Hal Goes Abroad

Fri, 23 May 2003

Home Sweet Home

Well, I've finally made it back to New York. I'm at my Mom's place out on Long Island. Tomorrow I get to go see Cirque du Soleil with my fabulous sister. I'll be in the New York Area until May 30th, when I fly to Boulder, CO for Craig's and Lysandra's wedding.

The passage from Mazatlan to Hilo was definately a good experience. There weren't any interesting disasters, so the sailing itself was just nice. The weather didn't quite cooperate, with the Pacific High taking a vacation (and squelching the breeze) just when we were about to latch on to the easterly tradewinds, but you can't have everything. A week later it came back and we were cooking along nicely for the last week into Hilo. We did have some minor trouble with the wind vane self-steering gear in terms of chafe, but really, who doesn't? All in all, I was VERY impressed with the Sailomat and would buy one for my cruising boat, if I had such a boat. The food was great and Ken is an exceptionally talented cook. The six bottles of wine we shared along the way didn't hurt either. We did catch one fish, a small tuna, on Day 2 when we were both seasick. Ken cleaned it up and we tossed it in the freezer to be eaten later. One highlight of the trip was trading limericks with the family on Swallow (one of the boats who joined the impromptu 5H Net - the Hilo Hoppers Happy Half Hour). Once we got to Hawai'i, we caught up with John and Mary from Irish Rose. They joined Ken and myself in exploring Mauna Kea (where all the way-cool observatories are) and Kilauea (the active volcano).

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Mon, 12 May 2003

Landfall at last!

Well, Ken and I have arrived on Wishful Thinking after 23 days at sea. It was an uneventful passage overall, the biggest problems being related to the self-steering gear. However, we improvised and what we ended up doing in the end was better than what we started with in the first place. Once we tied up and took some hot showers, we snuck off for our first meal on land. The nice restaurant down the street was booked solid for the next two hours, so we ended up at Ken's 24 Hour House of Pancakes. After staring at a menu with a boggling list of hundreds of choices, we ended up both ordering humongous green salads (Well, Ken got the caesar salad with chicken, I got the chef's salad). Then back to the boat for lots and lots of sleep.

I've got a few days here in Hilo and I'm going to try to change my flights around to allow me a couple of days in Honolulu as well. Then it is back to the Bay Area for a day, and then two weeks in New York, followed by a wedding in Boulder, CO. I might be back in the Bay Area in mid- to late-June. If the job market still looks bleak, I might do a road trip and try to catch up with many good friends who I haven't seen in way too long. Places on the itinerary would be: Madison WI, Buffalo NY, Derry NH, Boston MA, New Haven CT, New York NY, Fords NJ, Baltimore MD, Washington DC, St Louis MO, and Boynton Beach FL.

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Sun, 13 Apr 2003

Cast off scheduled for tomorrow

Wow, Mexico is great! We've been putting in a lot of work on the boat and stocking up on provisions, but I really like the vibe here in Mazatlan. I could see myself coming back to Mexico, especially if I pick up some Spanish.

Ken and I should be casting off the docklines tomorrow afternoon. It will take us about a week to pick up the trade winds, but then we will be rapidly making for Hilo on the Big Island. You can follow our progrss (or lack thereof) via the Pacific Seafarers Net at YOTREPS. See you all in a month!

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Mon, 07 Apr 2003

I'm off again

After a brief stop in the SF Bay Area, I'm heading out again. Tomorrow I'll be flying to Mazatlan to connect with Ken. Hopefully within a week we'll be sailing west to Hilo, Hawaii. The passage should take about a month, so don't be surprised if you don't hear from me until late May. When I do come back I'll be heading to Portland, OR to hang with Sarah for a bit, including a trip out to Colorado for Lysandra's and Craig's wedding. Anyway, I need to visit West Marine and pick up some gear for the boat. See you later! Hal

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Sat, 29 Mar 2003

The last week in NZ

Right, so I flew from Christchruch to Auckland, which was quite uneventful. Upon getting to Auckland I checked in for the last time to the City YHA. It was Oscar night, so I watched the whole thing on TV. I was the only guy clapping when Michael Moore spoke out, which felt a tad weird. The next day I took the InterCity bus down to Taupo. I checked in to the hostel and went to do some food shopping. I wanted to try to finish all the staples and stuff I had been dragging all over the country. Since I had left some jasmine rice, some dijon mustard and some local mauka honey, clearly I needed to make chicken in a honeymustard sauce over rice. Nothing could be easier. I could even make enough to have leftovers so that if I was too tired to cook after doing the Tongariro Crossing, I'd still have good food to eat. So I hit the supermarket and picked up some chicken, some yoghurt for breakfast, a chocolate bar (always a good idea for hiking), a box of apricot granola bars and a 750ml bottle of spring water (to augment my own 1 liter water bottle that I always take with me). I made dinner, ate, and pretty much went straight to bed. I had to get up at 5:45am to make a 6:20am bus to get to the Tongariro National Park. There was an even earlier bus, but that one cost and extra $10.

The morning of the Crossing and I was getting nervous. Every now and then the NZ TV news does a story on unprepared hikers getting in trouble over the Crossing. They talk about bad weather and people without food and people with the wrong shoes, etc. I resisted overpreparing, which I am prone to do. I started out towards the tail end of the group, partly because I was almost the last guy off the bus, but also because I stopped at the first hut 20 minutes into the walk to apply a thick layer of sunblock. Another half hour took me through the initial flat section to Soda Springs. hen came the Devil's Staircase. The bus driver had talked fearfully about this before letting everyone off the bus. I had looked at the topo map, and I know it was only 400 meters, which was less than I had done in Katoomba, and only equivalent to two Rangitotos (I've taken to comparing all my ascents and descents to the 45 minutes it took me to do Rangitoto in my first week in Auckland). Still, I tend to find steep ascents challenging. Sure, I rested a couple of times on the way up, but I never really felt stressed in the least. I didn't pass anyone on the climb, but everyone stopped for a long break at the top and I just walked on through.

Then I turned a corner and saw the first crater, called creatively enough South Crater. It was stunning. There's this sense that you are walking in a place you were not meant to walk. And all the rocks, from large to small to teeny, within inches of the track look completely untouched, as if they have sat there in the exact same position for centuries. Very spooky. But tremendously beautiful. It was so beautiful that I felt myself grinning. That motocycle-rider-bugs-in-teeth kind of smile. Then as I started walking up the other side of the crater I could help myself and I started giggling and chortling to myself. It was a great feeling. Along the way up I met this couple of the eastern shore of Maryland, which made for some nice company. At the top of the crater's edge, you can now look down into the next crater: Red Crater.

From the top of this edge of the crater you start going down, at first through some very loose volcanic rock, which just rolls right out from under your feet. This is a little disconcerting at first, but I quickly foudn that the best way to go down is just to let yourself slide along and not try to control it too much. It's really just like ice skating, except you don't need to push with your off-foot to accelerate, you just let gravity pull you along. Then I was at the emerald lakes, which reminded me of some of the parts of Rotorua, only much bigger. A small descent over now-stable rock and then along the floor of the third crater, whose name I don't recall. Another rise to get out of this last crater, and then the world goes back to normal. It was an easy walk to another of the huts. I got there by noon. I had started at 8:30am, so it took me three and a half hours. I was running at least an hour ahead of schedule. In hindsight, I wish I had not been so concerned with how hard the Crossing might be and slowed down and enjoyed the views more. I did take a lot of pictures, though. I sat at the hut for an hour and played a riddle game with a Dane sitting next to me (this guy drives up to a hotel owned by his son, the guy realizes he is broke, the whole family is happy - explain!). The weatehr had been gorgeous and sunny before I got to the hut, but the sky clouded over and it got cold. I decided to walk down the rest of the way to the car park and catch the early bus which cost another $5 but otherwise I would have had to wait an extra hour and I hadn't brought anythnig to read. It was one of the best days I had on the whole trip and I hope one day I get to do it again.

Things get a lot less interesting now. I took the bus back to Auckland the next day, and immediately went up to Orewa. Partly this was to say goodbye to Stephen and Esther and all the people I had becmoe friendly with there, and partly it was to collect the box of my stuff they were keeping for me at the hostel. I decided to take a private room instead of a dorm as a treat at the end of the trip. The next day I said my farewells and took the bus down to Auckland. Now I really went upscale and checked into the Rydges Hotel, a 4-star hotel in downtown Auckland. This was using the money my aunt and uncle had given me for this purpose before I left.

Today was a busy day. I got up early and went on a souvenir buying spree. I must have hit every tourist shop on Queen St, trying to find appropriate things for family and friends. Then back to the hotel to drop everything off, and down to the Viaduct for a ride on NZL40, an International America's Cup Class yacht, for a two hour sail on the Hauraki Gulf. I got to do a lot of grinding, I steered through a genaker gybe, and also briefly upwind under the #3 jib. Fairly cool. It was actually easier to sail this boat than some 30-footers I've raced on. After that I went up to the Sky Tower for a view of the city at sunset, which wasn't bad at all. Then dinner and this wrap-up posting to the blog.

Tomorrow I'll head down to the airport, pay my departure tax and fly to Los Angeles. I'll spend two night there with Mike, a good friend from my college days. He's got to work on Monday, but I plan on going to Disneyland. Then on the 2nd I fly to Oakland. But I won't be in the Bay Area for long. My friend Ken wants to sail his boat from Mexico to Hawaii and it looks like I'll be going with him. We should get to Hilo by the end of April. Plans become cloudy at that point, but my friend Craig is getting married in Colorado at the end of May, so you know I'll be there.

This has been a great adventure, and a big part of me really doesn't want to return to the real world. It's hard to explain, but I think I've learned a lot about myself, rediscovered parts of my personality I had forgotten or buried, and generally feel proud and happy about how things went. If anyone reading this gets the hankering to go and do some traveling, I say "good on ya" and go have a blast. It's one of the best things I've ever done.

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Fri, 28 Mar 2003

South Island Excursion

Well, let's take a short journey in the way-back machine. The date is Monday March 3rd. I was quite lucky in that the America's Cup ended exactly one day before my scheduled-well-in-advance and not-at-all-changeable flight from Auckland to Christchurch. The morning of my flight was a bit of a cock-up as I had overslept and missed the bus I had wanted to catch out of Orewa. Fortunately I had built-in a margin of error in my plans and only lost half an hour. When I got to Sky City, which is also the departure point for the shuttle bus to the airport, there was no shuttle bus. I waited and waited. Still no bus. The taxi drivers eyed me hungrily. Then one new driver pulls up with a screech and offers me a ride to the airport for $6 less than the shuttle bus would have been. Overriding my paranoia, I accept. He gets me to the airport in record time, and I sail through check-in. After boarding the plane we are delayed on the tarmac for both lack of fuel and for an unspecified technical detail. Eventually we get in the air, but no one ever announced if these problems were fixed. As we headed south, we flew just along the west coast of the North Island, and I got an incredible view of Mt Taranaki, which was very cool to see since it was one of my favorite hikes. After arriving in Christchurch and taking the bus into town, I arrive at my hostel, only to learn that my booking was not for the day of my arrival, but the day after. I did some calling around and discovered that pretty much every single dorm bed in the city was take, so I booked a single at another hostel. Upon getting to that hostel and checking in, I went to arrange transportation on the TranzAlpine train for the following day. Turns out that train was fully booked, too. Sigh. I booked in the same hostel for a dorm bed the next day, and then the train the day after. A very roller-coaster kind of day.

This left me with a full day in Christchurch that I hadn't been counting on, and I made the most of it. I had wanted to take some pictures of the Avon River, and I did that. I also purchased my bus pass for travel down the west coast. I went shopping for wool socks. That surprised me. You can't get good, cheap wool socks in New Zealand. Go figure. You can get super expensive wool socks with all kinds of other fibers blended in, but not the simple, scratchy kind that I like. I was also able to run some other errands like picking up a backpack rain-cover (Barry was going to give me one of his, but then we both forgot) and a small sewing kit (one of my pairs of shorts had developed a tear in the crotch seam).

Ok, time to get on the train. The view was every bit as gorgeous as promised. Though there was one drawback. There's only the one car with a viewing platform, and some tourists can be very selfish about where they stand. It took an admirably pushy woman to speak up and remind people about sharing before I was able to get an unobstructed view and some good pictures. The train was delayed getting into Greymouth because train tracks in New Zealand are continuously welded, which means that when they heat up, there's no where for the expanded rails to expand and instead they tend to buckle. The solution is to cut the speed of all the trains down to less than half of normal speed whenever the air temperature gets over 70F or so. Once in Greymouth I checked into the YHA there and took a long walk. The first thing I noticed is that Greymouth isn't actually at the mouth of the Grey River. So of course I had to walk all the way to the ocean, which took about an hour. On the way, I had my first encounter with that most vicious of New Zealand fauna: the sandfly.

Now I began the west coast leg of my trip. First I stopped for one night in Hokitika. This is the Pounamu (aka greenstone or jade) capital of New Zealand. I was able to find exactly the hei matau I was looking for at Traditional Jade. Alas, there is now some confusion. At the store they told me the stone was local NZ jade, but back at the hostel, a self-proclaimed expert (Gordon the Mad Kiwi who runs the hostel) claimed the stone was from British Columbia, Canada. I'll have to take it to a couple of lapidaries back home if I want to settle the question. At least I think it is pretty and I enjoy wearing it. That's what counts, right?

Took the bus down to Franz Josef. Franz Josef is the first of two glaciers I hiked on. The second was Fox. I did a full day hike with Franz Josef Glacier Guiding Company. They were great. They supplied water-proof leather boots, Ice Talonz(tm) and Gore-Tex raincoats. I had to bring my own food and warm layers. The IceTalonz(tm) are a lot like crampons, but their spikes are smaller and distributed all around the sole of the boot instead of just at the instep. They are also articulated in two places, making it quite simple to walk on the ice without slipping and without worrying. The hike really kicked my butt in terms of level of exertion, but it was totally worth it. On Fox things were similar, but we had conventional crampons and no Gore-Tex jacket. Fox glacier was just as pretty, but an easier hike, physically. Both were quite chilly, much to my delight. Franz Josef was a lot more popular with many more people on the glacier, while Fox had a much more peaceful and pure feel to it. I spent two nights at Franz Josef, and two nights at Fox, with a short bus ride in the middle. Oh yeah, my guide at Fox was much cuter than the guide at Franz Josef (who wasn't even female). I even asked her to dinner. She accepted and we met at one of the three restaurants in town (Fox is a much smaller town than Franz Josef). Dinner was pretty much a flop, but it was better than sitting in my room and reading.

Right, back on the bus, this time to Queenstown. Not much to say about Queenstown for me. It is a resort town with lots of adrenalin-oriented activities. Since I had spent an extra day in Christchurch at the start, I couldn't stay here for any exploring. I crashed for the one night and then got up at oh-dark-thirty to take the BBQ Bus to Milford Sound. Most people do Milford in a day: early bus, midday boat trip, afternoon bus back. I didn't want to do it that way. So I stayed in the Milford Lodge (the only place, really) for two nights. I hopped on a late afternoon boat the same day I got there. The weather was great, which is a bad thing here. Yes, you can see the sun, but you can only see the four permanent waterfalls in the sound. There wasn't any rain the second day, but on the morning of the third day, which was the day I was scheduled to leave, it did rain. I jumped right up and got on the next boat, and sure enough there were dozens of waterfalls all along the walls of the fjord. After the boat ride, I spent an hour at Milford Deep, which is like an inside-out aquarium. There is an observation area about 9 meters down which the humans go inside. Then the fish and seastars and coral and whatnot do what they naturally do nearby and you can watch through the windows. It is a very cool experience.

Next stop: Te Anau. Te Anau is the town that most people use as a base for tramping (hiking). I spent a full day here to get ready for the Kepler Track. I hired (rented) a pot, a pan, and a plastic cup. I bought lots of non-perishable food. I sorted out my stuff to see what could easily be left behind in a locker. I experimented with a freeze-dried meal for lunch, which came out alright, so I bought three more for my dinners while on the Track.

Right! Onward and upward. Day 1 on the Kepler Track was wonderful. I set a personal record for my longest hike with full pack (18km). I met some very cool people while walking. The first half was all flat, along the lakeside and then through the bush (forest). After a brief food stop at Brod Bay, I began the ascent. Several very tough hours later I burst back out into the sunshine - I had made it up to the alpine section above the bushline (treeline). Another 45 minutes and I was at the Luxmoore hut. They call it a hut, but it really is quite large. There was a kitchen and social area with a dozen LPG cookers and a half dozen picnic tables. There were two bunkrooms, with about 50 or 60 beds. The huts on these Great Walks (Kepler, Milford, Routeburn, etc) are serious buildings. After dinner, I did a sidetrip to see Luxmoore Cave, which was cool. I wish I had brought my camera.

Day 2 was interesting. I got a late start deliberately. Fog had rolled in over night and I wanted to wait until it burned off before setting out. That morning I had breakfast with Miyuki, Noelle and Erin by virtue of sitting at the same table (it later turned out that the four of us had a very similar walking pace and did most of the track together or nearby each other). Since the fog still hadn't lifted, I brought out my Aquarius deck of cards and the four of us played for an hour or so. The fog still hadn't lifted, but if we didn't get moving (it was 10:30 am) we were never going to make it to the next hut before sunset. After the first hour of walking (uphill) we made it to the Luxmoore Summit side trail. Leaving our packs on the main trail, we took our lunches up to the summit in the hopes that the fog would break while we were up there. We had to wait half an hour, but that is exactly what happened, and it was totally worth it. We took a lot of pictures as the sun came out, and then headed back to the main trail and picked up our packs and carried on. The next section went down a little bit, then up again, then down again. All of this was in alpine terrain, with fabulous views all around, especially when walking on the ridge or saddle between two mountains. This was about when I realized my toes really hurt. It turns out I had been developing some really bad blisters. Noelle was a nurse, so she volunteered to help me clean things up. Several alcohol swabs, needle punctures, antiseptic creams and band-aids later, I was back on my feet for the final descent down to Iris Burn hut. This turned out to be a sticky one for me. I fell behind our little group and I violated my own policy for How to Hike. I do best treating my body like a steam locomotive. I need to continually (at least once an hour) thrown some non-trivial carbs down my gullet or I am prone to bonking. The last descent was billed as an hour and a half, and I had been doing most of the other segments faster than the listed time. I thought I would be ok. However, my blisters and overly-heavy pack slowed me down, and at the two hour mark I hadn't made it to the hut, and I was out of energy. I needed to stop and rest, which I did after stumbling and tripping and almost falling over a couple of times. One chocolate bar, half a liter of water and 20 minutes later I was back on my feet and good as new. I made it to the hut in 15 minutes. Since I had no real idea how much further ahead the hut was, I feel very strongly I made the right decision to stop when I did and take care of myself.

Day 3 was a very easy day. No ups or downs, just a six hour stroll through the bush to Moturau hut (the last one on the Kepler Track). Kind of monotonous, but quiet and the easy trail gives you time to think about life and plans/ideas for after New Zealand. The last hour was painful on the feet with the blisters acting up, but I made it in one piece. The hut was next to a very pretty lake.

For Day 4 I had really wanted to close the loop and walk all the way back to where the track started, but my feet were in no condition for that. I bailed out at the earliest opportunity, a place called Rainbow Reach. I jumped on the 11am shuttle back to town, checking in to the YHA and took a shower and doctored my feet again. At 7pm I met up with Miyuki, Noelle and Erin. We had a couple of beers and then went out for Chinese food, which was a lot of fun.

We're in the home stretch now. This brings us to Friday the 20th of March. Not much to report. I just took the bus from Te Anau down to Invercargill. Invercargill is New Zealand's southernmost city. It doesn't really have much to recommend it, which is what all the guidebooks say, and I can now comfortably confirm that.

For completion, I had to go the last little bit south. I took a round-trip bus as far south as possible, to the small town of Bluff. Bluff has a maritime museum, where I spent an hour and a half or so. Then I walked to the southernmost point on the South Island. They have a signpost there, much like the one at Cape Reinga, so I got another tourist to take my picture next to it. I still had an hour to kill before the bus took my back to Invercargill. Looking around, I stopped a bar across the road: The Drunken Sailor. It was fate. I went in and had a pint of beer. Then I walked back to the main part of town and waited for the bus. This was actually more painful than it might sound. You see, there had recently been a fire at the P&O warehouse. But they couldn't clean it up because of a risk of exposure to asbestos. So all the food (especially fish) was sitting there rotting. For days. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the place stank. Businesses were closed on account of no one was shopping and the shopkeepers were on the verge of barfing all the time. Not fun.

I took the bus from Invercargill up to Dunedin. Dunedin had a nice "feel" to me. Reminded me a lot of Baltimore, actually. It is New Zealand's 4th largest city. While in Dunedin, I went to the Otago Museum to see a collection of extremely good nature photographs. I also went to Cadbury World. Alas, it was late in the day and none of the machines were in action at that time, but they did give out a lot of sample chocolates. Yum! It's a good thing I've got some self-control or I could have easily made myself sick that night.

This brings us to the last full day on the South Island. On my way to the bus station I stopped for a snack at the Bronx Bagel Company. Made me homesick. They even had a real "Medium Brown Bag" tacked up on the wall, along with a subway map and other memorabilia of New York. I checked in to the hostel in Christchurch and then went to meet Peter Tuffley (Chris' dad) for dinner. We had pizza and beer. After he left, I watched Australia rack up an amazing 359-for-2 in their inning of the cricket world cup final. I didn't find out until the next morning that India had failed to chase that down, making Australia the winner. No big surprise there.

Stay tuned to this channel for another update, detailing my last week in New Zealand. Also, look for the Golden Kiwi awards, coming soon to this blog.

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Sun, 23 Mar 2003

Quick update

This is coming to you from Christchurch, NZ on the South Island. I have had quite a lot of fun these past three weeks. I hope to upload a lot of pictures in about 3 or 4 days and also give lots of details. Here are the highlights. TranzAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth. Bus from Greymouth to Queenstown, stopping in Hokitika for jade, and Franz Josef and Fox glaciers for full day hikes. Two boat rides in Milford Sound. 3+ days on the Kepler Track (with lots of blisters). Bus to Invercargill and Bluff, at the southern tip of the South Island. Bus to Dunedin and free chocolate at Cadbury World.

Tomorrow I fly to Auckland. Then I intend to go down to Taupo to do the Tongariro Crossing. Then back to Auckland for a final souvenir buying spree before flying to LA on March 30th. I want to do Disneyland on April 1st and then I'll be back in the bay area on April 2nd. After that - who knows?

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Sat, 01 Mar 2003

Mission accomplished!

Yes, the America's Cup is over. Alinghi has won in a 5-0 sweep. Team NZ again suffered gear failure, this time probably due to human error as the spinnaker pole broke toward the end of the 2nd run. As far as the rest of my trip is concerned, everything else is gravy.

Speaking of everything else, I can now follow through with my original plan of flying to Christchurch tomorrow and then taking the TransAlpine railway the day after. I then plan to hop down the west coast of the South Island, starting in Greymouth and then stopping in Hokitika (I want to buy a greenstone hei matau for myself). Then I'll proceed to Franz Josef and Fox glaciers for some chilly hiking. Things get a little more fuzzy after that. I'll go to Queenstown, Te Anau and Milford, but I don't know the order or what exactly I'll do in those places.

Today's race wasn't terribly exciting. Alinghi nailed the start again, getting a half a boatlength advantage over Team NZ right from the start. By the first mark, Alinghi was ahead by 20 seconds. That didn't change much over the next few legs, as Alinghi gave a textbook course on how to preserve a lead in a match race. When Team NZ broke their spinnaker pole, it only cost them two boatlengths, but that took them from just barely within striking range to really having no hope left at all.

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Fri, 28 Feb 2003

Team NZ Dismasted!

Yesterday was the first day of racing in living memory. Ok, perhaps a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. I had left the hostel in the morning and took one look around and almost turned back. I couldn't imagine racing taking place in conditions like they were. Visibility was way down with a heavy mist and drizzle coming down. Looking off to the horizon didn't reveal any potential improvements. The wind was up too, with the surf pounding strongly along Orewa Beach. I knew I'd never forgive myself if the race went ahead and I wasn't there to watch it live, so I forged ahead. I sent Barry an SMS asking for info from the website, and fortunately he came through with the goods in mere seconds. The race was on. I got Barry's message just as the bus was pulling up, so I got on and went out to Manly.

On arriving at Manly I walked out to my vantage point. I had to put on my bright yellow rain shell to keep dry(ish). I got there and set up my thermarest camp chair and borrowed a cinder block from a nearby construction site, which I used to keep my radio and other goodies dry. I could barely see the spectator fleet and the boats through the fog. Nevertheless, the race started at 1:15pm sharp in a breeze of about 20+ knots and swells of 6 feet. Alinghi got a super start, hitting the line at full speed exactly as the gun went off, while TNZ was a half a boatlength behind. Alinghi was able to leverage that into an 8 second advantage at the first mark. Both boats screamed down the second leg under spinnakers. It was an amazing thing to watch. Alinghi was even able to extend their lead somewhat. Going up the third leg I lost sight of the boats as a big squall rolled through the course. The wind was up to 28 knots for a few minutes, but both boats came out of it alright and I had reestablished visual contact, which makes watching the race more enjoyable for me. A few minutes later, the station I was listening too (TV One) went to commercial. I took a moment to grab a drink of water. When I looked back, one of the boats was missing! I grabbed my binoculars to get a better look, and I could see Alinghi still sailing on. Then I noticed the black blob a little way behind and I could see the broken mast. Then TV One came back from commercial and explained what had taken place: TNZ went through a sequence of three big waves, and on leaping out of the water between the second and third, the slamming into the third wave was too much. A shroud had broken and the rig came tumbling down. Alinghi now lead 4-0.

Brad Butterworth said it correctly in the press conference later, about how you don't like to win races that way. The question is, how did this happen? The picture is slowly coming into focus. TNZ has apparently been under tighter financial pressure than people had expected. They could only afford to build two race-quality masts, which meant that when they were training in a strong breeze they had to throttle back since they couldn't risk any breakage. This lines up with their breaking the boom in Race 1 for essentially the same reason - they hasn't taken the time to determine the limits of their equipment. Ed Baird talked about the timing of setbacks like this. Alinghi had broken a mast, but they did it on a non-race day months ago. They also had four race-quality masts, not two.

Anyway, today's racing was supposed to be Race 5, but it was canceled due to lack of wind. This is starting to disturb me. I've got a cheap non-refundable non-changeable ticket to fly to Christchurch to start my South Island trip for Monday. If Alinghi doesn't win tomorrow, I'll have to delay my trip and fly stand-by when the Cup is finally completed. Ah well, it is important to be able to adapt to conditions outside of one's control. I had built plenty of extra time into the South Island trip so I can afford a couple of days of waiting for the end of racing.

Oh yeah. A few days ago (Tuesday) I scratched off another item from my 'To Do' list for Auckland. I went to Kelly Tarlton's aquarium. This is a two part place, the first being Antarctica oriented, with a penguin enclosure and a snowcat ride and the second being a fish tank with a conveyor belt for people where you ride under an acrylic tube at the bottom of the tank. I'm glad I did it, but it wasn't worth the $25 they charged for it. I was especially disappointed how hard they made it to take pictures. This now leaves the Sky Tower, a walk around Devonport and a ride on either NZL-40 or NZL-41 as the only activities I haven't done yet.

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Sat, 22 Feb 2003

Bitterly disappointed

That was what Brad Butterworth, Alinghi's ace tactician, said when he was asked how he felt by the race committee about racing being abandoned on Thursday. He did say it with a good wry, sarcastic tone, since it was obvious to everyone that conditions were unsuitable. Well, the boats never even left the dock yesterday, and racing was again abandoned today. So now I'm the one who is bitterly disappointed. I've come halfway around the world and spent over three months watching the Louis Vuitton Cup and waiting and waiting for this event. Now we've had three consecutive days of racing thrown away. Yes, I'm disappointed. At least they realize they are running out of time and have agreed to attempt a race tomorrow, which was scheduled to be a lay day. The forecast doesn't look to promising to me, though, so I'm going to keep my expectations from raising too high.

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Mon, 17 Feb 2003

Alinghi goes up 3-0

Well, it's a whole new ballgame. This morning I turned on the TV and was very gratified to hear Dennis Conner saying that he thought Team New Zealand's NZL-82 was the faster boat, and he gave the exact same reasons that I'd been giving. Today Alinghi seem to have found a reserve of more speed in SUI-64, bringing them up to parity with NZL-82. I was rather surprised. Alinghi caught a very nice shift in the opening 10 minutes of the race, and proceeded to demonstrate textbook tactics in holding off NZL-82 for the rest of the race. Is SUI-64 really as fast as NZL-82 with its revolutionary hula? I don't think so. I think that the defeat TNZ suffered in race 2 where they were passed on the final downwind leg of the race has seriously shaken TNZ's confidence. Now we're seeing the repercussions on the race course. If the kiwis want to hold the Cup, they are going to have to dig deep and find a new strength of character to prevail.

