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NZ trip - part 1 of 7

So, it's taken me a really long time to wrangle my NZ pics into order so that I could think about making selections to show to people. (Because I had a digital camera and therefore took almost 1,000 pictures, and no way you're sitting still for THAT!) I'm never going to get this done if I don't start the write-up, though. I figure I'd better break it into parts and do what I can when I can.

(Click on pics at any time to see a larger version, and then click again to see the full-size version, for details.)

Wellington is a really pretty city. It's also an extremely vertical city. My first reaction to it (albeit a jetlagged, bleary one) was the natural reaction of someone who has lived all her life in the Northeast -- "my god, how can you have driveways like that? what do you do when it... oh. It never snows here. Nevermind." Still, I don't care how relatively clement your winters are, the idea of living in a house that is ONLY reachable from the street by going up or down 80 windy stairs, and/or by personal funicular, is kind of scary to me. No matter how admittedly spectacular the view. The whole funicular thing sounds cool for a moment, but then you think about it breaking down and how you'd reach your spectacularly perched house *then*.

Anyway, above is downtown Wellington (really, that's it), taken from Mt. Victoria, which is a park perched on a nearby hilltop. It's also notable for the fact (geek alert) that all those treetops you see immediately downslope have all these walking/jogging trails through them, and that's where the "get off the road!" scene in "Fellowship of the Ring" was filmed. Yes, in the middle of the city, basically. Five minutes away from the Weta studios in Miramar (which are directly behind the viewer). Stephen had driven me up there (on my second day) partly to see the view and partly to take me to that location.

On account of its downtown's small size, Wellington is a nicely walkable city. It has some really nice art and pretty buildings, too. This is a shot of a public square between the City Council buildings (behind viewer) and the harbor. (I think the hill-slope visible in the background is Mt. Victoria, actually.) The thing in the middle, the fern-ball, is a neat piece of public art. Yeah, it looks like it's just floating there, but in fact it's suspended by guy-wires attached to surrounding buildings. If you click through to the full-size version of the picture, not only will you see it in more detail (so you can see it's hollow, silver on the outside and gold on the inside), you can see the wires. In the background are a couple of bronze (I think) columns in the shape of nikau palms (which are native to NZ and which are the most southerly-growing species of palm tree). Ferns, nikaus -- New Zealand really likes its native flora, let me tell you.

That weekend, tyellas came and kidnapped me (she's another old college friend). She's also a really big LOTR fandom geek, so we went around and did LOTR-oriented stuff -- like, drive around Miramar and Seatoun, and peer at Weta studios and filming locations, and go to a little museum at the harbor end of the Hutt valley that was having a King Kong exhibit (which movie I had not seen, but despite that, getting to see a bunch of the maquettes and some of the actual-size props of, like, dinosaur skulls and stuff from the movie was still neat). She also took me to Kaitoke, a lovely park way up at the other end of the Hutt valley (in which she lives, in what is, by the way, just the cutest little cottage), for reasons that will become immediately apparent:

I would say generally that walking around the Rivendell bits of Kaitoke were certainly Rivendell-ish. There were some really nice paths through the bush, and a fairly tame swing-bridge over the upper Hutt River.

I really liked the various bush walks that I was taken on. (The day before, in the afternoon, Stephen had taken me to the Otari-Wilton Bush preserve, which is within the Wellington city limits.) Despite it being winter, everything was really GREEN and lush, but we were avoiding any bugs, and it was cool enough to make walking around nice. NZ bush is neat because so many of the species seem like (indeed, are) evolutionary hold-outs, what with the tree-ferns and the podocarp types of weird pines. It is the kind of forest that you walk through and expect to see velociraptors at any moment. It's not just tropically lush, it feels *primitive*.

