Thursday, October 25, 2007

Frausenhumphumphumph1 Backpackers, Christchurch, NZ

Oh, Wellington. I couldn’t find anyone (aside from the kid house) that wanted to rent to me for so short a period of time. I wasn’t doing anything during the day because I didn’t want to spend too much money, and suddenly a week had gone by.

It was a bit of a trap; I could stay in a cheapish ($40/night) single, not do anything and try to find a place, or I could leave where I’d have to pay more money per night for a single ($60+/night), or I could stay in a hostel and never have a moment to myself.

But by staying I wasn’t doing anything.

So I left. I bought a ferry ticket and took off. No plans, just a vague direction.

The first thing I noticed about the ferry was that the underbelly (where the cars and such were) and up in some of the hallways it stank. USS Urineville. Bleah.

Anyway, it was cold and rainy at first,


so I spent much of my time inside, knitting and watching Ocean’s 13 which was showing on a big tv.

When we were around 45 minutes away I stepped outside, and oh. Y’all.





And then my camera batteries died. It’s happened before – no problem! I have spares! I went into my bag and got my rechargables that I’d charged in California.

They were dead. Har, har, har.

I hopped off the shuttle bus in front of Villa backpackers. My room had 2 bunks (fairly civilized) and a carpet that had seen more than its share of spilled beverages (I hope beverages). There was a nice-looking courtyard with plenty of places to sit. My roommate, Charlotte, invited me to walk along the dock, so we took off.



Around the bay, over a bridge, and into the woods for a short tramp. Which kept going and going, and I was trying desperately not to puff and pant at the sudden expenditure of energy. We ended up at Bob’s Bay – a secluded length of beach overlooking the harbor.


Bob's Bay

Indian food for dinner and an early bedtime. In the morning I saw Charlotte had tucked her card into my knitting.

There was a ton of time to kill before my bus whisked me away, so I walked up the street in town, and stopped for some breakfast at Picton Village Bakkerij2, a Dutch bakery, which was hella good. I sat in the sun and had some visitors.



My next stop was Kaikoura. The town itself isn’t much to look at (again, just one street), but the location is awesome. Imagine the Rocky Mountains, and tack on Caribbean-blue water with steep stone beaches. That’s what Kaikoura is like.




I stayed at Lyell Creek Lodge, which is worn but super friendly and cheap (I called the proprietor more than once to get a lift to or from the hotel). I had my own room and a tv. It was good.


There’s plenty to do in Kaikoura, most of which involves going out on the sea, which meant that when it poured rain the first day I was there my plans got screwed. But! Here’s a rundown of my activities:


Swimming with Dolphins: Everything depends on where the pods of dolphins are and how interested they are in you. They warned us before we left that there was a pod in the morning, but we wouldn’t be able to catch up to it. I think that when this is good it’s really, really good. My trip was just mediocre. For $130 you cram yourself into a 7 mil (read: thick) wetsuit (there’s also a cheaper viewing only option), hop on a bus, hop on a boat, and take off.


Eventually we caught up to about six dolphins (a pod has about 200), and we prepped by pulling on our flippers and hoods and goggles and sitting on the back of the boat. They gave the signal and we hopped in, shoving each other out of the way. We did that three times, and didn’t spend more than five minutes in the water each time. I saw three swim by, but that was all.


And they gave us a partial discount, so there’s something to be said for that.

Whale Watch: Fortunately didn’t involve a wetsuit (or unfortunately – swimming with a whale would be awesome), but they required us to sit inside the boat until they’d found a whale and stopped. It took a while. Then we all shoved each other aside to get out and see…

The back of a sperm whale.


Who just laid there, occasionally spraying up some water.


And then, after a few minutes, went under again. Not with a splash, but with a blip.


And then we found another whale, and the same thing happened.


I was kind of expecting more. It was hard to get an idea of scale from the distance. Then an informational video on the boat, and that was it.


Seal Swim: Similar to the dolphin swim, but on a less grand scale. Wetsuits, yes, and a corroding jeep instead of a bus, and a tiny boat instead of a larger one that caught every wave and sent it up into our faces before crashing our butts down onto the seats.


The seals weren’t as interactive as I’d been expecting. We were visiting a colony that housed sexually immature seals – that would be fur (or “eared”) seals, by the way – until they were ready to go get frisky with the other adults. Mostly they stayed on the rocks and gave us funny looks, but occasionally one would swim by and give us a thrill.