Now it's time for some other observations on life in New Zealand. First, let me talk about the three-phase traffic lights. They have about a dozen intersections in downtown Auckland that behave this way. Phase 1: traffic moves in the north/south direction. Phase 2: traffic moves in the east/west direction. Phase 3: all traffic stops, and pedestrians cross in all directions, including diagonally. It takes a bit of getting used to, but I kinda like it now. Second, kiwi drivers tend to be supercareful about pedestrians in or even near the crosswalks. However, heaven help you if you cross a street and you aren't in the cross walk. This can be a problem as there are many traffic circles and they tend not to have crosswalks. I've had several close calls in the past week and it is starting to disturb me.

In terms of my activities, let me bring you up to date. A couple of days ago I watched the America's Cup recap on TV at 11pm, except it didn't run until almost midnight. This was because the race itself had run so late that other programming had to be moved back and there was a domino effect. During the commericals, I watched the kiwis playing cricket in the world cup against South Africa. It turns out I like watching cricket, so I ended up staying awake until 5am to watch the end of the match. So of course, yesterday I slept in. Yesterday was mostly a lazy day, though I did finally get to the supoermarket and restock my staples and perishables and whatnot. Then I made dinner (tuna casserole). Tonight I'll have more left-over casserole and I also promised another hostel resident that I'd make American-style biscuits for her, since she had shared her extra corn fritters with me a couple of days ago. Her name is Griselda and she's 78 years old with the heart of a 20-something. She reminds me a lot of my grandparents.

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Sun, 16 Feb 2003

Stop the presses!

Yowza! What a race! Alinghi has gone up 2-0 and I'm speechless. Ok, let me go on record as saying that I believe NZL-82 is the faster boat. I think it's faster upwind, I think it's faster downwind. I think it's faster in heavy air, and I think it's faster in light air. So what's going on here?? It looks to me that Coutts is the much smarter skipper. Don't get me wrong, I think SUI-64 is a fast boat, too. But somehow Coutts has this ability to sucker his opponents (he did it against Oracle and USA-76 too) to sail in a seriously suboptimal mode when it really counts. I think that if Dean Barker had stuck to VMG sailing down the last run, possibly gybing a couple of extra times to keep his boat in clear air, TNZ would have won the race and leveled the series.

Today's race was interesting for another reason. It is fairly uncommon for an America's Cup race to have a lead change, where one boat is ahead and then the other boat is able to pass the first one. This race was unusual because it had not one, but two lead changes. The boats were bow-to-bow up the first beat despite Alinghi getting a good 10 to 15 degree favorable windshift, but Alinghi were able to get around the first mark before TNZ. Then TNZ passed on the first downwind leg. TNZ led around the bottom mark, the next top mark, the next bottom mark and the final top mark. Then Alinghi passed on the last downwind leg. Very dramatic stuff, and it was a blast to watch. I can't wait for the 11pm recap on TV.

Today was Sunday (fyi, the America's Cup races take place on days that start with either S or T). Of course, there was the somewhat typical wait for the sea breeze which didn't fill in until after 3pm and then they had to herd a bunch of uncooperative spectator boats off the course. Of course, Sunday is the lame day for bus service with runs only every other hour and the last bus at 5:30. Since the race didn't end until after 6:00, I had a choice: I could walk back to Orewa or I could get a taxi. I figured that since I was planning on doing the Kepler Track when I got to the South Island, my feet needed some training. Two hours later I was in Orewa.

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Sat, 15 Feb 2003

More pictures!

Lots more pictures have been posted. They include everything I did when Barry was out here, as well as my trips to Tauranga (for the Around Alone) and Napier, and time spent in Auckland in the week prior to the America's Cup.

Poor TNZ! A horrible string of gear failures forced them to retire from race 1 of the America's Cup, after looking like they had better boat speed for the first 10 minutes of the first upwind leg. First they were accumulating a lot of water in the boat, then the tail end of their boom broke, and finally the tack of their genoa ripped out. Alinghi sailed the test of the course alone to score the point.

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Fri, 14 Feb 2003

Odds and ends

Since there was no work for me to do with the Tommy Hilfiger Around Alone campaign, I decided to take a few days in one of the few places on the North Island that I hadn't yet seen but really wanted to: Napier. Napier was built mostly during the 1930s, and as such is a seriously Art Deco city. I went down there by bus on Feb 5th. After checking in to the YHA, I was relaxing in the main lobby area of the hostel, when I notice that the music playing softly over the PA system wasn't your standard rock-n-roll or pop music. Waitaminit, that's "The Dubliners"! Who the hell plays obscure Irish folk bands? Well, it turns out that the owner, Bob, of the Napier YHA used to own and manage Auckland's only folk music venue (it has since closed - the Kiwis don't go in for folk music). We sang some songs back and forth for a while. It was a great bonding experience.

The next day was Feb 6th. This is a national holiday in New Zealand - Waitangi Day. The Treaty of Waitangi is the legal document which, controversially, transferred ultimate authority from the various Maori leaders to the UK. I walked around town and snapped some pictures of the architecture.

On the 7th it was time to get down to business and make some plans for March. On the assumption that the America's Cup won't runneth over into the reserve days, I purchased tickets on Qantas for a round trip from Auckland to Christchurch, giving me three weeks on the South Island. Made fried rice for dinner, after Barry's recipe.

Got up early and did laundry on the 8th. I had picked up two pairs of zip-leg pants before leaving Tauranga, since Barry said so many nice things about them. I got these just in time, as my light blue denim shorts were now torn through in several places. I threw them out, along with the "Latitude 38" t-shirt I had won at a crew list party which had developed several holes as well. I took the bus back to Tauranga and checked into the Tauranga YHA.

Tauranga is a town with some limitations. For example, their citywide bus service doesn't run on Sundays. I had to take a taxi across the bay to Mt Maunganui. It turned out that the spectator boats for the Around Alone restart had all sold out, so I was going to have to watch from land. The taxi dropped me off way out by the Mount and I had to hike around to the side which faces the sea. The restart was extremely uneventful, especially for someone who had gotten used to the rough-n-tumble of an America's Cup start. All the boats just reached off away from the start line, and then turned around and paraded across the line in good order. That night turned out to be the worst ever for me in a hostel. There was no ventilation in the room, so it became stiflingly hot. Combine that with the loudest snorer I'd ever heard, and I wasn't able to sleep. I ended up taking my bedding out to the TV lounge and arranging some cushions on the floor and sleeping there for a couple of hours.

It was time to head back to Auckland. I traveled on "declaration day" which is when Team New Zealand and Alinghi each have to pick one of their two boats to race in the America's Cup. Nothing to see here, so I didn't mind being in transit that day. The next day was "keel reveal" day, and boy did I want to see that. Alas, it was not to be. I had another horrible night, this time due to street noise. Another lousy night of almost no sleep, combined with an early reveal ceremony (8:00am for Alinghi and 8:30am for TNZ) and I decided it wasn't worth it. I admitted defeat and slept in. I spent the day reading "Sharpe's Prey" by Cornwell. Just the kind of light fiction I needed for a lazy day, and I was lucky to find it in the hostel's book exchange shelves.

Now I had a few days to spend in Auckland before the America's Cup was to start. I had made a list of activities a long time ago, and I resolved to cross off at least one per day. First up: The Auckland Art Gallery. Not a huge museum, but one of fairly high quality. The first section of New Zealand historic art was extremely good. The price was right (free, except for the Two Chinese Emperors exhibit which I skipped). After doing the museum, I found a private art gallery across the street. I strolled through and on the way out, found a pamphlet called "Take a Walk of Art" that listed all the nearby private galleries. Since I was in the mood for more art, I decided to see what the Auckland art scene had on tap. I was feeling a bit mischievous, so I invented a story about being on a mission to buy a birthday gift for a family member. I was amazed at how differently I was treated when people thought I was planning to buy, instead of idle browsing.

This brings us to the 13th of February. Another day, another adventure. This time I picked MOTAT - the Museum of Transportation and Technology. I figured I need some exercise, so I walked there. It was a good hour and a half. When I got there, I had sort of a sinking feeling, since from the outside it looks kinda cheesy. However, I went in, and I was pleasantly surprised, though it is a bit of a work-in-progress. The museum was created in the first place after the ancient pumphouse was decommissioned. They added all sorts of old trains, trams, busses, and planes. There was a huge exhibit for Jean Batten, an aviation pioneer. There were also the seeds of a damn fine science museum, with a pair of whisper parabolas, a built-your-own-arch demo, and lots more along those lines. I wandered around for a while and found their HO-scale model train, the same size of model trains I had as a kid. A guy in a blue jumpsuit carrying a bottle of Windex and a large pack of paper towels came in. I started talking with him, and it turns out that he's responsible for maintenance of both the model trains AND the pumphouse itself. There weren't any signs or anything explaining the pumphouse, and I asked him if he'd be willing to walk me through it. Well, half an hour later, I knew more about beam engines, condensers, and two-cylinder steam power than I had imagined I could. His name was Mike and he was a very interesting guy. His explanations and enthusiasm was able to transform an inelegant contraption into a beautiful machine for me, and I'm grateful. He totally made the MOTAT experience work for me and I'm really glad I met him. I also walked another half an hour out to the MOTAT extension, which housed most of their aircraft. That part wasn't as interesting - I felt it was a tad too focused on the romance of the Kiwi military experience in WW1 and WW2. I walked back to the main MOTAT campus, and then took the bus back to the City YHA hostel.

For my last full day in Auckland, I wanted to see the RZNYS Sail Past. This was an event scheduled to support Team New Zealand, with hundreds of boats sailing past the RZNYS in Westhaven. I was underwhelmed, as in fact all the boats motored past. And none of them got at all close to where I was sitting, so I couldn't get any good pictures. I guess for the partyers inside the yacht club it was a great event, but I didn't get much out of it, other than the one hour walk to get there from the hostel, and another hour walk to get back.

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Mon, 03 Feb 2003

Road trip, completed

Right, so Rae, Barry and myself piled into the car and set off for parts north. We knew it was going to be a long day, so we got an early start. The drive was uneventful, though we did stop for an hour in Orewa to use an internet cafe and to grab a light lunch. We arrived in Paihia in the early afternoon and checked into the Saltwater Lodge. Barry and I went immediately to a dive shop to find a boat to take him to the Rainbow Warrior. He signed up for a two-day deal, with two dives each day, all in various different parts of the Bay of Islands, one of which was in fact the Rainbow Warrior. Fair enough. On the first day of Barry diving, I took the car and drove up to Cape Reinga. Oy, that was a long day. It was easily 3+ hours each way. The views were nice once I got there and it felt cool to be there and imagine the Around Alone boats going past. One the way back I took a short detour over 12 miles of the worst gravel road I'd ever been on. This let me out onto Ninety Mile Beach, which was fairly dramatic. It faces the Tasman Sea, is fairly wide, almost perfectly flat, and stretches off in both directions as far as the eye can see. When Barry and I met up late that afternoon, we were both too tired to cook, so we went out for a light dinner.

On the morning of the Jan 29, Barry again left early for his dives. I loitered over breakfast and tried to decide which of the nearby small, historic towns I felt like visiting. There was a woman at the next table finishing her breakfast and we got to talking. Her name was Lorraine, and we decided to set off for Kerikeri together. The two oldest buildings in NZ are there, one made of stone and the other of wood. There is also a Maori "pa" (village on a defensible hill) and a neat hike to some pretty waterfalls. When we got back to Paihia we found Barry, who had caught a large crayfish during his dive. These crayfish are about the same size as a hefty Maine lobster. We boiled it up for an appetizer - I was stunned at how much meat was really in this thing - much more than a comparable lobster. And quite yummy, too. While eating this crayfish we had attracted some attention, including a young German named Phillip. Anyway, Barry and I wanted to charter a sailboat, so that I would be able to say that I had skippered a boat in NZ waters. It was going to be a tad expensive, so we wanted to find some people to share the costs with us. We were able to convince Rae, Lorraine and Phillip to come along. After a light dinner, the lot of us went shopping to provision the boat for 24 hours in the Bay of Islands.

Up early again next morning. Got down to Opua to the Moorings base and started on the paperwork. Took the boat out of the dock around 11am. We steamed north past Paihia and Russell and then hoisted the sails and set off to the north, hoping to make for Hole in the Rock. The breeze was light and shifty for a couple of hours, and then filled in solidly in the low teens of knots from the northeast - which is exactly where we wanted to go, of course. Sailing is often like that. After a couple more hours it was clear we weren't going to make it, so we settled for anchoring in Urupukapuka Bay. Barry did a bang-up job barbecuing the chicken, once Phillip and I figured out how to keep the darn thing lit. After sundown I noticed some sparkles in the water - bio-luminescent critters! Clearly it was time to go skinny dipping. Alas, I could not convince anyone else to go, as they all thought the water would be too cold, or they were scared of sharks, or whatever. Anyway, I had a great time. Once I came back on-board we all settled down to sleep. Since it was cool but not cold out, I decided to sleep in the cockpit. I cannot begin to describe how beautiful it was that night. Barely a cloud in the sky, and a light breeze, and not a single man-made light anywhere nearby. The view of the stars was breathtaking. I've never seen so many shooting stars.

The next morning we all had breakfast. After raising the anchor we sailed south and southwest heading back toward Opua. A little before noon we dropped anchor in a small cove at the east end of Roberton Island, which is the first bit of land Captain Cook set foot on when he first explored these parts. We had lunch and then proceeded back to the Moorings Base. The docking (sort of a med-moor raft-up) was actually a little challenging, and I had to bail out of my first attempt and come back with a better angle. Did the wrap-up paperwork and then drove everyone back to Paihia. Alas, Lorraine had missed her bus to Auckland, but since Barry and I were driving there anyway, we gave her a lift. Barry and I stayed in the City YHA.

Barry was scheduled to leave on the 1st of February, but not until late in the afternoon. We treated ourselves to a nice brunch (I had a stack of pancakes for the first time in months) and then decided to see a movie which Barry had wanted to see for a while. It was called "Whale Rider" and I'd recommend it. Not only does it paint a good picture of New Zealand and Maori, but it's got a positive feminist message to boot. I drove Barry to the airport and hung out with him for a few minutes before he went through security. Then I went back to Auckland and checked into the Auckland International Backpackers (aka Alan's Place) which I cannot recommend - it was a tad on the grungy side, but I wanted a place out of the central business district since I had the rental car for two more days and I wanted an easy, safe, cheap place to park.

Since I had the car, I decided to do some of the running around I had wanted to do, but that was not obvious which buses to take. First, I went to Westhaven, which is where all the Auckland yacht clubs are, including the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. At the RNZYS I was able to go inside and see the actual America's Cup. Amazingly enough, even though it was Sunday, I was the only person there. The concierge was nice enough to stay and chat with me for about fifteen minutes, and he also took my picture next to the Cup. Quite the thrill. I also took the time to grill him about any low key "beer can" races, as we call them in the SF Bay Area. Here in Auckland they call them "rum" races. The short answer is that pretty much any Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday there are races going on which I could just walk up and find a crew position. This is good news, as I plan to be in Auckland for five days after the Tauranga "Around Alone" restart on Feb 9. I also went by the Syndicate Row. I had promised Eric (the guy looking after my boat while I'm away) an Oracle t-shirt. Now that Oracle has been eliminated, they are selling their merchandise at 30% off, so I got one for him and one for me. Then later in the afternoon I drove south to Mt Eden and One Tree Hill. This is one of the bigger volcanic hills in the Auckland area and the view is quite nice.