In the Wellington area at least, we got to hear a lot of native birds -- I heard my first tui in Otari-Wilton, and then had a close encounter with one in Kaitoke, too. Tui are just totally neat. They have two voice-boxes, which means they can make an astounding variety of sounds simultaneously. They sound exactly like R2D2. I'm not kidding -- you're walking through the bush, and suddenly you hear R2D2 off in the distance. Don't believe me? Go here and listen:


There is also streaming video here of a tui in captivity that has learned (like a parrot) to talk:


Later, back with Stephen, we went on an expedition over the Rimutaka Hill Road into the Wairarapa district, in order to go see the Putangirau Pinnacles (which is where they filmed the Paths of the Dead stuff for "Return of the King"). A word about New Zealand roads -- OMG TWISTY AND WINDY AND NARROW!

The Rimutaka Hill Road (I'll pause a moment while you click through on the above pic to the full-size version, so that you can trace the line of the road as it clings to the mountainside off into the misty distance -- you will have noticed that, after a few days of spectacular weather, real New Zealand winter weather had moved in) is, I would just like to point out, State Highway 2. (This picture was taken in the parking lot of the cafe at the summit, 555 meters.) And believe me when I tell you that State Highway 1 is no bigger and no better when it comes to clinging to mountainsides and whipping around curves -- often, with no guardrails whatsoever.

In fact, it became clear to me after a short time of being driven around that the only time you'll see guardrails on some of these precipice-laden highways is when a particular stretch has accumulated too many fatalities. Indeed, Stephen was telling me that often, the only way anyone will know that there has been an accident is when the flimsy stock-fence (wires and post) is broken or when a car-sized gap suddenly appears in the bush lining the downslope -- and right after he had related this, we rounded a curve and found... a broken-stock fence (patched with yellow police tape) beyond which was a big square gap in the thick bush of the downslope. Eeek. And you know, those are the LUCKY people, because someone can SPOT that and have a good idea of where to search for the car. There are some points on NZ roads where you can fly right off and leave no trace, and good luck to you then.

Soon thereafter, I was initiated in another common facet of NZ driving: stopping for stock being herded along the highway. Here, we have the ubiquitous sheep, followed by some mixed cattle:

Putangirau really turned out to be one of my favorite experiences in NZ, which may sound odd when you look at the pics, but it's true. And it was also despite the fact that I got a terrible headcold from the plane trip (about which, 15 hours for one leg, and the fact that I don't sleep well or at all on planes, the less said the better), so I was stuffed up and coughing and puffing laboriously and all. We had a 3-hour round trip hike up the twisting, braided, stony bed of the Putangirau stream, which, along with rain run-off from the surrounding heights of the Aoraki range, has carved out some really spectacular erosive features. It's been described elsewhere as NZ's version of "badlands", and it certainly has a desolate, blasted aspect to it.

At the start, what we'd be hiking up and into. It was raining, or at least sprinkling, when we started. Of course.

(Looking back down-trail.) But the sun did come out later, for a bit. The following are all just shots of the amazing landscape to be found up the (quite steep, actually, although it doesn't come out in pictures that well) side valley in which the Pinnacles are found; one shot has Stephen in the mid-distance for scale.

What did I love so much about it? I don't know... I guess that it was such a completely wild and empty landscape. There wasn't even really a "trail" per se up to it (that we took, although there were trails that went up the ridges to the side of us), that we just walked up this streambed that clearly got re-made every time there was torrential rain. (And yes, we were aware of the potential problems associated with hiking up a clearly flood-prone streambed while it was... raining.) Also, we had it pretty much to ourselves, since it was winter. I understand that in summer there'd be a stream of people going up and down, but that day, we passed one guy coming down soon after we headed out, and then nobody else.

Some of the stuff just laying around in the streambed was amazing, too. Click through to the full size to see, at top, a really beautifully weathered piece of "drift"wood, and at bottom, this really big golden boulder (I really, really wish I knew what type of rock it was) with what you can just make out (I hope) is a horizontal band of white curly-Q things which are, in fact, fossilized seashells. There were a lot of these boulders scattered around, thick with the fossils. (I only have one other pic, though, of a boulder that was all-over fossils, but unfortunately it didn't come out that clearly.)

