Monday, January 9, 2012


Easily identifiable by its lightning-bolt shape, Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown is New Zealand's 3rd largest lake and the South Island's 2nd largest lake. Mountains run straight into the lake. Queenstown, an adventure resort of world renown, is sited on the banks of Lake Wakatipu. The area is also a magnet for wine buffs with 82 wineries registered in the Otago region. From dusk to dawn Qtown rarely sleeps. The three of us (Viv, John and Maris) arrived just after the New Years Eve holiday which saw 50,000 people descend on Qtown but most had left by the time we arrived on Jan. 5th. We were invited to stay at the cottage of the Goff's (from Rhode Island). It was a lovely place overlooking a fruit orchard about 25 minutes outside of Qtown. Maris has always wanted to bungy jump so the day after we arrived we went up the Skyline Gondola to watch her go. It was terrifying to watch but she, in fine Scanlon fashion, did a magnificent leap off the platform! 47 meters free fall! The next day, we all rode the jetboat on the Shotover Canyon River. A kiwi invention, this boat rides on top of the surface and skims along inches from the canyon walls. The following day was my turn to test my courage. While Maris and John waited at the landing field, I rode the gondola up to the top of the mountain where my pilot, Dangerous Dan, waited for me. He was born and raised in Qtown so I felt very safe in his care. We trekked farther the mountain and after harnessing me into the paraglider apparatus, we raced off the edge and lifted into the sky. It was so great! We caught the warm thermal air and just drifted around the hills overlooking Lake Wakatipu. After a bit, Dan asked if I wanted to test some G-Force and he gave the cord a yank and we spun in tight circles, just like an amusement park ride. Soooo much fun! We landed some 25 minutes later, light as feather, in a rugby field, where John and Maris were waiting for me. The following day, we drove to nearby Arrowtown,an old gold mining town with quaint shops and cafes and then drove across The Remarkables Range (fantastic scenery) to the resort town of Wanaka, still essentially a country village, not as developed as Qtown, but attracting more and more wealthy residents. It was an amazing road trip full of fun adventures and one we will all remember for a very, very long time.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas in New Zealand

Dec. 21st was the official first day of summer here and as if on cue, the morning began with bright sunshine and a very warm breeze. Sunscreen is an absolute must because you will burn more easily in NZ than anywhere else. There are 3 reasons why the sun is so strong in the southern hemisphere. #1- There is less ozone to block the UV rays. #2- The earth's orbit takes it closer to the sun during the southern summer. #3- There is less pollution to block the UV rays. So we lathered on the sunscreen, grabbed our hats and sunglasses and loaded up the car with our chilly bin, gifts and food. We were off to join the Scanlons at their Lansdowne farm, just south of Kaikora. The drive from Christchurch takes 2.5 hours. Along the way, you pass through the famous wine country of Canterbury called Waipara. You may have heard us mention Lansdowne before because it is our favorite place in all of New Zealand. Nearly 1,800 acres of hills, valleys, rivers, beach and snowcapped mountains. Truly a paradise! There were seven of us gathered together for the Christmas holiday- John and I, Jay and his two children, Maris and Francis and his girlfriend, Vanessa and her mother, Maha. Fran & Vanessa live in Los Angelos while Maha is from Barbados. After settling in to our respective cabins, we all climbed aboard the farmbikes (called ATV's in the States) and headed down to the beach. It's a no swim beach because of the rough surf but that didn't stop Jay and Fran from taking a quick dip. John preferred to swim in the Conway River which flows directly into the ocean. We enjoyed a lovely picnic on the deserted beach, reading, painting and otherwise relaxing. That evening we laid a large canvas down on the lawn and the 7 of us laid there admiring the night sky. There is no interference from any lights so the sky is filled to capacity with constellations, galaxies, satellites and shooting stars. I never tire of looking at the Southern Cross. As we laid there in the warm, still night air, a Ruru (also called a Morepork, the small native owl)hooted to us from the valley below. It was magical. The next day, John's birthday, we again went down to the beach to play. We also explored the valley, picked watercress from the creek, and smoked a whole salmon in Jay's new electric smoker- John was in heaven! The following day we all headed up into the hills to a meadow filled with clover and dandelions. After several attempts, we managed to get our 2 kites up, up, up into the warm thermal currents. It was such fun! And sipping wine was nice too. Later that night, we had a large bonfire down on the beach. Every day pretty much went like this. Fran and Vanessa had bought cute, funny pajamas for everyone so on Christmas Eve, we dressed in them and opened our stockings. Such great fun with gifts like pickle floss, cactus jelly, bacon flavored mints and a magic eight ball (did we have fun? "It is decidedly so" said the 8 ball!)I'm leaving out all the good food we had (breakfast, lunch and dinner)just because that's another blog all in it's own right. Suffice it to say, we all gained weight!) Christmas day was beautiful and we shared the traditional turkey dinner with Lansdowne's caretaker, Wayne and his dog, Gizmo. For John and I, being so very far from home was not so painful because we were surrounded by such good and loving people. Plus home is just a phone call away and hearing from my Mother and our son was the greatest gift. We were also blessed to have missed the 5.9 earthquake which struck Christchurch on Dec.22nd. We hope all of you had an equally memorable holiday season. Cheers and God Bless!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tramping in the Port Hills

The weather has finally turned hot here, with most days being in the low 80's. We decided to spend this past Sunday tramping through the Port Hills. Dominating the southern skyline above Christchurch, the Port Hills are the outer rim of the ancient Lyttelton volcano. At its most active, about 12 million years ago, the volcano may have been 4 times the height of the Port Hills. Today, the Lyttelton and Akaroa volcanoes are amongst the world's best examples of erosion craters. These craters were eventually breached by the sea to form the two main harbours of Lyttelton and Akaroa.
At the time of settlement in the 1850's, the hills were a daunting barrier. As the city of Christchurch grew, the hills were exploited- first for timber and then for farming. It was not until the twentieth century that concerns were raised about the disappearance of native forests and the protection of the Port Hills. A man named Harry Ell was largely responsible for the network of bush reserves and walking tracks on the hills. He persuaded local landowners to "gift" remnants of bush and he raised funds to purchase more land. Christchurch born and bred, Harry Ell was a pioneer conservationist. At the time, few others appreciated the Port Hills as a city asset. During the 1930's depression about 1,000 men on relief worked on Harry's vision of a scenic road connecting Lyttelton to Akaroa- the path became the Summit Road. The men were called Ells Angels.
Harry's dream included 15 rest houses,to be used by trampers to provide rest and respite but only 4 were built. The rest houses were constructed of locally quarried volcanic rock to blend into the natural landscape. The first, the Sign of the Bellbird, was built in 1914. It was followed in 1916 by the Sign of the Kiwi and the Sign of the Packhorse. The Bellbird and Kiwi were both tearooms with resident caretakers. The Packhorse, a three roomed hut, served as a basic overnight shelter for trampers. In 1918, Ell began building the 4th and most ambitious of his rest houses- the Sign of the Takahe, a midieval mansion with many Gothic features.
On Sunday, we set out in search of The Sign of the Packhorse. We had already been to the other three Signs, two of which (the Kiwi and Takahe) were damaged by the Feb. 2011 earthquake and are currently not open to the public. We drove to Kaituna Valley and parked the car at a designated DOC (Dept.of Conservation)area. Smack dab in the middle of a working sheep farm, we arrived just in time to watch the farmer and 4 of his dogs muster up a huge mob of sheep and move them into the paddock where we would begin our hike. It's fascinating watching the dogs work those sheep. With chilly bin in hand, we headed up into the Hills. A sign pointing the way said simply, "Track". We walked for a while until we discovered that there was no longer a path. Well, there were lots of sheep trails plus the wooly buggers that made them, but no real human trail to follow. We decided to sit in the shade of a manuka tree, drink our water and eat a sammie (sandwich). We decided to keep walking, ridge over ridge, until finally, with no idea of what direction the Packhorse was in and afraid we wouldn't find our way back to the car, we gave up and turned back. We're not sure where we went wrong. Perhaps we missed the trail markers (unlikely as we have the eyes of a hawk) or perhaps the markers were removed (by some rogue local who doesn't want Yanks wandering his hillsides). In any case, we will do some research and give it another go. Anyone have a GPS we could borrow?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

When a City Falls

On Sept. 4, 2010, a 7.1 earthquake rocked the city of Christchurch and its suburbs. Miraculously, no one died. In fact, this was unprecedented anywhere in the world for an urban area to survive such a quake with no fatalities. In the weeks which followed, the city celebrated its good fortune of narrowly escaping disaster. Little did they know, that just 6 months later, it would happen again. But this time would be much different. On Feb. 22, 2011, a 6.3 EQ hit again and the city crumbled. Buildings collapsed, killing 181 people. Two office buildings, the CTV and the PGC, suffered the majority of fatalities. People just like you and I, going about their daily routines, going to work, doing their jobs. New Zealand is a small country and it wasn't hard for people to know someone who had been killed, injured or displaced by the quake. In the weeks that followed, many people attended 15-20 funerals for friends and collegues.
A public bus tour has been created to give locals a last chance to see their beloved city and its devastation before demolition is complete. When we boarded the bus, we knew it would be a somber experience. The slow moving bus took us into the CBD (central business district) now know as the "red zone". Passengers tried to remember what stood where as we moved through the streets. A theater, a favorite coffee shop, the historic Warner Hotel - all gone now, leaving just empty lots. The bus paused in front of what was the CTV and PGC so people could pay their respects. It then stopped in front of the iconic Christchurch Angelican Cathedral. The steeple, which had tumbled to the ground, has been removed. Large cracks in the stone church (built in the late 1800's)will probably be too costly to repair. Paper Chinese lanterns still hang in Victoria Square, to celebrate the Feb. Chinese New Year. There is an eeriness to the streets, void of people, covered in liqufaction (a silty by-product of the EQ), everything frozen in time, back to that fateful February afternoon.
As the bus tour concluded, the EMT on board said he "hoped that it helped" and I believe the trip was a cathartic experience for most people. There is grief for lives lost and familiarity gone but there is also hope. Canterburians have banded together in support of one another. Although there are many more buildings to be demolished, there is much talk about re-building a city basically from scratch. They predict it will take many years. Rebuilding won't even be considered and Insurance companies are withholding any payments until there is what they refer to as a 3-3. Three months without an aftershock above 3.0. So far, that hasn't happened. Yesterday we had a 3.4.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A leap of faith

It's been said that New Zealand is the adrenalin capital of the world. Thrill-seekers come from all over the globe for the heart-pounding outdoor activities that abound here. The birthplace of bungy jumping, NZ is also a hot spot for jet boating through canyons, skydiving, hang-gliding and white knuckle whitewater rafting. They even have the world's highest ropeswing (a true Bradford favorite!) over Shotover Canyon. If you are open to new experiences, New Zealand will take your breath away.
So here we are,a couple of country bumpkins, having travelled some 9,000 miles from home, talk about a leap of faith. It's sort of like our version of a bungy jump! Not to mention, lest you forget, NZ sits on a powder keg. And the current epicenter of earthquake activity sits right below us. Our home base is the South Island,just outside of Christchurch. The largest city in the South Island (second largest in the country),nicknamed "The Garden City", Christchurch suffered a 7.1 mag EQ on Sept. 4, 2010 and a 6.3 mag EQ on Feb. 6, 2011 and a 6.1 mag EQ on June 13, 2011. Since the Sept. quake, there have been and continues to be aftershocks. The most recent was today, registering a 3.2 and located 5 km from Christchurch.
The people of Christchurch, like most Kiwis, are a resilient and determined bunch but these past 14 months have brought many to their knees. Homes destroyed, roads & bridges buckled, infrastructure badly damaged, and lots of frazzled nerves. Some have chosen to leave the area, many have not. With a steely commitment, they carry on and focus on rebuilding (although downtown Christchurch is still in the de-construction phase). Kiwis call it "mucking in" or in other words, getting the job done no matter what it takes. It's a strange time for outsiders to be here trying to comprehend what everyone has gone through and how they each cope with it.
On Saturday, we are scheduled to be part of a bus tour that will take us inside the "red zone", the most damaged areas of downtown Christchurch. Up until two weeks ago, this area was cordoned off and the public has not been allowed inside their beloved city. The public put pressure on city officials to allow a look because they felt they needed to see it for themselves in order to reconnect and heal from the psychological trauma. Officials warn each passenger that "we need to be aware that despite best efforts around safety you could still be trapped by an EQ, falling building or other significant incidents within the red zone and you might not survive". We are instructed to wear suitable footwear in the event we need to walk over broken glass and masonry.
We are sadden that we were never able to see the beauty and charm that was Christchurch. Our next blog will most likely be not only about what we saw but also how it felt to see it. Until then, stay safe and be well. Cheers!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Things we love about New Zealand