This brings us up to yesterday. I went into downtown to an internet cafe and typed up a big weblog entry. Then I drove over to the bus station where I met the rental car folks. They took the car back, and I caught an InterCity bus to Tauranga. Once in Tauranga, I checked into the Mount Backpackers, which I also cannot recommend. Also, it seems there was a fire on Mt Maunganui, so you aren't allowed to hike up to the top! Very disappointing. I bought a copy of the NZ Herald and the local Bay of Plenty Times to try to catch up on the shuttle disaster. I felt very disconnected and the whole story sounded completely surreal. No one here in NZ talks about it at all, so I feel left out of the mourning process. I traded a couple of SMS messages with Barry and Bridget in New Hampshire, so that helped.

Today I took a bus to the Around Alone village. I also walked the docks and got up close looks at most of the boats in the race. I took a lot of pictures, too. The race village is not too exciting, but I imagine it's nice to have a social center for the skippers and their families and all the crew and maintenance folks. It didn't look like there were many spectators like myself, though. I asked at the info desk about spectator boats for the restart and they had no idea. I hope that gets sorted out soon, so I left them my mobile phone number and asked them to call me when they knew more.

Now my plans are to take another bus south to Napier, one of NZ's seriously Art Deco cities. I'll hang there for a couple of days and then come back to Tauranga for the restart. Then Back to Auckland for the America's Cup keel reveal ceremonies. While I'm in Napier I want to take some time and make my plans for March and the South Island. If I buy some plane tickets now they shouldn't be too expensive.

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Sun, 02 Feb 2003

Road trip summary

After Barry and I watched the last race of the Louis Vuitton Cup, we wanted to go around and see some of the North Island. We initially thought that the bus would be the best way, but after trying to catch one from Auckland down to Waitomo it became obvious that we needed more flexibility. Several phone calls later, we had hired (aka rented) a car. I had really been wanting to try driving on the left, so this made me happy. Barry agreed to pay for the car itself and I said I'd cover the petrol (aka gas), as he has a job to go back to and I don't. Before I go any further, I need to publicly tell everyone that Barry is a great cook. Over the past couple of weeks, he showed a lot of creativity and inspiration under sometimes adverse circumstances (many hostels do not have well-equipped kitchens). If you get a chance, eat Barry's food.

So, off we went south to Waitomo. We stayed a couple of nights in a Top Ten Holiday Park, where we got a very small "cabin". The next day was quite busy. Waitomo is famous for three things: angora rabbits, caves, and glowworms. We started off with looking for a publicly owned cave which we had trouble finding. So, we decided to spend some money and go on a tourist trap excursion. This started with a walk through some caves along with a guide who explained how the caves were made. They were nice, but not like Howe Caverns or anything. The second half of the excursion was on a boat. The guide stood up in the bow and pulled the boat along a rope which had been installed in the cave. This part was much more interesting, as there were no lights and the ceiling of the cave was covered in glowworms. For those not in the know, a glowworm is the larval stage of life for this insect. The glowworm uses a similar strategy to spiders: it spins a dozen or so strands of feeding lines which hang vertically from the ceiling. The glowworm is bio-luminescent, so it glows with a dim greenish light. Insects are drawn to the light and caught in the feeding lines. When the glowworm is hungry it reels in a feeding line and has lunch. After the cave tour and boat-ride we went over to the shearing shed and learned about angora rabbits. Barry bought some yarn for Bridget since she loves to knit. After the rabbits we had lunch (no, we didn't eat any rabbits). After lunch we did the highlight adventure of the day: Tumu Tumu Toobing, which is run by Waitomo Adventures. This is a cross between spelunking and inner tubing. They give you a wet suit, wellington gumboots, and a helmet with a light. Then you go through this cave system which has a small river running through it. Barry and I were the only people who showed up that day, so we had the whole place to ourselves. At first I didn't enjoy it, but it grew on me and now looking back I'm really glad I did it. After dinner Barry passed out. I still had some energy left so I drove out to the publicly accessible cave and did a more extensive exploration. It was late and I had taken my LED headlamp. I eventually found the cave, which was underwhelming, but what was really cool was that I found lots of glowworms along the trail on the way to the cave. It was neat seeing them all over the place because during the day their are totally invisible.

Next on the agenda was some outdoors hiking, so we drove down to New Plymouth in the Taranaki district. I bought a pair of hiking boots, and Barry and I went shopping for hiking food (I insisted we mix up our own gorp). The next day was the big hike on Mt Taranaki. First thing in the morning, we drove up to the visitor center to check the weather and sign in (if you don't sign out by the end of the day they come looking for you). We went up on the Puffer track, which was actually a road originally intended for maintenance of the TV antennas up there. We stopped for a bite to eat at a privately owned hut which we couldn't go into because we weren't members, though they had a small emergency shelter which anyone could use. Then we proceeded up the Summit trail. This was tough going. There was a section with a lot of steps, and we were up high enough that I felt tired from the altitude. There was another section of very slippery small volcanic rocks like ball bearings. Higher still the footing was better, but the wind really piped up, making it hard to keep my balance. I had wanted to get up to the snow-line, but it became clear we weren't going to make it. We stopped about 100 yards short of the snow-line to enjoy the view, took some pictures, and rested for light snack before heading back down. Once we got back to the hut we rested again before going down the Razorback trail. I definitely needed the boots and I was surprised that I only got one serious blister since I had never really broken them in. Back at the YHA we met Rae, a young woman from England. I played some chess with her. Rae joined Barry and me for dinner and then the three of us went out to see "Catch Me If You Can". When we compared notes, we found out that Rae's plans were essentially the same as ours: up to the Bay of Islands via the Coromandel. Since she didn't have any transport, we invited her along. At 8pm the YHA has a tradition of serving a complimentary chocolate cake in the shape of the mountain. If anyone makes the summit they get their country's flag on top of the cake. There weren't any flags that day, but I felt I had earned my slice of cake.

On the way up to Coromandel we stopped in Rotorua. Barry did a wet zorb, and then Barry and Rae took a soak in the Polynesian spas while I went to check out the Orchid Gardens. The gardens were under heavy reconstruction as they had recently been transfered to new management. I saw all of two orchids, but I did spend some time chatting with the Maori owner of the cafe in the gardens. He was a great guy, and as I was about to leave to catch up with Rae and Barry, he gave me a hanga, which is the Maori nose-touching greetings and parting ritual. I was deeply touched with his kindness and hospitality. The three of us piled into the car and continued on to Tauranga, where I got my first look at the Around Alone boats, and indeed got my picture taken with the one, the only, Brad Van Liew. Very cool. After spending the night in Katikati, we continued on to the Coromandel, checking in to the Opoutere YHA in late morning. This YHA has free kayaks, so we grabbed three and went out into the estuary for a couple of hours. We did get rained on, but it wasn't that bad. We beached the kayaks and played around in the Pacific for a few minutes before heading back to the YHA. I joined an impromptu soccer game being played between a couple of families traveling together. After dinner I found a 175gram frisbee, and met a guy from Seattle who was cycling around NZ with his girlfriend. He and I played frisbee-keepaway from the kids. The next day we drove to the other side of the Coromandel peninsula to Coromandel Town itself. We made mussels in garlic and white wine sauce over pasta for dinner, green-lipped mussels being a local delicacy. Coromandel is a tremendously beautiful place to relax - not much to do, but that's ok.

Well, I still need to cover the Bay of Islands, but I'm out of time. I need to go catch a bus down to Tauranga. I'll try to bring things up to date from there if I can find a good internet cafe.

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Sun, 26 Jan 2003

Brief stopover

Well, we (Barry and Rae and myself) are on our way north to the Bay of Islands. Barry and I were in a Waitomo where we did some black water rafting (a combination of spelunking and inner tubing). Then we went on to Taranaki and did a big hike on the mountain. At the YHA in Taranaki we met Rae who had the same short-term plans as Barry and me. The three of us drove up to the Coromandel peninsula for two days. Now we're taking a lunch break in Orewa, checking email and hopefully we'll catch the opening kickoff of the superbowl. We'll be up in Paihia and/or Urupukapuka for a few days. Barry wants to dive on the Rainbow Warrior and I'd like to charter a sailboat from the Moorings. Oh, and I want to see Cape Reinga. Then Barry goes home and I'll go down to Tauranga for a week until the Around Alone restart.

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Sun, 19 Jan 2003

Gone walkabout

Well, yesterday Oracle was eliminated by Alinghi in the Louis Vuitton Cup finals. Barry (my former officemate from Brightmail in San Francisco) has come out to NZ for a vacation. We met up a few days ago and yesterday he came out to my vantage point to watch the race with me. Today we're renting a car are going around the North Island for a couple of weeks. We're going to start in Waitomo where we'll see some glowworms and go black water rafting.

I've uploaded my pictures from the trip to Australia.

I probably won't be able to do much in terms of updates of the weblog from the road, so don't be surprised if I'm quiet. I'll take a day or two in Auckland around when Barry leaves, and I'll catch up with everything then. Once that's out of the way, I'm going down to Tauranga, NZ which is where the Around Alone boats have their stopever. I'm going to volunteer to help out the campaign of Brad Van Liew prior to the restart on February 9.

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Sun, 12 Jan 2003

Back from Australia

First, let me apologize for the long silence here on the weblog. It turns out that neither Sydney nor Katoomba had internet cafes that made keeping the weblog up-to-date easy. Anyway, I'm back in NZ now and I will be bringing the weblog up to the current date as quickly as possible. There's a lot to write about, so it might take a few days.

So, the last time I wrote anything I had a few days to kill before leaving for Sydney. I ended up having a very quiet couple of days around Christmas. I did a lot of cooking (fresh bread, fresh biscuits, mac & cheese, buttermilk pancakes, and sweet potato chili). I shared a few meals with the hostel owner Stephen and his family. He also opened up his above-the-office apartment to some of us regulars and we all watched "Ben Hur" and "Cliff Hanger". I also went swimming a couple of times. I think I prefer fresh water lakes to salt water gulfs, but water is better than no water. As a sailor, it felt very strange to deliberately put myself in the surf-zone, which normally I try to avoid like the plague.

Finally on the 28th I decided I had enough of sitting on butt and I took the bus down to Auckland. I walked through Albert Park on the east side of town, and then on to the Auckland Domain. The Domain had a small arboretum and a couple of hothouses, as well as the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which after Te Papa was a bit of a disappointment. I took a walk down Parnell Rd and scouted out another hostel (Alan's Place). I had been walking for several hours all told and was feeling tired, so I took the bus back to Orewa and called it a day.

The 29th was a travel day. I took two buses to get from Orewa to the airport, and then flew to Sydney, NSW, Australia. Another bus saw me in downtown Sydney. I checked in to the Sydney Central YHA, and immediately did what I always do in a new town - head for the waterfront. I walked up Pitt St to Circular Quay. I took a lot of pictures of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and of the Sydney Opera House. The Opera House is a very difficult building to photograph. The tiles of the roof are highly reflective, creating a lot of glare from the sun, and also picking up the color of the sky instead of their own off-white tones. This day also saw me make the most expensive phone call of my life. I spent NZ$5 for a one minute call to New York. It seems that NZ Telecom cards don't go very far in Australia. I picked up an Aussie "Say Gidday" card, which offered a rate of AUS$0.03 per minute to the US to pick up the slack.

The next day was Monday the 30th. I did laundry first thing and then headed out to explore the city. Since I was in Sydney and the Opera House was so famous, I decided I owed it to myself to actually attend a performance. I made a call to the box office and got one ticket for Mozart's Don Giovanni for Jan 7th. Now it was time to get out and about again. My first stop was the Sydney AMP Tower to get a view of, well, everything. I spent about 2 hours on the top level, and had a slice of chocolate cake in the cafe, nibbling while looking down on the scenery. After coming back down to earth, I went on the Skytour ride. This was mostly cheesy, but the last part where they sit you in a chair which lifts up and then banks and tilts along with the movie being played and this was actually a lot of fun. After the tower experience, I walked through Hyde Park and took pictures of some statues. On the way back to the hostel and dinner, I stopped at a movie theater and bought myself a ticket to "Die Another Day". After I had eaten I went back and watched it. I guess it was ok.

For New Year's Eve it was impossible to find a cheap place to stay. I ended up in a hotel-ish kind of place north of Sydney harbor called St Leonard's Mansions. Sydney has a very good train/subway system, so it was quite easy to get over to them. Once I had checked in, then I had to figure out where I wanted to watch the fireworks from. The staff was very helpful and I eventually settled on a park called Balls Head Reserve. They also informed me that there were two fireworks show planned: one at 9pm for the kids and the real show at midnight for the old folks. It took about an hour to walk to the end of Balls Head, and I got there around 8pm. Of course, I had brought a book (Nobel House by James Clavell). 9pm came and went and no fireworks. Eventually the word went around that they had been canceled because of too much wind! I felt like I was right back in the Louis Vuitton Cup. The wind was actually quite bad and if you looked the wrong way you would get lots of dust and sand in your eyes. So, I went off in to the woods and settled down to read for a couple more hours. Eventually midnight rolled around and went back to the edge to watch the show. The fireworks were pretty good, though not like NY or San Francisco. Then of course I had a one hour hike back to the hotel, in the dark, in an unfamiliar neighborhood. I did have a map and I got back without any wrong turns.

New Year's Day itself was a lazy day. The weather was overcast and rainy, so I stayed in and watched a lot of TV.

Jan 2 saw me back in action. I took the train in to Central Station in Sydney and switched from the subway system to the commuter train / long distance system. I bought a ticket for Katoomba. After two hours on the train I was there. While on the train, I met a nice family from the UK who were out on holiday and we all chatted for the whole ride. Checked in to the Katoomba YHA, which has an excellent atmosphere. I really liked this hostel - it's clearly my favorite YHA so far. Super clean, great location, comfy beds, great social lounge.

The next day was Friday the 3rd. The reason I came out to Katoomba was that the Blue Mountains and the Three Sisters had been recommended to me by everyone I spoke to about Sydney. I decided I was going to do a big hike. I put together a bag of gorp, filled up my Nalgene water bottle and grabbed a few pieces of fruit. I walked from the hostel to the info center, which is poised on the cliff top, much like at the Grand Canyon. The place was teeming with tourists, which made my skin crawl. I took one picture from Echo Point and then set off at top speed to find the staircase down. It is called the Great Staircase, and let me tell you, it deserves the name. In some places it is more of a ladder than a staircase, and about halfway down my legs started shaking from the strain. I made it to the bottom, and promptly set off on Federal Pass hoping that a more level grade would give my legs time to not feel so rubbery. When I got to the halfway point at Katoomba Falls I stopped for lunch. After half an hour's rest I finished Federal Pass and started up the Furber Steps. There was a Swiss couple going up at the same time and we kept leapfrogging each other, they would pass me when I paused, then I'd pass them when they stopped for a break. When I finally got back up to the top I felt fantastic. I was quite proud of the hike and it felt great to work up a sweat like that. I went back to the YHA, took and shower and collapsed in front of the TV. I was quite happy, as I was able to catch a new episode of "Coupling". My quadriceps recovered in three days, but it took my calves six days before there was no soreness left.

On Jan 4th, it was time to leave Katoomba for Sydney, which I wasn't looking forward to. Partly it was because Katoomba was so pretty and the air was clean, etc, but also it was because my legs were killing me and walking was painful. I checked out of the hostel and watched cricket in the TV room for a while. Eventually I left for the train station and caught the train back to Sydney. Not being familiar with the buses or exactly where my next hostel was, I hiked around (yes, with my pack) for about 45 minutes to get to the Glebe YHA. After checking in, I treated myself to a AUS$9 sushi dinner.

Jan 5th was a Sunday. Sunday's in Sydney mean 18 footer skiff races. After some basic research, I figured out I needed to get over to a place called Double Bay. So, I went out to the local newsagent and bought a TravelPass. This is a great deal and is intended for local commuters, not tourists. The tourist passes are a lousy deal, but if you're going to be in Sydney for more than five days, TravelPass is clearly the way to go. It gives you unlimited travel on buses, trains and ferries within certain city zones. I used mine to take a bus to Circular Quay, and also to take a ferry to Double Bay, and then later in the day to take a train back to downtown and a bus back to the hostel. Once in Double Bay I bought a ticket on the spectator boat. It turns out that this day was heat 2 of the world championships. The boat was packed with family and friends - there must have been three or four dozen boats in the competition. I took oodles of pictures, but I doubt anyone would be too interested in them besides myself or a few maniacal sailing fanatics. Once I got back to the hostel that night, I met two of my roommates: Ralph and Ben. They were in Sydney to watch the fifth and final cricket test match of the Ashes series between England and Australia. I asked them if I could tail along with them the next day and they said sure.

So, on Jan 6th I got up early with Ralph and Ben and we headed off to the (in some quarters) legendary Sydney Cricket Grounds. AUS$40 later I had unwittingly enlisted in the Barmy Army. This is truly the kind of experience you go overseas for. I was surrounded by a large mob of English ex-pats, all of whom were mad about their team. It was almost impossible to watch the cricket, because they were always on their feet, shouting out pro-England songs at the top of their lungs. I had a great time. Ralph and Ben took the time to explain some of the more obscure lyrics and cricket rules to me. Plus, England actually won, which isn't that common these days. I'm keeping the ticket from this one for the scrapbook. I still can't get the songs out of my head.

Tuesday was another out-and-about day. I started out by walking over to the ANZAC bridge (aka New Glebe Island bridge). This is one of those funky modern cable stay bridges, and I find them fascinating. After taking a bunch of pictures, I took the bus into downtown. I wandered over to the Chinese Garden. It was nicely done, but it was so close to the city center that the noise and skyscrapers in the background kinda spoiler the atmosphere. Next, I went to the Australian National Maritime Museum. This was actually pretty good. I went on board HMAS Vampire and also the James Craig. In the gift shop I found a CD by a local Aussie group called the Roaring Forties who do sea chanties, which I bought without listening to first. I took a bus back to Glebe, had a quick dinner out, and then washed up - tonight was opera night! I caught a bus to Circular Quay and walked to the Opera House. I found my seat (up in the nosebleed section) and sat back to enjoy the show. I was a tad disappointed. The performance wasn't significantly better than Opera North. The weakest part of the performance was the staging, which was almost entirely absent. The only time the staging was a factor was at the very end when, in a very Spalding Gray style, the statue bursts in on Don Giovanni - they had very large chunks of the walls fall in loudly and dramatically. I'm glad I went, and it felt wonderful to be in the theater and watch the opera.

Wednesday the 8th brought lousy weather. I decided not to go anywhere. Instead, I sat up on the roof of the hostel and watched the front come in and pass through. The first wave of the storm reminded me a lot of your standard Maryland summer afternoon thunderstorm, with the big, juicy splats of the raindrops and some sun in the distance. That didn't last long and pretty soon there was driving rain being blown around at 45 degrees and the wind was pushing the lawn furniture all over the roof. My kind of weather!

Thursday was my last full day in Sydney and I wanted to make the most of it. I took a couple of buses in to the Australian Center for Photography, which was tiny and not worth the trip. They only had one exhibit up and it was only supposed to be open to the press until the formal opening that night. I fast-talked my way in, but only stayed for a few minutes. Next, I took a bus to Circular Quay and the ferry out to Manly. Manly is out by the ocean, just north of the entrance to Sydney Harbor. I wandered around and ended up finding another sailboat race to watch. This was the Flying 11s. There was a huge fleet of about 90 boats in this invitational, just prior to the world championships. Having spent some time around Sydney, I am deeply impressed with the number of boats and yachts and the quality of the harbor.

Friday the 10th had arrived, and it was time to fly back to New Zealand. I wasn't sad to go. Australia is a huge country, and I only saw a small part (Sydney and Katoomba). That said, Sydney was a fairly dirty city, compared to Auckland. The people in Australia weren't as friendly as in New Zealand. Of course, I must say that having just spent 1.5 months in NZ, of course NZ is much more familiar and comfortable to me. Then there's the NZ $2 coin being properly and logically larger than the NZ $1 coin, which isn't the case in Australia. Finally, Australia felt more expensive to me. Anyway, I got to Auckland with no troubles. Oh, I did have one more interesting experience in Sydney - I bought some brandy in the duty free shop. I had never done the duty free thing before.

Yesterday I hustled out of Auckland up to Orewa, but alas, the first race of the Louis Vuitton Cup finals was canceled due to too much wind. I did some shopping and went back to Pillows Travelers Lodge to reconnect with the other regulars and the owner.

Hmph. That brings us up to date. Oracle lost to Alinghi today in the first race of the Louis Vuitton Cup finals, and it looks like Team New Zealand's false-hull appendage is legal, so it's very long odds against the Cup coming to America. I'm going to sort out some photos that are being uploaded and post links later in the week. Oh! And Barry is in New Zealand now!! He's down on the South Island just now, but he'll be up here in a week and we'll take off around the North Island together for a week or two. Stay tuned! My update schedule should be much better now that I'm back here in NZ. Also, my internet hosting provider has done some work on the server - some of you complained about email bouncing or the website being unavailable - that should all be fixed now.

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Mon, 23 Dec 2002

First Quarterly Report

First, some news on the money front: at the rate I've been spending, I can comfortably afford to stay through the end of March, as planned. I've been keeping very close track of my finances. This is how they break down for the first month:
 Food         $457
 Transport    $577
 Phone        $275
 Mail         $45
 Internet     $57
 Laundry      $26
 Medical      $143
 Activities   $63
 Bed         ($100)
All figures are in Kiwi dollars, so divide by two to get US dollars. Transportation includes the bus, ferry and plane fare for my trip to Christchurch, as well as local bus service in and around Auckland. While I'm glad I did the Christchurch trip the way I did, the cost can easily be brought down dramatically by booking a flight well in advance. That would reduce the cost from $340 to about $150. Also, the Phone costs include the purchase of a new pre-pay mobile phone which I will be able to sell at the end of my trip and recoup about $100. Finally, the medical costs represent three doctor's visits and antibiotics, all for treatment of an ingrown toenail. I include them to show the low cost of healthcare in NZ. I saved $100 by staying with the Fords in Wellington and the Tuffleys in Christchurch.

My optimum spending was $600, with $1000 being the goal, and $1400 the hard limit. This comes to $1543. Deducting the one-time medical costs puts me right at my hard limit. When I then pull out the phone costs and the lesson-learned travel costs, I feel that the rest of the trip should be fine.

Now on to the news. I watched the LV Cup semifinals from my vantage point, though there was one day where the weather was so bad (misty) that I could not see a single boat. I've been working on adapting my kitchen skills, a baked bsicuits as per Sarah's recipe twice. There was one evening where I had decided to experiment a bit. I wanted to make two dishes: brocolli on mashed potatoes, and carrots and yams in butter with cinnamon. I had never made mashed potatoes or the carrots and yams dish before. I had two pots going on the stove, one boiling water and the other simmering the carrots. All of a sudden, Steven, the hostel owner, storms in to the kitchen. He says it is urgent and he must talk to me. He grabs my two pots off the stove. I run after him thinking that maybe some important clients were coming to stay and needed the kitchen or something. He makes me follow him upstairs over the office to his family's apartment. Now I'm thinking he'll let me finish making my dinner there. No. He sits me down at his dining room table and tells me that he's going to feed me an authentic Korean dinner (he's is from Korea). Oh yeah, and that he'll finish cooking my dinner for me while I eat. I ended up staying there with him for about three hours, eating and talking.

There was one day during the semifinals when there was too much wind for racing. Instead, I walked through Alice Eaves Reserve. This is an interesting place because it has some of the last remaing Kauri trees. The Kauris are the NZ equivalent of the west coast's sequoias and redwoods. The European settlers cut them down left and right and since they are slow growing there are very few left.

Sundays are good days at this hostel. Steven has a deal with a Dutch tour company where they bring a busload of people to stay at the hostel every week. Steven cooks them a big barbecue and they stay at the hostel. The nice thing about it is that somehow Steven always ends up cooking too much food. The extras go to us poor hostelers. The free dinner is always welcome to the bean-counters here at Hal Goes Abroad.

For the last day of the semifinals I was finally able to talk another hosteler into watching with me. James is from the UK on a long holiday. He drove us both out to Manly where we picked up a lunch of fish-n-chips. Then he drove us out to my vantage point. Of course, the wind was uncooperative, being too light. We sat and talked for about 4 hours before there was barely enough breeze for a complete joke of a race between Prada and OneWorld. It was an academic exercise, since Prada was down 3-1 and needed to win two races to force a sudden-death tiebreaker the next day. Since there was only enough wind for one race, the result was irrelevant, with Prada being eliminated either way. Prada did win the race, but conditions were so light and shifty that it wasn't interesting to watch.

Next came the roadtrip with Patti. I had met her on Waiheke a few weeks before and she was the first person I had met here who understood the racing the same way I did. Since there was a two day break between the semifinals and the semifinal repechage, we decided to hit the road and see some of the country. She had rented a car so we agreed to share those expenses. On Wednesday the 18th, we started off driving south of Auckland and then heading east towards Tauranga and Mt Manganui. Tauranga is interesting because the Around Alone race will be stopping there in late January and restarting on Feb 9. I'd dearly love to be there for the restart, and I've volunteered to help Brad Van Liew who is sailing on Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America. He sailed Balance Bar to a 3rd place finish in the last Around Alone, and I loved reading his emails and following his adventures.

The roadtrip ended inland in the town of Rotorua. Rotorua is known for its sulphurous aroma. It also has some adrenalin based activities, including zorbing. I tried the zorb at Medge's suggestion. A zorb is a lot like a human-sized hamster ball. It consists of two nested plastic spheres. There are access holes in either side and the spheres are held together with hundreds of bungy cords. Air is pumped into the void between the spheres. The inner sphere has a harness. You get inside the zorb, strap yourself down, and then they push the zorb onto a ramp going down a hill. You roll and bounce flipping head-over-heels-over-head all the way down. I got seriously motion sick, but was able to hold on to my breakfast, if only barely. They are building a second track with two switchbacks which I suspect I'll skip.

After the zorb, Patti wanted to visit a local winery which is making blueberry wines. We had a small taste. Their liqueur wasn't bad, but they still have a ways to go. We also visited Blue Lake and Green Lake. Pretty, but nothing awe-inspiring. It might be that had the day been nicer (less clouds) they would have been more dramatic.

Patti wanted to head south, so she drove me back to the town cente and dropped me off. I walked through Kuirau Park, which has dozens of bubbling mud pits, steaming fumeroles and generally cool stuff. I also walked through Government Gardens and saw a war canoe (waka) and the rose garden. It seems like every big town in NZ has a rose garden, which suits me just fine. I tried to go into their main museum, but it was $10 which I decided was more than I could afford. Instead I went to watch the lawn bowling. I sat down and a man came over. I started asking him how the game was played, and he explained and we talked for a bit. His name was Doug. After his match was completed, he invited me into the club for a beer! I met the guys and watched the award ceremony. It turns out Doug's team was the 1st place team. He got a $5 bill and a gift certificate to the supermarket which sponsored the tournament.

That evening I took the bus back to Auckland and stayed at the Auckland City YHA. The next morning I decided that I had to admit defeat and buy a pack towel. This was the first "major" adjustment in my travel and living plans. I just couldn't keep dragging around that huge beach towel. It took up too much space in the backpack and dried too slowly. I watched the opening repechage race between OneWorld and Oracle on TV in the stadium at the Viaduct Basin. After the race I took the local bus up to Orewa. The next day on my way back from watching Oracle overcome OneWorld by 3 seconds from the vantage point, I made my second adjustment by buying some tuperware in town. Now I can cook bigger meals and store them as leftovers for another day. That evening, at Steven's invitation, I joined him and his two sons at the beach. It was my first swim out here and it felt great. After swimming we watched a local man reeling in his longline. He was fishing for snapper. He didn't get any, but he did get a stingray. They tried to push it back out, but it was too tired and couldn't swim and the tide kept washing it in. After it died, Steven and his son brought it back to the hostel. Prior to running the hostel, Steven had been a chef. He said he knew aspecial way to prepare the stingray, so I hope I get to taste it later.

Sunday, I went down to Auckland first thing. I had arranged by email to meet Melinda (the woman who was also in Picton lookiing at the Edwin Fox) at the Auckland Maritime Museum. We spent about an hour and a half there. I must say, I was not impressed with this museum. Their collection was fairly broad, but lacked any depth at all. Items were simply presented and labeled with a name, but there was no background or story given for them. Anyway, Melinda had to go meet some other friends and I wanted to watch the 3rd race of the repechage, so we said goodbye. I went over to the stadium and was just in time to watch Oracle win a decisive start over OneWorld. Figuring the race would be textbook from there on out, I went to get some lunch. On the way I heard some good music. There were six guys with banjos and guitars singing sea chanties! These fellows called themselves Maritime Crew and instead of watching the racing, I watched them for three hours and sang the choruses. During their breaks I pumped them for info about the Auckland folk music scene and discovered that the Auckland Folk Festival is in late January. I'd love to go to it, but Barry will be around then and I don't know what he'd like to do yet. I bought two of their CDs and traded phone numbers with them.

