Credit where credit is due. Annie took the beautiful banner picture for this page. Makes we want to go get a new iphone!

After flying up to Auckland from Dunedin in the morning, we got to spend a very exciting day hanging around the Koru lounge at the airport. There was a later flight, but it would have left no room for error and neither of us felt like missing our flight to Hawaii. All in all, the lounge is pretty nice and they even had a seating area outside where you can get some fresh air. Plus free food and drinks! Well, not exactly free…prepaid, shall we say?

We didn’t want to spend the coin to go Biz class, so we were stuck in cattle class for the overnight to Honolulu. Luckily it is a “short” 9-hour flight, but it does go overnight. Neither of us were looking forward to that, but we did manage to get a row to ourselves. As we sat there futzing about getting ready for our flight, I noticed that this row had the configuration to be turned into a skycouch! Yeah! At least we could lay our heads down for a while, even if it wasn’t officially a sky couch. If you have the official one, they give you a pad and some seat belt adapters, so we didn’t have those, but the important part, the locking extender that creates a little platform, was there).

“Welcome to cattle class, please secure your udder.”

Although the skycouch is not ideal for two grown adults, we did manage to squeeze in there together and stay horizontal for 3 or 4 hours. I think I managed to get about 2 hours of sleep. We landed in Honolulu at 7 am. We both agreed it wasn’t as bad as we were fearing, although the plane was super hot the whole flight.

Before the world had cratered with COVID, we had taken the effort to get our global entry cards. We had never be able to use them until now. It was pretty fast and interesting. You just walk up to a machine, scan your passport, it does a quick facial recognition on you, and then sends you on the way. Cool! Although the thought that I can be so easily tracked by cameras is a bit disconcerting…


Annie (Susanne’s sister) and her husband Peter picked us up at the airport. Peter is a super generous and sweet person and he even brought us leis (and sparkling water!) for our arrival. They have a beautiful house on Oahu right by Diamond Head. We were staying with them for about 4 nights before we headed to the mainland on the 27th. It was great to see them and it is awesome that they put us up in their amazing house.

I had wanted to go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, but evidently it got so beat up by everyone, they now control the entry very strictly. You can only get a reservation 2 days ahead of time, and you only get a 90-minute slot to marvel at the sea creatures. Evidently, the place was closed during COVID and the marine researchers saw an incredible recovery that set them on the pathway of controlled and limited access. Now this may sound draconian to some, but the choice was this or have a big barren dead reef with no fish. Personally, I’ll take the draconian choice, as annoying as it might be.

We had a few adulting things to do, like get a flu shot, so it wasn’t overly exciting. I did go down to the beach and swim around in the surf. The water was all chewed up by the wind so there were no surfers out there, and I decided to not risk going to the outer reef on my own. I am sure this results is some nods of approval from those friends who still marvel that I haven’t been eaten by a shark or bear or something by now (you know who you are!).

I chose not to have this dude as my swimming partner
My very cute onesie

Sadly, I forgot to log on to the Hanauma Bay reservation system in time and got totally shut out for the one day we could do it. Bummer. We decided to go down to the Outrigger Canoe Club where Peter has been a member since the early Triassic. There is a nice private beach and it’s a great place to go for an open water swim. In order to not get turned into a lobster, I put on my nifty “stinger suite” to swim in. I guess all the surfers in Australia wear them to help prevent jellyfish stings.

We were in official closeness to both Susanne’s and Peter’s birthdays, so we decided to make a celebratory meal. It had been a while since I had made anything complicated, so we opted for ribs and coleslaw (not overly complicated) with a chocolate mousse with port ganache and whipped cream topped with a walnut crumble (complicated). The ribs and coleslaw came out pretty well but the mousse was my best effort ever. The walnuts were the winner addition. We couldn’t find the correct mixer attachment, so I had to whip the egg whites by hand. Oooophh. That was hard and everyone chipped in on the whipping, which took a fair bit longer than usual.

Gotta have good plating
Super yum, if I do say so myself!

Annie and Peter had a custom deck built on the top of the house where you can sit and look out at the ocean (usually in the late afternoon and evening, to avoid heat and sunburns). A little cheese and wine with a view. Yes, please! That is what we did most evenings. I can’t say I would ever get tired of it. What a brilliant idea, Annie. I guess when the whales are going by, you can sit and watch them breaching right from the deck. Definitely giving Peter and Anita a good yelp review.

Nice deck!
With a nice view!

Sadly, Susanne came down with what felt like a crappy cold, so that put a damper on the festivities (we now know it was COVID, darn it all). Peter offered to take me back over to the Outrigger Canoe Club so I could swim. I had another nice swim and even got to see a sea turtle this time! It’s pretty amazing doing an open water swim and looking down at all the fish as you swim by. We basically spent the last day isolating. Bummer. Though at least we did have a distanced evening happy hour.

When we got to LA, Susanne decided she better test herself for COVID, as some of the symptoms were becoming suspicious (that smell thing) and dang it all, she had it. Ugh. We were supposed to go stay with my sister, but now decided that we would have to get a hotel in Santa Barbara for a few days. I can safely say, this COVID thing is really getting tiring. Sigh.

The good news is that we’ll get to spend more time in Hawaii on our way back to New Zealand. The whole thing highlights how much slack you have to put into the schedule when making long trips these days.

Welcome back to reality, I guess. Damn this adulting.

“Back in the US, Back in the US, back in the USsA….”

NZ Fish Tank

Well, it’s happened again. I have fallen behind. Doh! But my excuse is that we are distracted and excited about heading back to the States to see some friends and family. I also forgot to download a bunch of pics from my camera and now it is in New Zealand and I am not.

Very pretty!

It was a really nice day, so we decided to drive westward to Lake Benmore where there were a couple of hikes. I wanted to get a sense for what that area was like as it was starting to get into much more alpine terrain and was only an hour and half out of Oamaru. We parked at the Benmore Peninsula Loop track trailhead and headed out. It is a shortish hike and is also right where the Alps2Ocean passes by, but the reviews said it had great views. The Alps2Ocean section looks like an amazing stretch of that trail and I will definitely have to come back and ride it! The first part of the hike is just OK because you are staring at the big dam.

After that, and with a bit of climbing, the views get amazing. You can see Mt. Aoraki off in the distance towering over the rest of the Southern Alps. Overall it is a nice trail, but I would hike it up and back rather than as a loop since you spend a lot of time staring at the not-so-exciting dam on the second part of the loop. We decided to drive back home the scenic way and stopped off to look at the whale fossil near Elephant Rocks.

That’s Mt. Aoraki back there

The whale fossil was from a 26 million year old whale related to a Baleen whale. It was kind of cool. The plexiglass protector they had on it was very weathered, so it was tough to photograph. The little canyon it was in was super cool with all the weathered limestone. Evidently they used it for a scene in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” Narnia movie. It looked otherworldly.

Aslan’s camp from the movie
Aslan’s camp in real life

It was our last night in Oamaru, so we decided to go out to dinner. I had seen a place called Restaurant 1861 that looked interesting. It was described as a tapas-style restaurant. Cool. It seemed to be in a weird location in a residential neighborhood, but we thought we would give it a go. It turned out to be in this very cool B&B/Hotel. The building and gardens were beautiful. We stood at the entrance for a while waiting for someone, but nobody was around. Finally we went into the dinning room and made some noise. A woman came out and saw us and then took us to a table in the back of the restaurant in a crappy corner. There was nobody else there. Did we have body odor I wondered? Susanne asked for the table by the window and she seated us there. Sheesh. We ordered 5 small plates. They were all quite good. We were happy to have found another good restaurant in Oamaru. We also ordered some desert which was decent but nothing to write home about. And finally we got a chance to try some Oamaru-made whiskey. It wasn’t too bad! All in all, it was a very nice dinner in a lovely atmosphere.

Cool building
Weird cheesecake thingy
Oamaru whiskey!