And that water is really cold. I mean really cold. The wetsuits helped except for right around the mouth that caught the water directly, and the hands. My gloves didn’t keep me warm for nothin’. (That’s probably not true – I’m sure it would’ve been worse without them). It was neat to see them so close to their territory, and the reef we were over was full of plants and fish that I vaguely recognized but can’t for the life of me name. (Lisa, Chris, Greg: are you surprised?).

Surfing: The instructor was on the west coast. As the woman in the shop told me, “For surfers, the world stops when there are good waves or a competition.” So I couldn’t get a lesson. Nice.

Scuba diving: Visibility was so bad they weren’t going out. But I got a brochure for another place that’s supposed to have good diving. Strike two.

I walked up to the seal colony (as is accessible by land), which is a really long walk from town, and don’t let guidebooks tell you otherwise. There were some hanging out surprisingly close to the car park:


And this one got real mad when a woman tried to walk by because they – I swear – blend into the grass.


To think – I nearly witnessed a Darwin Award in action!

I like Kaikoura. I like it a lot. I was disappointed to leave, and in retrospect, should’ve stayed longer. I was in the mood for a small town.

Christchurch is not a small town. It’s not a big city, either. It has its charms, but I must admit I’m not finding, um, anything to do here. I stayed in a hostel because a Scottish chap I’d met at Lyell Creek Lodge told me I just might like it.

HAH. First off, it was $28. Second, 8 people sharing one room is way too many. First thing I did when I opened the door (at 1pm, mind) was turn on the lights. Six pairs of eyes glared at me from six beds. Great way to make a first impression, self!

Browsing the internets that evening I did a search for Christchurch swing dancing, and found out that there was a workshop happening that evening. In fact, in ten minutes. I got directions and my shoes and booked it over to the hall and begged my way in. $40 and two classes later I’d met some new folks. They hipped me to the dance the next night and I promised to show.

In the evening my Irish roommates chattered and bashed about, their stuff strewn everywhere. They made a vague attempt at being quiet by whispering, but in a small room it’s just as loud as talking. And there was a porch and a lounge that they could’ve been using. Honestly. The big problem with hostelling alone is that you never know who your roommates will be.

They crashed around in the morning, too. I packed up my bags and took off to a farther away, slightly costlier backpackers – Fraureisehaus. All women (which, after my previous night’s roommates, proved nothing), but obviously calm. I got a single ($38, though Lonely Planet said 35). There’s free laundry, a resident bunny, resident guinea pigs, mineral water in the outside taps, free movies and music to borrow, and it’s quiet. Worn as they all seem to be, but cozy.

The dance was good, and I got to meet the resident kitty that wanders around the hostel. Still couldn’t find much to do in Christchurch.

Tried to get a bus out the next morning, and missed it by 5 minutes. Fantastic. I sheepishly walked back to Fraureisehaus and got another room, and decided there STILL wasn’t much to do in Christchurch. I did go to their aquarium in the information center (because where else would you have an aquarium?) and they have two kiwi (kiwis?), one of which I got to see rummage around in the dark. Because if you’re going to see kiwi, the first place to go is the aquarium.



1 Fraureisehaus
2 That’s actually spelled correctly

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cambridge Hotel, Wellington, NZ


Rained again today (which makes what, five out of six days?), but it cleared up this afternoon and now I dare say there’s some blue sky out there. Will it last? Only time will tell. But I’m betting no.

I found one room-for-rent ad that looked promising. I called them up and was invited over to see the place. I took a cab since I didn’t know where it was (and couldn’t even find the road on my map, which, in retrospect, wasn’t the best sign.

Fifteen minutes and $17 later I climbed a rather steep cement pathway and then some stairs, and arrived at a very funky house. K, who turned out to be one of the tenants, showed me around. The décor was non-committal chic, a futon covered with a sheet, mismatched furniture, a sheet making a doorway to the upstairs loft. Popular with college students. Not so much with me. The room was nice, if a little covered with kids toys. K was living there with her boyfriend/husband and their(?) 3 year old kid, and then the owner and her 3 year old.

While they do have internet and a mattress I could use AND I could move in right away, it was NZD$180 per week (they do rent per week there – SO weird) which is more than I’m interested in paying. And then I realized as I decided to walk home (because I’m an idiot) it was farther from central Wellington than I wanted. Also it wasn’t exactly the genre of roommate I was anticipating.

So I left and decided to walk back to my hotel. Because I’m a moron who never, ever learns. NEVER MIND that I hadn’t paid attention to what way the cab driver was going, NEVER MIND that I didn’t know which direction central Wellington was, I was still going to walk. Did I ask for any hints? Certainly not!

Once, when I was describing to Paige about my directional sense she likened it to Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Dumb? I’m not sure. Either way, point being that no matter what direction I chose, it would turn out to be wrong. It’s not that my first instinct is wrong, it’s that whatever way I commit to will be wrong.

The other problem is that I tend to fancy myself smarter than any signs I might see. And that I didn’t have a map with me.

Here’s my starting and ending points:


And here’s the approximate route I took:


It wasn’t too bad except when the wind picked up, and when my jacket, which is water-resistant and not waterproof, started soaking through. But I was smiling (and possibly singing along) when Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” came on after I got through the Victoria Tunnel, and 2.5 hours after I started I arrived, soaked, back to my room.


Monday, October 08, 2007

10/8/07 9:20pm

Cambridge Hotel, Wellington, NZ

Somebody, and I can’t look up who as there’s no internet here, said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I thought that maybe, just maybe, the cure for spending a week in suburbia was to try a hostel when I got to Rotorua. After all, if I got a single it would be a bed in a room with little else – which is what I had at Aspen House (a hotel) in Auckland. That was okay, so maybe it could be good.



The bus, 4 hours from Auckland, arrived conveniently at the tourist information center in Rotorua. I got in line, and when it was my turn asked for a recommendation of a hostel to stay in. I’d given Lonely Planet a browse on the way down, but nothing had particularly stood out.

Apparently it is against some kind of law for the info people to actually, specifically recommend one single place. I’d ask, and she’d say, well, there’s this this and this which was enormously helpful. In the end I settled for a place called Cactus Jack’s.

That should’ve been my first clue. And my first warning. But noooo, I was going to try something and be braaaave.

At first the room seemed okay. For a “theme” hostel, though, the room didn’t try very hard. The most “cowboy” it got was the untrimmed, un-sanded wood nailed around the mirror. Around the rest of the hostel were cutesy murals of vaguely Mexican things.

Lonely Planet says “although [the rooms are] older, they’re well kept.” For the first few hours I would’ve added “…ish.” The wall was scuffed and needed repainting. The sheets didn’t match, but that doesn’t really matter. The shelf/drawers were small and one of the drawer pulls was broken.

I tried to plug in my computer to the one outlet in the room, and the outlet immediately started crackling. And not in a good way. I tried once more, just for fun, and it was crackling again. Since my computer battery was almost completely drained, this left me without a computer.

Fine. So I turned on the one light in the room (though admittedly it was small enough that just an overhead light was enough, though a desk lamp would’ve been appreciated) and spent the evening reading (A Spot of Bother) and knitting. I started to notice that they didn’t stress too hard about cleaning the carpet. I also found that it was getting cold. And no wonder —there were no heaters in the room.

I know there were no heaters (and that it wasn’t in-floor heating) because there were heaters in the hallway. Heaters. In the hallway. Not in the room. Why, why did they ever think that was a good idea?

I went to bed early and slept in all my clothes because I was so cold. It was fairly noisy, but not too bad after about midnight or so.

I told the guy at the front desk that my electrical outlet wasn’t working, and he promised to call an electrician. When I checked up on it later he said the electrician wouldn’t come out on a Saturday, so I was out of luck. Splendid.

The bathroom that I was lucky enough to pick in the morning had a tub/shower combination, painted bright-but-fading colors. Despite the very warm hot water pipe running along the wall, the shower never got past lukewarm.

And then there was the fact that none of the bathrooms had sinks, and none of the sinks (the few there were) had soap, which made me more than a little concerned about the hygiene of everyone around me. And very concerned with where I put my toothbrush.

That evening, when I was sitting in bed, NOT reading since I’d lost my book (and I was only about 40 pages from the end!), but listening to music and knitting, it became clear that they hadn’t washed the duvet in a while, and that someone before me had had what I can only hope was a mild cold.

Went to bed early again, since I had to be up at 7 to catch the bus to Wellington (also because I am apparently an old lady). At 1:30am I woke to someone banging and pounding on the hostel door. See, after around 8pm the front door gets locked, and the keys have a code on the back to let you in. And this putz couldn’t figure out how to make it work, and figured that wailing on the door was the best way to go.

Some kind soul (my kindness ends at 10pm) let him in about fifteen minutes later.

I eventually went back to sleep until 3:30am when some hideous assholes decided to watch rugby. This being NZ and right before the rugby championships some of the games end up being at odd times. I can only guess this was one of those occasions.

But the tv was on loud. And they were yelling. And it was early. And I didn’t do anything, because the idea of getting up and yelling at them made me nervous. After about a half hour someone opened their door and told them to “shut the fuck up.” He’s my hero.