Yesterday was a fairly normal day. I took the bus out to Manly and watched the last race of the repechage. Oracle won again, so now OneWorld has been eliminated. This leaves Oracle to sail against Alinghi in the LV Cup finals. I didn't get on the bus to go back right away. Instead I walked to Pacific Plaza, the local mall. I had heard that there was a cinema there and I wanted to know if they would be open on the 25th, and if so what would be playing. No luck, they are closed. Since the repechage ended early, I'm kind of at loose ends and not entirely sure what to do before going to Sydney. My choices are (1) hop a bus up north and see more sights, (2) stay in Orewa and relax and cook/bake, or (3) go down to Auckland and check out the many museums and sights there. I'm leaning towards number 3 right now, but we'll see.

posted at: 00:00 | path: | permanent link to this entry

Mon, 09 Dec 2002

Christchurch part 2; Many journeys reversed and revised

Pictures from previous posting:
  Bus: AKL -> Wgtn
  Te Papa
  Wellington City and Sea
  Ferry: Wgtn -> Picton
  Christchurch Bontanic Gardens


First, some little tastes of New Zealand. My favorite TV commercial is for an organic detergent to be used on the exterior surfaces of a house. Their tag line: "It may not work over night, but it DOES work!". I'm getting more and more fond of traffic circles. They subjectively feel more efficient than traffic lights at intersections. I'd be curious to see some hard data comparing the different systems and how they scale to larger traffic loads. Something we don't have back in America: three phase traffic lights. Here in NZ they put these in at a small number of super-busy urban intersections. Phase 1: motor traffic flows north/south. Phase 2: motor traffic flows east/west. Phase 3: foot traffic flows in ALL directions, including the two diagonals. Kinda weird, but kinda cool at the same time.

On Wednesday 4 Dec I had started the day early and purchased a "Best Attractions" bus pass, which would take me to several of the places I wanted to go. The folks at the Info office told me to go right out front and look for a black double decker bus. I dutifully did so, but said bus was not forthcoming. After waiting by the way-cool huge chess set and watching the bus stop for 15 minutes past the indicated time, I went back in and asked the Info people what the deal was. It turns out the company running the bus had taken the black double decker out of service and replaced it with a red single decker. There was a breakdown in communication somewhere and I never got told. Now the funny thing about this Best Attractions pass is that it is only valid on two consecutive days. That makes no sense to me. Why not let me use it on two non-consecutive days? Why not let it expire after a week? Sigh. So many more user-friendly ways to do things. Anyway, I had the Info desk cancel the ticket and issue me a new one, for the next day.

I went back out to the chess board and ran into Cem. Cem had been on the same bus from Picton to Christchurch with me, and I had seen him the day before also at the chess board, but we had never really talked. This time I figured it was fate and went over and introduced myself. We talked for a bit and then walked through the Arts Center, which used to house one of Christchurch's two major universities. When the university outgrew the facilities they built a new campus on the outskirts of town and the city turned the old campus into the Arts Center. There is an artsy movie theater, two stages for plays and musicals (South Pacific was on) and lots of arts and crafts stores. Cem (he's from Switzerland but his father was Turkish) and I spent a couple of hours wandering around there. Then we went to a sports bar called The Holy Grail where I bought us some beer and chips, thereby "paying it forward" from when I was in Auckland and another hostel guy bought me a beer. Over this beer and chips we both watched our first professional cricket game, a friendly international between the Max Blacks (of NZ) and the Indian side. Max Zone cricket is slightly different from regular cricket in that there are two parts of the pitch where if the ball goes in there the runs are doubled.

On Thursday I finally got to use my Best Attractions bus pass. I took the bus out to the Antarctic Center. This is a tourist attraction near where the US, Italy and New Zealand have their staging areas for their Antarctic programs. It is supposed to promote the science done there, but it really fell down on that score. For NZD $16 after the YHA discount I was deeply disappointed, though I was thinking a lot about a former co-worker from Brightmail (Mark) who did some research on Antarctica. When I got to town I was met by Mrs Tuffley, who took me back to Chez Tuffley for dinner. This was my chance to deliver the presents their son Chris had entrusted to me back in Berkeley. I got to meet both parents (Lesley and Peter) as well as sister Emily and her SO Michael. All extremely cool people. If anyone in NZ needs a Japanese translator/interpreter, let me know and I'll connect you with Peter - he's first rate. I must have impressed them, since Lesley and Peter asked me to stay with them instead of at the hostel for the rest of my time in Christchurch. I accepted. Peter drove me back to the YHA after dinner.

I checked out of the hostel first thing Friday morning and put my backpack in a locker. I had about an hour before I need to use the second half of my Best Attractions ticket, so I tried to find a cheap flight from Christchurch to Auckland, but I didn't have any luck. I caught the bus to Willowbank. Willowbank is a privately owned and operated wildlife preserve. They have quite a few endangered species and associated breeding programs, and they have a kiwi sighting guarantee. As soon as you get inside you are immersed in a huge variety of bird calls and animal sounds. I took tons of pictures. And I did in fact see a live kiwi. When I first entered the kiwi house it took some time for my eyes to adjust to the dark. I heard some scratching in the first enclosure and thought how lucky I was to see a kiwi within the first minute! Peering in I saw a couple of small animals which didn't resemble the pictures of kiwis I had seen, but since it was the kiwi house I figured they had to be kiwis. Another few minutes and my skepticism grew. These didn't have the distinctive long beaks of kiwis and they weren't waddling around on their hind legs. Waitaminit - these animals are on four legs. They were hedgehogs. I moved on to the next enclosure, Again, some movement and faint sounds in the dark. But this time I was more open minded about what I might see. This was ducks now. Hm. Where are the kiwis? The third enclosure turned out to be what I wanted. There, walking back and forth along the side wall was a kiwi, probing the ground repetitively with its long beak. I stood and watched for about 15 minutes. I was the only person in the kiwi house and it was a little magical. I had lunch there at Willowbank and took the next bus back to Christchurch. When I got there I watched the chess for another hour. Then I called the Tuffleys and waited for Peter to collect me and my backpack. I had another delightful dinner with Lesley and Peter.

Saturday was a busy day. Up early and Peter took me on a drive through the Port Hills south of Christchurch. Got a good view of Lyttleton harbor and the monument where the first batch of women and children settlers stopped after hiking up a steep hill from Lyttleton and rested before going down the other side to Christchurch. Peter had a delivery to make in Sumner and the Port Hills weren't far out of the way. He took me back to town and dropped me off in Cathedral Square at the chess set. I watched for a little while and then caught the Akaroa Shuttle to, of all places, Akaroa. Akaroa was originally a French settlement but they were a little too slow and very early on the French settlers agreed to live under British rule, since the Maori had recently signed the Treaty of Waitangi, essentially giving New Zealand to the British crown. On the way there we stopped at Barry's Bay Cheese Store where I tasted three very good cheeses and bought one of them (Maarsden, a Swiss-like cheese, not as hard but very flavorful). Akaroa was a cute little town with a French flavor. I bought a small jar of strawberry rhubarb (one of my favorites) to say "Thanks" to the Tuffleys. Akaroa has, like most towns in NZ, a monument to commemorate their war dead. This was was set in a beautiful rose garden and the gardener was at work. Since I'm trying to become a better photographer, part of that is getting less shy about asking people to pose. So I chatted up the gardener with the plan of finding out which were his favorite roses and then I'd pose him in front of them. His name was Terrance. He had been tending the garden for seven years and when he first got into it, it had been neglected for a long time and was in bad shape. This was how he kept busy during his retirement. And what was his old job? He was the mayor of Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula! I took the Akaroa Shuttle back to Christchurch. Spent a couple of hours on the net paying some bills and catching up on email. Had dinner in town. Then I went to Christchurch's super-modern, computerized, GPS-updated bus station. I took the local bus back to the Tuffleys house and let myself in. They came home from a Christmas function they had been at a short while after I got back.

Sunday was another early day. The InterCity bus left Christchurch at 7:15am. Peter very kindly drove me in to town. I bought my ticket and got on the bus. At the first stop (Kaikoura) I phoned InterIslander, the ferry company. I asked about the 1:30pm sailing and the person told me that they don't sell tickets the same day as a sailing, but that the computer said it was only half booked and I'd have no trouble getting a ticket. Can you see the foreshadowing here? Got to Picton on time, strolled into the ferry building and up to the ticket desk. Asked for a ticket on the 1:30 boat. It was sold out. Not only that - it was sold out a week ago! Oy. So I asked for a ticket on the next ferry. Which was at 7pm. Double oy. Ok, I took the ticket, which was on the Lynx, or "fast" ferry. The Lynx only takes 1.5 hours instead of 3.25 hours to make the crossing. I thought to myself that that was actually kind of cool. I'd be able to say I'd been on both kinds of boats. Plus, I now had 5 hours to explore Picton that I didn't expect to have.

So, I walked up and down Picton's main street. On the way back I noticed a small museum and a large boat in a drydock. This was the Edwin Fox. It claimed to be the ninth oldest ship in the world. I went in and struck up a conversation with the man behind the desk. My first question: "Which are the 8 older ships?" He gave me the list and I was impressed. I pitched a dollar in the donation box and started walking through the museum. I very quickly became deeply impressed. The Edwin Fox was built mostly of teak in 1853 in Calcutta, India. She served about 30 years carrying every kind of cargo, including English prisoners bound for Botany Bay, Australia. She was laid up in 1883 and turned into a freezer hulk in Picton Harbor. Then when they built a cold house on land she was used to store coal to power the cold house. Eventually they phased out the coal and she was abandoned. The museum had pictures of her at each stage and watching this proud old vessel slowly get torn apart to make room for the compressors and other equipment really pulled at my heartstrings. Finally the Edwin Fox Preservation Society was formed and she was purchased as-in and in-place for 1 shilling. The society had no money, so she was towed around the corner and beached until funds could be found to restore her. Eventually money was found, but it was decided that she had more value preserved than restored. A drydock was built in Picton and she was refloated and moved there. The boat is open to the public and I went on board. The pictures speak for themselves. Afterward I went back to the front desk and I was so moved that I donated NZD $20 right then and there. The man at the desk (John Sullivan) said that for that money I could join the society, so I did. There was something about this boat that really touched me. I was extremely happy I'd been bumped off the 1:30 ferry. As I left the museum I saw a woman admiring the boat. I started talking with her, and it turns out she's from Maryland and was involved with Living Classrooms in the Inner Harbor. We talked about the Chesapeake a bit, and I offered to show her around Auckland and to explore the Auckland Maritime Museum with her when she gets up that way. Oh, and Mr Sullivan says there are sea chanties to be sung in association with the AMM, so I'll have to check that out.

Anyway, at about 5:30 I went back to the ferry building to check-in for the 7pm sailing. But the Lynx hadn't left Wellington - the Cook Straight was too rough. At 6pm they formally canceled the ferry and asked for people to line up to get stand-by status on the 9:30pm ferry. I was third in line, and was assigned #141. Uh, ok. I guess there were 138 folks from the 1:30 who didn't want to pay the extra money to go on the Lynx. Alas, InterIslander was very stingy with info. The woman at the ticket desk couldn't tell me how many places were on the boat, nor how many tickets had been sold. I had no way to guess if I'd get on the late ferry, and I had not made a reservation for a bed in Picton. After trying to get info out of a few other InterIslander people who were uniformly not helpful, an older gentleman came out from the baggage area and told me what I needed to know: 350 seats on the boat, 260 sold. My odds looked bad. Then he told me about Sounds Air which operates from an office just down the street. I went down there and was able to get the last seat on their last flight. And for only $10 more than the Lynx. I will avoid InterIslander if at all possible in the future. I was deeply unimpressed with their ability to communicate timely info to their customers.

Sounds Air, on the other hand was fabulous. The driver of the shuttle from the office to the airport was David Woodley, I believe. He's the owner of the airline and is also one of SAIL magazine's NZ correspondents, focusing on megayachts visiting for the America's Cup. He is also a sailing instructor, and knows Rich and Anthony back at OCSC! Anyway, there were six of us on the plane, including the pilot. The plane was a single-prop. When the pilot walked us over to the plane he asked who wanted to sit where. My hand shot up and I yelled out "shotgun!" Shortly after we cleared the ground and got over the first trees and hill, the guy in the middle seat (Boaz from Israel, he and I had gotten to know each other while waiting for the flight and he asked a lot of good questions about the America's Cup) reached over and tapped me on the shoulder. He said (shouting over the engine): "Look at the fuel gage!" I did, and it was pretty much on empty. At this point, there was nothing I could do, so I took a few pictures and figured the pilot knew his business. We made it across to Wellington in 25 minutes and didn't run out of gas, so I guess it turned out alright. I took a shuttle bus into the city center, got on the cable car and then walked down to Mark and Bria's house. We chatted for about half an hour and then they showed me to my room and I fell right asleep.

The plan was for Bria to drive me down to the train station where I would catch the InterCity bus to Auckland, but something came up (I don't know what) and Mark, Bria and Alex all ran out the door 5 minutes before I was packed. I wrote them a thank-you note and let myself out. I hiked up to the cable car, rode it down, and then walked over to the train station where I got the bus to Auckland. This time the eleven hours on the bus was less tolerable. I dozed and listened to music and read Thoreau, but by the end of the day I was pretty frazzled. Fortunately, I had arranged with Jackie to pick me up and drive me back to Orewa, meaning I had a friendly face waiting for me and I didn't have to hassle with the local bus. I talked the whole way up telling Jackie about all of my adventures. When we got to the hostel, I saw another familiar face in the lounge. It was Patti from Waiheke! It was quite the homecoming. I checked-in with the office and dropped my stuff in the dorm. I chatted with Jackie for about an hour, and then with Patti for about two. Patti and I had to cover all the Louis Vuitton Cup happenings and she had some very cool Bay of Islands stories to encourage me to explore up that way.

I had botched my plans. Monday was supposed to be a race day and I had booked my bus trip for that day. I was going to miss the first day of racing during the LV Cup semi finals. However, the weather gods took pity on me, the dedicated fan and blew up a real howler, causing racing to be canceled. For those who are counting, that now makes four days of racing canceled, exactly overlapping with the four days I was not able to watch (the first three were while I was finding my vantage point). Kinda spooky, but there ya go. I seem to be getting quite lucky on this score. That said, I will be more careful about my plans in the future.

Which finally brings us up to today. Patti left for Auckland this morning and I went to watch the races from the vantage point. 16 knots of winds and a beautiful day. Alas, Oracle from San Francisco lost to Alinghi. Fortunately, the boat speed seemed comparable and Oracle didn't lose by getting cleaned out during the start. There was a right-hand shift which favored Alinghi during the first beat and that was all she wrote. Coutts sailed a flawless race. The other race (Prada vs OneWorld) was a right mess, with broken gear and all kinds of lead changes.

Well, it's 8:30pm and I need to get a bite to eat. Catch you all later!

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Wed, 04 Dec 2002

Many journeys; Christchurch, part 1

On the 27th I repeated my bus trip to the vantage point and again watched TDC lose to OneWorld. Rather frustrating. I spent the evening in conversation with a young Swiss man also staying in the hostel. It is interesting talking with people from around the world about their viewpoints. I wrote three postcards that night.

This was only my 2nd Thanksgiving away from home in my life. The last time I was in Monterey, CA and it was very hard. This one was also difficult, but I kept busy enough that I didn't really stop and think about it almost until bedtime. I took the bus out to the vantage point, but there was a snag. Some dog had left a larger "present" for me right where I had been sitting the day before. I really didn't want to spend 4 hours sitting next to it. Luckily, a passerby told me about another reserve further down the road. I walked down there and watched the races from there. The view wasn't as good, but it didn't smell at all. That evening I had a conversation with the owner of the hostel, a very nice Korean man. He wanted to tell me all about his adult life story of owning sushi restaurants and entrepreneurship. He is actually quite inspirational.

On Friday morning I broke down and bought a GSM phone. It works on a Pre Pay system, which means I don't get a monthly bill. Instead you can buy a card which has a silver lottery-style scratch off area. You call a central number and punch in the number revealed after scratching and then - POOF - you can make calls. It isn't cheap though. I'm not sure why, but telecoms here in NZ feel very expensive to me. Anyway, I decided to get the phone because I had met a few people who I wanted to keep in touch with and texting seems to be the way people do that around here.

After buying the phone I went back out to the vantage point, which didn't smell bad any more, though Team Dennis Conner sure did. They trailed the entire race and then touched the 5th mark with their chute. Sigh. I wrote three more postcards that night.

Saturday morning was fun. Jackie, a newly minted web designer who was in the same dorm as me, drove me down to Auckland, saving me $8 in bus fare and a very early start. She dropped me off right at the InterCity bus station. I'm still not accustomed to this drive-on-the-left thing they do here, but it is coming slowly. I think back to my bike trip in Ireland with Birdie and how easy it was then. Is it because I'm older, or because I'm not actively on the roads every day? Who knows. I took a nap as we left Auckland since it was just suburbs going by and they look the same everywhere. When I woke up I saw something I didn't expect at all: naked hills. Upon closer inspection it was clear that logging had be done recently. I had no idea that NZ had a logging industry. We spent at least an hour going through carefully planted forests interspersed with that awful gut-wrenching view of cut down landscapes. Eventually we ended up in the town of Taupo, which was holding its annual 160km bike race. When the bus pulled in to the station we had 20 minutes "comfort break". I sprinted down to the lakefront to get a picture of the first snow-capped mountain I had seen in NZ. Then I ran back and made it to the bus with 2 minutes to spare. Taupo was a pretty town and I put it on my list of places to come back to later. Pulling out of Taupo was dramatic. There's a stretch of motorway called Desert Rd and then right out of nowhere there's a mini Grand Canyon, with a stream and eroded layers of rock and everything. Very cool. The bus driver popped in a video when we were 2 hours from Wellington: Spiderman. It was a little distracting from the scenery, but it was a long bus ride, so the entertainment did help. Total time from Auckland to Wellington: 11 hours. I called Jane's friend Mark when I got off the bus and he came and picked me up and took me back to his house. Wow - what a house. Very posh. He was actually attending a party with his wife elsewhere, so he gave me a key and took off. New Zealanders take their hospitality very seriously. I freshened up a bit and went off to find the cable car. Wellington has a lot of similarities to San Francisco. Though the cable car is really more of a funicular, since it only goes up and down one small section. I did find it, though it was about to close, so I rode it down and right back to the top. I had wanted to go out and find a pub, but that was not to be. Once I got back to Mark's house, I started to unpack a little. Shortly, Mark and his wife Bria (like Brian without the -n) came home and we shared a bottle a NZ red wine - very nice, actually.

On Sunday morning I had a small bite to eat with Bria and then she drove me down to the waterfront, dropping me off at Te Papa. Te Papa is the national museum of New Zealand and is an amazing place. I spent several hours, and didn't even begin to do it justice. It really is a first-class museum and anyone in the part of the world must go see it. I cannot say enough nice things about Te Papa. I will come back to Wellington and revisit Te Papa when I've got more time. Next, I cruised through the Wellington City & Sea Museum, which wasn't quite worth the $5 entry fee, but was ok. It was very Wellington-centric, which was to be expected, though I didn't really get into their local sports heroes. Some of the maritime stuff was quite good. I took the cable car back up to Mark and Bria's neighborhood. Took a shortcut through the Botanic Gardens down to their house, though it wasn't very gardeny. In fact, they had a sequoia, and as I came up to it I thought to myself: "That looks a lot like it should be in CA, imagine parallel evolution like that so many miles away!" Then I saw the tag on it explaining it was from CA. Anyway, I met Bria and she took me to the supermarket. To show my gratitude I wanted to cook them (Mark, Bria and their son Alex) dinner. I made a salad, home-made ravioli and pasta sauce, and a fruit cobbler for desert. Alex is 12 or 13 and is really into cooking, especially a la The Naked Chef. I had fun teaching how to make pasta dough and he enjoyed making the cobbler.

Monday morning and another early start. Bria dropped me off in front of the Lynx, which is a fast ferry to the south island. Of course, the Lynx wasn't sailing until 3pm which was no good. So I hiked with my pack over to the train station where I caught a free shuttle bus with like 50 other backpackers to the regular InterIslander ferry building. I bought a ticket and checked my backpack, just like at the airport. The ferry takes about 3 hours to cross Cook Straight to get to Picton, while the Lynx would have only taken 1.5 hours, giving me some time to explore Picton. That will have to wait for another day. The ferry was huge - it had three passenger decks, one deck for cars and another deck for TRAINS! I had never seen that before. It was about one and a half football fields long, and had its own movie theater, though movie tickets were extra. The movie playing was: K-19 The Widowmaker. I thought that was an odd choice for a boat going across a tricky patch of water, but what do I know. The InterCity buses start right at the ferry building, so after collecting my backpack it was easy to get on the right bus. It took about 4 hours to get from Picton to Christchurch. During the ferry and bus ride I read "The Vintner's Luck" by Elizabeth Knox (who it seems is in Bria's book club - I told her about "Spartina" by John Casey as a book idea) which Bria had loaned me - it was quite enthralling. The south island is quite pretty. We went along the coast for a stretch - there were these razor-like rocks going some distance from shore which made me promise myself I'd never sail around here without good charts and a GPS. When I finally got to Christchurch, I checked in to my hostel and called Mrs Tuffley. Her son Chris had given me some books to deliver for his parents' birthday presents. I made plans to have dinner with them Thursday.

Tuesday morning and it was time to do laundry again. While my stuff was in the washer, I ran out and scored some corn flakes and milk to last me for breakfast for a few days. Once everything was dry and folded and set out for the day. First off was the Botanic Gardens, which were delightful. On the way there I went through Victoria Park and walked a little way next to the beautiful and scenic and serene Avon River, which you can go punting on, just like in Venice. Anyway, You would not believe the rose garden they have. It was huge and it just took my breath away. Thousands and thousands of roses all blooming. Roses in every shape and color. It was almost too much. I tried to take some good pictures, but I don't think they can capture the overwhelming feeling of being completely surrounded by so many flowers. Just incredible. Next door to the Gardens is the Canterbury Museum. This is another good one which some nice natural history focusing on early Maori culture, the now extinct moa (a huge flightless bird) and early European settlers. I was only able to do half before admitting defeat due to fatigue. I will come back later since I've got almost a week in here Christchurch. On the way back to the hostel I found Cathedral Square (not hard really - it is the epicenter of Christchurch). However, they have the coolest thing there - a huge chess set. The pieces are about 2 to 3 feet high and people just stand around and play. I watched a couple of games and then couldn't resist getting involved. :-) I won both my games.

Still to come: Hal learns about the bus system and forms some conclusions about the city of Christchurch. Plus: Hal visits Antarctica. But these won't get detailed until early next week when I'm back in Orewa. Stay tuned!

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Wed, 27 Nov 2002

Eureka!

Two days ago I finally found the perfect vantage point. It is a 30 minute bus ride from Orewa (oh-REE-wa) where I'm staying. The place itself is in the town of Manly on the Whangaparaoa peninsula. If you want to visit me, look for the reserve (aka park) halfway down Tiri Rd, just east of Little Manly Beach.

Yesterday I watched my first races from there and everything worked perfectly. Well, Team Dennis Connor lost to OneWorld, so not everything, but still. I brought my Therm-a-rest inflatable pad and the conversion kit to turn it into a chair. I brought my radio which covers the TV band. I brought my mini 10x25 binoculars. I do wish the binocs were a tad more powerful, but you can't have everything.

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Sun, 24 Nov 2002

Waiheke Island, NZ

Took the ferry from Auckland to Waiheke Island. The landing is at a place called Matiatia. Took the bus from Matiatia to the end of the line at Onetangi. The hostel is located up at the top of 184 steps, which is not easy with a full pack. I rested twice on the way up. After I checked in and got my bearings I set off for the grocery to get some staples. I ran across an organic food shop on the way and decided to get things there, since that's better for the environment and all. I asked for some help from the lady running the place, trying to find some things. I must say, there are two words I now know to avoid when shopping on this trip: gourmet and organic. Man, that was expensive! I walked out a little shocked and wishing I'd had the backbone to walk out when I saw the prices. Feeling a bit down I explored the local neighborhood and found a bakery. I poked my nose in to see if it was worth coming back when I felt richer and the woman behind the counter demands to know what I want and quick as she's closing. Oh yeah, and whatever I take is free! I took two raspberry buns and eight whole wheat rolls at her insistence. The contrast between the two experiences has really struck me. I walked back giggling to myself the whole way.

Pictures

The next day (Wednesday) was more simple. Didn't do much all day, but I did go to the regular supermarket where I bought some other staples to try to rescue the food budget issue. I ended up averaging out ok over the four days on Waiheke, but I learned a good lesson. That evening I was in the common room reading when some other hostelers came in and started playing Full Metal Jacket on the VCR, without even asking. Then I decided to give it a chance and ended up watching the whole thing. It was a tad late (8pm) by this time, but I hadn't had dinner so I threw together the veggie stir fry I'd been planning.

Thursday was a good day. I took the bus across the island to Oneroa, the largest town on Waiheke. I walked up and down both sides of the main street looking in to the various shops. Waiheke has a reputation as being a bit of an artist's haven and I went into three artist's shops. One guy who worked sculpture in New Zealand limestone with brightly colored copper/enamel highlights inlaid into the rock. Another was an incredible jade artisan. The third was less interesting to me. After walking around I got my first NZ hamburger (more veggies than meat, but that's ok) which they serve with beets, in addition to lettuce and carrots. Not bad. I took the low road (ie, the beach) to Little Oneroa just to the east. Fortunately it was low tide or I wouldn't have made it. The tidepools were fun to watch, though I didn't see any fish caught in any of them. In Little Oneroa I scouted out another hostel - the Hekerua Lodge.

A small geography lesson for Medge: you didn't stay in the Waiheke Island YHA, you stayed at Hekerua Lodge. You didn't stay in a place with 184 steps to get to the front door. Finally, the pool at Hekerua Lodge is not a quick hop over to the beach, it is a 15 minute hike. Thank you.

On the bus back from Hekerua Lodge I met a woman named Patti. She was the first person I had met who knew any significant amount about the America's Cup. And, she was staying in the same 184-steps-up hostel as me. I carried one of her bags up the steps for her.

This brings us to Friday. I slept late (10am). Ran into Patti over breakfast and we ended up hiking through the Forest And Bird Preserve. After which we walked along the main road towards the supermarket. We stopped at one of the wineries (Waiheke is trying to become more upscale with wineries, like other parts of New Zealand) for a tasting. The Onetangi Road Winery had a fairly good Chardonnay, but I cannot recommend the 1999 Merlot/Cabernet. We did eventually make it to Woolworth's (the supermarket) and Patti did her shopping, and then took the bus back to the hostel, of course going up the 184 steps. I had a very nice dinner conversation with Patti, Jackie (and englishwoman living in Auckaldn, NZ who volunteers for the America's Cup race comittee) and Gisela (a nice German young woman in NZ). It was later that night that I made a realization. For me, it takes a few days to really feel comfortable in a hostel. The first couple of days I don't know where things are in the kitchen, I don't know my way around, and I feel out of place. When I first got to the Waiheke Island YHA I felt very unhappy, since I was just leaving the Auckland City YHA where I had spent 5 days. However, after 3 days on Waiheke I was quite happy there. Of course, making friends can accelerate that process.

That was my last night on Waiheke. I took the 8:20am bus with Gisela, Anita (a young Dutch woman) and Tim (my roommate in the hostel) which connected with the ferry which we took to Auckland. Gisela had to head off someplace right away, but Anita and Tim and I walked once around Viaduct Basin. Then I excused myself to catch my bus up to Orewa. Patti, Gisela and I had talked about maybe going on a spectator boat ($75 per person per day) to watch one of the quarter final repechage races, and so we exchanged email addresses.

Once I got up to Orewa I checked in to my new hostel (Pillows Traveller Lodge) and immediately headed off to scout out the Whangaparaoa peninsula. I took the bus out to Shakespear Regional Park (yes, that's the correct spelling). I hiked out to the end of one of the two points of land that should give good views of the Hauraki Gulf. This point ended up being completly unsuitable. The point itself was not accessible and there was all kinds of vegetation blocking the view - it was horrible. I walked down to the beach between the two points and sat down to rest. I got out the binocs and I could see some of the boats mucking about, but there wasn't any racing going on. I fiddled with my $20 transistor radio and eventually found the right station (NewsTalk Zed Bee). Racing had been cancelled due to bad weather - which meant I got rained on. Ok, heavily misted on might be more accurate. I walked back to the bus stop (the buses don't run in the park) and headed back to Orewa. Since I was cold and tired I decided to try one of the Thai places in town and had an excellent beef massamun curry, which was big enough to serve for two dinners.

I stopped at the bakery once I was off the bus. Again, I got some cheap end-of-day treats, but not free this time. This could get to be a habit. I feel it is my duty as a backpacker to find these kinds of bargains and exploit them, neh? Once I got back to the hostel I had a bit of a shock. I had been put in a co-ed dorm. I didn't care much, but I had no idea what the etiquette for this situation was. I guess I'm supposed to do all my changing in the bathroom. Except the bathroom is co-ed as well, and the stalls are not what one could call spacious. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know.

Today is Sunday, and again I took the bus to the end of the Whangaparaoa peninsula to explore Shakespear Regional Park. I went for the other point this time. This time I got seriously drenched. Racing was again cancelled. At least this point had some decent viewpoints, though no place to sit. You see, this park is mostly a collection of sheep pastures. To get to the end of the point, I had to hike through a minefield of sheep dung. The worst rain happened when I was all the way out at the end of the park. I took "shelter" in the lee of a small tree. The trees were all surrounded by small square fences to prevent the sheep from eating the trees, I guess. Fortunately, I had taken my bright yellow rain shell, which I neglect to bring the day before. My legs got wet, but I was wearing shorts so my skin dried out quickly once I got back to civilization.

So, I still haven't found the perfect vantage point. This is proving harder than I had originally assumed. At this point, I'm going to start working my way west from Shakespear Regional Park and trying some of the non-public lands. The towns of Gulf Harbor and Little Manly are next on my list. The advantage of these towns is that I might actually get guidance from the locals about places to go. The park isn't my first choice, and the people I asked about it didn't really know much about it, so I had to scout myself.

At this point, I'll be in Orewa for another six days. Then I plan on taking the bus down to Wellington, the ferry to Picton, and the other bus to Christchurch. This will all be during the break between the quarter and semi finals in the Louis Vuitton Cup. At least I haven't missed any race days while trying to find the best vantage point.

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Tue, 19 Nov 2002

Auckland, NZ

This diary thing has been working out pretty well. Let's see. I left the bay area on 12 Nov, flying on Southwest from Oakland to LAX. Since I had a total layover of 5 hours, I agreed to meet Mike Polek for dinner. With some trepidation (it's amazing how much of a lifeline a cell phone can mean now that I don't have one) I took a bus as directed by Mike to a park-n-ride lot. Mike met me mere minutes later and we went off for Thai food. It was very nice to see him and catch up on life. Mike took me back to LAX and I went through security.

I killed an hour wandering through the duty free store. The plane left on time and I was fortunate enough to have an empty seat to my left and the aisle to my right. I gotta say, the seats on Air New Zealand are surprisingly comfortable (it seems they even won an award for ergonomics). The headrests have foldable wings to support your head while you sleep. I ate a second dinner on the plane, but only because I wanted to see how their airline food compared. Oh, and for the complimentary wine! I had a very nice sauvignon blanc. With the help of some Ambien, I was able to sleep for a few hours on the plane.

We landed at 5:30am local New Zealand time. A short wait in line and I was through passport control. I collected my pack at the baggage carousel, and ripped off the protective garbage bags. When faced with the choice of declaring things at customs or not, I decided to declare the 5 Balance Bars left over in my pack, since NZ has fairly strict food controls. The officer was not impressed, and I was waved straight through. The next problem was getting in to town. I gotta say, Auckland is very tourist-friendly when it comes to transportation. I took the AirBus from the airport and the driver dropped me off directly in front of the hostel (Auckland City YHA).

I couldn't check-in right away since I got there too early. I relaxed for a couple of hours in the TV/social room. After I got my room key, I pulled out some things I would need for the day and took my backpack down to the basement where I put it in a big locker for $3/day. This turns out to have been a good move, since when I met my roomies later in the day one of them had has his entire pack stolen from the room the day before. The hostel changed the locks as soon as they heard about that. Since then, I've put my real valuables (passport, plane tickets, CD player) in a small locker for $1.50/day and left the pack in the room with just clothes and toiletries in it.

Of course, the first thing I had to do was walk down to Viaduct Basin and see what could be seen. I walked past KZ-1 and strolled past the megayachts docked there. I also found the mini-stadium where there's a stage and a huge TV. When a race is on they pipe in OneSport. As you sit there watching you can look out over Syndicate Row and also watch the America's Cup boats towing in and out for racing or practice. I watched Oracle (who broke their spinnaker pole on one run downwind) beat OneWorld. After that, I walked down Syndicate Row and poked my nose into a few of the shops that each syndicate has, looking for postcards and t-shirts, etc. I walked back up to the hostel and found Karangahape Road (aka K' Rd) where I had a kebab for dinner. From walking around Auckland I can see that Turkish style kabobs are a very popular fast food choice, much like burritos are in California.

Friday morning saw me in the hostel basement doing laundry. While things were in the washer I went and found breakfast. While things were in the dryer I found a good internet cafe. This was harder than it might sound. Queen St (the main drag in Auckland) is littered with internet cafes, but the first three I looked at were all running Windows 98. Since I wanted to mount my CompactFlash card for pictures and ssh (putty) login that wasn't good enough (W98 needs special driver, W2K doesn't). Of course, the best one was right next door to the hostel but was hidden and didn't have a sign out in front of the door. I only found it by looking in windows and being nosy. I uploaded my first batch of pictures right then and there.

Once the clothes were clean and dry and folded and put away, I walked back down to Viaduct Basin to watch Victory and LeDefi go at it. I walked back on Hobson, which runs parallel to Queen since I wanted to familiarize myself with Auckland. I went out for a beer and dinner (my first local fish and chips, of course) with Peter from Scotland who was sharing my room. After dinner we went to the TV/social room and watched this strange reality show. It was a race between pairs of backpackers who had to do a treasure hunt throughout southeast asia.

Saturday saw me again down in Viaduct Basin, this time watching Team Dennis Connor overcome GBR Challenge. I took a long walk home, detouring west past Victoria Park, where I watched my first live cricket game. It was totally amateur, but fun and incomprehensible nevertheless. I found a supermarket and bought some groceries. Shock of shocks, preparing one's own food can save a lot of money. My daily food budget is NZ$20, which is possible, but not very filling or high quality or convenient. It is quite easy to come in under budget if I make myself breakfast and dinner.

There was an anti-GE (genetic engineering of food) march in Auckland on Saturday. At the end of the day I went again to the TV/social room and picked a (verbal) fight with a kid who just graduated in molecular biology from U of Guelph in Canada. He was in blind support of genetic engineering and I tried to make him see that there might be a downside and that at least the people who are doing the research should take responsibility for their creations. Not great sport, but it killed an hour before going to bed.

Since the reason I came to NZ in the first place was to watch the America's Cup, I spent the next two days trying to find the best vantage point. On Sunday I took a local bus up to a small town (pop 4900) called Orewa, which is 30 km north of Auckland. I checked out one of the two hostels in town (it was very nice) and made a reservation. Orewa has a supermarket and a lot of nice small shops (green grocer, butcher, bakery, etc) and would make a very solid base to work from. It is also about a 1 hour bike ride or half hour bus ride from the Whangaparaoa peninsula, which marks the northern boundary of the America's Cup race course. I'll be in Orewa for the LV Cup quarter finals repechage, so I'll get a good idea of how well I can observe from the north.

Yesterday (Sunday) I took the ferry from Auckland to Rangitoto Island, which along with Motutapu marks the southern border of the race course. I hiked up 260m (845ft) to the summit which is a volcanic cone. It took me about 45 minutes and since the air was nice and cool I didn't overheat at all. After a quick lunch of dried apricot and two granola bars up top, I got my first live view of racing. However, Rangitoto Summit was too far away, even with 10x25 binoculars, to observe easily. I fear Whangaparaoa will have the same issue. This means that I will likely need to buy a more powerful pair of binocs and also a monopod to steady them. On the way back down I took a lot of pictures. Highlights include the basalt lava fields (Rangitoto is a relatively new island, only 400-500 years old) and a couple of shots of Oracle towing in after some practicing on the Hauraki Gulf). At the summit there were some GBR supporters who were listening to the race over the radio, so on my walk back to the hostel I picked up a cheap transistor radio - now I need to figure out which station the races are broadcast on.

Anyway, I'm off for four nights on Waiheke starting today, Nov 19. After that I've got a week scheduled in Orewa. Things become less clear after that, but I want to go to Wellington and Christchurch next.

Cheers!

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Mon, 11 Nov 2002

I'm leaving on a jet plane

Well, it's time to hit the road. I spent my three weeks on the east coast. I spent lots of time with my family. I got to see an old friend. I got to practice with the no-longer-new backpack. Now I'm back in the bay area having made all my final arrangements. Thanks are due to Samuel for throwing me a great going-away birthday party, to Art for the gift of some cool mesh bags with travel goodies inside, to Sandy and Robin for sharing their house and bandwidth with me, and to Eric for taking care of the boat. I probably left someone out, but it's been very hectic so please don't hold it against me. My last experience in America will be an early dinner with another old friend from Maryland during my 4.5 hour layover in LA.

I've made my hostel reservation for my first week in NZ - it's the Auckland City YHA. Besides working on getting over the jet lag, it turns out that one of my first jobs upon arrival will be: LAUNDRY. There just wasn't time to wash stuff before I left. I'm good for a few days, so it isn't urgent, but it kinda feels like going home from college with a bag of dirty clothes. I'm already thinking about my first sidetrip - in between the quarter finals and the first repechage: Wellington. Or maybe Christchurch. Does anyone have a preference? Wellington is closer to Auckland, but I've got a delivery to make in Christchurch - birthday presents for the parents of a friend.

Thankfully, there have been a couple of days of extremely strong breeze down in Auckland. This means that the quarter finals of the LV Cup have been delayed. I was worried I'd miss some good racing while in transit, but it looks like I might not miss a single race at all.

In any event, these weblog entries should get more interesting now that I'll have more exciting adventures to relate. It's hard coming up with things to say about making trips to the storage unit, etc.

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Thu, 31 Oct 2002

Maryland

Ah, nothing like a week in the hometown of one's alma matter. I got to visit and spend time with most of the people who make Maryland a special place for me. Thanks go out to (in no particular order): Barney, Christine, Damian, Gail and Michael, Hymie and Michelle, Janine, Koset, Maria, Mark, and Mark and Carolyn.

While I was down in MD, I finally went to Fort McHenry - it is amazing how onw can live in a town for 10 years and never visit the local historic sites. I also went to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. Pictures are available.

Just one more week in NY and then it is back to CA. The excitement is building!

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Wed, 16 Oct 2002

Arrived in NY

Well, here I am, safe and sound in NY. I'm staying in my sister's apartment in Queens. Everyone say: "Hi Andie!". She loves dragonflies - if you send me an image of a dragonfly, I'll pass it on to her.

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Tue, 15 Oct 2002

Better late than never

Well, the adventure begins. I've sold a lot of furniture, put the rest of my belongings in storage, and now I'm sitting in an almost empty house. All I've got left here is a blue folding card table, a sleeping bag and a vaccuum cleaner. I'll make one last trip to the storage unit first thing in the morning, then a last trip to the Berkeley Dump with a few bags of trash. Finally, I'll park the car near Sandy and Robin's house, drop off the key and call a taxi. Which reminds me, I need to call JetBlue and ask them about the best way to prepare my backpack for baggage check-in.

I was supposed to board a plane for NY earlier today, but I had seriously underestimated the amount of packing remaining. I tried to pull an all-nighter, but when I saw I wasn't going to make it I decided to catch some Z's and rebook the flight for tomorrow.

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Fri, 20 Sep 2002

The new backpack

Well, another important milestone has been passed. Saturday I went over to Marmot Mountain in Berkeley. I had been there a couple of weeks ago and checked out a few of their backpacks. The one I was most interested in was from Mystery Ranch. But I wasn't sure if my CD-ROM player would fit in the top detachable part. I brought it with me, and it wasn't even close. I could fit 10 players in there. So, after some trials and tribulations getting the pack to fit, I bought it. I got the floor model at a 5% dicount because it was the only one they had and they said they might not get a special order delivered before I was planning on leaving. I gotta say, this pack is way cool. First, it is super-adjustable. Second, the design is well thought out - it has good access to the main compartment from the top (of course), from the bottom (less common, but not unheard of) and from the middle (which is both super-convenient and also unusual because of the shape of the outside pockets on most other packs). Third, it is made with two-layer fabric, with the outer layer specifically designed to prevent tears and punctures while the other provides the structural strength. I'm a big fan of composites like this (fiberglass, steel-n-concrete, etc).

As a side note, the packing is make slow and steady progress. I've got enough boxes packed now that it makes sense to open up a storage unit and start shuttling stuff over there. Next week I'll list a lot of my furniture on Craig's List. Anyone want some bookcases? How about a nice desk, a couch or a loveseat with a hideaway bed? Let me know...

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Tue, 20 Aug 2002

Tickets!

Yes, we have airplane tickets. Lots and lots of them. Thanks to Ingrid over at Council Travel I've got all my flights worked out. Well, almost all of them. Consult the sidebar to the left for details on the dates, though I reserve the right to delay my return to visit Hong Kong or someplace. It turns out that besides there being student discounts, there are also teacher discounts. A quick letter signed by Max from OCSC and I'm flying for 40% off. Thanks Max!

I'll be flying on Air New Zealand, which according to Medge is a very nice airline. Of course, Air New Zealand doesn't fly out of the bay area - only LA. So I need to catch a flight on southwest to and from LA. Except Southwest can't book flights out into the future for when I'm coming back. I'll need to call them from NZ and reschedule the last leg. No big deal.

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Sat, 17 Aug 2002

Aussie Visa

The last time I went down to Council Travel they told me they needed a copy of my passport to get a visa to enter Australia. It seems the Aussies have an electronic visa system. I went back to Council Travel today and did the visa thing. While I was there I also joined Hostelling International - American Youth Hostels for a real bargain of $25.

Now if I can just get people here to buy my stuff, I'll be all set. Lots of folks seem to want my TV, but no one wants the couch or desk or the big stuff like that.

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Fri, 16 Aug 2002

Plans for travel

Well, I just purchased my first set of tickets - round trip Oakland to JFK (New York) on JetBlue. This will be my first trip on JetBlue, which my mom and sister flew last time they came to see me here in California. It seems every seat gets its own TV!

Anyway, I'll be on the east coast for three weeks. I'll spend two of them in NY with the folks, and one in Maryland visiting friends.

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Thu, 15 Aug 2002

What's the big idea?

Well, you see, back on 18 July 2002, I was laid off from my job at Transmeta. After a couple of weeks of moping around and not having anything to do, it dawned on me: The America's Cup! I've been an avid sailor for over 8 years, first at Getaway Sailing in Baltimore, and for the past five years at OCSC in Berkeley. Anyway, the two previous America's Cups were held in 2000 (in Auckland, NZ) and 1995 (in San Diego, CA). I wasn't able to see either of them, what with being tied up with work and all. So, finding the silver lining in the cloud that is losing one's job, this is the perfect time to do some traveling and spectate up close and personal. As an added bonus, the Around Along boats will be making a stopover on the other side of New Zealand's North Island in the town of Tauranga - I'll get to see those magnificent vessels as well.

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