We love...
*not hearing about "smog warnings" on the weather report
*seeing people walk around downtown in bare feet
*the Tui, a nectar-eating bird that sounds like R2D2 (because it has two voiceboxes)
*that kids are still allowed to climb trees in the schoolyard
*having friendly conversations with complete strangers
*trying local wines
*signs on the beach that tell you to leash your dog because of the penguins
*that "no worries" is such a common phrase here
*watching the Haka- a Maori warrior dance
*seeing the snow capped Southern Alps when we look out the window in the morning
*hot waterfalls (fed by underground thermal rivers)
*that workers break for "tea time" every morning and afternoon
*the Moko - a traditional Maori facial tattoo that tells of his family history
*that most people don't own a dryer (they use a clothesline)
*walking deserted beaches
*that most petrol stations offer to pump your gas and wash your windscreen
*that every town has a Main Street that looks like the date could still be 1950
*that NZ is masculine to its core but it was the first country to give women the right to vote
*that a Farmer's Wife has a firm handshake and a Farmer's handshake can break bones
*that the people are humble,honest and rarely complain

These are just a few of the reasons why we are so glad we took the longest scheduled plane flight on the planet to get here.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Canterbury A & P Show 2011

In the event you missed an earlier blog, A & P stands for "Agricultural" and "Pastoral", in other words, farming. This week, for 3 days, the 199th annual Canterbury Show is the largest A & P show in all of New Zealand. It coincides with "Cup & Show Week", which is New Zealand's premier horse racing event (kind of like our Triple Crown, only it involves races with both Trotters (Sulkies) and Gallopers (Thoroughbred Racing). The women dress up and wear fancy hats. Gambling on horses, by the way, (the people placing the bets are called "punters") is really, really big here.
Anyway,back to the A & P show - located only a 20 minute drive from where we are staying, it attracts 100,000 people, with over 500 vendors (there used to be more before the Christchurch earthquakes) and 6,000 livestock. We found the whole event to be very well organized.
With so much to see, we had to pick and choose so we focused on Sheep Dog Competitions where a farmer and his dog had to steer 3 sheep through an obstacle course containing a gate, a bridge (the most difficult one) and two turnstyes in less than 10 mins. Chief, a Border Collie with one blue eye and one brown eye, ended up getting a sheep with real attitude. It refused to be herded and tried to head butt Chief on several occasions. It took an amazing amount of restraint on Chief's behalf not to bite that sheep in the face! Another event we enjoyed was the Wood chopping competition, pitting NZ vs Australia. The blokes carried their axes in metal cases. We also walked around and looked at vintage tractors and farm machinery. We visited booths to learn about the different sheep breeds -one of which is called the "Ranger" which is genetically bred for survival in the High Hills, meaning cold temps, rough terrain and no need for a Shepard. These sheep take care of themselves. Wow, talk about free-ranging.
There was also horse jumping, motorcycle jumping, tractor pulls, and even a guy doing a headstand while perched on a 100+ foot high pole. We loved the NZ wine and food tent ,with yummies to sample and purchase. As we headed out, walking back through a pasture to get to our car, we heard a band begin to play "Sweet Home Alabama". It's so surreal being here.