The next morning the shower was blessedly hot. Small victories.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Cactus Jack's Hostel, Rotorua, NZ

Zoo pictures are up.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Whangaparaoa, NZ

There’s been a volcanic eruption and an earthquake here in the past week; you’d think I’d have some exciting stories.

I don’t. I do have some filler, though!

Plan was to spend last weekend with E and A, friends of my grandparents, then on Sunday or Monday I’d go back to Auckland and, from there, head to Wellington.

So last Friday I packed up all my things, left them in the luggage room of the hotel with the plan that I would head to Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter & Underwater World. Lonely Planet and the Aquarium pamphlet both agreed that there was a free shuttle that ran on the hour from Discover New Zealand which was, conveniently enough, just around the corner from my hotel. Little did I know it was not to be.

I missed the 10am shuttle because I was finishing getting my things together and checking out of the hotel. I missed the 11am shuttle because I was in this keen store looking at things like this:



(This was on a package for a lunchbox napkin. I don't know).


(They're little single-serve mayo holders for your lunch. The banana thingy is connected to the SPOON SPREADER THINGY. I almost bought them because -- because -- it just... I just... what?!).

It’s possible I bought some “Fine Cosme For Your Beauty” and a business card tin with a dog on it that says “Dog gets dots.”

Finally at noon I made it to Discover New Zealand, where they informed me that the shuttle was now leaving from Sky City (where the Sky Tower is). So I missed that shuttle too. I could take the bus, they said, for $3. Hah.

At Sky City the 1pm shuttle was full. The driver promised she’d be back in an hour, and I smiled and nodded. The problem, of course, was that I had to be back by 4 to get my things and meet the ferry. That meant that if I went at 2pm I’d have less than two hours before I had to be back on the bus, AND I’d get to pay $30 for the privilege. Instead I went into a Sky City restaurant for a nice leisurely lunch.

And it was, until everyone was ushered outside because that loud clanging noise we were hearing? Was actually the fire alarm going off.


The shuttle came and went again, though it never seemed to empty. It just stayed packed to the gills.

Later, I passed by this:


Everyone was standing around taking pictures. I don’t know what was happening, but I’d bet it wasn’t what they were intending.


Then the ferry to Gulf Harbour, where E and A picked me up.



While I had been tooling around Auckland killing time before the shuttle or the ferry I learned that the train from Auckland to Wellington only ran Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and only at 7:25am. Which really screwed my plans.

So E and A invited me to stay the week, and Friday I would head back to Auckland and catch a bus to Rotorua. It’s touristy, but also conveniently placed about halfway between Auckland and Wellington.

They took me out to see big trees:



And a place called SheepWorld. For real.



We didn’t go in (it cost $17 or so to pet the sheeps and see sheep shearings and such things), but just hit the shop so I could get some yarn, of which I later regretted not buying more.

E and A live, by the way, on the Whangaparaoa (Fang-a-par-o-wa) Peninsula, which is really just suburbs. This, combined with the torrential rain we’ve had all week, have left me very little to do.

I took some walks:




But mostly I’ve been sitting and watching the rain.

The other night, however, I was taking a bath and was all warm with my book when I looked up and saw, crouched on the ceiling, was a huge, evil, man-eating (warning: those who are scared of spiders should go do something else for a while) spider.

It was big – size of my palm big. With fangs. And clearly mean. And far away and high up, but STILL. I could see its dripping mandibles. Or maybe it was just damp from the steam, I’M NOT SURE. I kept an eye on it, but he or she kind of ruined my bath. I didn’t take any pictures, but I’m pretty sure it looked like this:

When I was sufficiently warm, calm as can be I got dressed and went out to the living room and said to E, “Remember the other day how you were saying you’re not afraid of spiders? I’m really glad as there is a giant spider in your bathroom.”

A, being the dealer-with of such things, went to take deal with it, and I went to get ready for bed. Which is when I saw a giant – size of my palm giant – cricket-looking thing on my floor. I went back to the living room, and asked A if he was also the one who dealt with giant cricket-things.

He gathered his weapons – a brush and dust pan – and came to identify the weta that had taken up residence next to my bag. He didn’t kill it – they’re protected, you see – but pinned it and took it outside. Then went the spider.

I don’t know what the deal is, but I’m suspecting they were having some kind of conference. Insect Liberation Party, maybe. I’m pretty sure I could hear them plotting and calling me nasty names.

And that’s how exciting it’s been here. The end.

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