On the way back down. I include the above shot to show how much of the stream was pure silt. This is a side-channel that was so silty that it was basically just flowing mud -- you can kind of see the pulse of it. For most of the stream's length, the occasional sandy flats were pretty good walking, and crossing areas of the bigger parts of the stream. But when we got to this point above, we found out what the stuff is like before it really sets up -- it's quicksand, and it ate Stephen's foot. Yuck!

So, that was the first few days of NZ! I think I'll stop here for the moment, since that's a lot of pics already. Next time: alpacas! Te Papa! A lizard! Birds, always more birds.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 8th, 2007 04:15 pm (UTC)
:) Stay tuned!
Sep. 7th, 2007 06:04 pm (UTC)
Those Tui birds are freaky! I've heard parrots 'speak' words, but that thing is clearly understandable, it's uncanny.
Sep. 8th, 2007 04:16 pm (UTC)
Isn't that AWESOME??? I love how it's not just replicating the words, but the exact sounds, so you can really tell that it's some older-middle-age man with a New Zealand accent that it picked that stuff up from.

I got an antler-carved pendant of a tui, because of all the NZ birds, they were definitely my favorites.
Sep. 10th, 2007 09:01 pm (UTC)
seriously wacky
Okay, I'd never actually heard a tui talking before, and that is seriously freaky. It's not just "talking", it's talking in that guy's voice. Yeeg. I'd be interested to see oscilloscope (or whatever) comparisons of the person and the tui imitating the person, to see how close the bird actually gets -- especially after what Brian Flintoff was telling us about the kokako.
Sep. 7th, 2007 07:09 pm (UTC)
Oh! OhohOH! What a beautiful country that is. I want to go there more than ever now.
Sep. 8th, 2007 04:17 pm (UTC)
You ain't seen nothin' yet! :)

I highly recommend it to anyone. Even in winter. It was also really cheap, even with the US dollar where it is now (I imagine it would be similarly good against the UK pound, or better). The biggest problem, really, is how much a plane ticket to GET there costs, and how long the trip is. :P
Sep. 8th, 2007 04:35 pm (UTC)
Yep, the pound's going great guns right now too :-) But the length of the journey might be the deal breaker for me, I think it's about 24 hours from here :-(

I'm looking forward to the rest of your photos! I'm a trip-taker's dream: I'll happily look at holiday pics and/or vids for *hours* :-D
Sep. 10th, 2007 03:34 pm (UTC)
For me, the journey took 37 hours, altogether. That's counting layovers, of course (on the way out, I had a 7-hour layover in LA, and a couple hours in Auckland too). And the 15 hours stuck on an airplane for the LA-Auckland leg purely SUCKED.

(Maybe from the UK, if you were going east instead of west like I was, you would be able to break up the legs differently, which would help.)
Sep. 7th, 2007 09:11 pm (UTC)
Ah, the fine tradition of vacation photos taken of Stephen from the back.

These are really, really gorgeous and yup, I'm still jealous. Not of the headcold, tho, that sounds hideous.
Sep. 8th, 2007 04:18 pm (UTC)
Ehn, at least the cold wasn't so bad that I couldn't soldier through it. Would've been worse if it had really had me flat and immobile, wasting precious sightseeing time.
Sep. 7th, 2007 10:08 pm (UTC)
HOLY BAT DREN. Er, these are magnificent. Just incredible. Thank you for posting. What an adventure!
Sep. 8th, 2007 04:19 pm (UTC)
:) And the adventure will soon continue! This stuff is actually relatively tame, I feel (although the Pinnacles are just unique and freaky and starkly gorgeous no matter what -- I'm really glad other folks are having that reaction to them).
Sep. 8th, 2007 04:21 pm (UTC)
Yes indeed, just gorgeous. Looking forward to more photos. May have to beg for a disc to view them on. *bg*
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )