lecithin, 471), Humectant (422), Salt, Flavours. May contain traces of Nuts. Ultimately, the New Zealand brand, Whittaker's, makes much better-tasting chocolate than Cadbury. It doesn't cut corners.

After an obligatory photo stop at the Dunedin Railway Station, the most photographed building in the country, we visited the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum which was a good, big museum (and free). I can't imagine trying to survive here after coming off a long boat journey. What a risk! We had a little time leftover before 5 to do some of the Otago Museum (also free) which is located next to Otago University, the oldest university in NZ. I enjoyed the section on the birth of modern conveniences -- they really are so relatively new in the history of the world.

leopard seal (the bad guy in Penguins of Madagascar)

Otago University's pretty architecture
Next we drove to the steepest public street in the world, Baldwin Street. Several other groups of people were also there, and some even climbed it! A couple enterprising homeowners had little shops run out of their houses on one side of the street with t-shirts and refreshments. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, I guess. We learned during the Cadbury tour that every year, 75,000 Jaffa balls (orange and chocolate balls) are released at the top of the street and the first 5 to make it to the bottom are winners. Charities get the proceeds from selling raffle tickets for the numbered balls. It sounded like a great fundraising idea.

The following day the weather cleared up so we got the nice harbor view from our place that I was hoping for. We took the high road on the peninsula with great views of the water. Then we were back on a two-lane highway to our next destination: Queenstown!

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Book A Day

Last week I had several instances of reading a book in a day, which was quite satisfactory. To procrastinate on working on my project proposal (wherein I have to outline everything I'm going to write about and provide a background to the topic), I started reading Ursula Le Guin's The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction (1989) and continued the whole day until I finished it. Admittedly, I have not held her in very high esteem after I was let down by her classic The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). It just wasn't the groundbreaking feminist science fiction novel I was expecting, and her use of the male pronoun always bothered me. This book was a collection of 1970s essays as well prologues to her books, with her going back and providing commentary on them from her 1989 perspective. It gave me some good insight into her perspective on both the science fiction field as a whole, and her works as a part of it. I liked a lot of what she had to say about the genre, and she admitted that she later realized what a big deal it was that she used male pronouns and regretted it. So, I am looking forward to rereading that novel (checked it out of the library today) as well as her other ones from the 60s and 70s. They will undoubtedly be important novels to compare to Dune, and I'm hoping I will like them.

The next day, I read H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895). Nice, quick science fiction with a tolerable frame narrative. Normally you forget the narrator is telling a story by the time you return to them, but this book is short enough that you don't.

The following day, I started with Edgar Allan Poe's "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" (1845). It is supposed to be the closest to science fiction of his short stories. It was certainly an interesting premise (check it out for free from Project Gutenberg -- love stuff out of copyright!). Then I read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland (1915), where three young men stumble upon a land populated only by women and girls. I found several similarities to Dune and marveled that she was writing this so far ahead of the "official" start of science fiction, especially with all of the attention to women's issues. It was great to see the men floundering when they were trying to explain how great their civilization was but kept having to avoid or explain away problems like poverty, crime, and diseases. Unfortunately, most of Gilman's critiques about society and gender still ring true today.

So I'm steadily working through my science fiction classics list. I moved it to a spreadsheet so I could sort it by year, and am trying to read in chronological order when possible to see the genre's evolution. Most of the books are available at either the university library or city library system, although some I might have to break down and buy elsewhere. It's difficult not to accumulate a sizable book collection here, especially working in academia, but I keep in mind the trip back home and how much paper weighs.

We watched Pixar's WALL-E movie and I was able to enjoy some of the references to 2001: A Space Odyssey. I have found that watching movies at different stages in life can render a new response and perspective on them. Maybe it's having more life experiences to compare them with. Just something I've noticed when rewatching movies that I haven't seen in a long time.

We've gone to the first two of the Lazy Sundays free concerts in the park to try to get out and enjoy the summer weather and some live music. Yesterday on our way there I picked up my first found money! A 10-cent piece on the sidewalk. Since they got rid of the penny and nickel, I guess people hold onto their change more carefully.

We took our car in today to get it tuned up ahead of our roadtrip down south. Oil change, new air filter, and new tires (spelled tyres here) since the old ones were almost bald and not very safe to drive on. Also got a wheel alignment and the tech commented on how off it was (it took them an extra half hour to fix). It's probably the first time it's been aligned in a long while. No word back on the check engine light problem, but otherwise it is ready to go. With gas dropping to 1.79/liter ($6.78/gallon) and the weather in the 70s, it's a good time for a summer vacation.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy New Year 2015

Happy 2015! I hope to explore lots of New Zealand this year.

The package from my family arrived with a much-welcomed array of goods. There was a veritable bounty of shelf medications like allergy medicine, cold/flu liquid tablets, motion sickness pills, and pain relief pills which would have been a fortune here or not available. This would have been enough on its own, but there were also some Christmas gifts and food from home which we enjoyed.

We also received our IRD numbers from the government so they can take out taxes. Yay. If there's anything to be excited about here, it is that one of my favorite numbers is the last two digits.

I made a goal of finishing all six Dune books before the year ended, and so I wrapped up the sixth book on December 30th, just in time. Reading them all together in a short time period meant that I could notice changes in style, character development, themes, and other things which was nice. Now comes the harder part of synthesizing all of my observations into the PhD proposal. Basically, I have to outline what my argument will be and what each chapter of the paper will focus on. I also have to provide a literature review, meaning an analysis of what has been written about the topic so far and what I think I will do to improve upon current research.

I also just finished 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) yesterday. It was not what I was expecting and seems a bit out-dated now that we have so much more information about our solar system than we did then. There were virtually no women in it, and it got really weird at the end. I continue to be surprised by how different the short classics are from Dune. The lack of world-building is so apparent, and the intent and goals of the writers seem to be very different.

We had a nice New Year's Eve with a live music concert in the central park sponsored by the city council. There were country, rock/funk, and Celtic bands who provided good music and energy to ring in the new year. There is an interesting tradition of having the "archwizard of Canterbury" cast a spell for the new year. He seems to be an equivalent to our old Father Time. There was also a sweet fireworks show right above our heads - the closest I've ever been to fireworks. Debris was even raining down on our heads!

D's jalapeno plant on the porch finally has some peppers ripening red. It has been fun to watch them grow and hopefully they are worth the wait.

We took a day trip to Akaroa, which is about 90 minutes south of Christchurch. It was a nice drive and a cute town, although it was overrun by tourists from the docked Princess Cruises ship. It was quite hot out, so we had a packed lunch in the shade and checked out the farmer's and craft markets. We also visited the Barrys Bay Cheese factory which still makes cheese the old-fashioned way. We watched workers spiking big cheese rounds with long metal sticks which will leave air holes and create the blue veins in blue cheese. D bought some 6-year aged cheddar cheese and garlic cheese. Both are good, and the aged cheddar is super intense!
strange "field" of trees on a bare hillside