We said “goodbye” to Bushy Beach and Oamaru and headed to Dunedin where we were going to catch a plane back to the States. Before we left, we walked down to Bushy Beach one more time just to say goodbye to the penguins. We didn’t see any, but we did end up chatting with the dude that was there every morning. Nice guy and he was really into the penguins. He told us there are 6 penguins on this beach. Not many. No wonder we didn’t see that many.

Many of our friends wishing us a goodbye

We have been in New Zealand for 5 months and it was feeling a little strange and exciting to be headed back to the States. I think both Susanne and I have really started to feel like New Zealand is our home now. It will be nice when we get an actual home, but the pace of life certainly suits us well.

We have seen a lot of the country already and Otis has logged about 6000 kms in that time. Our brains are fully left-drive now. We have also survived 3 ferry crossings which mostly are just a PITA, but that one time….ugh. I think we both agree that the South Island is where we want to end up. Just haven’t figured out where yet.

We have seen a lot of New Zealand in the first 5 months

Our plan was to drive down to Dunedin and meet Amy and Brandon, the folks we are going to dog sit for when we return, and then catch a plane to Auckland. They had nicely offered to let us park Otis at their house while we were away.

We had seen a few houses for sale in Brighton (a beach town just south of Dunedin) and decided to go look at an open house there and drive around a bit. The coastline is amazing there. The open house turned out to be way down at Taieri Mouth, a good 35 minute drive to a grocery store. It was a nice area, but we decided it was too remote and blew off the open house and headed to our farm stay in Mosgiel. We checked into the farm stay, which was at the end of this road on the edge of town. Carl greeted us and then proceeded to talk our ears off. He was quite the chatter. We finally managed to extract ourselves with just enough time to grab some lunch and then head over to meet Amy and Brandon at their place.

It was over near Tunnel Beach and had an amazing view. They quickly told us that there wasn’t much to go over since they had just bought a new house and would be closing on the 13th of December. Whoa! They showed us pics of the new place and it looked lovely. So we spent about 1/2 hour meeting Emmitt. He is super sweet older dog, total Heinz 57. He reminded us of our first dog Cooper.

Amy gave us a ride back to the farm stay which was nice. It was a gorgeous day, so we risked asking Carl if there was a good place to go for a hike. I say risk, because every time you talked to Carl, a good 15 or 20 minutes would pass before you could extract yourself. I was prepared, so we got a recommendation in under 5. Whew. We did a nice hike up the hill and then came back and sat out on the porch. It had a nice view of sheep pasture and it was quite peaceful. Just what we needed. It was a great way to end the day and prep for our trip. There were a lot of lambs about and every now and then, momma would call out and the little ones would coming running.

The dude can talk

I remarked that watching the sheep graze was like watching a fish tank — kiwi style.

me versus e

There has been an amazing explosion in the number of e-bikes that are out. I think there are more e-bikes than regular bikes. It’s cool. A buddy of mine and I had thought about going into the e-bike business about 15 years ago. We figured the technology would come around, but finally concluded the market wasn’t big enough. Doh! Coulda been a billionaire. Some people get their panties in a wad over them and think they are not real bikes and should be banned. I think that is stupid.

I do like that they get governed to 20 mph, that seems rational. But to think that it is not a good thing to have people out riding e-bikes is ridiculous. The number of people out riding, that in the past would never have been riding, is huge. Not to mention the environmental impact too. Good on ya! Bring on the e-bikes.

What great foresight I had

We have had relatively bad luck spotting penguins since our encounter on the very first day. It has not been from a lack of trying. Since we are so close to Bushy Beach, we have gone down there at 3, 4, 5:30 and 6:00 pm to see if we can see them return. Nothing. After reading a travel blog on penguins, we decided twice to drive down to Katiki Point and see if we would have better luck there. Although, just sitting there watching the seals, waves and beautiful scenery is more than enough, we still saw no penguins. Bummer. Whenever you first show up, you think “oh, not very many seals today”. Then you start noticing them. 1, 3, 8, 12….. they blend in well and are everywhere.

No penguins, but wow what a view

In desperation, we caved to the pressure of penguins and decided to go and pay to see the blue-eyed penguins return one evening. It’s quite a set-up with grandstands and a visitor center. Not cheap either, but it goes to a good cause so we sucked it up and went. We decided to make a night of it and first went to Craftworks for a beer and some more cheese. We struggled with the cheese choice again so I told the cheese dude that “our lives were in his hands.” He failed to get the Lebowski reference and pointed out it was just cheese. Anyway, he picked out good cheese despite the lack of translatable dude humor.

After our lovely Belgian ales we headed over to Del Mar (right next to the penguin colony) for dinner. It was quite good and the view was great. We decided to have some ice cream so I went up to the counter to look at the flavors and order some. In Kiwi fashion, I ended up in a lively conversation with the manager of the restaurant about Oamaru, penguins, biking, Steampunk, and all manner of things. Susanne was sitting at the table wondering where her ice cream was. I ordered two scoops. The manager questioned my sanity but I insisted we wanted two scoops. Well, what came out was two scoops of each flavor. Holy Frozen Dessert! Oops. Small translation problem, but to avoid an embarrassing situation, I just sucked it up and figured we would eat it to be polite. Sadly, it was so much we couldn’t finish it, but we tried. We all had a good laugh at that one.

They don’t allow photos, so I had to “borrow” this one

The penguin viewing started at 8 pm, so we bundled up and grabbed our seats in the stands. There were, of course, seals everywhere. We watched them for a while wondering where the penguins were. Then the first group showed up. They made their way up, through the fence and into their colony. Then more. And more. It was pretty cool I have to admit even if it is a bit expensive. They have a webcam if you want to check it out:

Susanne’s video of the yellow-eyed penguin

After reading many articles on penguins, we decided maybe we would have better luck in the morning. So right when we got up, we headed on down to Bushy Beach to see if we could see any. As we approached the trail to the beach, Susanne whispered “Penguin!” Sure enough, right where we had seen one the other time, there was a yellow-eyed penguin standing on the trail. We stood there watching him for quite a while. At one point he let out a screech and then ambled over the edge and into the bushes, never to be seen again. But we got to see another one!! Yeah. I was excited. I don’t know why I like them so much, but I do. They are the rarest penguin in the world, swim over 50 km a day and can live for over 20 years! Amazing.

A high pressure system passed by south of New Zealand which means that Oamaru gets really strong winds from the North. On Saturday, I decided I would go ride with the Oamaru Coffee Riders again despite the hurricane force winds. They were starting the ride in Kakanui, about 11 km south of our place. It was an easy ride there thanks to the tail wind. There was a surprisingly big group for such a windy day. We headed south along the coast at a pretty leisurely clip to Waianakauru river.

Bunch of freakin’ hammerheads

At this point about 2/3 of the group opted for the shorter ride back the way we came. About 10 of us decided to do the hillier, longer route. After a short climb we turned onto a gravel road with a series of short but steep climbs, straight into the raging headwind.

I looked around and noticed I was the only one not on an e-bike. Great. It was me versus the e-bikes. There was some reason that everyone had to get back to the cafe by noon, so they had said “we really need to hustle.”

I made the Strava list

And hustle they did. I was having to go all out just to try and keep up. Every hill required me to go full gas. I tried to grab a wheel here and there to get some shelter from the wind, but it was tough. I couldn’t believe how hard I was working. I felt like I was in the Tour de Flanders chasing Mathieu van der Poel. I finally lost contact with everyone on one of the longer climbs. Bummer. When I got to the top of the road, there was a fork and I couldn’t tell which way they went.

I chose incorrectly and ended up riding alone back to the cafe. I went inside and got a coffee and hung out with the group. I told them they nearly killed me and they told me to harden up. These Kiwis. Tough bunch, I tell ya. The wind was blowing so hard at this point that I decided to take Susanne up on her offer to pick me up. She drove down and joined us for a while. They all said she needed to get an e-bike. Great, yet one more hammerhead I was going to have to keep up with. When I looked at my Strava data, I had actually made the top 10 all time on one of the climbs. That never happens. That’s how hard these dudes we were working me. Damn hammerheads … but I had a great time.

Choice Overload

Life has been good. The weather, in general, is getting warmer. Yeah! Oamaru continues to offer up many good options for fun and exploration, but there have been some less than exciting things too. We came here with no expectation at all that it would be on the list of possible places to live, but between the amazing cheese, incredible views, fine brewery, opera house, wonderful biking, and funky little town, it has slowly but surely worked its way into our hearts. That said, we have both been feeling pretty stressed out about choosing where we will live and how we are going to actually make that decision. As Susanne pointed out “our problem is that we have too many choices and not enough constraints.” Choice overload.

This is an actual thing. There are lots of studies and research on it. If you don’t want to slog through scientific papers, then watch this video. It’s good.

Choice overload or overchoice is a cognitive impairment that occurs during a decision-making process when we are presented with too many options we cannot easily choose between. Our ability to make a good decision is reduced by the overload of choices, as is our satisfaction with the final decision.”

Now, I know I am not probably getting a lot of sympathy from readers who rightly point out “Dude, you’re in New Zealand running around having fun looking at penguins.” Fair enough, but the pressure of it all! I swear!

Some serious food for thought while trying to pick out which of the 5000 types of pickles you want

When I think about some of the social ills of the US right now, I can’t help but think about this paradox of choice. Why are so many people in the richest, and arguably one of the freest countries in the world, so miserable? It is the only developed country in the world that has a declining life expectancy. Anyway, I won’t go too much down that rabbit hole, but it’s worth some thought.

We’ve been trying to explore some the hiking around the area to see what is within a couple-hour drive. We had been exploring southward, so one day we thought we would go north and see what was up that way. I read about a hike along a lagoon (Wainono Lagoon) that was supposed to a bird-lovers paradise. It looked like a pretty easy walk so we decided to give it a go. It was about an hour drive up there and when we got to the parking lot, it was clear it was a Te Awanga type beach. Lots of larger pebbles and a steep dangerous drop-off at the water’s edge. The walking wasn’t much fun and the area, to be honest, just wasn’t very nice. Oh well. We did enjoying watching the big waves crash on the beach. Once you get north of Oamaru, you really start getting into the flatlands of the Canterbury plains. We realized all future walks were either going to be west or south of us.

Dangerous beach
Not a very interesting walk

After that disappointing outing we decided to head back to town instead and try out the Craftworks which is a local brewery that specializes in Belgian-style ales. Sold! The brewery is down in the Victorian district of Oamaru and they have managed to build what feels like an English pub inside the bigger warehouse building. It’s very cool. We hemmed and hawed about what beer to get and decided on two different Abbey ales. We also ordered a cheese plate with 4 different cheeses. There were a lot of choices of cheeses (all locally produced, small batch) and we could feel the pressure of choice overload creeping in. The dude kept waiting for us to decide and we stood there like a scared yellow-eyed penguins unable to decide. I finally asked for a recommendation and he steered us into some good choices. We kept going back and forth as to which one was best and finally agreed they were all kick ass. The dude knew his cheese.

Yummy cheese
Yummy beer
Cool bar and cheese dude

The next destination was Kurow, which was about a 1-hr drive inland. There was a cool hike up Kurow Hill that looked good and I could ride back to Oamaru after the hike along the Alps2Ocean trail. Two for one!

It wasn’t a super long hike up to the top of the hill, but it was steep. About 350 meters in 1.1 kilometers. Very Wenatchee-like. All along the trail, people had hauled up various chairs and couches; the implication being that it was so steep, you were going to need a good place to rest on your way up. It was steep, but not that steep. Harden up, mate! In case you’re wondering, we did not use the furniture.

Well-placed furniture all along the route

After our hike, I pulled on my biking kit and headed out toward Oamaru while Susanne drove back. The wind was howling, but luckily it was a tail wind to start. The trail from Kurow to Duntroon was nice, but was still under repair in a number of places from the floods earlier in the year. I made good time with the 30 kph tail wind helping me out. The only thing that was causing me to slow down was the constant swatting at the magpies that incessantly dive bombed me. Note to self: buy some zip ties. From Duntroon, the trail went past Elephant rocks and climbed up through the white stone cliffs. It was a really beautiful section of the trail. At one point, the trail did a series of very tight switch backs up the cliff…not super technical but very cool.

Magpie gauntlet
Great view of the Kakanui Range

I reached the top of the first climb and passed 1 of the 3 bikers I would see all day. Just one more climb and then mostly downhill to Oamaru. The one bummer is that the wind had changed direction and I was now having to climb into it. As an old fat guy, I was very upset at this turn of events. Nonetheless, I continued on and marveled at what a wonderful thing it was that they put this trail in. I was glad to reach the top of the final climb and that it was downhill from there. Going through the tunnel, I passed the other 2 bikers that I would see in the 4 hours of riding. Damn these crowds. I stopped in Enfield at the tavern to get a little food and water and take a little breather. The salty chips went down well. Sadly it was headwind all the way home, but the suffering was kept to a minimum. It was a big day of exercise but I was grateful to have such a lovely day to do it.

Just me and the cows….and the damn magpies
Whitestone cliffs

We had a video call with our friends Dave and Carol and they asked the question “what did we do all day?” We both stumbled around trying to describe our day, which quite frankly consists of coffee, watching the sunrise, farting around on the internet, planning what to eat for dinner, planning what we will do once we are done with coffee. So many decisions to be made. And occasionally we have to, like, go the bank or talk to the tax dudes. Big-time adulting stuff. Very stressful, as you can see. But we have been enjoying ourselves, so too bad!

Sunrise from our Airbnb

We had missed going out with the Wednesday Walkers the previous week (it had snowed and we didn’t feel like it) but were planning on the hike this week. They were doing a hike down by Shag Point, so that sounded good. We met them at the tennis courts in Oamaru and got a ride with Claus down to the trailhead. I think there were about 15 of us total, and Mike, the American guy I had met previously, was one of them. He had been an environmental manager in the Bay Area, had retired to New Zealand in 2016 after Trump got elected and then ended up meeting someone who he married. Nice guy. We couldn’t help ourselves and did end up talking about some of the reasons we ended up here. But not too much.

The tide was a bit high, so we had to go over the sheep paddocks for a while to get to where the beach was wide enough to walk on. It was a lot of up and down and again, both Susanne and I were totally impressed by the kiwis and their fitness.

Just a bit of a scramble on a rope. New aging goal!

I think the average age of the group was 74 and it was only that because, as one of the dudes on the hike pointed out, Susanne and I had brought the average age way down. I hope I can keep doing what they do when I am 78. Impressive. At one point we had to scramble up a bit of cliff that required a rope to help. One lady, who I am sure is over 80, scrabbled up the thing with only a little bit of help.

When we popped out on the beach, there were some steep cliffs where a bunch of shags were nesting. They are part of the cormorant family and are quite beautiful. When they fly, the look like Klingon warships. As we walked down the beach, there were seals and sea lions scattered all over the beach. The sea lions (called Hooker’s Sea Lions) are huge. The males can get up over 900lbs. The key is to not get between them and the ocean. If you do, they can get quite testy as they feel like you have cut off their escape route. At one point, one of the big males got agitated because we were a bit too close to him and he let out this very menacing roar. We heeded his advice and got to stepping.

The sea lions had been nearly wiped out at one point, but have made quite a comeback and are all along the Otago coast now. We reached the Shag river and had a bit of lunch and then headed back. We ended up doing 7.5 miles with over 1000 ft of climbing. I was so impressed by this bunch and they were all super nice too! The only downside of the hike were the quite a few dead sheep in the paddock as you walk by. Dang.

It is nice to know and a big plus for Oamaru that there are such great groups to go and do stuff with. It does help to get some local connection and learn more about the area beyond the basic tourist stuff. Hopefully they can help us with our choice overload problem.

A Night at the Opera

Things have been going along swimmingly here in Oamaru and we continue to be impressed by the place. Sitting in our Airbnb and looking at the expanse of the ocean, every evening is a treat. It has become exceedingly clear that it was complete luck and quite rare that we had such a close encounter with a yellow-eyed penguin on the first day. Since then, we have only seen them way off in the distance, quickly scampering up into the brush and never to be seen again. They are very shy creatures.

“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality
Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see…”

— Freddie Mercury

Oamaru opera house. Check out the whitestone.

I had contacted the Oamaru Coffee Riders, a local biking group here, to see if I could go on their group ride. Terry, the organizer said “sure!” and told me they would be riding from Enfield Tavern at 10 am on Saturday. It was a chilly but sunny day and I was thinking this group was not a bunch of hammerheads that were going to go out and pound it for 3 hours, so I decided to ride the 15 km out to Enfield to meet them.

As I was pulling into the tavern, I got attacked by a magpie again! The last time I rode out this way, the damn magpie crashed into my helmet several times and pestered me for about half a kilometer. Yet another good reason to wear a helmet while riding….bird attacks! One of the woman told me that Terry had zip ties sticking out of his helmet to protect against the birds. Sheesh. Who knew?

Anti-bird device

There were about 15 of us on the ride with most people on e-bikes. We headed up some lonely paved and gravel roads at a pretty leisurely pace. It was nice to be riding with some other folks and Terry was telling me about all the great rides in the area. He organizes a big gravel race called White Rocks and sadly I am going to miss it by a day! It would have been fun. We ended up doing about 25 km and I then had a coffee with everyone afterwards. It was interesting to hear how much they all loved Oamaru. Most of them had not grown up here but had chosen to come here after living in a lot of other places, both in New Zealand and abroad. To be honest, Oamaru hadn’t really even been on the radar as a possible living location for us, but there are some things about it that are pretty awesome. The 100’s of kilometers of lonely gravel roads is one of them.

The group

We have learned that when the weather forecast is iffy, you just have to plan some smaller outings and hope you get enough good weather that you can enjoy the day. Susanne had finally decided it was time to get a haircut after 5 months. My detailed description of the benefits of shaving your head seemed to be unconvincing as she made an appointment with a stylist here in Oamaru. The woman told Susanne about a couple cool places to check out. One was called the Elephant Rocks out near Ngapara.

This area is known for the white rocks … in other words, limestone. Around here it is called the Oamaru Formation and is heavily quarried and has been used in a lot of the buildings in Oamaru and Dunedin (see the Opera House, above). It also creates some really cool-looking structures. According to the geology of New Zealand:

The major limestone-forming period in New Zealand was during the Oligocene, about 22–30 million years ago. At that time, New Zealand was covered almost entirely by a shallow sea. Many invertebrate organisms with calcareous shells thrived in this sea, and over time, a thick sedimentary layer of shell fragments developed. Subsidence followed by deep burial of these sediments provided the right conditions to convert them to limestone. Therefore, the limestones that feature in the Waitomo region are the same age as those in the Whangārei area, the Punakaiki rocks of the West Coast, Oamaru stone in Otago and the Clifden Cave system in Southland.

What this all means is that when it erodes, it makes some really cool looking structures that are worth a visit. We piled into the car and made the drive out that way. It wasn’t much of a hike around them, but they were super cool nonetheless.

Since the weather was kind of holding, we drove into Duntroon and did a little wetlands walk that was on the map. It wasn’t very wet, so there wasn’t much to see in terms of cools birds and stuff, but there you have it. It started to rain, so we headed back to car and drove home. Not a super exciting day, but it paid off to ignore the weather forecast.

On another day, we took a drive down the coast to the south to check out some of the areas that might be good potential living spots. Susanne had done some pre-scouting during my bike rides, and had seen some really nice areas down this way and wanted to show me. Kakanui was a lovely little beach town and some of the areas around it would be awesome to have a house on. The coast really reminded me of Mendocino. Rugged with interspersed nice walkable beaches. I did a 50 km ride down the road and back the next day and it was amazing. Almost no traffic. I did get attacked 4 times by those damn magpies, though. Better go buy some zip ties. The riding here is truly great … despite the birds.

Yeah, I could live in Kakanui
What a ride!

There was a huge cold front pushing up from Antarctica that was going to bring rain, wind, and even possible snow. It was supposed to be the first October snow in Christchurch in 50 years. Sheesh, we have really brought the winter weather to New Zealand! Sorry, Kiwis!

Since the weather was once again, super-suspect, we opted for a driving-centered day and headed further south toward Shag Point. We had seen some houses for sale here that looked amazing and there was a nice reserve and seal colony to check out. The houses perched right along the cliff were amazing, for sure. What a way to spend your life, staring out at the view!

Real estate photo. Yes, please!

The wind was howling and it was quite cold, but we got out and gazed at the amazing views and said hi to all of the fur seals. Part of me thinks it would be amazing to live in place like this and part of me thinks it might just be a bit too isolated. Not sure which part will win in the end. But, wow!

The weather, albeit windy and cold, was holding for us and neither of us felt like heading back yet, so we looked on the map and found a reserve (Tavora) just south of us that we knew nothing about. We thought, why not? The drive is was incredibly scenic through pasture lands, rolling hills, and stunning views of the ocean. There was one other car there when we showed up. The sign indicated that it was a short walk to the beach and that there was another longer loop around the headland. I thought it was going to be relatively miserable and we would only go to the beach, so I left my good camera behind.

We passed the other couple coming back out, of course hiking in gum boots, so now we had it all to ourselves. Note to self: get some gum boots when we get back from the States. We got to the beach and it was really awe-inspiring. The sand was deep red, the water was a grayish-green and the powerful swells added a lovely white to the canvas. The beach was steep and the power of the waves and the obvious rip currents made it a humbling place to stand and stare. Really gorgeous.

Love the colors
Hard to convey the power in the photo

I think both of us were amazed at how beautiful, rugged, and lonely this coast was. Susanne suggested that we do the loop since the sun was still out. It was windy but we both wanted to see more. The trail looped around the headlands with just some incredible views. It was clear that not a lot of people go here. We finished the loop with about 3 minutes to spare. It took about an hour to make the loop and outside of some cows trying to bum some carrots off us, we saw nobody. We got in the car and the rain started and then a mix of sleet and snow. Perfect timing. Sometimes when you have no expectations things work out the best.

Both of us commented that we really had to make a habit of just finding little places on the map and checking them out. Some have been nothing-burgers, but a bunch of others have been world-class and generally with nobody around.

The full force of the Antarctic blast showed up overnight and we actually had a bit of snow on the deck. Holy crap. We are both very tired of winter. We have been living in winter since December 2021. We want summer! We want summer! We want summer! We want summer! Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao!

(OK, maybe we binge-watched “Money Heist” and are feeling the resistance movement a bit too much or just have that song stuck in our heads. And BTW, if you can’t see the video, just google “money heist Bella ciao”)


“Una mattina mi sono alzato 
O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao 
Una mattina mi sono azalto 
E ho trovato l’invasor”

On one rainy day, I had been looking around for live music in Oamaru. There really wasn’t much. COVID has really crushed that. However, I did notice that there was a play on at the Oamaru Opera House called “The bicycle and the butcher’s daughter.” I booked us some tickets so we could go check out the local art and theater scene.

We had a nice dinner at Del Mar and then headed over to the theater. It is a pretty impressive opera house for a small town. The play was in a little side theater from the main opera theater that probably sat 70 people or so.

The billing described it as “a lively and entertaining solo work which addresses themes of women in leadership, the meat industry, veganism, global food issues, and family relationships. It is written by Sue Rider and Helen Moulder and directed by Sue Rider, the collaboration that brought you Playing Miss Havisham, Gloria’s Handbag and Meeting Karpovsky. Production includes recorded music by pianist Richard Mapp and violinist Juliet Ayre.”

It was super fun! The play was clever and Helen did an amazing job playing the five characters. There was some very New Zealand-specific humor that we mostly got. I always forget how much I enjoy going to live theater. I marvel at the talent and bravery it takes to get up and entertain people in that way. It definitely was nice to know that if we did end up in Oamaru, there is a great venue right in town.

Yellow-Eyed Steampunk

Oamaru is the steampunk capital of the world. I did not know this before coming here. Well, I didn’t even know what steampunk was, for that matter. Never heard of it. That shows you how non-hip I am.

According to the dictionary:

noun: steampunk; noun: steam-punk

A genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology

There are even entire blogs out there exploring this very interesting genre of sci-fi that I had never really heard of … although I guess Jules Verne is one of the founding fathers. According to the Steampuckavenue blog:

“Futuristic, yet retro at the same time, Steampunk is truly one-of-a-kind. The genre blends the aesthetic and technology of the 19th century with elements of science fiction. Its literary and audiovisual works take place in an alternate reality where technological progress is based not on electricity, but on the steam engine. The steampunk aesthetic is inspired by the fashions of Victorian Era in England (1837-1901), but also by the Belle Epoque in France (1871-1914) and the Civil War era in the United States (1861-1865). The clothing from these eras is often modernized by the addition of mechanical elements with gears showing.”

So, Oamaru has the Steampunk HQ. Steampunk HQ has infiltrated the “Grain Elevator” which was an 1883 Oamaru stone building, located at the entrance of Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct. The HQ was founded in 2011 by a group of creative minds (Don Patterson, Jac Grenfell, and Brian de Geest), who were passionate about Steampunk, and showcasing it to the public.

Susanne playing the intergalactic organ

After our lovely stay in Kaikōura, we headed south to Oamaru where we had rented a house for a month. Every time we told people we were going to Oamaru for a month, they all shook their head in a somewhat puzzled way. I’m not sure what the issue is. Oamaru is in a great location at the end of the Alps2Ocean trail, has a wide variety of interesting sea life like the rare yellow-eyed penguins, a funky Victorian downtown, and as mentioned above, the Steampunk HQ. What’s not to like? The drive down was pretty easy and even traversing the “big city” of Christchurch was a piece of cake. We drove out to the house, which required going up a very San Francisco-like hill. It is near the end of a road and has an amazing view of the ocean. The other cool thing is that is 300 meters from Bushy Beach which is a world famous locale for yellow-eyed penguins.

Our house
Not a bad place for a glass of wine

The house seems to be brand new and is super comfy and well insulated. It is a 2-1 bach that is perfect for two people. We unpacked, settled in, and enjoyed the view. The next morning we decided to walk down to the beach after some coffee to just check it out. I decided to not bring my good camera as I was not expecting to see any penguins at that hour. It is not a big beach, but very scenic. We checked it out from the penguin viewing area and then headed down toward the beach. A family ahead of us was stopped on the trail. They whispered “there’s a penguin!” Sure enough! There was one standing right next to trail with some leaves and twigs in its beak! Usually you only see them from a distance because they are very skittish creatures, but we all got a good look at this one. They are huge! Over 2 feet tall. Amazing.

Bushy Beach
Yellow-eyed Penguin

The next day we had some errands to run and wanted to do a bit of walking near town. We realized that in our rush to leave Cooks Beach and being so distracted by Otis, we had left our very expensive microplane there. Doh! The place was also lacking some bowls so I suggested to Susanne that we go down to the local Op Shop and pick up a few things that would make our life much happier in the month we were staying here.

An Op Shop, for you Americans that are not in the know, is a thrift shop (“opportunity shop”). A lot of SPCAs and other charities have them. We stopped at the St. John’s Op Shop on Thames St. They had a wide assortment of stuff, most of which we did not need. I found to big plastic bowls ($3 each) and declared them perfect. Just then, Susanne found a microplane for $1.00. Wow! It was going to be a great day! We headed to the check out stand to fork out the the $7.50 and the very nice lady cheerfully declared that it was 2 for 1 cheap plastic bowl day and gave us the whole lot for $4. Don’t ever bad mouth the op shops, please!

The best cheap plastic bowls money can buy!

Lovely view of Oamaru

The weather was getting a bit snotty, so we, of course, had to go and tour the Steampunk HQ museum and walk around the downtown. It is a funky little town with lots of art galleries and oddball shops in old Victorian buildings. The Steampunk HQ was best described as totally weird. I mean really weird. Somewhat interesting, but weird. They did have one really cool room of mirrors with colored lights that made the $10 admission worthwhile. We were going to go to the brewery for lunch, but when we went it, it was chockerblock full and a band was playing, which made it super loud. There was nowhere to sit, either. We bailed on that idea and went to the end of the harbor area to a restaurant called Del Mar. It had a great view and the pizza was quite yummy.

Now this was cool

Our impression of Oamaru was pretty positive. Small but not nearly as dinky as Kaikōura. The town had some life, a very funky downtown, 3 supermarkets, an aquatic center, a Pilates studio, and a variety of other things to make life somewhat normal. There is definitely some topography, but the big mountains are quite a way off in the distance. The coastline is beautiful. So all in all, it was hard to understand why Oamaru had elicited such disdain. And like most of New Zealand, no matter how frigid it might be, there are people out and about in their shorts and jandals.

Harden up, mate—it’s not cold!

We decided to drive south down to Moeraki Beach where there are some very famous boulders and a marine preserve nearby. It is only about 30 minutes south and a pretty easy drive. The weather had gotten pretty nice and was much warmer…Yeah!!!

The boulders are giant concretions formed by the mineralization of the mudstone in the formation. Think about how pearls are formed and that is a good analogy for these. Definitely worth a stop. We checked out the boulders and then did a nice walk up the beach.

We passed a dude walking his dog. We turned around and headed back. We came to the same dude and dog again. Of course we lured the unsuspecting canine into our grubby little paws and gave him lots of pets this time. And like so many times in Aotearoa, this resulted in a 20-minute conversation about all manner of things. He was a big biker. He had lived in Auckland, Sydney, SF, and LA. And most of his friends were artists and musicians, but they drove him nuts. Anyway nice dude. I wanted to make up some elaborate story about him being a famous music producer who had discovered Adele. Susanne nixed that idea. So, he was just a chatty biker dude with a friendly dog. Way less exciting.

Next stop on the world tour was Katiki Point which had a lighthouse and a great seal colony that the biker dude said was a must-see. It was really beautiful. A lot like Monterey in California without any of the people. There were tons of seals and birds. The color of the rocks, water, sand and landscape made for just an incredible scene. You could see the seals playing.

I had wanted to go for a bike ride the day before, but needed to adjust my front brake. I watched a few YouTube videos from SRAM and then proceeded to accidentally bleed the hydraulic fluid out of the brake. Doh! I took the bike into the local shop to get it fixed. They called me the next day and said my bonehead move had been fixed and she was ready to roll. Yeah!

I wanted to go for a ride out the Alps 2 Ocean trail to check that out. It is a 300 km trail that goes from Mt. Aoraki to Oamaru. Very cool. I got geared up and started out. As I was heading up the hill from the house, my pedals came off. Doh! I had forgotten to have them tightened. I managed to coast down the big ass hill into town and walked to the shop. This is a time when you are glad it is a small town. I showed them the second bonehead move and they groaned. I had almost managed to strip the metal on the crank, but they saved me. Yeah for Martyns!

The trail was nice, but in some spots had been washed out by the huge floods they had here a couple of months ago. I had also contacted the local bike club and was going to do a ride with them, so I just wanted to get a feel for the terrain. Mostly it was pretty easy with some gentle climbing and a few kickers. I ended up doing about 40 miles with a couple thousand feet of climbing. It was nice to be out riding in a new area. Looking forward to the group ride in a few days!

The Alps 2 Ocean
Lots of cows out here
Another tunnel requiring a headlamp

A Whale of a Tail

We left Waitomo, both glad we had come to see the glow worms and very apprehensive about the trip ahead. It wasn’t because the driving from Waitomo to Kaikōura was particularly difficult; it was because it involved another ferry crossing to get from the North Island to the South Island. We were both feeling a bit of PTSD from the last time across and had no real desire to repeat that experience.

The drive to Wellington was easy peasy. We got to our hotel at a reasonable hour and determined it was a great location for the morning. It was a basic serviced apartment, but it was nice and it had a Nespresso machine! Yeah! We would at least have coffee on board for the ferry ride. A lot of the restaurants were closed on Sunday, but we found a pretty nice place in the DoubleTree hotel. The food was good and it had the advantage of being very close to us. We headed back to the hotel and I checked the weather. Bummer. It was going to be blowing 20 to 25 knots and the seas were expected to be rough. I chose not to relay this information to Susanne.

We had learned from the last time in Wellington that there wasn’t really any point in getting in the ferry queue super early, especially since we had our own cabin. We had our coffee and headed over to the ferry with about 20 minutes to spare before the one-hour ahead of departure check-in cutoff.

The wind was howling. Bummer. I decided to share the information about the rough seas with Susanne so she could decide whether to take a Dramamine or not. She chose to put some meds on board. We got on board and found our cabin. It was way mo betta than not having a cabin. Plus the ferry was packed because it was a holiday commemorating the Queen.

Our swanky quarters

We headed out from Welly and as we started to round the corner out of the harbor and into the Cook Strait, you could feel the swell start to pick up. Rut Roh. It built for a while and then all of a sudden it just kind of calmed down. Looking out the porthole, the seas were still pretty darn rough, but it wasn’t that bad in the ferry. It made me realize just how god awful rough it was on the last crossing. The seas must have been huge. We listened to some pod casts and before we knew it, we were in Picton. Yeah!!! All that the dread and anxiety for nothing. We cruised all the way to Kaikōura without incident.

Our Airbnb

The Airbnb we rented was a lovely updated carriage house that was at the end of a road at the base of the mountains and with a wonderful view down toward the Kaikōura peninsula. We unloaded our stuff and just marveled at the views from our place. The mountains still had a lot of snow on them, so it was a surreal view.

I had such fond memories of stopping at the little crayfish stands and eating crayfish with the amazing views, so we headed out to the get some crayfish (crayfish=lobster in Kiwi). The weather was supposed to be good, so I suggested we stop in and sign up for a whale watching trip. We got to the place and they were pretty rude and told us to sign up online. Sure, whatever.

Yummy koura!

We headed to a fish market and decided we would take the crayfish back with us to the house. I had in my mind they were still cheap like they used to be so I got the server to pull two big ones out for us. She weighed them and informed it would be $280. Yikes! We opted to just get 1, but that still set us back $130. Thank dog for a good exchange rate! We headed back to the house and I warmed them on the grill and Susanne made some garlic butter. It was really decadent but we deserved it. Not sure why, but we did. I also got us booked for the 12:45 whale watching cruise the next day. All in all, it had been a good and uneventful day.

Kaikōura evidently mean “Crayfish food” in Maōri (kai=food and kōura=crayfish) and it is the crayfish capital of New Zealand. But beyond that tasty treat, the mountains impinge right onto the ocean creating one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen in my life.

Absolutely stunning

We did the Mt. Fyffe Forest Walk, which was a short tramp just behind the house in the morning. We were expecting some amazing views, but we got squat. It was a nice forest hike, but it’s Kaikōura, we wanted views damn it. When it was time we headed down to the whale watch place to check in. There was a message on the board that the trip was waiting for “the captain’s call.” Shortly thereafter the call came in and the trip was cancelled because the whales had moved off shore too far. Bummer. Thursday was supposed to be pretty good too, so we asked the lady at the desk to rebook us for that day. She said no problemo. Yeah!

Since there were no whales to be had that day, we drove out to the end of the peninsula and did a walk along the shore. Craig, our airbnb host, had warned us to be careful because it was easy to accidentally step on a seal out there. Yeah, right. Seriously? Right away there were seals to be seen. I was heading out to get a picture of one and almost stumbled over another. Doh. Should have listened to Craig. It was a lovely walk and the sea and bird life was everywhere.

Luckily the first two days had been nice because the next day it just pissed with rain all day. Bummer. It was a bit of a boring day to say the least, but at this point in our New Zealand experience, we are getting used to it.

A boring day of watching Milford Sound Sheets of Rain come down

We got up the next morning and it did appear that the weather was going to improve. As we drank our coffee, it got better and better. Yeah! We were going to get to go see the whales after all. We drove down to the whale watching place and went to check in. Yet another rude staff person informed us that it was sold out and we were on the wait list. What!!! How can that be? I got pissed, but tried to maintain my improving zen-like state. We waited and I stewed. Ugh. I had been looking forward to it and now we might not get on the boat. In the end she went back to her manager and I guess the figured out how to get us on. She had to gall to inform us that “we always do the wait list in order of booking and luckily you were first on the wait list.” What? Your colleague told us we were booked, not waitlisted! You messed up and you blame me!! Sheesh. But we were on the bus and heading to the boat, so let it go dude.

The boat was a very nice 18-meter catamaran with a jet engine. I guess they do this in order to minimize any potential injury to the sea life. They had said “high risk of seasickness,” but as we motored out, it was not very rough. Maybe a 1 meter swell with a little chop. For us hardy ferry crossers, this was child’s play and no dramamine was needed (available at their gift shop for what appeared to be only a 50% markup!). Right away they spotted a whale and we cruised over to it. A big gigantic Sperm whale named Mata Mata. I guess they can identify each whale by the unique patterns on their tails.

I guess Kaikōura is one of the best whale watching places on earth because there is a really deep canyon that comes quite close to shore and allows the whales to move in right next to shore. Plus, the upwhelling currents produce a lot of good eating for the whales, so they like to hang out there. Yeah for us!

Super deep canyon makes good whale watching

We ended up seeing two whales on the cruise. Well, actually we saw Mata Mata twice, but he was spectacular each time. I guess he weighs in at a hefty 100,000 lbs. Yowzaa. We got back to the shore and I was super happy to have managed to get out to see a few of the amazing creatures. I ended up giving the dumb tour company a 1 star rating for being so rude. Susanne read some of the other bad reviews and we were not alone in the rudeness of how they handled people. She also noted that apparently their system gives priority to online bookings, which is likely how our problem occurred. Sounds like an incredibly idiotic system.

I was hoping to get a bike ride in while we were in Kaikōura as I had noticed that they had built a nice 40 km cycle trail that looped around the valley. In general, the riding looked surprisingly good, but we ran out of time. Too bad. Next time. As beautiful and amazing as Kaikōura is, I think both of us decided that it was just a little too small and remote to realistically consider this as our final stopping point, although we came to that conclusion with a bit of regret. It is a must visit spot in New Zealand and definitely one of the most beautiful places on earth. But onward to Oamaru.

Mind Like a Steel Trap

I’ve always prided myself on having a good memory. In college I almost never took notes in my classes or if I did, they would be some obscure representation of the lecture. When people borrowed my notes, they would exclaim “What the F$%@! is that?!” “I have a mind like a steel trap” I would tell them. The good news is that they never asked for my notes more than once. I have noticed that, just maybe, I’m not quite as sharp as I used to be. Unlikely, but it is a possibility.

After picking up Otis, both Susanne and I let out a big sigh of relief that we heard no more squeaks. All the hotels in the area were super expensive and super crappy—not what I was in the mood for. But we found a good place to stay just outside of Auckland that was a bit of a cross between a farm-stay and a B&B called Woodbury Farm B&B. It was a little ADU on someone’s 5 acre lifestyle property. We drove in and she greeted us and showed us the place. It was really nice. But the biggest bennie of them all was that she had an incredibly cute and friendly border collie that Susanne and I totally doted on.

The place even had a nice deck to hang out on. It was a bit chilly, but it was a nice relief to have the whole Otis thing behind us, a nice glass of wine, and a friendly dog to pet. We found a little Italian restaurant not too far away called Volare. It turned out to be surprisingly good! We headed back to the B&B to have some chocolate for desert. It wasn’t very good chocolate, but it was all we’d found. I insisted that we should put it in the fridge. Susanne hesitated and said we would probably forget it if we did that. I reminded her that I had a mind like a steel trap and I would not forget. She muttered to herself and just put it in the fridge. We were happy to be on the road again and had a good night’s sleep.

We got up the morning, had coffee, packed up, petted the dog one last time, and headed out for the glow worm caves near Waitomo. Stupid google sent us on some crazy routes again. Ugh. But overall it was pretty easy driving the whole way.

We were there way too early to check in to the glamping place, so we scoped out a couple of things to do in the area. The first was a short hike at the Ruakuri Scenic Reserve. It was right in the heart of the limestone where all the caves form, and traversed a creek that cut into and through the rock. It was a pretty cool little hike.

I had scoped out another cave, Piripiri, that you could go check out by yourself and for free, not too far away, so we decided to take a drive west on Te Anga Road to where the cave was. It was a gorgeous drive and would make a great bike ride as there was not much traffic on it. We got to the cave parking and walked up to and into the cave. It was a bit underwhelming. No real formations, just a set of wood stairs that descended into a small cavern. Oh well. On the way out, we encountered Toni, who was with a mobile car air conditioning company, heading into the cave. We chatted for a while and he told us that we should go down the Marokopa falls just down the road. “It’s worth the stop” he told us.

The not very impressive Piripiri cave

We drove down to the falls and did the short hike into it and both agreed that Toni was right….it was totally worth it. The falls were impressively big and quite beautiful.

The very impressive Marokopa Falls

We drove back up the road toward Waitomo and made one more stop at Natural Bridges, another random DOC (Department of Conservation) stop along the road. It was a short hike into this lovely canyon which was a collapsed cave that had a really cool natural bridge still intact. One thing we have learned from the drive down this little road is that you don’t blow off all the DOC sites thinking they aren’t any good! (Piripiri cave notwithstanding)

Natural Bridges
Natural Bridges
These shoes were made for walkin’

We decided to drive in to Waitomo and have an early dinner (=linner) and then just have a snack later so that I could have some wine and not be driving on a narrow windy road. Along the way, at the end of some tramping track there was a fence in which people had attached their boots. I guess it was a sign that the tramp was done and their shoes were worn out or something. It was kind of funny. Huhu cafe was open so we went there. We had some fish and chips and they were quite good…probably the best that we have had so far in New Zealand.

It was then that Susanne realized that I had forgotten the chocolate in the fridge in Auckland. Doh! The worst part of it all was not the loss of the chocolate, but the ungodly amount of poo I was going to have to endure after having been so smug about my steel trap mind. Clearly, it is a bit rusty.

After linner we drove back up the hill so we could check into the glamping place, Te Tiro. Angus and Rachel, the owners, met us in the parking lot. They were really friendly and it turned out they had lived there for a long time, were big spelunkers, and were the first people to take tourists on “Black water rafting” trips in the caves. Angus ran his first trip in 1986! He gave us a tour of the glamping tent and how everything worked. The view was awesome.

The next day we had a glow worm cave tour at Spellbound which was supposed to be one of the better and less touristy caves to visit. We drove over to the check-in place about 30 minutes away. There were just 6 of us on the tour which was nice. We piled into the bus and headed to the main cave. We put on our hard hats with lights and our guide pointed out some of the fresh water eels that were in the creek that flowed into the cave. They were pretty cool! and big too! Evidently, they hang out in the streams for a good chunk of their life and then at some point decide it is time to swim out to the ocean and are never seen again. Or something like that.

The glow worms were amazing. But to be accurate, they are not actually worms, they are fungus gnat larvae. And they dangle little gooey tentacles down and use their lights to attract mayflies and other insects to their untimely deaths. They put out a tremendous amount of light and the ceiling of the cave was ablaze with them. We drifted back and forth a few times in the raft they had in the cave just sitting in silence looking at them. It was totally worth it and should be put on the list of “must dos” when visiting New Zealand. After that cave, we took a short walk over to another cave that had some formations and an old Moa skeleton that Angus had found a number of years ago. It was nice, but nothing like the glow worm cave.

Glow worms….hard to photograph
Moa bones

We headed back to Te Tiro after another lunch and just hung out and took in the views.

They had an outdoor tub and we both wanted to give that a try. It was chilly outside, and there was something decadent and relaxing about just sitting outside in the hot water watching the world go by. New Zealand is a great climate for a hot tub and we will definitely get one when we finally get a home. All in all, despite it being a bit chilly for glamping, the glamping was pretty nice. If it had been about 5 to 10 degrees (Celsius that is) warmer, it would have been perfect for just hanging out on the deck enjoying the view and stars.

Angus invited us over for a drink that night. We headed over around 5 and sat around chatting with Angus and Rachel. They were great fun to talk with and had spent a life creating adventures for themselves and I just loved their view of the world. We headed back to our tent and climbed into bed, tired but very happy. The glow worm tour was spectacular, and to end it with some great conversation with some really cool people was awesome. It was a great stopover on our way south and definitely worth doing if you are ever in the area.

The Party’s Over

Our time in Cooks Beach has come to an end and we are making our way back to the South Island. We have spent a very lovely 5 weeks here that has allowed us to get a pretty good feel for the Coromandel Peninsula. It is lovely. We were a bit constrained in our ability to get out and about see some of the northern parts because (a) the car the dealer gave us as a loaner was a complete POS and not much fun to drive and (b) Romy was less than thrilled driving around with us in the car. When we drove up to Kūaotunu it was tough on her old hips getting in and out of the car and kind of scared the poop out of her…..literally.

The party’s over

It’s time to call it a day

They’ve burst your

Pretty balloon

And taken the moon away

It’s time to wind up

The masquerade

Just make your mind up

The piper must be paid

— Shirley Bassey

We ended up doing a lot of walking up and down the beach, right across the street from the house. It was a great 5 km walk down to the end and back. I could see doing that every day and never getting tired of it. I also ended up riding my bike a lot and Road 309 became my go-to ride. I became the Strava local hero for that climb! It did involve taking the damn Whitianga Ferry every time which is, as stated earlier, the most expensive form of transport on the planet making even a ride on Jeff Bezos’ Penis Spaceship seem cheap.

We were going to buy this
but the cost of this….
Has reduced to us to buying this

It is interesting traveling around thinking about where we want to live and talking to Kiwis about it. You get all sorts of opinions. About the only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that we should definitely not live in Hamilton. Poor Hamilton. The South Island gets dinged for being cold. The North Island gets dinged for being crowded and expensive. It will be hard decision, and we will keep looking. But everyone has been excited about our journey and super welcoming.

The other thing we get asked a lot by people back in the States is “has been what you expected and have you found what you are seeking?” The thing that I knew was true is that the Kiwis were awesome and I loved their view on life. That has not disappointed. Almost everyone always invites us to come stay with them, use their bach, or some other form of amazing hospitality. Conversations are always fun and easy to start. That has exceeded our expectations. The only real complaint is the cold houses, but I’ve ranted about that a lot already, so I’ll move on.

In terms of the finding what we were seeking, I have found that a difficult question to answer. In so many regards we came here not seeking anything in particular. We wanted to just be and let the world present opportunities and challenges to us. I think overall, we have done that well and it is a liberating experience. I have felt the physical changes (in a good way) in myself that come from living a life that is more set in the present. So many years of rat race takes a hidden toll on you that is hard to see until you are away from it. That said, we have been nomading for over a year now and I think both of us are getting ready to set some roots down for a while.

A true test of my new zen-like state came when I called Keith, the service manager at Mr. Motors, to find out the status of Otis. He informed me that they couldn’t find the part (CVT clutch system) and the transmission guy thought it would be OK to just “tweak” it and proposed that they just do some additional service until they could get the part at some later date. I couldn’t help myself and my pushy American came out so I informed Keith that “No, that is not OK!” After all, we had driven the car in from Hawkes Bay on a prior occasion, and they had not replaced the part at that time, and now again from Cooks Beach. We had given them plenty of opportunities to make it right and plenty of time to procure the part! He groused and said he would mail the part to someone in the South Island when they got it. I was very irritated. We took Romy out for a walk….well really with Romy it is always a very slow amble…. and I stewed.

The amble master

I finally decided it was time to elevate my car issue. After Susanne and I read up on the ins and outs of the law on used cars in New Zealand, I called the sales guy and said that he sold me a lemon and I wanted my money back. He gave me his boss’s number. I called Kim and told him I wanted my money back. He said he would get back to me after talking with Keith. He did. Then he said they had made it urgent to get the part we needed. I said if it wasn’t ready by the 15th, they would have to give us our money back. I was being a really pushy American, but to his credit he listened. The next day he called and said they found a part. Whew. But WTF?! Why did I have to go through so much agony. Anyway, it was still stressing us out, but at least there was now hope and I had the boss man’s number.

We started getting ready for Anne and Geoff’s return and packing up our stuff. I was going to have to drive to Auckland and return the POS loaner car, get Otis, and drive back. Ugh. I was not looking forward to that. I kept hassling Kim. They would get the car fixed just to get rid of me! I pinged Anne and Geoff and told them our plans and found out that they were coming back a day earlier than we thought. If we could get everything into the POS vehicle then we could save the “out and back and out” drive. The biggest issue was the bike: Otis has a hitch now for the bike rack, but POS loaner did not, so we would need to fit the bike AND the rack inside the car. Susanne was skeptical, but I was optimistic. I tested my packing scheme, and by breaking the bike down (removing both wheels, the pedals, and the handlebars) we managed to get everything in! Yeah!!!

Anne and Geoff showed up mid-day and we chatted with them for a while, we said our goodbyes and headed out to get Otis. They were so nice to us and their house had been a great place to hang out for 5 weeks. Not only did we get a lovely place to stay while taking care of the Pushy Princess, we also got some new Kiwi friends in the deal.

We got to Auckland and walked into the office to get the keys for Otis. Keith was there and clearly not thrilled to see me and even more thrilled to see me go. We drove around listening for “the squeak” and the other strange revving noises that had alerted us to the transmission problem, and we didn’t hear them! Otis seems to be fixed!

On to the next adventure!

Poor Otis

Well, poor Otis is back in the shop again. We knew he needed to go back, but it is still a bummer. We seem to have gotten a lemon despite Carl’s 500,000 page report on him. Makes me wonder about Carl now. I had been invited to an event put on by a local private equity group showcasing Kiwi startup companies looking for angel funding. Since this and my Auckland excursion to drop off Otis coincided, I decided it might be fun to go. Plus, I didn’t feel like driving back forth from Cooks Beach in a day.

It wasn’t too bad of a drive and I got to Mr. Motors before the rain really started coming down. I talked to Keith and made him get in the car and drive around with me for a while so I could make sure that he heard all the noises that Otis was making. He heard them. Good. I pulled everything out and got into the POS loaner car they gave me and headed over to the mall to buy a few things. Always great to travel halfway around the world so I can go to the mall. Ugh.

I drove to the hotel, got checked in, and then watched the rain just come down in buckets. I was hoping it would let up so I could walk over to the event. Regardless, I was glad I was not driving in that weather and was happy with my decision to stay in Auckland for the night. By the time the event was going to start, it had stopped raining and I walked over to Spark Arena—it is where a lot of concerts are held in Auckland.

I checked in and they directed me up some stairs. It was definitely a bit intimidating because this was a huge room full of people and I did not know a single person there except for our investment advisor, Jon. Luckily, it is New Zealand so getting random conversations started were not too hard. The event started and I went to my assigned table where Jon and some of his other colleagues were. It was a surprisingly large event! Each group made a short pitch on their startup. The one that I thought was super cool was the biometrics collar for dairy cows that you could also use to train and command them to do stuff. We had some good food and wine and I got to meet some really nice folks. I stayed out too late, but it was fun nonetheless and I was glad I had attended.

That is a very muscular mussel!

Cooks beach has been quite relaxing and very low key. Mostly we just hang out with Romy, do some beach walks each day, take the kayak out and go for bike rides. I can see why people like it here. Every weekend it gets busy as the crowd from Auckland shows up. Now, busy is relative, mind you. On Monday there are 4 people on the beach. On a busy Saturday, there are 15. And it’s a pretty big beach. I’m sure it’s much busier in the summer.

Romy has gotten used to us. She seems to have gotten the hang of our routine and is super excited in the morning when she hears we are awake. This means that breakfast is not far off!

The bike riding is pretty good but quite limited and almost always costs me $10 to take that dang ferry. Road 309 is my favorite. I did a forest road one day that was nice but brutally steep. The start was down a flat paved road and then it took a sharp right turn and started to climb. I kept thinking the 12% to 15% grade would relent, but it didn’t. Just straight up. My old body just isn’t up for those kind of climbs anymore, but I made it to the top. It was like the start of Alpe d’Huez. Flat then painful, except Alpe d’Huez turns left and this one turns right.

Just like this but with way fewer drunk Dutch fans.
Flat. Straight up. Straight down. Ouch.

On my way home from one ride up the 309, I stopped at the store to shuttle some groceries home. I kind of wanted to test out the viability. All in all, it went pretty well and I was able to carry a fair amount of weight without too much trouble. So if we did live here in Cooks Beach, I would definitely want to work out the grocery shuttle on the bike thing. It would have all gone perfectly except I did spring a leek. Da da dum.

I sprung a leek

On my birthday, we decided to drive out the 309 and go see a grove of Kauri trees that has some of the last few giants on the Coromandel Peninsula. The area used to be covered in Kauri forests, but they got extensively logged.

“In just over 100 years, logging and burning transformed the northern landscape from forest to farmland. By the early 1900s, most kauri forest had been logged. Although there was growing concern for the survival of remaining native forest, the high value of kauri timber meant that the forest was still exploited. A final push to extract the last of the kauri swept through the north in the 1920s and 1930s, reducing the forest to the few patches that survive today.”

— by  Joanna Orwin

As mentioned previously, the Kauris are now dying off at a phenomenal rate due to a fungus-like water mold Phytophthora taxon Agathis. Many of the forests in Northland are closed now and almost all of them require you to wash and scrub your shoes when you enter and exit. Sadly, it does not seem to be helping fast enough. That is why I wanted to go check out this grove. Susanne had never seen any of the really big ones and it had been since 1981 for me.

We drove over the 309 which wasn’t too bad other than the crazy kiwis driving like bats out of hell and cutting corners right and left. Doh! It wasn’t a long walk into the grove, but the trees were impressive. It is sad that they have been reduced to this, but I am grateful to have at least been able to see them.

We wandered around for awhile just trying to imagine what it must have been like when the whole peninsula was covered with them. The ferns living in the branches of the trees made them really seem like they were from another planet.

We did decide to go and try the one nice restaurant in Cooks Beach, Kaizen. They have a pretty good wine list and mostly a shared plate concept on the food. We ordered a variety of things, that were pretty good but not particularly memorable. There was a couple sitting on the two-top next to us and they, as is the way here in Aotearoa, started up a conversation with us. They have a house here in Cooks Beach right on the beach and also live in Auckland. We had a nice chat and I always appreciate that people are so willing to just have a friendly conversation.

We always learn a bit more about living here each time. The one thing for sure is that you need to be within reach of a major city if you ever really need to get something complicated done health-wise. You can get the basics in the more rural areas, but you will be heading to one of the bigger cities if you need more than that. Something to keep in mind.